Looking at the Man in the Middle

Throughout the offseason evaluations one position was considered a glaring hole. With Ted Karras a free agent following the season, the Dolphins had no clear starting center; a position which is becoming one of the most important in football, a position left wanting since Mike Pouncey left in 2017.

Throughout the offseason evaluations, one position was considered a glaring hole. With Ted Karras a free agent following the season, the Dolphins had no clear starting center; a position which is becoming one of the most important in football, a position left wanting since Mike Pouncey left in 2017.

As free agency neared, speculation grew of the prospect of bringing Corey Linsley and then David Andrews to Miami. Despite signing Matt Skura to a one year $1.75m contract, fans remained dissatisfied, as one by one Landon Dickerson, Creed Humphrey and Quinn Meinerz were repeatedly passed on by the Dolphins during the 2021 draft.

There is currently a rhetoric that the Dolphins’ front office does not value the center and running back positions like many others do. Let us not forget the fact that Brian Flores remains the Dolphins Head Coach, a man who is on his fourth offensive line coach during his tenure in charge of the team. For a team with a young QB, the center is the most important position on the line calling the protections, communicating with his fellow linemen as to where the pressure is coming, allowing the skill position players to make the plays.

As defenses become more complex, the center has to adjust. Whilst Ted Karras brought leadership and helped mentor a very young line featuring 3 rookies, one particular area he struggled was when presented with a stunted blitz. Coming into Tua’s second all important season, how will the center position fare?

Matt Skura

After going undrafted in 2016, Matt Skura has since started 51 games during the past four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. On March 18 the Dolphins signed the 6-3 313 pound Skura to a one year $1.75m contract making him their presumed starting center. Throughout his early seasons with the Ravens, Skura was considered one of the NFL’s best centers.

However, his 2020 season was overshadowed to say the least by several botched snaps out of the shotgun formation, most notably in heavy rain in the Sunday Night Football matchup against the Patriots. In week 11 Skura was benched in favor of Patrick Mekari, before eventually starting three of Baltimore’s final six games.

It is safe to say Raven’s fans were not all too impressed, with Skura’s family even receiving threats following the game.

“You’ve got to know your rhythm and you’ve got to first be able to identify the mistakes. I know we’ve talked to you guys about linemen. We dont make excuses. The difference between an excuse and a reason is very slight… What we do is we just rep it. It has to be multiple reps over and over again. Like when we are doing drills, he’s doing it pre-practice, he’s doing it of course during practice, he’s doing it even after practice. You want to do it before something happens. So if it doesn’t feel right, even if you didn’t get a good snap, you want to get more snaps anyway to be preventative, not reactive.”

“He’s been snapping like crazy because that’s the type of guy he is, where he took that really personal. It’s another chip on his shoulder like a lot of the guys on the line are. He’s worked at it. I’ll be preventative and so will he. We talk to the quarterbacks.”

Offensive Line Coach Lemuel Jeanpierre speaking to media May 24 at the start of voluntary OTAs

ESPN ranked Skura the 4th highest center in the NFL in terms of his pass blocking ability, whilst ranking 10th in win rate in his run blocking, an area where the Dolphins struggled in 2020, as the line failed to consistently open running lanes for the backs. Skura played 661 offensive snaps, allowing only three penalties, and one sack in comparison with Karras’ two sacks allowed. We all know Brian Flores’ emphasis on being disciplined in not giving away penalties and making the opposition beat you, rather than beating yourself through penalties.

Throughout the course of researching for this article I reached out to the guys at Ravens ATB for their insight into Skura’s abilities. Skura was described as “a solid starter who proved to be an intelligent center with a great run blocking ability. Skura has a great motor who fights hard on every play.” From this it is very easy to see how he is a fit into the culture that Brian Flores/Chris Grier have created in assembling this roster.

However, they went on to state that in their opinion the successful heavy running scheme that the Ravens deploy “masked a lot of his deficiencies… he is a mediocre pass protector at best and when the Ravens were forced to pass he had trouble holding up in that area.”

