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Tua Deserves Better Than the Miami Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa has given everything he can to the Miami Dolphins with nothing in return.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Miami Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa were destined to unite.

Miami tore it all down to rebuild around their quarterback of the future.

Just to tear him and the franchise apart instead.

Against all odds, Tua has somehow managed to remain stoic in the face of unprecedented circumstances.

Yes, he was given the keys to the franchise as QB1 heading into this season.

The problem is, those keys belong to an organization that is stuck in reverse.

Rewind to the 2020 NFL draft when Miami sat flush with draft capital and was positioning themselves as an eventual contender.

They took Tagovailoa at pick 5 after a hip injury to end his college career caused his draft stock to slip.

One spot ahead of Justin Herbert, which is not the problem.

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That first round for Miami wasn’t over, with the 18th and 30th picks still in their war chest.

Then they did this.

At pick 18 they selected a true project in tackle Austin Jackson.

The tape doesn’t lie, Jackson has been a near disaster this season.

That being said, the rationale for taking Jackson was sound at the time.

All of the premier tackles were off the board, and Jackson’s physical tools were an intriguing foundation to build on.

However, the Dolphins decided to double-down on project players and selected CB Noah Igbinoghene with the 30th pick.

While the following players were still on the board:

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Tee Higgins

Michael Pittman Jr.

But wait, there’s more!

Miami also had pick 39 which they used to select G Robert Hunt.

Two picks before Jonathan Taylor went off the board, and 12 picks before CB Trevon Diggs who is a superstar in the making.

The Dolphins passed on multiple upper echelon running backs in favor of Miles Gaskin, who is good but will never be great.

And reached for the physically gifted yet inconsistent Igbinoghene, instead of taking Diggs later.

These actions show a lack of identity and cohesiveness within the power structure that has set Tua and the Dolphins on a course to failure.

So what do the Dolphins do to fix it?

Instead of giving their supposed franchise quarterback a serviceable offensive line and running game, they try to plug holes with duct tape and prayers.

Yes they added his college teammate Jaylen Waddle this year – and then proceed to misuse him on a weekly basis.

While putting Tua’s health at risk week after week behind an offensive line that is simply not starting caliber NFL talent.

Then the Dolphins appear to be continuing with the obsession over a quarterback with disturbing off-the-field allegations hanging over him.

Why?

Why add the distraction when your locker room is already fracturing and the team itself is a dysfunctional mess?

Why not give your young quarterback – who has not played poorly by the way, some time to grow into the face of the franchise?

Why not add some weapons to the running back room and find some receivers that can actually stay on the field week-to-week?

The real question instead should be this.

Why should we continue to care about this team that does not care about itself?

 

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Five Reasons the Hurricanes Will Beat the Seminoles

The Miami Hurricanes look to continue their early season momentum as they host the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday.

Early season rivalry games have a way of setting the tone for a season.

Miami and Florida State enter their matchup Saturday on opposite plains.

The Hurricanes (2-0, 1-0) host Florida State (0-1, 0-1) in a game that looms large for both programs.

For Miami, expectations are high as they have improved each week.

While for Florida State the uncertainty lingers as the Seminoles try to rebound off a disappointing 16-13 loss to Georgia Tech.

Miami has beat Florida State three years running and oddsmakers have the Hurricanes as early double-digit favorites.

That being said, anything can happen in a rivalry game.

Especially this one.

With all things considered, the Hurricanes appear to be the superior team.

Here are five reasons that superiority should translate to an easy victory Saturday.

 

Quarterback

So far in his first season under center at the University of Miami, quarterback D’Eriq King has been as advertised.

 

Through two games King has completed 34-of-54 attempts for 469 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He has also added 92 yards and another score on the ground, his running ability within Rhett Lashlee’s spread offense has opened up the entire playbook. King has taken care of the football so far and is taking what the defense gives him.

Florida State allowed Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims to throw for 277 yards, and King has far more weapons at his disposal. King will have to look out for Asante Samuel Jr. in the Florida State secondary however, he picked off two passes against Georgia Tech.

Meanwhile for the Seminoles, quarterback James Blackman had a game to forget in their opening day loss. For the game Blackman went 23-of-43 for just 198 yards with one touchdown and an interception. More damning is that he lost two fumbles, against a nasty Miami front four he could be in for another mistake prone game.

 

Miami Ground Game Should Feast Again

Cam Harris has come out of the gate on a mission with 263 yards in two games on a ridiculous 10.3 YPC, with touchdown runs of 66 and 75 yards already. Freshman phenoms Jaylen Knighton and Don Chaney, Jr. have been the perfect compliment to Harris, each have been solid contributors already. With King as another threat to pull it down and improved play on the offensive line, the Hurricanes ground game has been a huge factor.

