Miami Dolphins defensive coach likes their first round draft pick
Busy day for the Miami Dolphins on Thursday.
From start to finish the Dolphins agreed to terms with cornerback Xavien Howard on a five-year contract extension making him the NFL’s highest paid cornerback. The club signed five of its six draft picks, including first-round pick Christian Wilkins. The club finalized a deal with unrestricted free agent and new presumptive starting right tackle Jordan Mills. And the club signed 18 undrafted free agents -- some of whom will have a solid chance to make the 53-man roster or practice squad.
Yeah, busy day.
Did I mention every assistant coach employed by the team was made available to reporters?
So some insights:
On Howard: He’s a defensive cornerstone and the Dolphins expect he’ll remain that even after the current rebuild is complete. You’ll recall he was drafted in 2016 on a second-round trade up. And he made the Pro Bowl last season after leading the NFL in interceptions much of the season.
That means something, folks. That is what a home run in the draft looks like and feels like. That’s also how one maximizes a second-round pick and how a coaching staff (in this case the Adam Gase staff) develops a pick.
The beauty of Howard is he’s versatile and that made him more valuable to the Dolphins. He can play man-press, which is what he was drafted to do. And he’s good playing off. And he tackles, which is a critical factor for cornerbacks in the Brian Flores defense.
What about the cornerstone player on offense?: The Dolphins still have work to do on the contract extension front and that is with left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Look, Tunsil has not fully arrived. He’s not fully developed. There’s much room for growth. But no one in the Dolphins organization questions whether he should be part of the organization going forward. Because he’s very good.
So, I’m told, there are plans to get Tunsil locked up long term also -- perhaps before the start of the regular season.
The Dolphins don’t have to do this. They control Tunsil for at least two more years beyond 2019 in that they have already exercised their fifth-year option for 2020 (worth an estimated $9.8 million) and can designate him the with the franchise tag for 2021. But what’s the point of that?
Paying now will ultimately be cheaper than paying later. Trust me, player salaries rarely go down. So signing Tunsil to an extension would be beneficial for 2020 and ‘21 cap purposes.
On Jordan Mills: The Buffalo Bills obviously moved on from him as they signed two other tackles and drafted another rather than bring Mills back. Mills was in free agency limbo until after the draft so that says something about what the entire league thinks of him.
The scouting report on him is he’s just good enough to break your heart. He’ll play well for a stretch and when the coaching staff gains confidence in him, he’ll struggle.
But the Dolphins needed him -- not because he’s necessarily good, but he’s probably an upgrade over Zach Sterup, who isn’t even a natural right tackle.
“I think he’s a good football player,” Dolphins offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Thursday of Mills. “Still, even though he’s been in the league a little bit, he has got a high ceiling and he can get better at a lot of things he’s doing. We’re excited about having him.”
Despite the fact Mills is more experienced and, well, better than Sterup, Flaherty insists the competition at right tackle will be open and will include rookie Isaiah Prince.
“It’s going to be open,” Flaherty said. “Zach Sterup has done a good job in the offseason program. He’s worked his tail off in the weight room and on the field. Now with Jordan Mills here and drafting Isaiah Prince, you would think that the two veteran guys have a little bit of a step ahead of the rookie, but we’ll see how it goes. It’s hard to evaluate really where you are at the offensive line until you put pads on.”
What about Michael Deiter? He’s the only Dolphins draft pick left unsigned. There’s supposedly haggling about certain language that is inherent and quite common in third-round pick deals. The Dolphins nonetheless expect Deiter to be at their rookie minicamp when the players hit the field on Friday.
And the plan for him, settled late Thursday, was for him to play guard although he played both guard and tackle at Wisconsin.
“He did,” Flaherty said. “We’ll get him settled in one position. Where that is right now, we’ll kind of meet on that tonight and see where we’re going to start him. I would assume it’s going to be one of the guard spots. You don’t want to move a young guy around too quick in too many positions, because he doesn’t learn the one position. It’s going to be, as we tell them, the volume of the offense is a lot different than what it was in college.
“It’s still football, but the learning part of it (is bigger). And the techniques that I’ll be teaching – the fundamentals and techniques I’ll be teaching – are going to be different than what he has learned. So, we want him to start at one position. And then as he feels that he knows what he’s doing at one position, then we’ll work him at other positions and he’ll be versatile. He is a versatile player. As you mentioned, he played a lot of different positions.”
On the running backs: The Dolphins drafted fullback Chandler Cox and halfback (haven’t used that word in a while) Myles Gaskin. But it’s the two veterans -- Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage -- that running back coach Eric Studesville is looking at for big improvement over a season ago.
“They know that they can do more,” Studesville said. “They want to put that on themselves to do that. We’ll see how all that plays out. But you can tell guys are focused. They’re really committed to wanting to be good. They want to win. They want to be successful. I think you’re seeing the offseason work that they’ve done says that and what they’ve done so far on the field says that, too.”
Finally, it’s hard to predict fifth-round pick Andrew Van Ginkel will get a lot of playing time on defense early in the season. But you can count linebacker coach Rob Leonard a fan
“He’s always around the ball,” Leonard said. “He’s a good tackler. We could go through all the traits, but he’s a productive, instinctive football player that’s physical. All of the things that we say we value from a personnel standpoint, he is those things.
“He’s tough, he’s physical, he’s athletic, he’s versatile. In my opinion, what’s there not to like?”
Rookie minicamp practice begins at 2 p.m. Friday.