Barry Jackson

Dolphins position coaches answer lingering questions at quarterback, running back, o-line

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Sunday night:

▪ When NFL coaches, in training camp, are asked to explain why a player is getting more first-team work than another, you rarely hear a coach say that the starter is better than the backup, even though that generally has been the case with Ryan Fitzpatrick in comparison with Josh Rosen.

But in explaining why Fitzpatrick has opened with the first team in 11 on 11 team drills all four days of training camp -- even after Rosen outplayed him on Saturday - assistant quarterback coach Jerry Schuplinski cited this:

“When Josh came in, he came in and whatever it was, four weeks we had already started,” Schuplinski said. “The way it is with the rules, you only get a limited time to work. I think this training camp has been a good opportunity for him to learn and grow in our system from the ground up as opposed to catching everything on the fly. Ryan’s experience and knowledge in that area in terms of an operational standpoint may have been ahead a little bit at this stage when we first started training camp.”

Is that one reason why we’ve seen Fitzpatrick open with the first team all four days? “Pretty much, yeah,” he said. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Fitzpatrick signed March 17, while Rosen was acquired from Arizona on April 26. Both were here for all May and June OTA practices and the mandatory mini-camp.

Considering Rosen’s intelligence, you would think after three months and 15 practices that his knowledge of this particular offense would be as strong as Fitzpatrick’s. But there’s no way Rosen can know as much about the position, in general, as Fitzpatrick, who has spent 15 years in the league.

Schuplinski insisted the repetitions have been “pretty even” with the quarterbacks, but as far as work with the starting offensive line, Fitzpatrick has received significantly more snaps than Rosen in 11 on 11 team drills, and that allocation needs to be more even for this to be a genuine competition.

And Rosen has faced more defensive backups than Fitzpatrick has, though he did at times throw Sunday against a group of 11 including Kiko Alonso and some starters.

Fitzpatrick overcame a poor start Sunday to finish strong, with multiple touchdown passes in red zone drills. Rosen’s day was up and down, and we’re still waiting for that Rosen moment that wows you. At least neither Fitzpatrick nor Rosen threw an interception.

The Dolphins, incidentally, haven’t named a quarterbacks coach to replace Jim Caldwell, who has left on-field work (but remains a consultant) because of an undisclosed medical issue. His responsibilities are being shared by several staffers.

▪ Kalen Ballage had the catch of the day, diving in the end zone to corral a pass from Rosen, and has consistently run the ball authoritatively. He continues to receive a large chunk, but not all, of the first team work.

Running back coach Eric Studesville, one of two position coaches retained from Adam Gase’s Dolphins staff, said Ballage’s improvement has been “all-inclusive. It’s everything that he’s done – how he works in the meeting room, how he has prepared himself physically. He comes out here knowing what to do. He’s done a great job in the classroom and he’s bringing it out onto the field.”

But Studesville cautioned that no decisions have been made regarding roles for Ballage and Kenyan Drake.

Asked by another reporter if Drake is more of a third-round back - a role he has often handled during camp so far - Studesville shot back: “We played him a bunch on first and second down last year. I don’t think he’s a third-down back. He’s going to determine what that role is by what he does out here. We’re not pigeonholing him and saying he only does this. We’re going to put these guys out here and they’re going to show what they can do.”

▪ Rookie fullback Chandler Cox dropped a pass Sunday but also had a block that led to a good run by Ballage. He has done some things to impress the staff.

“Chandler has done a great job of coming in here. It started yesterday in pads right away,” Studesville said. “He’s physical with his pad level. It adds another dimension to our offense and capabilities and what defenses have to prepare for.”

Mark Walton had a strong run Sunday and we would like to see him more involved in the passing game, where he excelled in May/June work.

Asked what Walton needs to do to make the team, Studesville said: “I don’t know what that is. He’s going to demonstrate to us what he can do and if there’s things that fit into how we see the offense being built and developing,... he’ll establish that.”

Seventh-round rookie Myles Gaskin, who didn’t jump out in May and June practices, had a 7-yard TD run in red zone work Sunday. Undrafted rookie running back Patrick Laird caught a TD pass from Jake Rudock in red zone drills. And former Chargers running back Kenneth Farrow, who played in the AAF earlier this year, had a nice catch and a touchdown run.

▪ Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty was frank in his assessment of third-round pick Michael Deiter through four days:

“There is good and bad. You see flashes. That’s why we drafted him, but he is a long ways away. He’s a long ways away [from] being where Michael’s going to be a good NFL player.”

Deiter has been working behind Chris Reed at left guard and said he plays with the first team only when center Daniel Kilgore needs a break and Reed shifts to center.

▪ Notable highlights from Sunday part 1: The goal-line defense continues to excel. Raekwon McMillan got a lot of first-team work Sunday and made one terrific play near the goal line…. Bobby McCain, who remains the starter at free safety, had a nice tackle on Ballage on a run at the goal line. Reshad Jones made a stop to prevent a score. Akeem Spence and Davon Godchaux also had some good red zone moments...

T.J. McDonald stripped Mike Gesicki in the end zone and Gesicki wasn’t at his best in blocking drills Sunday. But he did have a touchdown catch…. Jordan Mills has been the starting right tackle all four days of camp.

▪ Notable developments from Sunday part 2: Eric Rowe’s work with the starters at boundary cornerback remains a mixed bag. He had several good plays Friday and Saturday but was beaten for one TD Saturday when he fell and was beaten by DeVante Parker for a touchdown Sunday. He also was in the area of a blown coverage on another play… Edge rusher Tyrone Holmes, one of six remaining former AAF players, had a would-be sack… Linebacker Chase Allen missed practice with an undisclosed injury.... Pittsburgh rookie defensive end Dwayne Hendrix had a would-be sack of Rosen and continues to flash.

Here’s my Sunday piece with receivers coach Karl Dorrell discussing his deep group and the question of whether to keep a young player (perhaps Preston Williams) over a veteran.