Tua Tagovailoa

Fresh Perspective: Dolphins must avoid repeating history with Tua Tagovailoa

It’s been said that learning is easier when one fails rather than when one succeeds. With all of the failing the Miami Dolphins have done over the past two decades, one would think they would learn their lesson by now. But unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Miami is about to make the same mistake with their quarterback all over again. Tua Tagovailoa was viewed as the answer to all the franchise’s problems. As it turns out, it’s not that easy.

There are so many other factors that are mandatory for a team to win a Super Bowl. Yes, the quarterback is undoubtedly part of it. Most of the teams who made it to the playoffs in the past several seasons had a top 15 QB leading their offense. But in a world where all the attention is focused on the quarterback, the pieces surrounding them tend to be overshadowed.

Miami’s first mistake

Former Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has just been eliminated from playoff contention. There’s no question that in some ways, he’s holding the team back. He’s always had trouble sensing pressure, and he has a bad tendency to stare down his receivers. Nevertheless, in all three seasons he’s been the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, he’s made the playoffs.

No one will make the argument that Tannehill is the reason the Titans have found success. Tannehill is surrounded by talent. Now he has all the pieces needed to succeed.

He has a decent offensive line, something he rarely had in Miami.

He has an excellent running game, courtesy of Derrick Henry. The one year he made the playoffs with the Dolphins was the year Jay Ajayi became a star.

He has good weapons with A.J. Brown and the newly added Julio Jones, among others.

He has a good defense, he has a coach who supports him, he has everything a quarterback needs to succeed. So now, if he can’t get the job done, there’s nothing else to look at except his own shortcomings.

But during his time in Miami, there was always an excuse to make with Ryan Tannehill. He didn’t have an offensive line, he didn’t have a run game, he didn’t have good weapons. These are all true statements. He didn’t have what the Titans gave him, and so the Dolphins never made it to the playoffs. But surely, if Tannehill were a better QB, they would have accomplished something!

Perhaps so, but also perhaps not. Recent events have proven even an elite QB is not enough.

Elite QBs still need help

The Green Bay Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night in the divisional round. Future Hall of Fame QB Aaron Rodgers is now 0-4 against the 49ers in the playoffs. Is it because Rodgers himself is insufficient?

Was Dan Marino not good enough to win a Super Bowl?

No one who watched Dan Marino play would dare suggest he was the problem in Miami. Likewise, it’s very difficult to make the case that Aaron Rodgers is the reason the Packers keep coming up short. Yet, it seems people are making that exact accusation in the aftermath of Saturday’s game.

Everyone is taking turns criticizing Rodgers for his failure. Unquestionably, he deserves some criticism. Rodgers is not a perfect quarterback. But he is one of the league’s best. Easily top 5 in the NFL. Now he is the reason the Packers fail to win in the playoffs? Is the implication that a future Hall of Fame QB who regularly puts together MVP caliber numbers is not good enough to get the job done?

How can you possibly upgrade from that?

Without a doubt, much of the criticism Rodgers is receiving is due to his off-the-field remarks. But there is a significant portion of analysts who are saying that Aaron Rodgers – the player – is holding the Green Bay Packers back.

If that’s the case, then there’s very little hope for any quarterback who intends to take his place.

The Miami Dolphins are still looking for someone to fill the shoes left by Dan Marino. No one has even come close in the two decades since his retirement. So why are people still under the erroneous belief that a quarterback will fix all of Miami’s problems? Dan Marino, the greatest Miami QB of all time, with one of the greatest coaches of all time in Don Shula, could not win a Super Bowl. He didn’t have the running game, and at times he did not have the defense Super Bowl winning teams usually have.

Miami has an opportunity here. They need to avoid repeating the mistake they made with Ryan Tannehill and, yes, Dan Marino. They need to stop looking for a savior, and start building an army.

Dolphins repeating the mistake

Take a look at the teams remaining in the playoffs – as of this story.

  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • Cincinnati Bengals

Four of those teams have a quarterback considered to be either good or great. Joe Burrow is at least in one category. Results vary depending on who you ask. Nevertheless, that still leaves two teams with QBs who are nothing special. The Los Angeles Rams have Matthew Stafford, who up until his arrival in LA under Sean McVay, was rarely considered one of the league’s top QBs. People respected him, they knew he had skill. But they also knew there was a limit to how far he could take the Detroit Lions.

One year with the Rams, and he’s in the playoffs, battling for the NFC Championship Game. What a difference a change of scenery makes. Stafford did not magically improve, the pieces around him did. WRs Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson, Robert Woods. RBs Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson, not to mention the star-studded defense.

All of these teams are positively stacked at every position. That’s what gives them that edge.

The Dolphins need to do the same for Tua Tagovailoa. The Alabama standout was hyped by Dolphins fans everywhere. Even Chargers fans – now perfectly happy with Justin Herbert – were hoping Miami would choose Herbert over Tagovailoa. That is not a coincidence. The consensus pick pre-draft was Tagovailoa over Herbert. But now, one QB has been given support to succeed. The other has been cut off at the knees at every turn.

Reports are coming out that coach Brian Flores did not want Tua Tagovailoa. That it was him who kept pushing the narrative that Miami wanted to trade for Texans QB Deshaun Watson, in spite of his legal controversies. The current consensus is that GM Chris Grier and owner Stephen Ross ultimately overruled him. However, that was the beginning of the end as the relationship between Flores, Grier and Ross rapidly deteriorated from there.

Five Reasons Sports’ own Alfredo Arteaga has determined that after watching Tua Tagovailoa during the tail end of the season, his mechanics had crumbled. His struggles can easily be attributed to that. But that’s not all there is to it. Take a look at the pieces around Tagovailoa.

Miami’s offensive line was absolutely terrible in 2021. Austin Jackson regressed mightily at both tackle and guard, and Jesse Davis continues to be a liability starting at right tackle. It wasn’t until the final week of the season, when the year was already lost, that Brian Flores made a change and put in undrafted free agent Robert Jones instead.

Almost immediately, there was an improvement. That is an example of Flores’s failures with personnel decisions. He refused to look for ways to improve the offensive line, instead insisting that he was sending out the best five guys to start every week. Obviously, that was not correct.

Then there’s the running game. The Dolphins had no running game. That is, until Duke Johnson became the starting running back. For some reason, Brian Flores felt that the running back room was good with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Obviously, that was also not correct.

Then there’s the weapons. Miami has three players who can make a difference in the game. But only one actually did. Tua Tagovailoa helped Jaylen Waddle break Anquan Boldin’s rookie reception record. As for DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, Parker missed seven games and wasn’t available for Tagovailoa to throw to most of the time. Gesicki, on the other hand, was available, but criminally underused. That was either by coincidence, or by design. Gesicki was off the field far too often, with Durham Smythe and even Adam Shaheen taking those snaps.

Finally, the head coach. It isn’t hard to see that Brian Flores did not support Tua Tagovailoa. The young QB even made it a point to show everyone that he easily could have played during the Houston Texans game in spite of his injured finger, throwing the ball in warmups only to be sidelined for Jacoby Brissett.

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If Brissett hadn’t suffered a knee injury the next week against the Baltimore Ravens, his return would have been delayed even longer. When he did come in, Tagovailoa started off cold but eventually found his rhythm, showing that even while injured, he could do a better job than Brissett, who Flores seemed to believe was the better choice.

But in the end, it wasn’t good enough. Tagovailoa couldn’t deliver when it counted, and Miami was knocked out of playoff contention. Undoubtedly, that’s partly his fault. But to pretend that Tagovailoa has all the pieces a QB needs to succeed is ignorant of reality.

Build up the army

Joe Burrow in Cincinnati has one of the best WR trios in the NFL. Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and of course his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase. His offensive line isn’t very good, and that shows when facing a team who can get pressure on a QB. But when you have three WRs who can make defenders look dumb and get excellent yards after a catch, it’s easier to make up for it. Also, he has a solid tight end in C.J. Uzomah, and an undoubtedly excellent running back in Joe Mixon, who ran for 1,205 yards this season, as well as catching 42 passes for 314 yards.