Florida State did a decent job holding Georgia Tech to 161 rushing yards on 40 attempts, but they will be in for a bigger challenge on Saturday.

For the Seminoles to have any success on offense they will need to be able to run the football against a Miami run defense that struggled to contain Louisville running back Javian Hawkins. Miami had trouble with the Cocoa Beach product as he gashed the Hurricanes for 164 yards rushing.

It could be a little easier for the Hurricanes this week as the Seminoles run game did little against Georgia Tech in a close game, finishing with just 109 yards on 31 carries (3.1 YPC). If Miami can shut down the run early and get a lead, Florida State will be in trouble as the game wears on.

Phillips and Roche vs the FSU Offensive Line

Speaking of feasting, the Miami pass rush could be in for another dynamic performance against an underwhelming FSU offensive line.

Jaelen Phillips and Quincy Roche combined for 3.5 TFL against Louisville and Miami had 10 for the game.

 

Florida State did a decent job of protecting Blackman despite allowing three sacks, Blackman had ample time to throw on plenty of occasions but could not capitalize. Miami will try to take away the Florida State running game and make them one dimensional, while controlling down and distance. The Florida State offense will be in trouble if they are continually in third-and-long situations where the Miami defensive line can pin their ears back and come downhill.

Florida State allowed six tackle-for-loss against Georgia Tech and Blackman barely completed 50% of his passes for the night.

We could see a lot of the Turnover Chain Saturday night.

Miami Makes Less Mistakes

As mentioned turnovers could play a huge role in the outcome and so far with D’Eriq King at the helm the offense is taking care of the football. Blackman on the other hand doesn’t have the same accuracy and has been prone to the turnover lately having thrown five interceptions in his last two games.

Granted four of those came at the end of last season in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.

Not grrrreat.

Both teams have had lapses in terms of penalties as each hit double figures last time out.

The difference was that Miami came out to play otherwise while Florida State could not get out of their own way.

Manny Diaz had the team prepared and it will be crucial to avoid a letdown in terms of emotion and intensity.

It Means a lot More to the Hurricanes.

The Miami seniors have never lost to Florida State and if the Hurricanes can take care of business it sets them up for a huge game to follow at No. 1 Clemson.

After dropping seven in a row in the rivalry the Hurricanes want to send the seniors out with a fourth straight win.

Miami is in a great position with Clemson looming on the horizon to make a statement once again under the lights.

 

It is certain to be an exciting game, you can always throw out the records when these two square off.

However Miami is trending up while Florida State is in purgatory, and overall appear to be the better team.

If Diaz can once again have them ready from the opening kickoff and they wear out the Seminoles with the up tempo offense, it should be game over.

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Photo credit miamihurricanes.com.

Can the Milwaukee Bucks be the Catalyst for Real Action?

In the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin the Milwaukee Bucks have boycotted Game 5 of the NBA Playoffs. 

 

The temperature of our society has been steadily raising.

Turmoil between the supposed protectors of our people and our citizens escalates daily.

Words have been written.

Statements have been added to jerseys.

Yet it continues.

 

The systemic racial divide in this nation has reached the point where talking and writing come up empty.

Where symbolic gestures are just that, a quickly forgotten acknowledgement of the situation.

The Milwaukee Bucks have actually taken a tangible and measured step.

 

With a platform that gives them a domestic and international audience, the Bucks seized a unique opportunity to take a stand.

 

The NBA followed suit, and soon all games that were scheduled on Wednesday were cancelled.

 

Milwaukee is one organization in the world of professional sports that would have been a candidate for this stand even before today.

 

The question remains if this will merely be a footnote in the struggle for equality in the “land of the free”.

Or a springboard to real dialogue, and actual progress towards true equality and freedom.

 

Either way, it shows that people with influence and a platform care.

We have to start somewhere.

 

 

How Erik Spoelstra Transformed the Heat’s Offense

It’s a hectic scene in the Miami Heat’s locker room on the night of Dec. 13. To the immediate right is the franchise’s new star Jimmy Butler, recounting the last moments of a thrilling game to one of the biggest media scrums of the season. To the left is a Heat employee, chopping it up with Derrick Jones Jr and trying to figure out which pairs of shoes he’ll bring on the road.

