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Nik Needham shining in his second stint with the Miami Dolphins

Nik Needham spent his college playing career at the University of Texas at El Paso developing his football skills. The cornerback finished with 213 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and three interceptions. He added a school record of 33 passes broken up in 41 career games.

However, that wasn’t enough to land a spot on Miami’s 53-man roster as the Dolphins waived him on Aug. 31, the final day of roster cuts.

“He came in here, worked hard, got cut – we knew the work ethic was there but got cut,” defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. ” [Josh Boyer, cornerbacks coach, told him] you’re going to have to transform your body. You’re going to have to – in terms of just how important it is to you, that’s a decision you’re going to have make.”

Needham signed to join the practice squad the following day. He earned a spot n the 53-man roster right before Miami’s game against Washington. Since then, the rookie has made the most out his opportunity.

He tallied a team-high nine tackles in Miami’s win over New York. One of those tackles was a sack of quarterback Sam Darnold, the first of Needham’s career. In Sunday’s win over the Colts he added his first-career interception.

Not only did Needham listen to Graham’s advice, but it is quickly paying off.

“He’s starting to see really the fruits of his labor in terms of the success on the field and he knows he still has a long way to go,” Graham said. “This week [against Buffalo] is going to be a huge challenge with the receivers we’re going to see when they play down here from Buffalo. He’s making steps in the right direction.”

Needham has started four of the last five games for the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday he contributed three passes defended against the Colts.

“Nik played well [against the Colts],” coach Brian Flores said on Monday. “We brought him in as a free agent and he did some good things in OTAs and had some struggles like most rookies do in the preseason and wasn’t quite ready, so we put him on the practice squad. It’s part of their journey, I should say. He spent a few weeks on the practice squad. I think getting released and going through that process took him through a little bit of the reality of what the National Football League could be. He’s turned some things around and he’s still got a long way to go, but all of those things play a role in kind of how we performed yesterday and hopefully he continues to do that.”

Needham’s stock has grown over the last few weeks, but his goal is to help the team.

“It just felt good to contribute to the old guys and help get a win,” Needham said. “That is all I am really worried about – I just want to win. It felt great.”

The Dolphins are working to build on a perfect 2-0 record in November.

“I think over the weeks we are just building chemistry and really play for each other,” Needham said. “Game changing plays happen out there and we don’t back down or give up we just go back out there and fight. That’s the main goal every week.”

Miami will look to make it three-straight wins this Sunday. The Dolphins have a divisional match against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium.

 

Dolphins

Dolphins coaches reevaluating their methods

The Miami Dolphins are 0-4 heading into the bye week. They have been outscored 81-0 in the second half through all four games. Players are growing frustrated with the team’s inability to execute. Now, the entire coaching staff finds themselves questioning how they’re handling things.

“We’re going to go and closely evaluate what we do in all areas of the second half – the approach, the scheme we use, defensively study what they’ve done (against) us in the second half.” Offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea said on Tuesday. “I think it’s a combination of factors that we’re really going to look closely at and determine what’s best for us moving forward.”

In all fairness, there are many rookies on this Dolphins coaching staff. Both O’Shea and head coach Brian Flores are first-timers at their respective roles. If Patriots head coach Bill Belichick were in the business of passing on his skills to his subordinates, more of his coaching tree would find success upon leaving New England. Additionally, the talent level on the roster is severely lacking in several areas. The offensive line in particular. When coaches have to add new players through the regular season, success is hard to come by.

“I would say we made a lot of changes to the roster,” Brian Flores said on Monday. “(We were) kind of building the team on the fly in a lot of ways. But we’re not going to make excuses about that. We try to put the guys in the best positions to play well, but at the same time trying to build a team and build some camaraderie and build some communication and build some rapport. I think that’s been a big part of these first four weeks.”

With this in mind, it’s not surprising to see the coaching staff looking to make some changes. Considering their desire to emphasize basics and fundamentals, the lack of execution is troublesome. The number of wide receiver drops is especially alarming. Miami ranks second in the league with eight drops. Only the Philadelphia Eagles have suffered from more with ten. So even how the coaches teach players how to catch is not immune to scrutiny.

“I think that one of the things on catching the football is it’s something that we have as part of our everyday drills.” O’Shea said. “We think that throwing, catching, blocking, tackling are things that we try to work every day, and we’re going to continue to do those, but we’re going to – as a coaching staff – again, we’re evaluating all aspects of our program right now. One of the things we’re evaluating is the teaching progression and what we do on the field and the drills that we have and those things.”

