These Dolphins are a stratosphere away from being the Patriots in terms of talent and expectations this season.
But with former Patriots assistant Brian Flores as head coach and two former Patriots assistants as coordinators, will the Dolphins’ offensive and defensive philosophies mirror New England’s? And will Flores try to mimic Bill Belichick?
Cornerback Eric Rowe, who spent two years with Flores in New England (including one with Flores as de facto coordinator last season) was eager to see, after he joined the Dolphins in March, whether Flores would essentially become another Belichick.
“When I signed here, I was curious to see how he would present himself to the team,” Rowe told me last week. “Last year, he was a d-coordinator and I know he had been there 15, 16 years, so I [wondered] ‘Is he going to be like him?’
“But he’s nothing like Bill personality-wise. What I see on the practice field, Bill is more quiet, will say stuff when he has to. Out here, Flo is fiery, getting everybody’s juices up. He brings a lot of energy.”
Rowe wasn’t the only ex-Patriot wondering about the Flores/Belichick issue. When Dolphins and former Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen was considering Miami, the question of whether Allen would be playing for another Belichick — to quote Seinfeld, not that there’s anything wrong with that - was broached before he signed.
“During my free agent visit, I was reassured he was going to do things his way,” Allen said. “In what matter that was, I wasn’t quite sure. You can’t replicate what they have up there. And coach Flores has done a great job of not trying to and running his ship his way.
“A lot of people have tried and failed [trying to replicate Belichick]. I really appreciate Brian’s approach; this is his ship and he’s going to run things his way while using the clues he was able to collect while coaching with arguably the great football coach of all time.”
Both both Allen and Rowe — and former Patriots practice squad cornerback Jomal Wiltz — see some similarities between Flores and Belichick.
“With both, everything is situational,” Rowe said. “Every day we talk about some situation that goes on in the game, go over it, practice it. Situation, situation, situation. Two minutes, red zone, even special teams left on the clock. Bill will go over that every single day there. We go over that every single day here so we can all be situationally aware.
“There are some things kind of similar what he brought from Bill, which are really good traits. The way practice is run, the way we’re working, how hard we work, it’s all similar to being up there.”
Wiltz puts something else at the top of the list in similarities between the approaches of Flores and Belichick: “They’re going to try to push you to the max. Mental toughness. That’s one of [Flores’] biggest points that he always puts up on the board.”
I asked Flores whether he spent any time in the past nine months trying to determine what to take from Belichick and what not to take as he embarks on his first NFL head coaching job.
“During this process, I tried to take a little bit from anyone with a leadership position that I could,” he answered. “So that was Bill, that was my high school coach [Dino Mangiero], that was my college coaches, my parents, anyone who I viewed as a leader — Pastor A.R. Bernard at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York — shout out to him. But anyone from a leadership position, I try to take little bits and pieces from each one of them. They’re all different and I’m different. I’m not any of those guys. I’m myself.
“The big thing about leadership, is being authentic. So if you try to be someone else, it’s not real leadership in my opinion. Who is going to follow a guy who is trying to be somebody else? I think that’s part of leadership — trying to help individuals find themselves and try to become the best version of themselves. I think in order to do that, you have to be genuine, sincere and authentic. I’ve got to be me.”
Keep in mind that former Belichick assistants have a poor 120-167 record as NFL head coaches — a group including Romeo Crenell, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien and Matt Patricia. Only O’Brien (42-38) is above .500 from that group.
As for on-field approach, the Dolphins’ defense will be doing a lot of the things the Patriots do in terms of deployment of personnel, shifting looks and trying to get as many skilled cover players on the field, which will lead to more playing time for some (Jerome Baker, Bobby McCain) and less for others (potentially Raekwon McMillan among them). Their edge rushers are being placed in roles that mirror the Patriots’ use of them.
Dolphins players have been asked to study Patriots players who play the same or similar positions.
“They show us a lot of Patriots stuff on film; then obviously we have to put our own little wrinkles on stuff,” defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “I’m watching [all the Patriots defensive backs]. Patrick Chung, the [Patriots DBs Devin and Jason] McCourty brothers, [Patriots defensive back Jonathan] Jones. Just watching all of them. That’s who we watch. We watch a lot of New England. The scheme I ran at Alabama was kind of set up that way. It was based around the DBs. The DBs would move around, do different things.”
But Rowe said though there are similarities between the Patriots and Dolphins defensive approaches, “it won’t be [exactly] like the Patriots because everyone’s different. Everyone is figuring out who they are as a player in this scheme.”
Offensively, new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea — who had been the Patriots receivers coach — is implementing a system that has many similarities to New England’s.
“There are some similarities with the [offensive] scheme,” Rowe said. “But a carbon copy? No. It’s different players so you have to cater different ways.”