Twenty-three veterans who started games for last season’s Dolphins were either jettisoned during the past eights months or left on their own volition. That’s a staggering number.
But even those who remain had to learn new jobs, and that starts with Xavien Howard, the best player on the team.
It’s difficult to find a team where more returning players have been asked to make as many changes — in position, technique or approach — as these Dolphins.
Start with Pro Bowler Howard. Even though he intercepted 11 passes during his past 17 games, new Dolphins cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer wanted to make a change with Howard’s technique.
As a result, Howard has needed to alter his “press technique, using the way they want me to do it. I improved, but it’s something different for me because I played this technique all my life that I’ve been using. Doing something different and gaining that confidence and trusting that technique they want me to use [is challenging].”
Howard is doing his best to accommodate his coach but admits: “When I’m out there, when the bullets are flying, you have to survive out there and do what’s best for you at the end of the day.”
Here’s my question: Why require the Dolphins’ best player to change the way he has achieved success, merely because a position coach wants him to?
The other thing they’ve asked of Howard: “Communicate more; they pressed me to communicate more.”
Don’t misunderstand Howard. He likes that Dolphins coach Brian Flores came in and challenged him to get better and didn’t tell him he’s good enough.
“I love that, to keep guys from getting complacent,” Howard said. “I’m not worried about getting complacent because where I come from, there are more things in life than having a big contract.”
Other returning veterans have been asked to change even more than Howard has. And this goes far beyond merely learning a new system, which is common when there’s a coaching change.
Bobby McCain was moved from cornerback to safety, a position he says suits him because “you can see the ball out, you can see the ball coming from the quarterback. You can make plays. I like it.”
Jesse Davis was moved from guard to tackle, which he calls “a pretty big feat for me. I like the challenge that they threw into my lap.”
Quarterback Josh Rosen was asked to do things he has never done, including calling out the mike linebacker before plays, a major adjustment for him.
Jerome Baker was asked to learn every linebacker position and become the team’s signal-caller on defense. He said he has worked at every defensive position except cornerback in this defense.
Charles Harris has worked not only as a defensive end but as an edge rushing outside linebacker. In fact, he’s now listed as a linebacker on the team’s depth chart.
All the defensive backs have been asked to do more things than a year ago and familiarize themselves with the nuances of different positions.
“It takes a lot to get used to,” safety Reshad Jones said. “Everybody is playing different positions, so it’s a lot you have to learn.”
Consider that Minkah Fitzpatrick largely played three positions last year. This year, he has said he has practiced at six — both safety spots, slot corner, boundary corner, WILL linebacker and SAM linebacker.
“It’s been fun because I’ve been learning so much,” he said. “I love learning on and off the field because you’ll never know everything about football. It’s awesome. They’re challenging me and trust me to learn so much. I’m trying not to overwhelm myself. Even if one day I’m at one position, I will know what everyone is doing around me, so I can play that much faster.”
What’s unclear is whether he will play most every down, an assignment for which he seems ready but one that Flores has been reluctant to commit to (at least publicly).
“I know I will be on the football field; that’s all I know,” he said.
Will he be on the field all the time? “I think that would be a pretty good idea, yeah,” he said.
He said he’s not concerned that he’s listed as a backup (at safety) on the depth chart: “I don’t worry about a piece of paper.”
Safeties coach Tony Oden summarized this week what Dolphins players can expect: “That’s going to be our philosophy to move [players] around for matchup purposes, if we need that, or situational purposes, so that’s always going to be in a constant state of flux for our defense.”
Here’s my six-pack of Wednesday Dolphins notes, including Jimmy Johnson’s views on the Laremy Tunsil trade and news on some of the new players.
And please check pack later tonight for more Dolphins news.