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Justin Herbert – on top of being more physically gifted – also has better support. Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are easily better options than DeVante Parker. Allen alone is a certified top NFL WR, with Williams being an excellent number two. True, Herbert’s offensive line is also bad, but he does have a running game. Austin Ekeler is one of Herbert’s most used weapons. Just this season, he ran for 911 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching 70 passes for 647 yards and eight more touchdowns. That combines for a total of 1,558 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns total from the team’s starting running back.

Tua Tagovailoa is expected to be on par with his constituents, with injured and misused weapons, RBs who get benched by free agents off the street, and an offensive line that forces him to throw in less than three seconds on a regular basis? The Miami Dolphins already tried this with Ryan Tannehill. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

Quarterbacks need pieces around them that they can count on when the moment arrives. Right now, the only one Tagovailoa can count on is Jaylen Waddle, and even he made some mistakes in key moments that could have helped fend off the dominating narrative that Tagovailoa is a bust. Whoever the new coach is for the Dolphins, he needs to recognize that while a QB is important, a lack of support will doom him.

Miami must give Tua Tagovailoa a good running back, like Herbert and Burrow have. They must give him reliable weapons, like Herbert and Burrow have. With any luck, they will also recognize that they need to give him a good offensive line, which Herbert and Burrow actually do not have.

If after all that is done, Tagovailoa still doesn’t measure up to his fellow 2020 draftees, then it may be safe to move on. But if they decide that based on 2021’s results that Tagovailoa is already a failure, then they’ll just keep setting up replacement after replacement for failure. Dan Marino isn’t walking through the tunnel anytime soon. And even if he did, his own career proves that a QB alone isn’t enough to win it all.

History is there to learn from, Miami Dolphins. Stop looking for a savior, start building an army. Don’t make the same mistake again.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for seven years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

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Stephen Ross

Where should the Dolphins Coaching Cycle stop this time?

Shockingly, the Miami Dolphins fired Head Coach Brian Flores on Black Monday. 

 

It’s been 26 years since the Dolphins had a coach, Don Shula, that can lead this franchise to multiple playoff berths and in contention for the Lombardi trophy. 

 

It’s been an endless cycle since 1995 as the search continues, with the oddmakers all paying attention.

 

 

 

The Candidates to consider: 

 

Brian Daboll

 

Daboll, 46, has become quite the hot new name in head coach searches. He is given credit for the sharp upward development of Josh Allen. Daboll was 2020 NFL assistant coach of the year because of it.

 

He also is a Bill Belichick protégé who has five Patriots Super Bowl rings to show for it. Oh, and he coached Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama in 2017.

 

Daboll some may recall was Dolphins offensive coordinator in 2011 under Tony Sparano. He did not fail. He lifted Miami’s ranking in points scored from a near-bottom 30th to a near-midpack 20th.

 

 

Daboll was also Tua Tagovailoa’s offensive coordinator 

 

Daboll maximized Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall, Matt Moore and Chad Henne. Daboll has had proven success with average to above average players and helped Josh Allen develop into a top 5 QB. 

 

A positive byproduct of this coaching change, if we’re looking for air freshener against the stench, is that it makes it more likely the Dolphins will commit full resources to the development of Tua as their quarterback moving forward.

 

Kellen Moore

 

Kellen Moore has two years of offensive coordinator and Play Calling experience but it’s his third year coaching. 

 

The Cowboys built on Moore and Dak Prescotts rapport. Moore was Dak’s backup and eventually in 2018 became his QB coach. In 2019, Moore took the helm of the Cowboys offense. 

 

In his first year, Moore presided over the NFL’s top-ranked offensive attack, the second-rated passing offense and fifth-ranked running game. His offense helped ascensd Dak Prescott to finish second in the league in passing and set career-highs in passing yards, completions, attempts and Touchdowns.

 

 

Under Moore’s tutelage. Ezekiel Elliot was fourth in rushing yards in the NFL and Amari Cooper had a breakout season.  Moored offensive prowess helped five Cowboys become pro bowlers, with three of them becoming offensive lineman. 

 

Moores impressive resume in a short span says more about the talent on offense and already knowing the Cowboys scheme. If Moore were to get the position he will need a killer offensive staff and question would arise if he could ascend Tua the same way he did with Prescott. 

 

Dan Quinn

 

Quinn arrived in Dallas prior to the 2021 season after serving as the head coach in Atlanta from 2015 until 2020. 

 

He was Miami’s defensive line coach for two years before spending the 2007-08 seasons in the same role for the New York Jets.

 

The big issue coming from Quinn’s tenure in Atlanta was the lack of accountability. When the Falcons messed up on the field, you never saw any anger from Quinn. He would always clap and pat his players on the shoulder after a mistake. Nobody was held accountable, and Quinn would sweep it under the rug. 

 

Now, Quinn has changed his defensive philosophy in Dallas as it aligns with more of what the Dolphins ran last season with similar personnel. 

 

It is extremely impressive as he put Micah Parsons in positions to win and maximized his ability. Quinn all season has maximized and schematically out his defensive players in successful situations. 

 

Quinn built a really good staff in Atlanta which included Terry Rubisky, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LeFleur and Mike McDaniel. If Quinn becomes the next HC, his offensive staff would be intriguing. 

 

Vance Joseph

 

Vance Joseph is the current DC with the Arizona Cardinals and was formerly the HC of the Denver Broncos and the DC in Miami under Adam Gase. 

 

With how Arizona’s defense has performed most of this season and improved over the three seasons he has led it, it was inevitable that he would begin to garner interest. 

 

Joseph, along with Quinn and Daboll have been with the Dolphins as position coaches and coordinators. It feels as if Chris Grier is digging into his past relationships to fill an important need. 

 

It is worth noting that in Miami, the Dolphins defense got statistically worse in giving up yards per game and become one of the NFLs most penalized teams when Joseph was the DC. 

 

In Denver, Joseph inherited a top 3 defense and it failed to go back to that. While the offense struggled, it’s not as if Joseph’s defense overwhelmed opponents, despite talent at each level. 

 

In his Broncos tenure, he allowed 22.8 points per game (15th in the NFL), and 104.5 rushing yards (11th), and 58.3 red zone conversion rate (19th). Led by Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr, the Broncos D had their moments, but not enough to carry Denver to the postseason.

 

Joseph’s offense was dismal. His defense was middle of the pack. What likely sealed Joseph’s fate, however, was consistent coaching errors. Often, Joseph botched late-game situational football, made head-scratching decisions, mismanaged imeout usage, and didn’t put players in the best situation to succeed.

 

Mike McDaniel

 

Although McDaniel is the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, head coach Kyle Shanahan calls the plays. McDaniel helps create the game plan and is in charge of the run game

 

So how did the 49ers do on the ground this season? It’s complicated. They finished seventh in the NFL at 127.4 rushing yards per game, part of an offense that ranked seventh overall and 13th in scoring. Rookie RB Elijah Mitchell was the top rusher with 207 carries for 963 yards and five touchdowns, but he played only 11 games.

 

It is noteworthy that Mike McDaniel was in contention to be an offensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2020.

 

 

McDaniel is highly regarded around NFL circles. As an intern for Mike Shanahan he was designing plays. While he’s noteworthy for his run game prowess he excels at his understanding of the passing game. 

 

Under Shanahan he designs the game plan, selects the plays and then in game advises on play calls and selects the plays for the next drive. McDaniels is the 49ers play caller 

 

George Kittle asked for it to be written into his contract that McDaniel stays with the 49ers. Former Browns WR Andrew Hawkins said that no other “candidate understands offensive football the way” McDaniel does. 

 

Leslie Frazier

 

Leslie Frazier, the current Bills Defensive Coordinator, if chosen could continue this defensive scheme and build upon this dominance since 2020. 

 

In 2007, he was appointed as the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, adding the title of assistant coach in 2008. During the 2010 season, he became the Vikings’ interim head coach when Brad Childress was fired, becoming their head coach in 2011 and holding that position through 2013.

 

Frazier’s tenure was marked by an inability to develop a quarterback. This season, he struggled just to choose between Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. Even more damning: Frazier’s defense badly declined in 2013, giving up more points than any team in football.

 

 

His defense in Minnesota failed to adapt to being flexible and was underwhelming with key pieces being the main problem. 

 

In Buffalo, Frazier was part of a coaching staff that developed CB Tre’Davious White and LB Tremaine Edmunds who were both named to the Pro Bowl, with White also garnering AP First-Team All Pro honors.

