One thing that exasperates some fans is when they watch a player jettisoned by their team and then perform brilliantly for their new team.
That’s why blood pressure levels rose among some Dolphins fans as they watched Kenyan Drake scamper for 162 yards from scrimmage in his Arizona debut against the 49ers’ stout defense last week.
And why some grimace when Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick’s unhappiness about the Dolphins asking him to be flexible about his role from week to week — and learn six positions — is well documented.
But why didn’t it come together for Drake here under two coaching staffs? We’re told these were the reasons:
▪ Internal preference for a different type of starting back: Both Adam Gase and Brian Flores preferred more of a physical back than a finesse runner in the starting role -- Frank Gore, in Gase’s case, and Kalen Ballage, with this coaching staff.
These Dolphins coaches grew increasingly enamored with Ballage because of his powerful running style throughout offseason practices.
But they miscalculated when they decided to go with Ballage as a starter after an uninspiring preseason (18 carries for 40 yards). In the staff’s defense, Drake actually had more carries in the two regular-season games that Ballage started (10 to nine for Ballage).
▪ On-field issues: Gase grew frustrated that Drake too often took risks that led to lost yardage, one reason why he averaged just 7.5 carries per game last season. Coaches implored Drake to take the yards that were available instead of trying to turn everything into a big play, but he insisted publicly he wouldn’t change his running style. (Last month to his credit, he admitted changing his style somewhat in that regard.)
This season, there were two costly lost fumbles, including one deep in Dallas territory. After that damaging fumble, he again raised eyebrows when he said he would not change the way he plays.
▪ Off-field issues: Emotional maturity has been an issue in his career, multiple sources said. He was fined multiple times, under Gase, for tardiness. And though the Dolphins believed his maturity improved over time, there was one incident in October here that might have ultimately sealed his fate.
According to two sources with direct knowledge, Drake’s behavior during a midweek practice — before the bye week — was so unacceptable to Flores that Flores threw him out of practice. The sources declined to divulge details, but it was emphasized that it would take something egregious for a coach to throw a player out of practice. Mark Walton, now suspended, started ahead of Drake since that point.
▪ Perception of how he’s most effective: Both Gase and the current staff believed using Drake as part of a rotation, instead of as a bell cow, would maximize his effectiveness and keep him healthy.
What’s puzzling is that Drake led the NFL in rushing, while averaging 18 carries per game, over the final five weeks of 2017. But inexplicably, he never carried more than 14 times in any game last season for Gase or more than 12 in a game this season under Flores.
So how many carries did Arizona give him in his debut? Fifteen, and he ran for 110 yards. That 7.3 per carry average dwarfed his 3.7 average this season for the Dolphins.
But Miami deciding to trade him — for what very likely will be a fifth-round pick — is understandable because Drake bypassed an offer of a contract extension.
But Gase’s decision to de-emphasize him in the running game — and this staff initially opting for Ballage over Drake as the starter — were regrettable. After all, Drake’s 4.6 career average as a Dolphin is tied for fourth all-time among Dolphins running backs (minimum 150 carries).
As for Fitzpatrick, I can understand Flores not wanting a player to dictate how he is used. But that might have been best in Fitzpatrick’s case. As a slot cornerback, he was best in the league last season. As a free safety, he’s playing like a Pro Bowler for Pittsburgh.
This season, per Next Gen stats, he has lined up as a deep safety 85 percent of his snaps (compared with 22 percent for the Dolphins) and has four interceptions and a forced fumble. What’s more, Pittsburgh has held opposing quarterbacks to a 10.8 passer rating (3 for 15, three picks) on deep passes since his acquisition. In retrospect, the Dolphins should have kept him - and kept him at one spot (cornerback or free safety).
As for the other players who left this year, some are performing a bit better elsewhere but others aren’t:
Ryan Tannehill has a 99.7 passer rating for the Titans - better than his previous career high (93.5, two years ago).
Robert Quinn, who had 6.5 sacks for Miami last season, already has 6.5 for the Cowboys in six games. But Cam Wake, who had six sacks for the Dolphins last season, has just 2.5 in limited playing time for Tennessee.
Ja’Wuan James has been injury-prone for Denver, missing six games. That means Miami’s projected third-round compensatory pick likely will be a fourth-rounder.
Laremy Tunsil is rated as the 10th best tackle by Pro Football Focus, which rated him 36th last season.
Kenny Stills has gone from catching 37 passes for 553 yards and six touchdowns last season with the Dolphins to 22 for 367 and a TD so far for Houston.
Danny Amendola has gone from catching 59 passes for 575 yards last season with the Dolphins to 31 for 376 this season with Detroit.
Kiko Alonso, who has 125 tackles last season for the Dolphins, has 11 as a Saints backup.
Frank Gore, who averaged 4.6 per carry for the Dolphins, is averaging 4.1 for the Bills.
Vincent Taylor was just promoted to the Bills’ 53; Andre Branch and TJ McDonald are out of the league; and Akeem Spence has had a negligible impact in Philadelphia and Jacksonville.
The narrative that many Dolphins go elsewhere and play much better generally has not been accurate in recent years and it’s unfair to the team.
Keep in mind that Lamar Miller had a better per carry average for Miami (4.6) than later in his career for Houston (4.1). Olivier Vernon had 29 sacks in four years in Miami, then 25 in 3 ½ years since for the Giants (mostly) and this year, the Browns.
But Drake and Fitzpatrick would be exceptions if they build on small sample sizes. One other Dolphin jettisoned the past couple of years who has clearly been better elsewhere is defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who had 5.5 sacks in 48 games as a Dolphin and six sacks in eight games this season.
Like Drake, Phillips also had an incident here that enraged a coach. And like the more outspoken Phillips, Drake and Fitzpatrick (in more subtle ways) are trying to show the Dolphins they never quite appreciated what they had.
Here’s my Friday piece on what players say has changed inside the Dolphins, plus injury news.