Miami Dolphins Coach Brian Flores
Plenty of reasons to be impressed with the early work of new Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores as he wraps up his first offseason with this week’s three-day mandatory minicamp. And five position battles that will shape the coming season for a coach and a team looking to surprise a legion of doubters:
▪ Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Josh Rosen — The biggest competition is at the biggest position, a rarity in Dolphins history. Three quarterbacks (Bob Griese, Dan Marino, Ryan Tannehill) have been entrenched for a combined 38 of the franchise’s 53 seasons, their grip on the job loosened only by injury.
Until now Miami hasn’t had a proper open competition for starting QB since 2007, when Trent Green wasn’t named the starter over Cleo Lemon until August 20. And that might have been the Fins’ most truly up-in-the-air QB battle since inaugural expansion year 1966.
Some coaches, especially of teams rebooting and thinking younger, would already have handed the job to young Rosen over the grizzled Fitzpatrick, but Flores chose to make QB the shining example of his belief that competition is a necessary element of chemistry-building.
Another example was Rosen referring to “no sacred cows” when asked if veteran safety Reshad Jones would step right back into his starting role after not participating in voluntary practices.
The may-the-best-man-win attitude, particularly at quarterback, also is proof that Flores’ disdain for the whole notion of tanking is legit.
▪ Cornerback: Xavien Howard and ... who?: -- Miami made Howard the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, but auditions for the other starting CB are very much wide open. It seems likeliest Eric Rowe (a spot starter for Flores in New England the past three seasons) will be the guy, with Bobby McCain in the nickel spot. But might a healthy Cordrea Tankersley reclaim his misplaced potential and pinch the spot from Rowe?
The secondary looks to be an area where Flores’ desire for versatility will show itself. He thinks positionless more than any Dolphins coach has. Wants the best guys on the field. An example will be safeties Reshad Jones, Minkah Fitzpatick and T.J. McDonald all playing simultaneously at times, perhaps with Fitzpatrick at cornerback or outside linebacker, or McDonald at outside linebacker.
“We’ll be flexible for sure,” says Flores. “We’re going to move guys around.”
The plan for the defensive alignment to toggle from a 4-3 to a lot of 3-4 is with that in mind.
▪ Edge rusher: Any volunteers? — Miami appears well stocked in its defensive tackle rotation, fortified by top draft pick Christian Wilkins. But the edge rush from the end or outside linebacker spots seems glaringly lacking at the moment. They will miss Cam Wake, until which time somebody else steps up to play the super hero Sack Man.
Don’t discount Charles Harris, the 2017 first-round draft pick whose first two NFL seasons have whispered. Mining the dormant potential in Harris has become a pet project for the defense-minded Flores, who sees Harris in a hybrid end/linebacker role. At times this offseason Flores has volunteered praise of Harris when not even asked about him.
“I look forward to working with him some more,” Flores says. “I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s the kind of guy we want in the building.”
The feeling is mutual. Harris raves about Flores’ leadership, his example, the culture being created.
“The things he doesn’t say are the things that go the most noticed,” says Harris of the coach.
▪ Offensive line: Job openings. Apply within — Pillar left tackle Laremy Tunsil for certain and maybe center Daniel Kilgore are the fixtures. The other three spots are questions to be answered. Will draftee Michael Deiter plug in at guard with Jesse Davis? Is Jordan Mills, a three-year starter for the Bills, the answer at right tackle?
The imperative for a strong O-line is magnified when your QB options — Fitzpatrick’s old bones and Rosen’s inexperience — both need protection.
▪ Tight end/fullback: The pressure is on, Gesicki — Miami spent a second-round draft pick on Penn State’s Mike Gesicki in 2018. Or, did they waste that pick? After a quiet rookie season it was hard to tell. Signing longtime former Colt and Patriot Dwayne Allen this offseason clearly was a message meant to push Gesicki.
His Patriots defenses spent years covering Rob Gronkowski in practice every day, so few coaches more than Flores know the value and bonus of an offensive force at tight end.
As for the fullback? Yes, the Dolphins have one of those again. Miami drafted a true FB in Auburn’s Chandler Cox. Fullbacks are the manual typewriter repairmen of the NFL. They barely exist in the pass-happy age of pro football. The Fins are going old-school in being counter-intuitive here.
“We want to run the ball,” explains Flores. “I value that position.”
Flores says the imperative of this week’s three-day minicamp wrapping up the offseason is to “finish strong.”
The betting public thinks Miami will be one of the worst teams in the NFL this coming season.
You get none of that feeling, quite the opposite, actually, from an impressive young coach and the players buying into his direction.