 

In 2019, his defense finished third in the league, only allowing 298.3 yards per game. In 2018, the Bills defense finished second in the NFL, allowing 294.1 yards per game, which was the Bills highest rank since they finished first in 1999.

 

To me this feels like an interview request to check off the Rooney Rule. Frazier would be tasked in building on offensive staff. He could bring in Ken Dorsey as the OC but rumors are that Dorsey could go back to his Alma Mater, the Miami Hurricanes. 

 

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Who I would want

 

Based on Stephen Ross’ presser he has the Confidence of Tua Tagovailoa as his QB. Ultimately it will be up to the new Head Coach to decide whether they would keep Tua Tagovailoa as the QB. 

 

This comes down to Candidates that are offensive minded coaches that can build an offensive staff that supports Tua Tagovailoa with a competent running game and offensive line, while maintaining the defensive continuity since 2020. 

 

I would roll the Dice with Mike McDaniel, who’s had years of experience under the Shanahan coaching tree. The Shanahan style of run game has the perception of being very hard to learn; however, per players on the 49ers roster McDaniel explains it in simplistic terms making it easier for players to understand through a 2 step cadence

 

 

McDaniel would have to round the rest of his staff with passing game and run game coordinators which he would bring in. The most interesting option would be the OC. I’d bring in Green Bay’s QB coach Luke Getsy. Getsy has 14 years of offensive experience and most notably is the passing game coordinator under Mike Lafluer who has revolutionized Aaron Rodgers and the passing game

 

As for the dreaded offensive line that’s been the league worst since 2019. This current OL needs a veteran OL coach and teacher that can turn it around. Getting Coach Aaron Kromer out of retirement may the best bet of teaching this young offensive line fundamental footwork and techniques to improve their refinement. In his tenure at New Orleans, Kromer sent five OLs to a combined nine pro bowls. In 2009 and 2011, Kromer coached the Saints OL as the best Offensive Line in the league. He joined the Chicago Bears staff helping them become the second best scoring offense in the league. Kromer was part of the Rams Super Bowl 53 run. 

 

As for the defensive side of the ball it would be smart to continue to have the same coaching staff. Keeping Boyer, Alexander and the rest of the position coaches to continue the defensive dominance intact. If the new HC chooses not to, Vic Fangio would make the most sense to continue it. 

 

Miami Dolphins need to improve in these five areas

Fresh Perspective: Top 5 Miami Dolphins offseason musts

Now that the season has come to a close, it’s time to break down what are the main improvements the Miami Dolphins need to make this offseason. As always, there’s a long list that needs checking off, but there are certain things that have more priority than others. This column will break down the main things Miami needs to do to ensure that next season doesn’t end on the same sour note this one did, being on the outside looking in.

Later on there will be a position-by-position breakdown detailing every single move the team should make, in this writer’s opinion. But for now, here’s a generalized primer that fits the bill no matter who Miami’s QB is.

1. Buy the offensive line

It’s time to face facts. No matter who is in charge, no matter how many draft picks are invested, the Miami Dolphins simply can’t seem to develop solid offensive linemen. The talent is lacking, and the cohesion as a unit is nonexistent. Coaching is a big part of that. However, there is a simple solution. Do what the Kansas City Chiefs did: buy an offensive line.

According to Spotrac, Miami will have more cap space available than any team in the NFL. That leaves plenty of room for the Dolphins to go on a major spending spree, which should be spent almost entirely on the offensive line. There are some solid left tackle options, as well as some top level veteran guards.

It’s time to give the Dolphins QB – whether it’s Tua Tagovailoa or someone else entirely – an offensive line that isn’t among the absolute worst in the league.

2. Find a legitimate RB

This front office stood on the podium at the end of the 2021 offseason and said they were happy with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Their only real addition was Malcolm Brown, who has spent a large portion of the season injured. It became clear that Gaskin and Ahmed both have real shortcomings as running backs.

Then the Dolphins brought in UM superstar Duke Johnson off the street. He looked much better than either of them. Then the Dolphins added veteran Phillip Lindsay, and he looked better as well. It does not bode well for talent evaluation when two free agent veterans come in midseason and prove to be the superior options.

This season has shown just what kind of a difference even a marginal improvement at running back can do. Two seasons in a row, Miami has opted to ignore the running back position. They cannot do so again. An improved offensive line will definitely help, but all around the league, running backs are making names for themselves. Their offenses are reaping those benefits.

The Miami Dolphins should give contract offers to both Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. But even with them, they should not be content. The Miami Dolphins need a true superstar running back again.

3. Keep the defense together

No question about it. Brian Flores has put together a championship caliber defense. But that means the Dolphins need to do whatever it takes to keep the core together. Emmanuel Ogbah, Elandon Roberts, Nik Needham, and Xavien Howard. They all need new deals in the offseason, and it behooves any GM worthy of the title to make sure these impact players stay in Miami.

Back in 2016, an article was written on phinmaniacs.com regarding whether offense or defense was more important. The research showed some startling results.

Let’s start at the year 2000, that’s a decent place to start right? 16 Super Bowls have been played since then, and of those 16 winners, 10 of them have had a top 10 offense. Ok, now looking at the defense, it would appear that 11 of those 16 teams had a top defense. Again, pretty evenly matched.

So let’s tighten things up again.

Of the 16 teams who have won a Super Bowl since the year 2000, only 4 of those teams have had a top 5 ranked offense. In contrast, 9 of them have had a top 5 ranked defense. Not nearly as even.

For completion’s sake, let’s see how many of those teams had the top ranked offense and defense. Since 2000, only one team has had the top ranked offense and won the Super Bowl, while 6 of them have had the number one ranked defense.

If the Miami Dolphins want to keep any positive momentum, the defense needs to be held together. It’s so rare to reach this kind of plateau on the defensive side of the football. Just keep the existing pieces in place, and the rest of the resources can be used to upgrade the offense.

4. Establish veteran presence

Miami’s painfully slow start can arguably the real reason they aren’t in the playoffs this season. The Dolphins lost a lot of games they had no business losing during their 7-game slide. It took them too long to get back to the style of defense they used last season, and it took them too long to work out other bugs in their fundamentals.

The best way to avoid repeating that mistake is to establish a veteran presence this season. Brian Flores decided it wasn’t important in 2021, but hopefully in 2022 he’ll realize his mistake.

Experience doesn’t need to be incredibly expensive. There are a lot of aging veterans that can be had at reasonable prices. WRs DeSean Jackson or A.J. Green, DE Calais Campbell if he doesn’t retire, OLB Melvin Ingram was given a hard look earlier this offseason. There are veterans to be had that can impart some knowledge and still play an active role.\

5. Assistant coaches must be improved

More than anything, this is on Brian Flores. But there’s no way to know if this is likely to happen. Miami’s assistant coaches, particularly on offense, have little to no pedigree. And it shows. Lemuel Jeanpierre, the offensive line coach, has only been an NFL coach for four seasons including 2021. He’s never been an OL coach before, and that shows as well.

Flores needs to find a veteran offensive line coach. Perhaps he can drag Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement for a year, just to get things on track and train a successor in the process. Or, with the recent firing of Vic Fangio, maybe Mike Munchak will shake loose and Flores can make a play for him to fix things up.

Speaking of veterans, it would be coaching malpractice for Flores to not look at some new potential offensive coordinator candidates. The Carolina Panthers are going to interview the likes of Jay Gruden and Bill O’Brien to take over for Joe Brady, who was fired on Dec. 5.

Or, perhaps, Flores can consider Brady for the OC position. He learned under Sean Payton as an offensive assistant, and then was credited with helping Joe Burrow become a superstar at LSU. Perhaps, Brady can help Tua Tagovailoa – or whoever the QB in 2022 is – to find some success with a new offense that will create some excitement.

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Brian Flores has to know that the product on the field this season was not good enough. If even one of those games – the Jaguars, the Falcons, the Colts – ended in a win instead of a loss, the Miami Dolphins would likely be in the playoffs. Better coaches get better results, and there are some good ones looking for a new home. He has to try and upgrade from what he has on offense.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for seven years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

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Stetson Bennett IV can reach NFL status with a national championship for Georgia

It’s becoming common place for the iconic Queen song “We Are The Champions” after bowl games, especially one as big as the Orange Bowl. The timing of Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy watching the celebration from a distance with a few teammates only to leave on the lyrics “no time for losers” was poetic. 

