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Chandler Cox

Chandler Cox giving Miami Dolphins much-needed physicality

Think back to the last time the Miami Dolphins had a fullback. More than likely, the name Lousaka Polite springs to mind. Polite was the bruiser, they guy that was given the ball when it was third and short and Miami needed a first down. Unremarkable, but reliable, and steadfast. Since then, the Dolphins have made halfhearted attempts to find a replacement, but not until now, with Chandler Cox, have they add any success.

The last real fullback Miami had on the roster was Jorvorskie Lane. Serviceable, but he never lived up to Polite’s standards. Then the Dolphins tried to get Charles Clay to be an H-back type hybrid, playing both tight end and fulback. It soon became clear that Clay was more effective as a pass-catching tight end. There was also the reported pursuit of veteran fullback Vonta Leach, one of the best at his dying position, back in 2013. Ultimately, nothing came out of that, and since then the position has been in limbo.

Both Joe Philbin and Adam Gase decided to forgo the fullback position for the most part, putting strong emphasis on the passing game. Ryan Tannehill was tasked with making the offense run almost solely on his arm, with little to no investment placed in the running game. Only in 2016, with now free agent RB Jay Ajayi, did anyone get to see what the offense could look like when they started playing smashmouth football. Ajayi became an instant star, and the Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

But it wouldn’t last. Ajayi’s body gave out just as his ego kicked in, and Gase sent Ajayi to the Eagles where he won the Super Bowl in 2017. He didn’t contribute much to that victory, but it was a victory all the same. And once again, Miami’s rushing attack fell by the wayside.

Enter Brian Flores, who comes from New England. The Patriots know how important a strong running game is, and Flores made it clear Miami would remember that lesson. They would have a fullback, no questions asked.

“I think it adds a competitiveness, a grit, a toughness, to the team.” He said back in late May. “We want to run the football. I think having a lead blocker clear the way helps that, I value that position. I think it brings a toughness, a grit that I think I like in my team … Quite honestly, I played linebacker and I’ve had to deal with fullbacks. It’s not always the easiest thing to do. Wherever the league goes is where it goes; but personally, having dealt with a lead blocker, it’s not an easy thing to deal with.”

That much is true. With a fullback leading the way, defenders have to get through an extra player to bring down the running back. In that moment it might take to knock down the fullback, the running back could score a touchdown. That is precisely what happened on Thursday night against the Falcons. Mark Walton was handed the football, and Cox blocked two different defenders, leading to a score that gave Miami the lead.

Chandler Cox already has the respect of his teammates. With fullbacks being a dying breed, the fact he goes out there and does everything he can do to contribute makes him a rarity.

“He’s an Auburn guy, but you know, I won’t hold that against him.” Drake joked on Thursday. “He goes in there, he’s still out there doing his job, so I know he’s going to be tired up in this game, but he’s a rookie so he’s got to get his dues in, so I look forward to him doing a lot more for this season.”

Having a fullback is a luxury it seems, one that most teams decide not to have. With the NFL putting more and more focus on protecting quarterbacks, it’s clear that the league wants teams to throw more. But the effectiveness of a fullback can’t be denied. And some believe the position may yet see a comeback as Miami adjusts to having one.

“I think it will be, but it takes time to do that when you haven’t done that.” running back coach Eric Studesville said in late July. “It’s different to have another guy closer to you and he has to make decisions. There is a trust that builds in that. Chandler (Cox) has done a great job of coming in here. It started yesterday in pads right away. He’s physical with his pad level. We’ll all get better at that and we’ll get better feeling him and what’s going on. I think it adds another dimension to our offense and capabilities and what defenses have to prepare for.”

Chandler Cox adds an extra blocker, and he has the ability to run if necessary. He can catch, he can lead, he can back up the offensive line in the backfield, he’s the full package. And, he’s already adjusting well. Becoming a physical team after spending so long focused on finesse will take time. But Cox will do a lot to speed up the process.

Robert Nkemdiche signing

Dolphins sign DL Robert Nkemdiche to 1-year contract

The Miami Dolphins are adding another player to their ranks. Just hours before their first preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, former Arizona Cardinals first round pick Robert Nkemdiche is signing a 1-year contract. This comes after he was released by the Cardinals in late July for failing a physical, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports the deal is worth $1.16 million.

Nkemdiche, 24, never lived up to his potential in Arizona. Even before he was drafted, teams were concerned about Nkemdiche’s work ethic and character. He was suspended for the Sugar Bowl in college after being arrested with marijuana charges. Now, this year, Nkemdiche was arrested twice within a week for traffic-related incidents, one of which saw him with a white powdery substance in the center console of his car.

The Cardinals took a chance on Nkemdiche, drafting him 29th overall in 2016. The hope was he would turn into a dominant pass rusher. Unfortunately, however, Nkemdiche’s physical gifts went to waste. In three seasons with Arizona, he appeared in 27 games, starting six of them. He recorded 44 tackles, 4.5 sacks, with two passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery with a touchdown.

It seemed 2018 would be Nkemdiche’s year to get back on track. All 4.5 of his career sacks came during that season. But once again, Nkemdiche was struck down. He ended the 2018 season on injured reserve with a torn ACL he suffered in December. The Cardinals decided not to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract, which would have paid him $8.6 million, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury did not hold back regarding his disappointment in the former top-10 talent.

“Not in shape,” Kingsbury said. “That’s kind of where we’ll leave it … I mean, he’s on (the Physically Unable to Perform list) and he’s working through that. When he is cleared, we’ll work with him.”

Clearly, they had no interest in working with him.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, are not shy about giving players a chance to redeem themselves. Already, they’ve taken flyers on running back Mark Walton and wide receiver Preston Williams. Both players have issues off the field and are trying to get their careers on track. So far, both Walton and Williams are doing a fine job. Now, Miami is extending that same olive branch to Nkemdiche, who will continue his rehab under head coach Brian Flores’s supervision.

Sometimes, players need a change of scenery to get their lives in order. Under the tutelage of Flores, a Bill Belichick disciple, Robert Nkemdiche has a fighting chance to revitalize his career. There won’t be any nonsense with this coaching regime, discipline is crucial. They will work on basics and fundamentals with him, and will help him stay out of trouble. It’s working out well with Walton and Williams, what’s one more lottery ticket?

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