Other players are clearing out, trying not to dwell on what happened 30 or so minutes prior. In a sense, they quite literally didn’t have time to. The Heat just lost a nail-biter to the LeBron-led Los Angeles Lakers, and they have a meeting with Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in less than 20 hours.

The Heat’s 113-110 loss to the Lakers was only their seventh defeat of the season to that point, putting them at 18-7 on the year. The loss also came under questionable circumstances; the NBA would later announce that Butler was fouled twice on the final possession – once before the inbound, and again during the potential game-tying three-point attempt.

From the outside, it’s easy to view this as a moral victory of sorts. The Heat took the Lakers to the wire, and very well could’ve won that game. For those who hadn’t watched the team closely to that point, the game served as a wake-up call. It was 48 minutes of proof that this team could beat anybody.

That isn’t how the Heat viewed it. 

This was a missed opportunity. There was an expectation to win. It isn’t enough to prove that they can compete with the top dogs; this should’ve been proof that they are a top dog.

That standard is why Miami wasn’t surprised when they started the season so well. That unwavering belief, that expectation of excellence, was instilled by head coach Erik Spoelstra months prior.

Laying the Foundation

While Butler was the prized signing of the summer, the acquisition of Meyers Leonard signified quite the shift for the Heat. Out went Hassan Whiteside, their max-contract interior force, and in came Leonard, a “spacer” that did most of his work in the background.

Spoelstra connected with Leonard almost immediately after the trade to get a feel for Leonard, as well as lay out his plans for him this season. 

“He came to L.A. to watch me work out two different times,” Leonard told me. “We went to lunch and he really wanted to get to know me. Which, first of all, that helped me understand just how much he cares.”

What further drew Leonard to Spoelstra was his commitment to improvement. Spoelstra rose through the Heat ranks as a video coordinator, scout and assistant coach before landing the head coaching job in 2008. His unorthodox path screams, “I work harder than just about everyone,” and that intensity was evident very early on from Leonard’s vantage point.

“The level of intensity is different,” Leonard said. “[Blazers head coach] Terry [Stotts] is a little more calm, cool and collected. The level of obsession Spo has with coaching is impressive. He is always bringing it, like, every day. I’ll never forget I was sitting in training camp during our first team meeting. He says, ‘I don’t want to wait,’ or something to that effect. ‘I don’t want to wait.’ So I’m like, alright, where is he going with this? 

“He’s like, ‘We have a very talented group of guys in this locker room, and coaches that are ready to make you guys better. I’m ready to start competing for a championship now.’ I’m like, wow, this guy’s with it!”

Not only is Spoelstra with it, he’s done it. He has been part of three championship teams in Miami, one as an assistant (2006) and two as the leading man (2012, 2013). It’s easy for newcomers to fall in line when you have that kind of pedigree. His video and scouting background, combined with his experience “in the trenches” allows him to connect on a deeper level. 

“This is a coach that’s made it to the top,” Solomon Hill told me. “I give credit to my past coaches, but [Spoelstra] has taken that next step, not just once, but a few times. Having that calm confidence about scenarios we may face kinda sets the standard.”

Hill also mentions that Spoelstra has an instant-recall about him, a nod to his scouting background.

“It’s crazy how his brain works,” Hill added. “He can tell you about a specific play against Dallas [in the Finals] that was a turning point, what happened here and what happened there.”

Spoelstra’s demeanor makes sense when you consider his path and background. It gives him instant credibility with players, and it’s a big reason why he and Butler have clicked.

That, and Spoelstra won’t hesitate to voice his displeasure.

“Thibs looks like he’d cuss you out in a heartbeat,” Butler told me. “Brett Brown didn’t look like that, he looked like a really nice guy. Spo looks like a really nice guy, right? He’ll cuss your a** out so quick.”

Being able to balance all of that – his experience, his intensity, his attention to detail and the human element – is what makes Spoelstra one of the best coaches in the NBA. 

“There’s the intensity, but there’s also the Spo that cares about you,” Leonard said. “The Spo that asks how you’re doing, and thanks you for what you bring to the table. It feels like he’s really in the trenches with us. It’s a very connected feeling with Spo, like you really want to go to war with that dude.”

Seeking out help

The main thing Spoelstra preaches is accountability. Knowing your role, accepting said role and giving everything you have. In order for him to hold others accountable, he has to do the work himself.

Spoelstra famously goes outside of the box to improve as a coach. He’s visited Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll to observe how Carroll runs things. Most notably, Spoelstra visited then-Oregon football head coach Chip Kelly to study his offense after Miami’s flop in the 2011 Finals. The Pace-and-Space Era began soon after, with Miami winning back-to-ball titles after they flipped their offense on its head.