The Orange Bowl championship used to mean something but now it’s just another game on the road to the real prize. 

“We didn’t do our everything we did this whole season just to win the Orange Bowl,” Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean said. 

Just like the previous matchup between Alabama and Georgia on this stage birthed the legend of Tua Tagovailoa, the same could possibly happen for Stetson Bennett IV. Tagovailoa came in for Jalen Hurts to rally Alabama to an overtime win in the 2018 National Championship Game. All Bennett has to do is break Georgia’s seven-game losing streak to Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in next week’s title game.

Among the quarterbacks leading the cream of the crop, Bennett has the story of an underdog. He came to Georgia as a walk-on, then left for a year in junior college only to come back and eventually take over for JT Daniels, who transferred from USC and led the Bulldogs to a Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati a year ago. 

He completed all but 10 of his 30 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in Georgia’s 34-11 win over Michigan to set up an SEC title game rematch with Alabama. Because of his up-start origin and two interceptions, on top of the Bulldogs defense getting taken for a ride for the first time all season, has led to outside doubt in Bennett leading up to the Orange Bowl. Daniels, who only lost his starting job due to injury early in the season, was a desired choice to start for the Bulldogs in the playoff and was ready to go in case of Bennett struggling. 

“I didn’t go out there and play well today in spite of people,” Bennett said. “I came out there and played well and worked hard throughout the few weeks we had off because my teammates needed me to do that, and we needed that to win.”

As disheartening and as boring as it sounds, football teams and players sees everyone without jersey as the enemy to some degree and everything said and posted is considered as the cancerous “noise” that must be blocked out in order to ensure victory. Blocking out the noise is celebrated after a victory, while being “disrespected” is worn as a badge of honor. 

“I think it’s amazing to have a guy his age block out all the noise and just focus harder,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s almost like every time he hears noise he just focuses harder on the game plan and what he has to do to execute. You look at some plays he made out there with his feet, they couldn’t account for his mobility and some of the plays he made with his feet, and just really proud of the way he prepped for this game.”

If Bennett declares for the NFL Draft and becomes a part of the process, he may be seen as the next Andrew Luck just based on looks and the fact that he no longer uses a smart phone. He has a Twitter and Instagram account. He is one of the founders of the DGD Fund to give back to the communities through a variety of causes, his being the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Unless it involves NIL, he doesn’t post anything, which is probably going to be the trend of high profile football players.  

“Stetson as a leader on our offense, he doesn’t let that negativity go to his head, for real,” Georgia running back James Cook said on Bennett. “Like he said, he ain’t got no social media, he carry a flip phone around, and he stay off social media, and he just let the noise go over his head and play football. That’s what I love about him.”

Completing deep passes and blocking out the noise are seen as pro qualities that could make Bennett the Mac Jones of this year’s NFL Draft.

Especially if he can redeem his only loss and defeat Alabama on Monday.

A frustrated Tua Tagovailoa on the sideline near the end of the Dolphins' 34-3 loss against the Titans.

Pressure Point: Tua Tagovailoa fails at defining moment as Dolphins QB

It wasn’t just that the Miami Dolphins failed again with a chance to break out of the “Same Old Dolphins” mold.

The bitter pill in the 34-3 debacle Sunday at Tennessee was in revealing how far the Dolphins are from being a legitimate playoff team.

Just as it was in each of their three playoff appearances since they last won in the postseason 21 years ago.

Sunday in rainy, chilling Nashville was the Dolphins’ de facto playoff game of this season, and the gap was as wide as the score suggested against a Titans team that celebrated a division-clinching win and at 11-5 stands atop the AFC seeding.

A lot of wrath in the Dolphins’ undoing is being directed at quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the offense — and rightfully so. The real gut punch, though, was seeing the Miami defense, often dominant during the seven-game winning streak, get overrun by the Titans.

Part of that reflects on the inadequacies of the offense putting the defense in an untenable position. Nonetheless, the Dolphins gave up 198 yards rushing to a Titans team still missing Derrick Henry and managed only one sack and little pressure against Ryan Tannehill, who’d been sacked 45 times coming in.

Dolphins stuck in rut of mediocrity

In the biggest moment so far in the Brian Flores era, the Dolphins couldn’t handle the weather, adversity or any challenge presented by the opponent.
So the uplifting seven-game winning streak after a seven-game losing streak is relegated to a footnote in another disappointing Dolphins season.

What a strange, roundabout journey to find themselves at 8-8 and still stuck in the same rut that has defined the Dolphins for more than two decades and counting.

Fitting that the final nail in the coffin of dead Dolphins playoff hopes was put in place by Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers with a 34-13 win over Denver.

Any mention of Herbert inevitably leads right back to Tagovailoa, who the Dolphins selected instead at No. 5 in the 2020 draft.

The comparison with Herbert is irrelevant at this point. The issue to consider is about what the Dolphins saw in Tagovailoa when they drafted him — clearly the pivotal moment early in the partnership of Flores and GM Chris Grier to pick a quarterback to lead them to contending for championships.

Tua’s future uncertain as Dolphins QB

Two seasons of Tua hasn’t brought a resounding endorsement of the decision. Consequently, quarterback will again be at the forefront of what figures to be an interesting and unpredictable offseason.

“People have their own opinions,” Tagovailoa said after Sunday’s game on the question of his future as the Dolphins quarterback. “I’ve heard this the entire time I’ve been here. At the end of the day, I can control what I can control, which is to be the best version of myself.”

Tua had the chance to do that Sunday. It was right there for a defining performance to shove it to his critics.

Instead, Tagovailoa produced these numbers in the first half: 6 for 16 for 71 yards and a fumble lost when the ball slipped out of his hands while trying to throw, contributing to a 17-3 deficit.

There was still a chance make a game of it early in the fourth quarter with the score the same. But after hitting Jaylen Waddle on a beauty of a deep strike for 45 yards, Tua took a sack (he fumbled but the Dolphins recovered) on a strange flea flicker and then had a miscommunication with DeVante Parker on a throw to the end zone.

A fourth down pass to Parker that should have brought a flag for interference didn’t, and the moment was lost.

And with it the chance for Tagovailoa to put his stamp on his future with the team was lost.

More Deshaun Watson speculation likely

Tua is a likable figure, and I was hopeful he was going to be the answer to the Dolphins’ long search for a championship quarterback. I liked his accuracy at Alabama but was wary of his injury history in college.

He has shown uncanny accuracy — when not operating in rain and high winds — at short range. He also has a tendency for head-scratching mistakes.

Ultimately, the question is, how far can he take this team?

From what we’ve seen, the answer seems to be, to the fringe of playoff contention.

That’s well short of the stated goal of this Dolphins rebuild. Certainly not enough to perpetuate the Flores/Grier regime. Because it won’t satisfy owner Steve Ross, who at age 81 has no luxury of patience.

Any team that starts a season 1-7 as the Dolphins did has multiple needs. The offensive line remains a problem and it’s about time they added a legitimate running back in the offseason.

But quarterback will be a big focus and expect a lot of speculation again about Deshaun Watson in the coming months. Whether it ends up being the exiled Texans quarterback or someone else, look for a changing of the guard leading the Miami offense in Week 1 in September.

Jobs are at stake. What Tagovailoa can control hasn’t been good enough. And the Dolphins are still stuck in the same old rut.

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

Jaylen celebrates after scoring the clinching touchdown for the Miami Dolphins in the win against the New Orleans Saints.

Pressure Point: Dolphins defy critics, chase new Miami Miracle

The debate around the Miami Dolphins never relents — constant dissecting of the quarterback, skepticism about their merit as a playoff contender.

The only responses that even matter keep coming in weekly intervals (with a longer gap for the bye week). The team left for dead at mid-season has done nothing since but win.

Win-win-win-win-win-win-win.

That’s seven in a row after Monday night’s 20-3 roll over the COVID decimated New Orleans Saints.

That’s seven resounding retorts to all the calls for heads to roll after the 1-7 start — Fire the coach! Fire the general manager! By all means, fire the quarterback!
Now, at 8-7, coach Brian Flores is on the brink of coach of the year with his team two wins from wrapping up a playoff spot in the AFC.

 

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Streaking Dolphins making history

That’s how crazy this roller-coaster of a season has become. That’s how special it can still be.