It’s not ideal to hear that the Dolphins coaching staff already feels the need to change how they do things. However, the previous regime displayed the other side of the spectrum. Adam Gase – now with the New York Jets – refuses to change. As a result, his team has also failed to win a game so far.

It’s been said numerous times that 2019 is all about evaluation for the future. Perhaps, it bodes well that the coaches are willing to take an honest look at themselves in the mirror. If they can find a method that works by 2020, then perhaps the rebuild won’t take nearly as long as projected.

“You’re always in the process of self-evaluating and trying to improve.” Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. “I ask the players to get better every day. I make it a point on myself to get better every day. If I’m never thinking about how I can improve for the next week or the next day, then I think you get complacent, and then when complacency sets in, in this league, you’re not going to be here very long. That’s how I approach it. There’s a bunch of stuff – I don’t feel the need to get into exactly all of the stuff that I know that I need to improve upon, but I’m constantly evaluating myself and trying to figure out how I can become a better coach, a better husband, a better brother, a better son. That’s just how I’m built.”

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

Header for defense versatility

Miami Dolphins coaches using versatility to define defense

Consider the New England Patriots. One of the things that makes their defense so formidable is that opposing teams can never be sure what they’re facing. Is there a blitz? Why are there are so many defensive backs? Are the linebackers blitzing or in coverage? It’s through reputation alone that they’re considered good, even when they’re objectively bad. They put together personnel groupings that throw offenses for a loop, make them think twice about what they should do. The versatility of their players is a big part of what makes that defense tick.

And that’s exactly what head coach Brian Flores is stressing as he installs his defense.

“I would say first and foremost, it’s in the kicking game for really anyone on the team. If you make plays in the kicking game, you make a name for yourself in the kicking game here in this organization, that means a lot to me. If guys want to impress me, do it in the kicking game.” Flores said on Wednesday. “That’s where I started in college, that’s how I got on the field at Boston College. That’s how I broke into coaching in the National Football League from working with guys like Brad Seeley and then Scott O’Brien.

“It’s a very important phase of the game to me, so if a guy wants to impress on this team, do it there, carve out a role there, and then if you’re at the game for the kicking game, we’ll find something for you to do offensively or defensively. The players know that. I think everyone in the league should know that. That’s a spot where you can definitely carve out a role, and then, that’s how your reps increase. If you do a good job in the kicking game, you get more offensive or defensive snaps. If you do a good job with those snaps, we’ll give you more, and that’s how guys evolve and grow in this profession.”

Already, training camp has consisted of players lining up where they normally wouldn’t. Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick are getting linebacker snaps. Bobby McCain is turning himself into a safety. Defensive linemen are lining up out wide, inside, and everywhere in-between.

Is Miami running a 4-3, or a 3-4? Maybe a 4-2-5?

“I don’t even know what that is.” defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said on Thursday. “People ask us, (and we) say, ‘I don’t know.’ You look out there, we can be 1-10 if you want us to be. We’ll figure out something. If it works, we’ll do it.”

So nothing is off the books when it comes to what the defense will do on any given play. Matchups decide who’s on the field at any given moment. The more players adapt to what’s thrown at them, the more they will get to play. Even if they don’t project to start over someone else.

Of course, this puts a mental strain on the players. They have to overcome it.

“It’s not more so the attacking defenses that I’ve been in, in the 4-3 systems that I’ve been accustomed to.” said veteran DT Akeem Spence. “In this defense, you’ve got to really learn a lot. It’s more so learning about more spots than positions and learning a new technique and what Coach Flores wants and Patrick Graham want and trying to go out and execute and compete.”

“It’s all about discipline. The biggest thing is everybody’s got – I mean, the coaches are going to put you in the best position to make plays, and I think that’s the biggest thing I keep in mind.” said pass rusher Charles Harris. “The number count isn’t the most important thing. When that game ends and you’re winning, that’s all that really matters. Like I’ve said before, one of the biggest things that we’ve got, one of the quotes that we’ve got coming is ‘get over yourselves.’ If I’m not getting that many plays, it might not be a week. We might have different schemes for different teams and stuff like that. You really don’t know.”

The Dolphins’ first preseason game draws ever closer, and after Saturday’s faux scrimmage, things are only going to ramp up from here. But more importantly, everyone will get a chance to see what this team can do in real action. True, it’s only the preseason. But considering what the expectations are for this team, how they do against other teams evaluating their depth will be telling.