There are tangible signs lately that certain players on the Miami Dolphins’ roster are getting it.
In the wide receiver room, DeVante Parker is producing at a rate higher than he has in recent memory. In the tight end room, Mike Gesicki has risen from almost certain bust status to a useful, at times even valuable role. Among the defensive backs, Bobby McCain has taken to the safety spot he’d never played before while newcomers are popping into the lineup seemingly out of nowhere to play the cornerback spot week after week.
Along the offensive line, J’Marcus Webb has become something of a revelation at left tackle. No, he’s not getting anyone’s Pro Bowl vote, but he’s been solid. He’s certainly better than a 1-7 NFL left tackle. Rookie left guard Michael Deiter has improved. And Evan Boehm is playing well enough that one might wonder if he’s a contender to be on the 2020 offensive line as a starter.
Vince Biegel, mostly a special teams player in New Orleans, has earned himself more and more playing time as a linebacker and edge rusher. Taco Charlton, a washout as a first round pick in Dallas, leads the Dolphins with four sacks.
What’s the point?
Some Miami Dolphins players throughout the roster seem to be developing.
The coaching staff seems to be developing guys.
In a year where this coaching staff cannot really be judged on wins and losses, the measure of Brian Flores’ staff will be taken by how they answer certain questions:
How well did they keep a the locker room together despite mounting losses?
How well did they develop individual players?
And did the team improve over time to the point it played its best football at the end of the season?
It’s clear this staff has had bumpy stretches along the path of this 2019 season. I told you of one such tough stretch last week.
But has the locker room held together even after some veterans, such as Kiko Alonso, Minkah Fitzpatrick and others, revolted earlier on? Yes.
Is the team improving? Well, considering the first game was a 49-point loss and the last game was a win, and the last month of games have been competitive, I’d say yes.
And are individual players getting better? Are they producing more than they have? Are they developing? Well, you read the list. So yes.
“I think the biggest key is confidence,” receivers coach Karl Dorrell said Tuesday. “You have to build confidence in a player and I think the best way to build confidence is really to have a strong intention about developing a player. When a player feels that way about you in terms of your time and investment in him, it seems to reciprocate. Once that development and repetition becomes skillful work and he’s getting better and he’s getting more confident, then he wants more.
“I think it’s kind of a progression that way. I think our job in the NFL is we select talent every year. We see to kind of create a vision as to what we see this player be and what his capabilities are and then we try to develop him as best we can.”
Dorrell has done good work with Parker, who has twice as many touchdowns so far this season (4) than he had the past two seasons combined. He obviously also had a hand in the progress rookie Preston Williams made in going from an undrafted free agent to starter until last Sunday when he tore the ACL in his knee and was lost for the remainder of the year.
“Obviously a young player like Preston Williams, him developing and playing as well as he is to this point – unfortunately everyone knows he’s done for the year – but he was coming along very nicely each week getting more and more confident and being more and more productive,” Dorrell said. “That’s all you can really ask for in a coach.”
Well, you can also ask for the right play calls and a superior strategy to that utilized by the opposing coaching staff. You can also ask for superior discipline and, yes, more wins. But those things cannot come and won’t matter unless the players are improving. Growing.
This is a big week for running backs coach Eric Studesville. He’s a holdover from the Adam Gase staff and he had a role in raising Mark Walton from afterthought tryout player during a rookie camp in the spring, to the team’s starting running back the past few weeks.
But Walton is suspended for four weeks now. So Studesville’s work with Kalen Ballage and Patrick Laird and perhaps even Myles Gaskin has to pay dividends.
“I’m excited to see all of them all the time because they work hard and they prepare and they’re preparing themselves for the opportunities,” Studesville said. “I think Patrick is going to take the most of whatever opportunity is given him as with Myles when he goes in there. But we’ve got to see how the whole thing goes, what’s going to happen. Kalen is ready for what he’s got to do. I have great confidence in all three of those guys going into Indianapolis.”
It could be argued Ballage didn’t take the step forward earlier this season the coaching staff, and everyone else, expected from him. He thus lost his starting job and also lost touches. Now is his time.
“It hasn’t shaken my belief in Kalen,” Studesville said. “I still have tremendous confidence in him based on a lot of what I see every day from him, which is how he comes in the building, how he prepares, his football intelligence, his knowledge of what we’re trying to do and what those things are. The biggest challenge that we’re doing now is seeing him more and him performing with those opportunities and I have great confidence he’s going to do that.”
The Dolphins offensive line, considered a weak link on a weak team, suffered from the trade of Laremy Tunsil. It had setbacks following injuries to starting center Daniel Kilgore, starting guard Danny Isidora and starting tackle Julie’n Davenport.
And, make no mistake, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked four times against the New York Jets while the running game averaged 2.1 yards per rush. So not good.
But it definitely looks better than it did earlier in the season.
“To me, they’re starting to get the principles of how we’re asking them to perform,” offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said. “There are some basic things that Coach believes in, that I believe in, that – staying on double teams, being in-sync with one another with our footwork and our hand placement, things like that – and it’s just finally coming to where no matter who we have in there, we’re getting what looks like offensive line play.
“It takes a while in terms of being able to play consistently together. I don’t know that that’s been the case because we keep rotating guys for various reasons – injury or we’re just trying to find the right combination. We’ll probably have three new guys in there this week starting. That’s just how it goes.”
And, importantly, a rookie such as Deiter is becoming more competent.
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” De’Guglielmo said. “And he’s got the right mentality for the job. He’s very professional. Like I said, he knows what he needs to work on. We talk about it regularly and he’s working on those things and is focused. He’s focused on them.”
Obviously not everyone is a success. Not every coaching point hits the bullseye.
I suppose that’s the reason Robert Nkemdiche was on the team practicing for all of three weeks and got cut. I suppose that’s the reason Kenyan Drake looked better in Arizona and Minkah Fitzpatrick has looked better in Pittsburgh than either did with this staff this year.
That’s going to happen. And the team must move forward.
If that forward motion includes obvious overall improvement, those cut or traded move to the margins rather than stay in the headlines. That happens with the Patriots, by the way. Look what happened to Michael Bennett this season. And Chad Ochocinco in the past. Some guys don’t work out. It happens.
And it’s fine if the team move forward. It’s acceptable as long as a greater number of players improve, develop and win.
We’re seeing some of that now.