The seven straight losses and seven straight wins in the same season is already without precedent.

As if that’s not intriguing enough, all that stands in the way of this latest Miami Miracle is the Dolphins’ previous never-quite-good-enough quarterback, Ryan Tannehill and the Titans, and forever nemesis Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

There’s no reason to look any further ahead than that.

That’s what tearing down the roster and reconstructing it was all about, right? A team that’s been slogging toward some vaguely defined future for two decades can finally just focus on the next two weeks.

Tua at best when he’s down

It doesn’t matter, for the moment, what Flores, GM Chris Grier and owner Steve Ross think of Tua Tagovailoa as the long-term answer at quarterback or whether they’ll look for an upgrade in the offseason. They’re winning with him right now.

No question, Tagovailoa lacks the dynamic arm of Dan Marino — and the Marino 2.0 they could have had, Justin Herbert. But the 40-yard fling to Mack Hollins on the game-clinching touchdown drive Monday night was on the mark and damned electrifying.

And Tua’s connection with former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle is already proving historic.

Waddle was another high first-round pick that critics were pooh-poohing after a handful of games. Now the speedy wideout is five receptions away from the NFL rookie record with 96 —  including 10 for 92 yards Monday. He has 941 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

Sure, you can gripe that Tagovailoa’s down-field connections are infrequent, his yards per pass paltry and that — much like Tannehill — he has a penchant for the bonehead play that can cost a game.

But Tagovailoa has also shown a knack for quickly atoning for his mistakes. He did that again Monday after serving a horribly thrown interception. He immediately rebounded by leading one of the best drives of the season: 86 yards in nine plays, including the big heave to Hollins, 24 yards to Waddle on a flea-flicker and capped by a well designed short shovel to Waddle for the score, sparking the latest rendition of the Waddle Waddle.

Dolphins defense creates chaos

But here we are talking too much about Tua again. The story of the win over the Saints and much of the winning streak has been the Miami defense.
Granted, they racked up eight sacks and two takeaways, including a pick-6 by Nik Needham, against a Saints team devastated by COVID and forced to thrust rookie quarterback Ian Book into his first NFL start with insufficient support.

Nonetheless, this has shown to be a championship-caliber defense since getting back to the free-wheeling ways that worked so well last season with blitzes coming from all over the place while a talented secondary provides effective man coverage.

Mike Florio and Chris Simms, on Pro Football Talk, discussed the scheme as designed to “create chaos” and wondered why more teams don’t try the unconventional approach of deploying the front seven in an unrecognizable alignment.

The larger question is why the Dolphins got away from what worked so well last season in the first half of this one and got pushed around during the losing streak.

No matter, they’re bringing plenty of chaos now.

Future right now for Dolphins

The Dolphins are on the brink of something historic, and it’s a great end of year gift to the South Florida sports scene at a time the games we love are being upstaged again by COVID chaos.

The Miami Hurricanes had to pull out of their bowl game. The Florida Panthers’ first legitimate pursuit of Lord Stanley since 1996 has been put on pause (hopefully resuming Wednesday).

If the Dolphins stumble in the next two weeks the focus shifts back to the future. For now, there’s no reason to look past Tannehill and the Titans.

It couldn’t be more simple or more dramatic.

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

What if the Orange Bowl ends up being the national championship game?

This year’s Orange Bowl is a titanic showdown between No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal. The winner will take on either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Cincinnati in the national championship game.

Bu what if the results of the Orange Bowl decided the national championship? That could be a possibility due to the latest COVID-19 outbreak, brought to you by the Omicron variant, which sounds like something from Transformers. 

A new CFP policy was released on Wednesday saying the winner of a semifinal game could be crowned champion due to an opponent forfeiting the title game due to an outbreak. Michigan or Georgia could win the Orange Bowl and win the title by forfeit should Alabama or Cincinnati be hit with an outbreak and can’t field a team, or vise versa. 

If this were to happen in either the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl, then the other team simply gets a bye for the title game. If both teams from a single semifinal game can’t play, that bowl game is considered a no-contest and the other seminal becomes the national title game. 

It’s a tricky situation that is already slightly taking shape. Alabama already had two assistant coaches, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Doug Marrone, test positive for COVID, prompting the Crimson Tide to implement 2020-style protocols leading up to the playoffs. Head coach Nick Saban told reporters that more than 90% of players have been vaccinated and received a booster shot.

COVID in issues in other bowls

Outbreak issues aren’t reserved for the high stakes bowls. Miami is in the middle of an outbreak leading up to the Hurricanes’ Sun Bowl matchup with Washington State. It got so bad for Texas A&M that 5-7 Rutgers had to come in and replace the Aggies and take on ACC runner-up Wake Forest in the Gator Bowl. If not Rutgers, it would’ve been Illinois but the Scarlet Knights got first dibs among the 5-7 teams for having the highest Academic Progress Rate. 

The Gator Bowl is a big game for ESPN and its sponsors so somebody has to be the sacrificial lamb for the Demon Deacons in the name of money. Bowl games in general are still an important part of college football. They are the matchups that teams are otherwise too scared to set up on their own. How else do we get UCF vs. Florida without the Gasparilla Bowl?

Leaving nothing to chance

To prevent any issue on their part, Michigan had all its players get a vaccine booster shot on Wednesday, according to offensive lineman Andrew Stueber during his media session on Tuesday. Even with the vaccine, it’s 2020 all over again at Ann Arbor 

“That’s definitely a growing concern of ours,” Stueber said. “We implemented masks in meetings, maintaining social distancing. A lot of people are taking their meals to go, not really sitting too much. But, it’s a lot safer now out there, a lot of students have left the campus.”

Doesn’t have to be 2020 all over again

With the outbreak surrounding all over sports, it feels like 2020 all over again. The NHL is now on a “holiday break” until after Christmas because 10 teams had to pause their seasons. Games had to be moved in the NFL, inadvertently creating the great Tuesday Night Football doubleheader. Numerous NBA players are going through health and safety protocols. College basketball games had to be cancelled due to outbreaks.

It doesn’t have to be like this. The vaccine has become the difference between the coronavirus being a deadly disease and a scarlet letter. Cases may be rising but hospitalizations and deaths are not.

At the end of the day, the future is bright, especially if the Orange Bowl doesn’t get cancelled.

It’s time to talk about 4th quarter Tua

The most bewildering thing about the Miami Dolphins five game winning streak is the fact that they have been able to hold their leads in the 4th quarter and win games.

Stop me, but have we ever heard a Dolphins team holding a lead in the 4th quarter and winning?

I think it might be the start of a discussion about how they are doing it.

Specifically, how they are led by Tua Tagovailoa, especially in close games.

The Plays

Week 1 vs. New England

Let’s go back to the 4th quarter against New England. QB Mac Jones is trying to execute a comeback as the Dolphins lead 17-16. Damien Harris fumbles the ball and it is recovered by Xavien Howard. 

With 3:24 left in the game the Patriots had all three timeouts and the two-minute warning while the Dolphins were backed up at their own 9 yard line. 

1st and 10 at the 9 yard line, Tua Tagovailoa fakes a handoff and runs to the left end of the field for eight yards, staying in bounds to keep the clock running. Suddenly, a yellow flag is thrown onto the field. PENALTY on MIA-L.Eichenberg, Offensive Holding, 4 yards, enforced at MIA 9. Yep, its the same old Dolphins, the perfect receipt to punt toward mid-field and the Patriots would nail a game-winning field goal.

However, the Dolphins call an RPO look on 1st and 14 that New England had already seen. Except, Tua Tagovailoa opted to disregard the RPO mesh and thread a back side slant to Devante Parker for 13 yards.

2nd and 1, Wildcat formation,  Direct snap to Malcolm Brown who runs up the middle to gain a new set of downs. The Dolphins kept running the ball and the Patriots kept calling timeouts, yet the Patriots defense could not stop the Dolphins. 

That 4th quarter drive was as effective as any scoring drive Miami could’ve mounted in the 4th quarter. Running the ball effectively when your opponent knows you want to run it, backing yourself off your own end zone with the pass, ending the game in victory formation.

Week 6 vs. Jacksonville

The Dolphins entered the 4th quarter against the Jaguars down 17-13. With 14:15 left on the clock Tua, in his first game back from rib injury, and the offense drove 91 yards down the field spanning almost 4 minutes of offense.  

