Barry Jackson

Examining three smart Dolphins moves and how they came about

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant (19) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens safety Chuck Clark (36) during an Aug. 25 preseason game. Grant has thrived since the Dolphins moved him from the slot to the boundary last year.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant (19) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens safety Chuck Clark (36) during an Aug. 25 preseason game. Grant has thrived since the Dolphins moved him from the slot to the boundary last year. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

You know something this Dolphins staff deserves credit for?

Several examples of smart deployment of personnel (though there’s still room for improvement, as we note below).

We saw the Dolphins use Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake together in the backfield for the first time on Sunday, and the first play run out of that formation gained 12 yards, when Ryan Tannehill faked a handoff to Gore and threw a short pass to Drake in the opposite direction.

And this staff had the foresight to shift to the boundary two players who have the body types of slot players – 5-7 receiver Jakeem Grant and 5-11 cornerback Bobby McCain. Those decisions have been especially fruitful.

McCain allowed only one catch in seven targets against him Sunday (for 10 yards) and clearly is the Dolphins’ best option opposite Xavien Howard, despite a height disadvantage in most matchups. Grant, in his second year playing outside, cleanly caught five passes for 38 yards, ran crisp routes and established good separation from defenders even on intermediate throws.

Grant now has 15 receptions for 226 yards, two touchdowns, and a 15.0 average over his past five regular-season games. That would project to 723 yards, which would have ranked him 38th among NFL receivers in receiving yardage last season, despite playing fewer snaps than most of those higher on the list.

So who should be credited for this, besides Grant?

Adam Gase said it was then-offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen – now the Dolphins’ director of football and player development – who suggested moving Grant from the slot (where he wasn’t especially effective) to the boundary in spring 2017.

Christensen recalled that when he was with the Colts, Indianapolis moved Pierre Garcon from the slot to the outside “and he really flourished,” Gase said. “I think that’s maybe where the conversation started. We felt like we had nothing to lose and he wanted to play and he didn’t care where. We gave him that opportunity and he made the most of it.”

Why is Grant effective there? “The way he can release off the ball, he’s hard to get hands on,” Gase said. “He can make guys miss very quickly if you press him, so that means he’s going to get by you and now the safety might have to get involved. Now you’re taking the safety out of the middle of the field, and the other side’s going to become available.

“The easier way is, hey, just keep him in front and let’s just go tackle him. You can see guys being a little careful in how they play him. He doesn’t have a ton of film out there. Guys are trying to feel him out in a game.”

Grant said he played on the boundary a “minimal” amount at Texas Tech. “I love it,” he said. “In the inside, you have to look through the linebacker; but outside, you can see where the safety is at clearer and you can understand what coverage it is.”

What’s more, playing outside, “I could easily get a one-on-one matchup at any time. I was like ‘with my speed, that’s a home-run ball.’”

From a broader perspective, “I always wanted to show people I’m a true receiver and not a gimmick guy, like you put a guy in and run a reverse or a jet sweep or anything like that,” Grant said. “I have more ability than that. I can be a true receiver. I show that every time I’m out there and can consistently make catches.”

Meanwhile, after Minkah Fitzpatrick excelled and Cordrea Tankersley didn’t in the preseason opener, defensive coordinator Matt Burke and defensive backs coach Tony Oden smartly decided to shift McCain to the boundary – an idea they tried in May but had put aside to start camp.

“I didn’t really have anything to do with that,” Gase said Friday. “Those guys, I don’t mess with them too much on what they want to do as far as personnel goes, who’s playing where. If I have a suggestion, I’ll make it. But I rarely say anything, because I trust those guys. Since it was Bobby, I was comfortable with it, because I trust him with wherever we put him.”

Oden, Burke and Gase all informed McCain of the decision in three separate conversations.

McCain made two terrific breakups against taller players on second and third and goal in Sunday’s game and said he’s now as comfortable outside as inside.

How is McCain able to overcome his consistent height disadvantage? He does an excellent job taking advantage of the NFL rule allowing “continuous and unbroken contact within the five-yard zone, so long as the receiver has not moved beyond a point that is even with the defender.”

“I try to disrupt you at the line of scrimmage, get your timing off, get you off whatever route you’re running, especially in press. That’s my game.”

And that physicality extends, within the rules, downfield.

“I’ve played big guys, I’ve played smaller guys,” he said. “I don’t see size. I just know when the ball is in the air, I don’t want him to catch it. Outside, you’re more of a ballhawk, a playmaker. I will be all over them, try to disrupt at the line of scrimmage, disrupt down the field as much as I can.”

As for the Drake/Gore pairing, Gase planned to do this as soon as Miami signed Gore in March; they practiced it privately but didn’t show it in preseason. Drake said Friday it works because he and Gore are both adept at taking the handoff or going out for a pass in play-action.

“It gives defenses something extra to worry about,” Drake said.

Sometimes that pistol offense “gives you an advantage in some of the play-action passes that tie into the running game,” as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains noted.

I’m expecting more smart deployment of players, from how they Dolphins lined up Albert Wilson everywhere last Sunday (there’s more to come with that) to a lot more with Mike Gesicki that we didn’t see Sunday.

But the Dolphins must find a more successful approach against tight ends, with Kiko Alonso used too often in coverage last year and TJ McDonald exposed against Delani Walker last Sunday.

It’s time to give Minkah Fitzpatrick a chance against some of them. Too bad Fitzpatrick can’t be cloned to cover slot receivers, running backs and tight ends.

The NFL fined defensive end Andre Branch $10,026 for unsportsmanlike conduct, for his taunting of Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan after his legal second-quarter hit against Lewan left him with a concussion.

Branch appeared to be yelling “body bag.”

CBS is sending Dolphins-Jets to 13 percent of the country, including most of Florida. Jacksonville won’t get the game, opting for Houston-Tennessee instead. Contrary to what CBS said it was initially told, Tampa won’t get the game either. Here’s a map. Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon are on the call.

Here’s my post from earlier Friday with lots of fallout on the Josh Sitton injury, something interesting Branch told Jerome Baker and so no huddle metrics.

Here’s my Friday post with lots of Heat nuggets.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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