The Miami Dolphins have been talking about changing their culture for what seems like a decade. Now it appears they may actually be doing exactly that.
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For years the Dolphins have been a finesse team. Whether on offense or on defense, Miami has bought into players with no baggage. Players who take on the company line. Players who ended up taking on the demeanor of their soft spoken head coach.
In 2015 the Dolphins got their first real taste of what physicality could look like. They apparently liked what they saw. Just not enough to keep Dan Campbell around to coach them up. After the firing of Joe Philbin, Campbell as interim head coach immediately began to change the teams vision of how they perform on the field. Miami was transitioning. Campbell brought a tough guys atmosphere to practice and by the end of the season the Dolphins were starting look tougher. It was simply too late to save the season.
Whatever it was that Campbell did, Mike Tannenbaum and the other members of the executive branch took notice and now, after the first draft since Philbin left, under the guise of Chris Grier and Tannenbaum, Miami drafted to make that change permanent.
The Dolphins took a far more physical approach to this years crop of incoming freshman. Passing on players who had potential but lacked a leadership quality. Instead they went with football players. Players who have a bit of an attitude, confidence, and a physical toughness that will hopefully mold this team into something that it hasn’t been since, well, a long time.
Falling to 13, Laremy Tunsil became a Dolphin instead of linebacker Myles Jack. Both physically tough and just as mentally tough. Jack’s knee concerns didn’t sway Miami’s thoughts on him, and according to many reports, had Tunsil not fallen, he would have been a first round pick and enjoying his first few days in South Florida. Tunsil did fall however and Miami refused to pass on the opportunity to draft the best overall offensive lineman in this years draft. Filling a position of need and securing their future at tackle.
In round two the Dolphins opted to go with the more physical Xavien Howard over Mackensie Alexander. Side by side there isn’t much that separates the two on the field but Howard players stronger at times. Kenyan Drake taken in round three immediately said that he isn’t coming to Miami to spell Jay Ajayi, he said he is coming to Miami to win the starting job. After backing up Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, the physical Drake will take to the field to prove he can be a number one tailback at this level.
While it appeared that Miami was drafting for need, it became clearer what their intentions where when they traded back into the 3rd round to draft Leonte Carroo. Carroo is phenomenal pass catcher who dropped only three passes at the college level. He plays more like Jarvis Landry than any other receiver in this years draft. A theme Miami seemed to be looking for. More Jarvis Landry types.
The toughness Miami was searching for and to that point drafted continued in the later rounds where they drafted another wide-receiver Jakeem Grant. Grant is small, like Darren Sproles small but he has speed and elusiveness. It’s uncertain where he will make his mark in the receiving group but there is little doubt that he will get a chance to make an impact on special teams returning kicks. Grant is small but he plays bigger and like the others before him, plays physical as well.
When Miami drafted Jordan Lucas it became more clear that they would be playing more press coverage on the outside. A system that Vance Joseph loves. Which means that the corners and safeties need to be more physical as well. In the past, Miami went more with coverage corners who didn’t need to fit the prototypical size and weight of the standard corners. It’s one of the factors that sent Jamar Taylor to Cleveland in the 7th round. Lucas is listed as a safety but his physical play could see him moved into a slot coverage role.
Miami wrapped their 2016 draft with Thomas Duarte, a TE/WR with good hands. 7th round picks are long shots to make NFL roster’s and Duarte joins a unit that is full at tight-end with Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims, and Jake Stoneburner. He is likely a practice squad option but will have a shot to make the team on special teams play. Just prior to Duarte, the Dolphins drafted smart taking Brandon Doughty a quarterback who threw for over 5,000 yards last season for Western Kentucky. A local product from Davie, Fl. Doughty will be competing for the 3rd quarterback position and is another likely option for the practice squad where he can be groomed to take over for Matt Moore.
The Dolphins didn’t draft a linebacker but they did trade for Kiko Alonso, a physical player with a lot of talent. His biggest issue is staying healthy. All in all the moves Miami has made shows a big interest and the actions to make this team more physical on the football field. Miami needs more players like Jarvis Landry and they seem to be working towards making that happen.
Now, the next step in this evolution of change is up to the coaching staff to get these players fit into the system and make them productive. Miami has added physicality over finesse and maybe, just maybe, we will see that change in 2016. There is no guarantee that the risks Miami took in this years draft will pay off or that they will make the roster or stick to the roster in the next few years, but it is a sign of what the team is trying to become.