Passes over 12+ yards coupled with chain moving runs capped an efficient 91 yard touchdown drive to lead 20-13.

The Jaguars tied at the 3:40 mark in the 4th quarter. The last 4th quarter drive ends with a turnover on downs, where Tua Tagovailoa moves the chains passing to Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki; however the run game could not complement the passing game. Malcolm Brown comes up inches short at midfield.

The Jaguars win the game on a last minute field goal 23-20.

Week 7 vs. Atlanta

Entering the 4th quarter, the Dolphins are down 27-14 and receive the ball at their own four yard line due to a muffed catch by Myles Gaskin.

Tua and the offense go on a 90 yard touchdown drive to make it 27-14. Tua is 6/6 for 75 yards and a Touchdown. Passes of 18, 27, 9 and 11 thrown to drive the offense up the field.

The defense recovered a fumble from Matt Ryan to create an opportunity for the offense to score again. This time they scored a touchdown on a 9 play drive that lasted almost four minutes.

Tua Tagovailoa led the comeback as the Dolphins were up 28-27. The rest was on the defense to close the game with 2:27 left in the 4th and Matt Ryan on his own 25. The defense failed as Miami lost 30-28.

Week 10 vs. Baltimore

Miami entered 4th quarter up 6-3 on Baltimore and got a big boost from Xavien Howards fumble return touchdown to go up 15-3. Two drives later Lamar Jackson and the Ravens go on a nine play 99-yard touchdown drive to close the gap 15-10.

With 4 minutes left in the game delivers a deep left pass to Albert Wilson for 64 yards, moving the Dolphins offense up the field and in position to score. The offense runs the ball to run the clock and score. Miami leads 22-10 with 2:19 remaining in the 4th quarter.

This time, the Dolphins defense closes out and seals the game by intercepting Lamar Jackson.

Honorable Mentions

Jets, Panthers, Giants

Miami entered 4th quarter tied 14-14 against the New York  Jets. They hit on a 75-yard TD drive to go up 21-14. Then, with 9 minutes left, trying to protect a one score lead, execute a 7-minute scoring drive that left in the dust.

It’s true that Miami entered the 4th quarter against the Carolina Panthers up 27-10 with the game already won. -However, consider the fact that the football was possessed for 10.5 of the 15 minutes of the fourth quarter. Carolina had no chance to even try a comeback.

The Dolphins were only up 10-6 on the Giants heading into the 4th. Miami goes on a 61-yard touchdown drive, another FG drive, again possessing the ball 10 of 15 minutes, making a Giants comeback impossible.

The Metrics

Through Week 13, Tua is in the top half of the league in several key performance and efficiency metrics. He’s ranked 7th in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating — ahead of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Dak Prescott.

He’s 2nd in completion rate, 7th in rate of off-target throws and 13th in expected points added per dropback as of Week 11.

Since 1994,Pro Football Reference tracks splits-by-quarter. With a minimum of 250 pass attempts, Tagovailoa’s 109.2 passer rating in the 4th quarter is second-best ever. He’s currently the top rated 4th quarter passer.

Among all NFL passers going back to 1994, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa currently ranks:

– #1 in 4Q completion

– #1 in 4Q scoring %

– #2 in 4Q passer rating

– #6 in 4Q 1st Down %

– #3 in RZ scoring %

– #2 in RZ sacks/attempt

When Tua Tagovailoa plays in the 4th quarter, the Dolphins record is 10-5. The offense scores an average of 9.2 points per 4th quarter, which would be on pace for 37 points per game. Tua either takes the lead, ties the game, or comes back to within one score in the 4th quarter of four of the five losses.

The Execution

Many will call it the clutch gene turning on, at the end of the day it all comes down to execution.

“It’s about putting the game away, sometimes it’s controlling the ball and making sure that those possessions are going to your best players … Third downs are critical. We’ve been fortunate to convert some big third downs and churn some clock.”

Miami Dolphins Co-OC George Godsey

At the end of the day, Tua Tagovailoa is doing well in the 4th quarter. He’s making good decisions and playing his best, where it’s needed.

So it’s not just about Tua’s personal 4th quarter accolades or statistics — his 4th quarter success coincides with team success.

 

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter for Miami Dolphins content

 

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Chris Grier isn't a perfect general manager, but he does not deserve to be fired.

Fresh Perspective: Give Dolphins GM Chris Grier credit where due

Five weeks ago, Dolphins fans everywhere were calling for the firing of General Manager Chris Grier. His evident failure to utilize the veritable treasure trove of draft picks he’d managed to obtain over the past few seasons left fans justifiably angered over the lack of results. Good results anyway.

However, upon further reflection, it seems that Grier’s sins aren’t as egregious as they feel. Undoubtedly, he deserves criticism for his poor choices in the 2020 draft. He had three 1st-round picks, and arguably has only hit on one of them. Granted, the one that he hit was for the team’s quarterback – Tua Tagovailoa. For many, the jury is still out on whether Tagovailoa will be the superstar everyone expected him to be.

But the real question to be asked is this: Does Chris Grier deserve to be fired for the team’s struggles? Is his draft record truly a result of poor talent evaluation? Or is this merely a case of confirmation bias warping the way we view him? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out.

The Bad

You may be wondering why we’re starting with the bad side of Chris Grier. The simple answer is that at the beginning of the season, his “badness” was at its peak. Miami was on a seven-game losing streak with no apparent end in sight. Not only that, the picks he’d made in the past two drafts and beyond were performing poorly to say the least.

Grier was officially named the GM back in January 2016. Some may cite the presence of Mike Tannenbaum limited Grier’s influence, but it was reported over and over again that Grier was the one in charge of the draft even during the Tannenbaum years. So those years count too. Which means, as of now, Grier has led six different NFL drafts, from 2016-2021. He’s had his ups and downs, but the worst draft he’s ever had, by far, was in 2017.

  • 1st Round – OLB Charles Harris
  • 2nd Round – LB Raekwon McMillan
  • 3rd Round – CB Cordrea Tankersley
  • 5th Round – OG Isaac Asiata
  • 5th Round – DT Davon Godchaux
  • 6th Round – DT Vincent Taylor
  • 7th Round – WR Isaiah Ford

This list still raises the blood pressure of Dolphins fans to this day. Without a doubt, the worst pick made that year was the first one. With the likes of T.J. Watt, Reuben Foster and Ryan Ramczyk on the board, Grier instead went off the unbeaten path. He selected Charles Harris out of Missouri, a player that had the entire fanbase crowded in Hard Rock Stadium asking, “Who?”

They continued asking that question during Harris’s entire Dolphins tenure. Only now, several years later with the Detroit Lions, is Harris starting to show some semblance of being a good player. In Miami, he was consistently underwhelming as a pass rusher, and he lost snaps to essentially everyone else on the roster until the Dolphins finally gave up on him in 2020, sending him to the Atlanta Falcons for a 7th round pick.

The rest of this list isn’t much better. Raekwon McMillan is a decent middle linebacker but does not stand out above the crowd. Cordrea Tankersley initially showed promise, but injuries and lack of discipline in his play led to him being washed out. Isaac Asiata never lived up to his expectations and retired early in his career to focus on other things in his life. Davon Godchaux is currently in the New England Patriots’ defensive line rotation. Vincent Taylor was exciting but inconsistent and is currently with the Houston Texans after bouncing around the NFL.

Then there’s Isaiah Ford. Every Dolphins fan knows Isaiah Ford. Ford has been on and off the roster so many times in the past few seasons it’s ridiculous. Miami actually traded him to the New England Patriots for a conditional 2022 6th round pick, and the Patriots waived him without Ford ever playing a game for them. Where did Ford land afterwards? Right back with the Miami Dolphins practice squad. Ford is a decent player, but decent isn’t enough to wow anyone.

Overall, that was his worst draft, by far. Only one player on this list is even on the team anymore, and that’s been on and off.

Then there’s the 2020 draft. Chris Grier had three 1st-round picks to play with thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade, a stash that any GM would be jumping for joy to have. 2020 had so much top tier talent available, surely Miami would be on the fast track to contention after getting their hands on three blue-chip players.

Grier selected QB Tua Tagovailoa, OT Austin Jackson, and CB Noah Igbinoghene.