This summer, Spoelstra attempted to make a similar shift. The Heat was (and is) known for their defense; Miami entered the summer having ranked in the top 10 in defensive rating seven of the past nine seasons. The offense, however, had been an inconsistent mess. That was especially true after LeBron James left the team after the 2013-14 campaign.

Spoelstra had new talent coming in. Butler was a perennial All-Star, a rugged-bucket getter set to give them a half-court boost they sorely missed. Replacing Whiteside with Leonard would give them more of a stretch element. Rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn had shown real creation flashes during Summer League, though their regular season roles were in question.

Even with the shiny new toys, Spoelstra knew he had to reinvent himself. This time, he sought out the counsel of Jim Crutchfield, a coaching legend in the Division II ranks. Crutchfield took over at West Liberty University in 2004, quickly turning them into one of the winningest programs in the country over the next 13 years before resigning and taking over Nova Southeastern University.

Crutchfield compiled a 359-61 record from 2004-2017, giving him an 85.5 winning percentage. What intrigued Spoelstra wasn’t just the amount of winning, but the way Crutchfield racked up those wins.

“Over 15 years, we are averaging 100 points a game,” Crutchfield told the Miami Herald in an interview. “It’s not so much about points per game as efficiency and points per possession. We’re among the top in the country in points per possession. We do it via a motion offense.”

Spoelstra entered the offseason wanting to diversify the offense. With a seventh-place finish in offensive rating this season, it’s safe to say that goal was achieved. 

Xs & Spos 

Spoelstra didn’t copy-and-paste Crutchfield’s offensive philosophy. In terms of play types, the Heat’s offense looks almost nothing like Crutchfield’s. Via Synergy, nearly 28 percent of Nova Southeastern’s offensive possessions came in transition, while that figure was 13.3 percent for Miami.

However, you can see some similarities in their “early offense” actions, particularly with Bam Adebayo operating from the elbows.

The Heat have also expanded their toolkit in the pick-and-roll game. They’re running a larger share of them overall – 19.6 percent of their possessions have come via pick-and-roll this year versus 18.8 last year, via Synergy – and they’ve featured more bodies.

Via Second Spectrum, the Heat have run 7.2 “double picks” per game this season, up from 4.1 the year prior. Flowing out of the “Double Drag” alignment is something Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, in particular, have made a staple, but the Heat have made good use of it as well. Among 61 players that have logged at least 100 possessions in “double pick” situations, the Heat have three players in the top-15 in efficiency: Nunn (2nd, 1.33 PPP), Goran Dragic (8th, 1.24 PPP) and Butler (12th, 1.21 PPP).

There were signs of more pick-and-roll variety in the preseason. When asked about it, Spoelstra expressed how he “loved the versatility” of his bigs. 

“Some of our offense is different quite naturally because of our personnel,” Spoelstra told me. “Meyers may make it look a little different with how he does it compared to bigs we’ve had in the past. Meyers’ shooting, Bam’s physicality and presence in the paint, [Derrick Jones Jr.] brings an immediate boost of energy when he comes into the game.”

Left out of that mix was Kelly Olynyk, who was recovering from a bone bruise in his knee at the time. Like Leonard, Olynyk went on to provide value as a floor spacer in ball-screen actions. Via Second Spectrum, Olynyk ranked fourth in the NBA this season in scoring efficiency (1.15 PPP) in pick-and-pop situations (min. 200 picks).

The Heat have done a better job of getting their ball-handlers downhill earlier in the clock. Via Second Spectrum, the Heat ranked 25th in points per possession (1.27) on shots within the first half of the shot clock. This year, their 1.35 mark is a hair behind the Dallas Mavericks for the league lead.

Of course, you can’t talk about Miami’s offense without mentioning their success with dribble-handoffs (DHOs). Via Synergy, the Heat lead the NBA in DHO frequency (8.8 percent of possessions), possessions per game (9.6), points per game (10.2) and efficiency (1.07 PPP).

Spoelstra has empowered Adebayo with more offensive responsibility, allowing him to flow into those two-man dances with Miami’s plethora of ball-handlers and shooters. The connection with him and Duncan Robinson has been particularly deadly.

 

Among DHO pairings with at least 100 possessions, the Robinson-Adebayo duo led the NBA in efficiency this season, generating an ungodly 1.32 points per direct handoff, via Second Spectrum. To put that into perspective, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 1.14 points per possession in transition this season. 

Robinson is the biggest reason the Heat have been the NBA’s most prolific shooting team this season. He’s one of 28 players attempting at least 7.0 threes per game; he’s also the most efficient, draining 44.6 percent of those looks. 

