New Miami Dolphins coach Bryan Flores wants all his players to improve.
That is not an Earth-shaking revelation. That is not in any way different from any other coach. But for the Dolphins it’s important because this team needs whatever talent it has to be constantly growing. Constantly pointing toward something better.
Not because a playoff push is coming in December. But because 2020 is coming. And 2021.
So the Dolphins need the young players in their 2019 training camp and preseason to reach toward something better from themselves than they were when camp began or even last week.
The team seems to be getting some of that from several of its pass-catchers. Consider:
Rookie Preston Williams had another good week of practice and mid-week began to field punts, with the likes of Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake nursing injuries. Williams fielded the punts with no lingering issues and could get a chance to field some in Friday night’s preseason game against Tampa Bay.
He fielded punts in college and high school.
As to his receiver duties, Williams started to see some repetitions with starters, and although that might have something to do with the fact Grant, DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson are injured or being held out of team drills, it gave Williams a chance to show he can compete against better competition.
And there were no issues there, although Williams obviously needs to keep improving his route-running and technique. Williams is clearly the most impressive rookie of camp so far, and he’s not shy about his ability.
“I’m just going to continue to make plays,” he said.
Williams also loves that Dolphins fans have adopted him and are now following his progress. Does he feel your attention is warranted?
“I think so, I think so,” he said.
“If you make plays, people notice,” he answered.
Really, really liking this guy.
Albert Wilson, a veteran who is working on getting back from a significant 2018 hip injury, has suffered no setbacks and is on course to play in the regular-season opener, per a source.
The Dolphins are hopeful Wilson can begin to participate in team drills next week in advance of the Aug. 22 preseason game against Jacksonville. That doesn’t mean Wilson will play against Jacksonville, but that door is ajar. It will depend on how Wilson gets through the week.
Coaches believe it is important for Wilson to get some of that work in before the regular season. They want to see him build some chemistry with the quarterback and feel comfortable with the new offense, his third in three years.
Wilson injured his hip last October 14 after playing seven games, with three starts for Miami. He was easily the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon on offense at the time he was injured. Wilson caught 26 passes and averaged 15 yards per reception with four touchdowns in his seven games.
An under-the-radar receiver who is improving but is being somewhat overshadowed by Williams is second-year player Isaiah Ford.
With Grant, Parker and Wilson not participating in team drills, Ford has consistently worked with the starters. He had a very strong practice week against Tampa Bay.
During 1-on-1 drill against the Bucs on Wednesday, Ford drew a big round of applause and appreciation from fans lined up around the drill when he beat a defender for a 50-50 ball by outjumping him, then still finding a way to come down inbound for a TD.
Ford is expected to get a chance to play with the starters in the preseason game in Tampa on Friday night.
If the Ford improvement continues, the Dolphins might find themselves with what Flores describes as a “good problem.” That problem is having so much talent at a position that it stings to get rid of anyone when the team cuts the roster to 53 players.
“Well, hopefully we don’t have to turn down that player,” Flores said. “Hopefully we don’t have to do that, but those are very good problems to have — turning down good players. I’d like to have those types of problems.”
Finally, on the improvement front, the Dolphins need to see more of it from tight end Mike Gesicki. He was a second-round draft pick last year, and while he was not a good blocker, the team hoped his work as a pass-catcher would take a leap this year based on greater experience and the strength he has added in the weight room.
But that has not really manifested in practices.
Veteran Nick O’Leary remains the team’s best pass-catching tight end in practices. And Gesicki has neither become a consistent physical mismatch against safeties or corners or shown superior quickness and speed against linebackers.
The Dolphins need this to happen. This offense, almost identical to the one used by the New England Patriots, relies on a good tight end play. It’s very important.
Perhaps Gesicki might show more as the preseason and even the regular season goes forward. But, unfortunately for the Dolphins, not yet.