As of right now, the only one who looks like there’s potential for the pick to have been worth it is Tagovailoa. Jackson struggles mightily on a weekly basis, whether he’s at tackle or at guard. Igbinoghene is a physical freak who can’t seem to learn the intricacies of the cornerback position and is rarely active on game day.

What makes these picks even more egregious, is reading the list of players who were available when Jackson and Igbinoghene were selected.

Austin Jackson was selected 18th overall. Other players who could’ve been selected include all the top running backs – Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Justin Jefferson, safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and others.

Granted, many of the better players in this draft ended up falling into the second round, including the running backs. Grier isn’t the only one who missed on top tier talent at the tail end of the first round. But considering the team’s needs at the time, Grier should have been looking for sure things (like Taylor) rather than draft projects like Jackson and Igbinoghene, the latter of whom went 30th overall.

Free agency is another story. Everyone is well aware of the 2020 free agent class. Chris Grier signed veteran players to big money contracts, and now many of them are gone. Kyle Van Noy, Ereck Flowers, Shaq Lawson, all of them contributed in 2020 and then Flores and Grier jointly elected to move on from them after only one season. They are now with new teams (Van Noy went right back to New England, most notably) and are doing relatively well.

It’s difficult to defend the choice in hindsight. Flowers is a much better guard than anyone Miami has put at that position this season. Van Noy’s veteran presence would have been very helpful at the start of Miami’s season. Lawson appears to be the only one Miami doesn’t miss. So why sign these players to big contracts if the plan isn’t to retain them? That’s another stain on the Chris Grier regime.

The Good

Now let’s get to the real point of this column. It’s easy to trash Chris Grier when he makes mistakes, but it’s a lot harder to give him credit where it’s due. And looking at his entire body of work, there’s plenty to give him credit for, even this season.

First and foremost, as much of a failure Grier’s 2020 first round was, his 2021 draft was absolutely stellar. The Dolphins picked WR Jaylen Waddle and OLB Jaelan Phillips with their two 1st-rounders, and both players are proving to be excellent choices. Waddle has already broken the Dolphins rookie record for receptions – previously held by Jarvis Landry. Barring a sudden catastrophic injury, he will inevitably break the most receiving yards by a rookie record as well – currently held by Chris Chambers.

Speaking of breaking records, Jaelan Phillips – as of Week 13 – is now the sole owner of the Miami Dolphins rookie record for sacks with 8.5. Before Phillips, it was a tie between DE Lorenzo Bromell, and DE Bill Stanfill. Stanfill put up eight sacks in 1969, just to give some context as to how long the record has stood. Give Bromell credit for tying it, but a tie isn’t the same as surpassing it.

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What makes this so impressive is that Phillips wasn’t particularly disruptive at the beginning of the season. In fact, many were getting ready to call Phillips a bust, that the Dolphins should have drafted his fellow Miami Hurricanes pass-rusher Gregory Rousseau instead. Rousseau had a hot start to his Buffalo Bills career, putting up three sacks in just five games. Impressive for a rookie.

Now, Rousseau still has three sacks. Interesting how the tables have turned.

So obviously, Grier’s 2021 first round was a home run. But the fun doesn’t stop there. With the 36th overall pick, Chris Grier selected safety Jevon Holland out of Oregon. Almost instantly, Holland’s presence was felt. His knack for finding the ball and tackling inside the box is giving vibes of Reshad Jones in his prime. He has two interceptions, two sacks, and is making plays all over the field on a weekly basis.

Chris Grier’s first three picks? Excellent ones.

The rest of the class is still up for debate. Liam Eichenberg is struggling, but there’s still hope for his future. Hunter Long has a lot of other players standing in his way for snaps, so it’s hard to get a read on him right now. Larnel Coleman went on injured reserve before the start of the season, but showed promise in training camp. As for Gerrid Doaks, he’s been trapped on the practice squad all season. That will change now, as Miami is desperate for running backs thanks to the outbreak of COVID-19 in that room. Doaks is now on the active roster, along with veteran Duke Johnson. More than likely, Doaks will get his chance.

So the rest of the 2021 draft is unremarkable so far. It’s easy to point to where Grier should have picked someone else, like a running back, or center Creed Humphrey, or OL Quinn Meinerz, both of whom are having phenomenal rookie seasons. But, give credit where it’s due, hitting three home runs is difficult for any general manager to do.

Now, it’s been established that aside from Tua Tagovailoa, Chris Grier’s start to the 2020 draft is a miserable one. But what about the rest of it?

In the second round, Grier selected Robert Hunt. Out of all the linemen on Miami’s roster, Hunt is the best by far. He looks like a hit for Grier so far.

Then in that same round, Grier picked Raekwon Davis, a DT out of Alabama. He’s a giant (literally) force in the defensive line rotation and still has lots of room for improvement. That’s a scary prospect for opposing offensive linemen, and another hit for Grier.

Brandon Jones is next, selected in the third round. Jones is not a superstar on the level of Holland, but he is a very solid player. Not only that, he’ll be called upon to play against the Jets on Sunday with Holland on the COVID-list. Players don’t have to be stars to be considered hits for general managers, especially as the draft drags on. For a third-rounder, Jones is pretty darn good. Chalk up another win for Chris Grier.

There’s a lull with the next three picks. Solomon Kindley’s status as a guard is still questionable. He was disciplined in training camp, presumably for being overweight, and eventually got benched for Austin Jackson. That move hasn’t gone well, but it still happened. Then there’s Jason Strowbridge and Curtis Weaver, a pair of pass-rushers who haven’t panned out. Strowbridge is currently a free agent. Weaver is on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.

Now, everyone was shocked when the Dolphins selected a long snapper in the sixth round. Particularly because there was still a lot of good talent on the board. But Blake Ferguson has proved his worth as a long snapper, one of the best in the league. If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear, special teams still matters in the NFL.

The last pick in that draft is utility player Malcolm Perry. Perry showed immense promise and potential as a gadget player. He could be a running back, a wide receiver, and a quarterback. The possibilities for wildcat trickery seemed endless. Then Miami let him go during final cuts, and the New England Patriots claimed him, as they were always rumored to want him first. Ironically, the Patriots have since let him go, and he is now on the New Orleans Saints practice squad.

Make no mistake, the 2020 draft is a stain on Chris Grier’s resume because of the Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene selections. But even in that draft, Grier was able to find some solid players, and no GM is perfect.

The list continues from there. In 2016, Grier selected Laremy Tunsil, Xavien Howard, and the criminally underused Kenyan Drake. And despite the note he left on, wide receiver Jakeem Grant had a lot of big plays for the Dolphins during his tenure. So that should count as a win for Grier.

2018 gave Miami the likes of Mike Gesicki, Jerome Baker, Durham Smythe, and of course kicker Jason Sanders. If anyone is wondering where Minkah Fitzpatrick is on this list, ask the Pittsburgh Steelers. Grier made an excellent pick with Fitzpatrick, but it was Fitzpatrick himself who made it abundantly clear he did not want to be in Miami, and so Grier and Flores jointly punched his ticket to Pittsburgh. So I still credit Grier for recognizing the talent.

2019 marked the arrival of Christian Wilkins, Andrew Van Ginkel and Myles Gaskin. If you feel so inclined, you can also say that Michael Deiter is improving and could eventually prove to be a long-term win for Grier. That remains to be seen.

 

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The Ugly (Truth)

The only reason this is titled the “ugly” truth is because there’s a certain conclusion that needs to be drawn here. When the list of legendary general managers gets read, Chris Grier’s name will likely not be on it. But upon this reflection, to say that he deserves to be fired is a massive overreaction that many, including myself, have fallen prey to. Grier is responsible for some of the best picks Miami has made in a very long time. That cannot be overlooked.

Not only that, there’s something to be said about the quarterback position. True, Justin Herbert is undoubtedly a star in this league. But Herbert, objectively, has more going for him at this time than Tua Tagovailoa. However, Tagovailoa is slowly changing the bad reputation he unjustly earned last season. Among all of the Deshaun Watson trade rumors, talk of his supposedly poor arm strength, and a painful rib and finger injury, Tagovailoa has persevered.