Much like Adebayo, Spoelstra has given Robinson the ultimate green light to stretch himself. Spoelstra made waves when he called Robinson one of the best shooters on the planet, despite Robinson shooting just 28.6 percent from three in limited action last season.

Now, you could probably count on one hand the amount of shooters you’d take over Robinson in the league today.

Set for a Run?

The Heat now stand as one of the most interesting teams to track in this year’s playoffs. They will face the Indiana Pacers in round one, a team they won the season series against (3-1). In addition to the Heat arguably having the two best players in the series, the Pacers are entering the postseason with black marks on three of their five best players.

Victor Oladipo is still trying to work himself back from a right knee injury that robbed him of most of his 2019-20 campaign. Domantas Sabonis, a first-time All-Star this year, will miss the series due to plantar fasciitis. T.J Warren, freshly named to the NBA’s All-Bubble team, has been playing through plantar fasciitis all season, and that’s before getting into the trouble he’s had dealing with Jimmy Butler. An argument can be made that the Heat should not only win the series, but win it quickly.

A series victory over the Pacers would likely set them up for a showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat won the season series, 2-1, and held a 23-point lead in the loss. They’ve shown they have the personnel to at least bother Antetokounmpo; that effort is spearheaded by the versatile Adebayo. 

Miami’s pick-and-roll and DHO attacks are uniquely qualified to neutralize the Bucks’ “drop” defense. With Milwaukee’s bigs hanging back to take away shots at the rim, it leaves them susceptible to the kind of looks that the Heat have thrived on all season. 

The Bucks will rightfully be favored in that series. They have the NBA’s best player in Antetokounmpo, a second All-Star in Khris Middleton and a deep cast of talented role players that allow them to go big or downsize however they see fit. 

But it wouldn’t be a complete shock if the Heat could pull off the unthinkable. 

Not to Adebayo, who thinks the Heat can “make a run and make noise and do a lot of things people said we couldn’t.”

Not to Butler, who told ESPN that he thinks the Heat can win a title this season.

And especially not to Spoelstra, who set the bar title-high at the beginning of the season. 

He doesn’t want to wait; neither do they.

 

Nekias Duncan (@NekiasNBA) works for a variety of outlets, but can be found frequently on Five Reasons Sports platforms, and has covered the past two NBA All-Star games for Five Reasons.

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Why We Should Care About Sports

 

Given we are in the midst of a global pandemic, you make ask yourself – why should I care about sports?

A simple trip to the grocery store can induce crippling anxiety.

The news is a constant cycle of hopelessness.

Leadership stateside, is let’s just say questionable.

We’ll debate politics when (if) this is all over during 2020, already one of the worst years in recent memory.

For now it come down to waiting desperately in seclusion.

Hopefully.

 

“Adapt or die” has never held more significance.

That is why a wholesome distraction such as sports is therapeutic.

With the global news consumed by COVID-19 the world turns to outlets such as ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader” for some normalcy.

We should be enjoying a different kind of March Madness right now.

Opening Day in Major League Baseball.

Meaningful NBA and NHL games as the Heat and Panthers fight for postseason position.

The Miami Hurricanes baseball team was real good.

All now an illusion, a mirage when seems as distant as when you could say hello to your neighbor.

And shake their hand.

The NFL Draft is moving ahead as planned, sort of.

 

It will happen in a way we have never seen before.

We can’t wait!

Fill out your mock drafts until your hearts are content.

Even if they are unconventional, or irrational.

Enjoy a newfound camaraderie with fellow sports fans.

Maybe even reach out to your favorite athletes and say hi.

 

The Five Reasons network is committed to bring sports fans even more content during this time.

Subscribe to the 5 on the Floor Miami Heat podcast here.

For the latest Miami Dolphins the 3 Yards Per Carry podcast has you covered, subscribe here.

Five Rings Canes is rolling out new content regularly, you can find them here.

We also have a YouTube channel where we discuss all things in the world of sports and beyond.

Olynyk has Emerged as a Catalyst for Miami Heat

Kelly Olynyk has emerged into an offensive catalyst for the Miami Heat.

We all know the Heat have some creative ways to get open looks from beyond the arc.

We did not know that they had this.

 

Miami has regained their form after their All-Star Weekend triumphs, and Olynyk is a big reason why.

Olynyk has scored in double figures in five of seven contests entering Friday night and has regained his spot in the rotation with emphasis.

