The Dolphins made this abundantly clear during the offseason:
They need to develop their young players, mostly their own draft picks, and give them meaningful roles, instead of throwing free agent money at every position.
As a theory, in a vacuum, that approach seems prudent.
But it doesn’t work if the players are flawed.
And in the Dolphins’ case, that invest-in-your-own approach hasn’t worked out nearly as well as management hoped at three positions that concerned them all offseason: guard, strong-side linebacker and boundary cornerback.
Last spring, the Dolphins decided they would invest in three young guards (Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas), an undrafted second-year player at strong-side linebacker (Chris McCain) and second- and third-round draft picks at the cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes (Jamar Taylor and Will Davis).
The only veterans added at those positions were journeymen making at or near the minimum: guard/tackle Jeff Linkenbach, guard Jacques McClendon, linebacker Spencer Paysinger and cornerback Zack Bowman. Brice McCain was given a two-year, $5.5 million deal to replace Jimmy Wilson at slot corner.
The Chris McCain project fell apart quickly; he was beaten out by Kelvin Sheppard in training camp, meaning Koa Misi returned to strong-side linebacker, and McCain was then shifted to fifth-string defensive end.
And even with the injury to Cameron Wake, McCain has played only 37 snaps all season, including just four Sunday.
At guard, Douglas — the team’s 2015 fourth-round pick — was benched after four weeks, after allowing the most quarterback hurries of any guard in the league.
Turner, who replaced him, hasn’t been awful but has had a few regrettable penalties and is rated in the bottom half of guards by Pro Football Focus (58th of 81).
The bigger problem has been Thomas, who is rated 80th of 81 qualifying guards by PFF. The fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Dallas epitomized Thomas’ struggles as a Dolphin.
With Miami trailing 21-14 early in the fourth, Thomas was beaten by a Cowboys rusher on third down, forcing Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball prematurely (and inaccurately) to Jarvis Landry.
On Miami’s next drive, with the Cowboys leading 24-14, Tyrone Crawford beat Thomas for a sack on 2nd-and-6, resulting in an 11-yard loss. The Dolphins punted two plays later.
At cornerback, the Dolphins are still searching for an above-average option opposite Grimes. They hoped Taylor or Davis would be, but Davis was dealt to Baltimore for a seventh-round pick Sept. 21 and then sustained a torn ACL for the second time in a year.
Taylor, meanwhile, has slipped to 105th of 112 qualifying cornerbacks, according to PFF’s ratings of 2015 performance.
This is also disconcerting: Taylor has allowed 33 of the 50 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught this season, and 70 of 103 in his career, equaling 68 percent.
On Sunday, Taylor allowed four catches for 79 yards against Terrance Williams, committed a defensive holding penalty (which negated a drive-ending sack by Olivier Vernon), and was beaten by Williams for a touchdown pass on that drive. “I played horrible,” Taylor said. “… It was my technique.”
Pro Football Focus said Monday that the Dolphins’ “issues in the secondary mostly center on the struggles of the corners. … Taylor is the biggest issue. He has graded positively just three times all year and had a few really poor games in coverage.”
Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were hopeful that rookie fifth-round pick Bobby McCain could become a major factor at boundary corner. But after playing 95 snaps against Philadelphia, McCain played only one on Sunday.
Interim coach Dan Campbell said that was mostly because Brice McCain returned from a knee injury.
SUH SPEAKS UP
During a team meeting Monday, Ndamukong Suh was direct and blunt with teammates, calling for accountability, according to a source. Campbell declined to say what Suh said.
Campbell reviewed bad plays with the team and, “I said, ‘Tell me what happened on this play.’ It wasn’t a call-out session. It was a take-ownership session. Guys did that.”
▪ The Dolphins ran the ball only 14 of their 48 offensive plays, and Campbell mentioned one series in which Miami ran three consecutive times, but a first down was wiped out by a Jason Fox penalty. “When you want to run it more, you get crap like that,” Campbell said, not mentioning Fox by name.
▪ The Dolphins have topped 20 points only twice in 10 games. Can they win like that? “My first answer is no,” Campbell said.
▪ The Dolphins allocated only 33 snaps to their entire 2015 draft class Sunday: four for first-round receiver DeVante Parker, 16 for second-round defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, 12 for fifth-round running back Jay Ajayi and one for McCain. Miami’s undrafted rookies played more than drafted rookies.
▪ Misi was active but not did play because his abdominal injury flared up in pregame warmups, Campbell said.
▪ Defensive end Olivier Vernon said Sunday’s loss “made me sick” because Miami had a bunch of “self-inflicted wounds.”