His star isn’t rising as fast as Herbert’s is, but that does not mean it won’t eventually be as high as Herbert’s. Coming out of college, many draft experts compared Tagovailoa to future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees. It needs to be restated that Brees took about six seasons and a change of scenery to become that Hall of Fame player, and Miami has been kicking themselves ever since for daring to let him leave the building without a contract.

If Tagovailoa continues to steadily improve, and prove his naysayers wrong, Chris Grier will be credited with drafting Miami’s franchise QB for the next decade. At the end of the day, the QB position is the most important position in the NFL. Teams without one are usually on the outside looking in during the playoff rush. Thanks in large part to Tagovailoa, the Dolphins are still very much in the hunt for the playoffs in spite of their seven-game losing streak. It would be unprecedented for Miami to pull it off, but not impossible.

So give credit to Chris Grier where it’s due. He’s made his mistakes, but he’s also made a lot of good decisions for the team too. Sometimes, a little patience proves to be the difference maker. At the start of the season, the sky was falling. Now, the star is rising.

Chris Grier does not deserve to be fired. If anything, the argument can be made he deserves an extension.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for seven years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

 

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National Media Loses Their Minds as Miami Steps Up

It’s been 18 years since Miami won a major (at that time BCS) bowl game. And other than a minor blip in 2017, the program has largely not been in the national title conversation. Generally speaking a Renaissance of once proud programs is greeted with eager zeal. Who doesn’t want to see traditional powers rise from the depths of despair?

The problem is there is nothing traditional about Miami.

Not about about the way the program grew out of obscurity in the 1980s, not about the way it forever shaped the culture of college football, not about the diversity of its support. Miami is different, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

If you were wondering if the national media had softened on Miami in their absence from the national stage, the last several weeks should have reminded you that for all of the carnival barking about Miami being irrelevant, they are always in the national consciousness.

When the Mario Cristobal rumors started, Miami fans were repeatedly told that Miami couldn’t afford him. Now, while it is true in the past that Miami was unwilling to pay coaches, they always could pay coaches. It was a choice. 

That fallacy, that Miami could not pay for coaches, lead the national media to spend a week spinning themselves into a frenzy in an attempt to discredit Miami as a worthy entity.

We’re Going to Have to Order Dramamine in Bulk

The week started with everyone making fun of Miami. “Why would Mario Cristobal leave Oregon with Nike money to come to Miami?”

Tired tropes about facilities (which have recently been upgraded) and lack of money (which the school committed to spending, finally) were trotted out.

In Miami, people were confident. I’d say say quietly confident, but we don’t do anything quietly in Miami. We understand the draw of this place, why it is special, and we’ll tell you about it.

When it became clear that the money would be there and that Cristobal would consider coming to Miami, his qualifications were attacked.

Keep in mind these are the same people that will defend the atrociousness that was Manny Diaz football. But Cristobal winning the Pac 12 twice, the Pac 12 North 3 times, and a Rose Bowl is not “that impressive.”

That “Mario isn’t good” angle was never serious and gained no traction. Oregon and Miami actively fighting over a coach is surely a sign that he is good.

Next target? The process.

The school is being mean to Manny Diaz. If they want to hire a new coach, fire the old one first. This break with decorum is now behind only Pearl Harbor and 9/11  in terms of crimes committed against this nation in the last 100 years. My favorite was this:

Gene Chizik, who has a list of moral ambiguities a mile long, and once resigned as Defensive Coordinator at UNC a week after National Signing Day, has problems with Miami’s process. Miami is dishonorable for continuing to pay Diaz while looking for a replacement. In a business where Brian Kelly lied to a recruit as he accepted the LSU job during an in-home visit, this is a bridge too far. 

Manny Diaz tapped into this line of thinking in his farewell statement. He was aggrieved here. Let’s see what Temple players have to think…

Oh yes, that’s right. He sold out Temple’s players during a comical 15-day tenure. Miami should have fired Diaz after the FIU game in 2019 for performance. But keeping him employed, under contract, while they found his replacement? While unorthodox, that is hardly the crime that it is being portrayed as.

I’m beginning to think College Football is a dirty business and all the national media lobbing moralistic grenades at Miami profit from this same business.

But after that lost steam, they went in for the kill as sports writers somehow became experts in healthcare.

Now, keep in mind the report was that Miami had made money off the UHealth system. The fact that the money going into the football program was being paid for by independent, billionaire boosters WAS IN THE SAME SENTENCE AS THE UHEALTH BLURB.

But nope, we’re going to ignore that, and the part about how those boosters were the ones funding this venture (again, in the same sentence) and not only assume that Miami was taking money out of the UHealth system to pay for the Athletic department, but that the profitability was due to gouging people during the pandemic.

Who knew the Venn Diagram between gas bag sports hot takers and for profit healthcare experts was a circle?

The reality is that UHealth has been a massive capital investment for the university which they lost money on for years. President Frenk, an actual healthcare expert instead of someone cosplaying as one to selectively channel outrage at Miami, was hired to clean that up and return it to profitability. That is finally happening now. What role did the pandemic play in this?

The University of Miami had a significant decline in its earnings in fiscal 2020, as the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic impacted operations.

The nonprofit university in Coral Gables was among the most financially impacted schools because it operates a major health care system. Patient visits declined dramatically, and non-elective surgeries were temporarily halted during the beginning of the pandemic

Oops. In their zeal to try and make the money “dirty” they didn’t bother to, you know, learn anything factual. 

If you’re keeping up, so far we’ve got:

  1. Miami can’t afford Cristobal.
  2. Cristobal stinks anyway (unless Oregon keeps him, of course, in which case he is an amazing coach that Miami failed to get).
  3. Diaz is being mistreated because of the Canes job search.
  4. The money is nefarious because the University of Miami also runs the UHealth system.  Those healthcare workers that everyone spent the last 2 years praising for risking their health to help stem the pandemic? They’re now actually price gougers because Miami hired a football coach. We’ll be sure to pass on everyone’s disdain to the doctors at the Sylvester Cancer Center when they’re on break from saving lives.  

The reality is the reason for this pretzel-twisting, factually incorrect, bizarre attack on Miami has nothing to do with the actions. The real crime was being Miami.

M-I-A-M-I ‘Til I Die 

For better or worse, we are who we are. South Florida is an insular, polarizing community.

We know that, we embrace it. A lot of people hate us, and we revel in it.

With that said, South Florida is not closed off. As Cristobal said in his introductory press conference, “Once you’re a part of this community down here, you’re part of it forever.”

He gets it. Miami is more than just a school, it’s more than a brand. It represents not only the tri-county South Florida community, but it also represents the world, the “most culturally diverse, vibrant, energized, destination city in the world.”

It’s the school for those that don’t have a school. The school for the aggrieved. The misfit outcasts that society has deemed unworthy, dishonorable.

It’s the school for those who are always told they can’t accomplish things, that they’re getting too big for their britches, that they don’t deserve a seat at the table.

It’s the school for those that want to look up in the stands and see a fan base representing every shade of the rainbow. Where no one feels out of place.

You see this traveling through this country, the U being lifted at you, the telling nod, a “Go Canes” being exchanged between strangers. It’s like you’re part of a secret club that anyone can join, regardless of whether you went to college or not, regardless of where you call home. And it’s a club that once you join, it stays with you forever. As Jimmy Johnson so eloquently put it in Billy Corben’s fantastic 30 for 30 document “The U”:

I remember my first Super Bowl, someone asked me about my identification with the University of Miami. And I said listen, I want everyone to understand this. I was born and raised in South Texas, I went to school at the University of Arkansas and won a national championship on an undefeated team, but my home is South Florida and my school is the University of Miami.

Miami isn’t a school, it’s an ethos. 

The reason we lash out at those that try to spit on us in an attempt to diminish this school is because you are not just attacking a football program, you are attacking a community, a prideful cross-section of every race, religion, and nationality coming together in the South Florida sun to cheer on our local kids, hoping they will succeed and lift up our community.

They have in the past, and they will do so in the future, no matter how many times you tell us to temper expectations, to accept mediocrity. 

Cristobal ended his answer on what makes Miami special by talking about “the people, the people, the people.” You could see him choking up as he spoke, just as I am as a type this.

This is more than a football program, this is our people.

It’s a Canes Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand.

Vishnu Parasuraman is a contributor for @FiveReasonsSports and generally covers the Miami Hurricanes. You can follow him on twitter @vrp2003

 

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