 

With Meyers Leonard out Olynyk has been able to keep the spacing intact and regain coach Spoelstra’s trust.

This resurgence has been brewing for over a month and he is making the most of around 15 minutes per game.

Olynyk shot over 47% from three-point range in February and has carried that into March, going a perfect 6-of-6 to open the month in two games.

 

In the 10 game stretch mentioned above, Olynyk is shooting 61.1% from the field and an absurd 66.7% from deep.

His rebounding leaves a lot to be desired and a regression to the mean on offense is not out of the question.

Yet his reentry into the mix and solid contributions as the season has progressed are encouraging.

Miami has All Stars in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, along with rising stars Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

Olynyk has earned and embraced his complimentary role, changing the narrative on his season.

A once maligned player on the fringe of the rotation has fought his way back.

What is more symbolic of the Culture than that?

Subscribe to the 5 on the Floor podcast for exclusive Miami Heat content.

CK’s Take: Technology Offers Miami Dolphins a Blueprint

While admiring the sheer size of the Miami Beach Convention Center, the central hub for Super Bowl LIV, I came across a back room in a relatively un-trafficked part of the Convention Center. Peeking into the room, the presentation slides on the screens bracketing the dais said, “Zebra Technologies”. I decided to attend the scheduled conference.

Considering how out of the way the room was, literally as far from the infamous and chaotic ‘Radio Row’ as possible while still being in the same building, it should have been unsurprising how few members of the media showed up for the presentation. They largely ignored this little room, preferring to see staged shouting matches between UFC fighters, or to rub elbows with Jim Rome, Peter King, etc.

Their loss.

Some of the most fascinating and revealing information about the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs featured in that secluded room. The benevolent geeks (it’s OK for me to call them that since I count myself among them) at Zebra Technologies and the NFL’s Next Gen Stats platform were kind enough to share the sweet nectar of analytics with the three or four of us who found our way in.

First, a little bit about Zebra Technologies. They implant radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in every set of pads and every football used by NFL teams on game day. They have a complex network of sensors in every NFL stadium which tracks all locations and movements of these chips throughout the games. Using the data, the NFL and Zebra are able to model and recreate every movement that happens on every play in the game, measuring distances and speeds along the way.

(Side Note: The Miami Dolphins happen to be one of about ten or so teams in the league that have also contracted with Zebra independently to have the same chips and sensors installed in their practice facilities, adding to the library of data they are able to analyse for everything from training to scouting.)

The NFL puts out analytics derived off this data through its Next Gen Stats platform.

During the presentation, we learned a number of conspicuous factoids about the cream of the conferences. The overarching theme, the primary takeaway if you’re a Miami Dolphins fan and you want to know how to get to the Super Bowl?

SPEED

Did you know that the #1 and #2 fastest ball carrying teams in the NFL ended up facing one another in the Super Bowl this year? Kansas City ball carriers (including receivers after the catch) averaged a speed of 13.36 miles per hour during the 2019 season. San Francisco ball carriers averaged 13.35 miles per hour.

One team did it with receivers like Mecole Hardman (21.9 miles per hour and 21.7 miles per hour) and Sammy Watkins (21.3 miles per hour), the two together having recorded 3 of the top 20 speeds measured on a player carrying the ball in the 2019-20 season.

The other team did it with a set of running backs like Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, who reached at least 15 miles per hour on 29% of their carries this year, trailing only Dalvin Cook’s 30% figure.

The 49ers and Chiefs also recorded 7 of the top 12 speeds achieved in the NFL playoffs.

The speed leads to separation, as the Chiefs led all NFL teams in average separation of receivers (3.7 yards), while the not-too-shabby 49ers ranked 6th (3.2 yards). The separation helped the teams rank 3rd and 5th, respectively, in pass plays of 15+ yards.

The 49ers added the wrinkle of a speedy ground attack which ranked 2nd in the NFL in run plays of 10+ yards. This achievement was all the more impressive since the data show that all three of San Francisco’s running backs (Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert) were among the most likely in the NFL to be running against an 8-man box on any given run play.

Speaking of speed, the 49ers pass rush deserves mention, particularly when Dee Ford is healthy and participating. Ford, we learned, is the 3rd quickest pass rusher in the NFL when it comes to time it takes to cross the line of scrimmage after the snap. When he was in the game this season, the 49ers pass rush was able to pressure the quarterback on 34% of pass plays. When he was out, that number dipped into the mid-20’s. Easy to see why the 49ers seemed to get a boost in performance as Ford came back for the playoffs.

