“Maybe I need more of a poker face,” Miami Dolphins coach jokes
Being the head football coach of an NFL team is in no small part about being a salesman.
The head coach is constantly selling his players something to get the most out of them.
He can sell them on success.
Or sometimes he sells them on a vision.
Right now, with the Dolphins passing the midpoint of their offseason program, Dolphins coach Brian Flores is selling his players on competition.
Flores is preaching it. Demanding it. Selling it.
And, yes, sometimes the hard sell raises an eyebrow here and there. Like when I asked Flores what positions he sees competition for starting jobs that interest him most. And he immediately answered, “Every position.”
Like left tackle?
“Left tackle, right tackle, left guard, right guard — every position there’s competition,” Flores insisted. “I think we can’t push our players to that next level if they don’t feel competition. That’s just my opinion on competition. I think there’s competition at every position, and if the guys don’t feel that way then we’re going to try to make them feel that way, one way or another.
“That’s my stance on it. Like I said, in order to raise the level of the group, you need to create competition. I think the guys who thrive with competition are the guys we’re going to want on this football team.”
That’s a great approach in the abstract. But in a real-world scenario all 32 NFL teams have positions where there is simply no competition for the starter, and left tackle is one of those on the Dolphins.
Laremy Tunsil is the Dolphins’ starting left tackle, and there is no one on the roster who is going to take that job if Tunsil can walk onto a field on any given game day. This is especially true when you consider the likeliest candidate to play the position if not Tunsil is Jaryd Jones-Smith, who a team source said has great reach that makes him intriguing, but the guy is a first-year player.
Jones-Smith started only 13 of 33 games at the University of Pittsburgh and was with the AAF’s San Antonio franchise. The Dolphins signed Jones-Smith when the AAF folded.
Anyway, huge wingspan or not, he’s not beating out Tunsil.
Neither is anyone beating out Xavien Howard for a starting job.
And even though the Dolphins are going to great lengths to say there’s a quarterback competition between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen, that’s not fooling anyone around the league. Everyone, it seems, knows Rosen will start games for the Dolphins this season, regardless of when exactly that will be.
But ... it’s possible everyone else on the Dolphins is competing for a starting job. Or a spot on the roster. Or more playing time. Something.
Flores can absolutely make that pitch and be believable doing it.
The Dolphins are using 2018 first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick as a wild card of sorts. He might start at nickel. He might start at cornerback on the boundary. He might start at strong or free safety. And Flores says he might even get snaps at linebacker.
“He’ll be all over the place,” Flores said. “I think in all those different roles, I think he’s done an OK job kind of learning all of those positions. Again, this is a work in progress for everyone, not just Minkah. We’re asking a lot of guys to do a lot. He kind of falls into that. I think he’s working and he’s getting better and he’s improving. We still have a long ways to go.”
If Fitzpatrick plays in the nickel, which seemed to be his best position last season and Nick Saban decided was his best position at Alabama , the Dolphins will have to find another role for Bobby McCain.
That’s an issue because McCain last June signed the richest slot cornerback contract in the NFL. And the team this offseason is experimenting with McCain as the staff last season did in the offseason and training camp.
So McCain is not in a comfort zone. He’s competing.
This year’s first-round pick Christian Wilkins is competing. Even if he eventually shows himself to be one of the team’s top interior linemen — either in the 3-4 as a defensive end or the 4-3 as a tackle or both — he’s not there yet.
So Wilkins has been fighting to get repetitions up and down the depth chart.
Which, by the way, there is no official depth chart now.
The competition for the cornerback job opposite Howard has been a significant and unresolved problem for several seasons. The Dolphins have spent draft, free agency and trade resources to address the position.
And the spot remains wide open.
Eric Rowe said he ran with the starters at the start of OTAs, but the Dolphins have Jomal Wiltz, Jalen Davis, Cornell Armstrong, Torry McTyer, Nik Needham and Tyler Horton vying for spots. Cordrea Tankersley might also eventually figure — perhaps when he returns from the physically unable to perform list, which seems his fate for the start of training camp.
The point is that’s a lot of names to consider even if Rowe seems the most logical possibility right now.
The offensive line is interesting. And by interesting I mean unsettled.
Tunsil is the anchor, and one would assume nine-year veteran Daniel Kilgore also has a starting spot locked down at center.
But Kilgore, who spent most of 2018 on injured reserve, is not sharing in that assumption.
“You know just as well as I do that they are always looking for younger and cheaper guys,” Kilgore said. “So there is always competition, and if you don’t feel there is competition, then you’re in the wrong spot. For me, there might not be a guy rotating with me, but I’m competing with myself.”
As Flores mentioned, the right tackle, left guard and right guard spots are open.
Jesse Davis started all 16 games at right guard last season, but to say he has locked down the spot is probably incorrect. Rookie Michael Deiter and veteran Chris Reed, signed in free agency from Jacksonville, will initially be competing for the left guard spot.
And Zach Sterup and recently signed Jordan Mills will be competing for the right tackle job, assuming Davis isn’t moved out there at some point, returning to a position he played earlier in his career. Rookie Isaiah Prince, drafted in the sixth round, was something of a project when he was picked and remains so right now.
Yeah, the offensive line is wildly unsettled. There are at least three starting jobs and multiple roster spots open along the Miami offensive line.
The starting running back job is open.
The tight end position doesn’t have one, much less two, absolute starters at this point.
The wide receiver spot will probably offer a rotation much as we have seen for years, with Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, and Albert Wilson when he’s fully healthy, seemingly destined for roles. A determination on veteran Brice Butler will have to be made and so far, rookie Preston Williams has been the most impressive new addition to the group.
The linebacker position? The Dolphins have 13 on the roster now, which shows their obvious intent to play a lot of 3-4 if they can find some edge rushers out of the linebacker group.
You will hear a lot of names heralded out of this group. The two I hear being counted on the most right now?
Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker.