There are very few positions on the Dolphins without an obvious front-runner to start. But the defensive tackle spot opposite Ndamukong Suh is one of them, with Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips battling.
“It’s a competition,” Mitchell said Tuesday after an offseason practice that was closed to reporters. “Whenever there’s a competition, you want to win. You never want to look at it like that [not caring about starting]. That’s the worst thing you can do. Whatever I can do to push him, whatever he can do to push me, we’re both welcoming that.”
According to Pro Football Focus, both Mitchell and Phillips struggled against the run last season on a team that allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the league. Mitchell declined to discuss the past on Tuesday, consistent with every player on the team who has been asked about last season.
But he said he’s encouraged partly because of the hiring of Jim Washburn as a senior defensive assistant and pass-rush specialist. He was a longtime respected NFL defensive line coach with the Titans, Eagles and Lions.
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“I want to commend coach Washburn, especially,” Mitchell said. “He’s teaching us so much.”
New defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s wide nine defensive scheme should help, Mitchell said, because “it turns everything back, especially in the run game. It takes the read away from the inside guys. You don’t have to read down the line of scrimmage.
“You can just attack and not necessarily worry about losing contain on the outside. When you have guys on the outside, it turns everything back on the inside. It makes it easier to attack. … Coach Vance is pretty adamant about having this attack-style defense.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The Dolphins expect Cameron Wake to be back for the start of training camp and Mitchell said even watching him now, nobody would know he had a ruptured Achilles’ last October. But Wake hasn’t resumed doing team drills.
▪ Cornerback Byron Maxwell is enjoying his practice match-ups with receiver DeVante Parker.
“He’s a great player,” Maxwell said. “Not only him — Kenny Stills and you’ve got Jarvis Landry. Those three guys, they could be very special. But me and Parker have been having good battles. He’s a strong kid. He can go up and get the ball.”
▪ Maxwell likes what he has seen from rookie cornerback Xavien Howard: “He was born to be a corner. He’s just athletic. It’s a natural gift. You can see in his hips and the way he moves.”
▪ With Dion Jordan set to apply for reinstatement from NFL suspension on Wednesday, Mitchell said teammates are prepared to welcome him back. “There’s no hard feelings,” Mitchell said.
▪ Adam Gase isn’t the only coach trash-talking with defensive players. Mitchell said wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson also does it. “It makes the atmosphere better,” Mitchell said.
▪ Left tackle Branden Albert on Jay Ajayi, who’s expected to replace Lamar Miller as the starting running back: “I think he’s going to hit the holes. That’s his thing. We’re going to open up the holes for him and he’s going to hit it. I’m not worried about him tiptoeing through the hole. … We need someone else to step up in the running game too.”