The matchup with Kansas City could put this increased pass rush efficiency even more in the spotlight, as Patrick Mahomes proved to be the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL this season when allowed 2.5 seconds or longer to throw the football. He averaged 10.1 yards per attempt on such plays.

The 49ers are able to generate nearly identical pass rush efficiency with just four pass rushers as they are when they rush five or more. That should be convenient for San Francisco, since Mahomes had a 116.5 passer rating versus the blitz this season. The guess is that San Francisco will sit back and allow their four-man front to harass Mahomes, if they can get away with it.

On the back end, the most effective deep passing game in the NFL, led by Patrick Mahomes and those speedy receivers, will face off with far and away the stingiest deep pass defenders in the NFL. While Mahomes has led the NFL in deep pass completions and touchdowns since 2018, the 49ers defense only allowed a total of NINE deep completions during the entire 2019-20 season. That is astounding, and was the best number in the NFL by a margin.

The data on these two teams, the speed they share in common, is fascinating because of how differently they’re constructed. While it’s easy to imagine how the Chiefs are able to produce these speed and separation measurements with explicitly fast players like Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Sammy Watkins, the 49ers are not staffed the same way. They have been able to achieve speed figures through misdirection, spacing, decisiveness, and run after catch skills.

While the Dolphins may have multiple roads they can take to get there, the goal should remain the same. For the Miami Dolphins to take the next step, they must learn to play faster than the competition. If they can do that, perhaps the next secret nerd meeting at a Super Bowl convention will feature slides on Devante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, … and Tua Tagovailoa?

Josh Rosen, taking a snap in minicamp, has a lot of work to catch up to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Craig Davis/Fivereasonssports.com)

Don’t rush to judgment on Dolphins’ position battles

The Dolphins’ offseason program has mercifully come to a close.

That means everyone can exhale and take a break from the breathless analysis of the quarterback contest between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen.

This is a time of hyper scrutiny about everything in every aspect of public interest. And, yes, Dolphins coach Brian Flores did say, “Everything counts,” including how players performed play to play, day to day during the past four weeks of OTAs and minicamp.

But he also said the game and the team is fluid, and he’s not announcing a depth chart going into training camp.

Thus, there is no basis for any of us who have watched a handful of practices over the past four weeks to draw any definitive conclusions about the QB sweepstakes or other position battles.

How soon to play Rosen will be vital question of season

Somehow, we’re getting blow-by-blow critiques of confrontations between linemen before anyone has donned a pad.

Career disappointment DeVante Parker is being awarded gold stars as a June sensation.

Maybe the 2014 first-round pick has finally found his Zen as an NFL receiver. But let’s wait till fall, lest we’re left with fool’s gold again.

As for the quarterbacks, in spring ball Fitzpatrick did look like a seasoned veteran of 14 seasons and Rosen like a guy beginning his second season with his second team trying to find his way as a pro.

As is be expected.

Even Rosen was watching Fitzpatrick for clues, saying, “Whatever he does well, I’m trying to figure out why he did it and emulate it and continue to add my own flavor to it.”

What to watch in training camp

How that dynamic evolves beginning when camp opens in a couple of months will be the prime source of intrigue through the preseason, and it won’t necessarily end when the regular season starts.

We certainly don’t know how it’s going to play out based on these past few weeks when neither does Flores and his staff.

These sessions did whet my appetite for what training camp and exhibition games will reveal. Such as:

Will 2019 first-round pick Christian Wilkins establish himself quickly as an anchor of the defensive line?

Will third-rounder Michael Dieter look as at home as a potential starting guard when the pads go on as he did in shorts?

Will Mike Gesicki turn athleticism into production at tight end in his second season or does he still lack the physicality for the NFL?

Will anyone generate a pass rush?

Will linebackers Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan take significant steps in their second year as starters to elevate a suspect corps?

How will talented but raw rookie Preston Williams fit into a solid group of receivers.

But what I’m most interested in watching is what Flores and his staff accomplish with a roster that clearly is not deep in quality.

Reshad Jones can still help Dolphins defense, if they still want him

Like with the players, there is no basis to draw conclusions about the coaches based on offseason performance.

I do like qualities that Flores has shown. He is genuine and has a clear view of what he believes are the elements that go into building team success.

Coaching matters more in football than in the other team sports. We’ve seen how Bill Belichick maximizes personnel to win year after year in New England.

Can Flores bring that knack to Miami after years as a Belichick assistant? Now he’ll be measured not only against the master as a division rival but also against his Dolphins predecessor, Adam Gase, now with the Jets.

A question of coaching?

With that in mind, the biggest revelation from the offseason sessions was talented defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick talking about the difference for him so far in the Flores/Patrick Graham defensive scheme.

While Fitzpatrick will be used in multiple roles, as he was as a rookie, he said he never quite grasped the ever-changing plan for him last year under then-defensive coordinator Matt Burke, saying in a Miami Herald story, “It was kind of all over the place. It was sporadic.”

Not only are his duties more clearly defined now, he told the Herald that new D-coordinator Graham has shown him some tough love in video sessions:

“They showed me some of the good plays. Some of the things that I was doing well. Some of the things I’ve improved on. It really helped me. Because it’s humbling. They’re not going to lie to you. I love and appreciate it, because great coaches are not going to lie to players. I think it’s definitely good that they coach us like that.”

Who knows where those methods will lead? It will be something else to watch as the summer unfolds and the fall reveals whether a different staff can turn around last year’s historically poor defense and produce more consistent offensive results.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

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Reshad Jones showed he was all about 'Team' on the first day of Dolphins minicamp. (Craig Davis)

Reshad Jones says he’s committed to Dolphins; are they committed to him?

DAVIE – Brian Flores was clearly grateful to avoid beginning the final week of offseason work with controversy surrounding the highest-paid player on the team.

Yes, Reshad Jones was in camp Tuesday and participated in the first of three days of the Dolphins’ mandatory minicamp.

The two-time Pro Bowl safety had opted to skip the previous three weeks of OTAs and earlier voluntary offseason sessions.

Consider that a dead issue. Jones, coming off shoulder surgery in February, said he opted to train away from the team to get himself healthy and physically ready for the rigors of his 10th NFL season.

Jones dispelled any question about whether he is on board with the rebuilding Dolphins under the Flores regime and said he is not worried about rumors that he may be traded.

“I’m in great shape. I’m still one of the best safeties in this league, and whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I’m here, I love the city, I love the fans, I love to be a part of the Dolphin organization.”

Where does Jones fit?

But intrigue remains concerning where the two-time Pro Bowl defender will fit into the scheme being concocted by the Dolphins’ first-year coach and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

And whether Jones will be fully invested in a role that may be different than he’s had in the past.

The memory remains from last season of Jones refusing to go back into the Jets game as part of a rotation plan rather than in his customary every-down routine.

Understandably, Flores said he isn’t concerning himself with what happened last year in Miami while he was directing a New England Patriots defense on the way to another Super Bowl title.

Indications are Flores wants to run much the same system with the Dolphins, and it will utilize a lot of different looks and players in multiple roles.

That likely explains why there are 18 defensive backs on the current roster, the largest of any position group.

The glut of safeties include J.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick, as well as Bobby McCain, primarily a slot cornerback who worked at free safety in place of Jones during OTAs.

So does Jones return as the presumptive starter?

A week ago Flores made a point of saying, “I think everybody’s got to work to be a starter in this league, and on this team. … I would say there’s no sacred cow, not in this game.”

Flores downplayed that Tuesday, saying, “That wasn’t part of the conversation” he had with Jones.

“That’s not really a talking point when I’m one on one with a player,” he said. “The conversation was about coming in, learning the playbook, having good communication, working on your fundamentals and technique. Really, a conversation I have with every player.”

Where that conversation will lead with Jones won’t become clear this week. Before the team took the field Tuesday, Flores made a point of letting media members know that Jones wouldn’t be working exclusively with the first unit because they were running some exotic packages that he had needed to learn.

It is apparent that this defensive scheme will be more exotic than standard.

Plenty of DBs needed

In New England, Flores’ defense commonly utilized six defensive backs on the field in passing situations.

“It’s just a lot of movement, a lot of packages, guys paying different roles. Fast paced. It looks exciting,” Jones said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Whether Jones is part of it when games start to count in September is uncertain.

There have been media reports that the Dolphins would prefer to trade Jones for a draft pick. That would make sense if the team is writing off this season and stockpiling future assets.

Jones is 31 and past the stage of being a long-term core player to build around.

He has a guaranteed salary of $13 million for 2019 with a cap hit of $17.3 million, which wouldn’t make him easy to trade.

But make no mistake, Reshad Jones remains a valuable asset that would enhance what Flores aims to accomplish defensively this season.

“I earned my respect in this league. I’ve done everything possible. I’ve been a two-time Pro Bowl safety, everything you can possibly imagine,” he said.

“I put the work in year in and year out and I’m here to help this team win football games.”

As far as finding his way into the exotic packages of Flores’ defense:

“I’m catching up pretty fast.”

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

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