With Miami’s young projected starters on the offensive line featuring a rookie and three players coming off their rookie season, it will be evident early on whether his run blocking skills were a reflection of his abilities, or his surrounding support cast in Baltimore.

From his extremely limited time with the Dolphins spanning voluntary OTAs and minicamp, so far so good. We have heard everything we want to hear when it comes to our starting center…absolutely nothing. No reports of botched snaps, even during the monsoon that hit Davie FL day one of minicamp. If Skura can continue to address his snapping concerns he is set to be a solid starting center, not a league leader, but a solid figure in the middle of the line.

If not, the Dolphins cannot afford to hamper Tua, nor the offense with the potential for the wildcat with Lynn Bowden, with a center that cannot snap the ball with consistency leading to unnecessary turnovers like what happened in Baltimore.

Michael Deiter

Although I have every confidence that Matt Skura will be the starting center, if he is not whether based on performance or injury, it will ultimately fall on former Wisconsin Badger Michael Deiter to steady the ship.

2019 was a year to forget for Deiter, the offensive line and the entire organization as a whole. In his rookie season playing primarily at left guard he played 996 snaps allowing 6 sacks (T-2nd most) and 5 penalties. If we conclude that it is not fair to judge Tua based on his rookie season, it seems only fair not to put too much weight on Deiter in the worst offensive line in the league, where his left tackle was changed from Pro-Bowler Laremy Tunsil to Julien Davenport in late August. The 2019 unit allowed a quick pressure within 2.5 seconds on 33% of their dropbacks and were the worst unit and run blocking in the NFL. The entire line was purged in 2020 and completely revamped with the team electing to go in the direction of experience and stability in the form of Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers.

In 2020 Deiter only played 23 snaps, allowing no sacks and no penalties. In the rare glimpses we saw, most notably against the Patriots where following injury to Solomon Kindley, Deiter helped the line in arguably its best performance of the season. Despite having not played a single snap all season beforehand, Deiter helped the offensive line to finally establish both pass and run blocking, whereby Salvon Ahmed became the first 100yd rusher for the Dolphins since Kalen Ballage in 2018 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Skura as it stands, Deiter will have every opportunity to compete during camp to be at the very least a versatile quality depth piece at all three spots on the interior offensive line, or perhaps even a starter once more. Fins Up!

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2021 WR’s: A Room of Potential But Also Injury

The Dolphins needed a playmaker who could catch the ball.  Despite being the 8th highest paid receiving group in the league, the 2020 receivers ranked 25th in yards per reception, and 26th in 20+ yd completions . Now there is of course the argument that this is down to the play of Tua and his alleged “inability to play the ball downfield.”

As the 2020 season drew to a close in the most painstaking of ways, one thing was crystal clear, the Dolphins needed a playmaker who could catch the ball.  Despite being the 8th highest paid receiving group in the league, the 2020 receivers ranked 25th in yards per reception, and 26th in 20+ yd completions . Now there is of course the argument that this is down to the play of Tua and his alleged “inability to play the ball downfield.”

Nevertheless, it cannot be overlooked that the Dolphins tied 9th worst in the league for dropped balls and according to NextGen stats were one of the worst units at gaining separation, with Devante Parker being tied for the worst in the NFL. With the additions of Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle along with the return of Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns, it seems that the receiving room has gone from being somewhat lacking to brimming with potential. The question is, who misses out on making the final roster?

The No-Brainers

1. DeVante Parker– After an outstanding 2019 campaign where he helped drag the team to 5 wins, all hopes were on Parker to continue his form into 2020. Parker caught 67% of passes thrown his way for 793 yards and 4 TDs. There is no disputing Parker was WR1 last season and therefore heavily covered. Despite a league low 1.7 yds of separation, Parker is a contested catch specialist and managed to lead the team in receptions, yards , 20+ yard plays, first downs but unfortunately also in drops with 7. It is hoped that with the new additions, Parker will have even more opportunities to produce as DBs learn to respect the speed of Fuller and Waddle.

2. Will Fuller- Despite being suspended for the Week 1 opener @ New England, Fuller provides the speed and deep threat that the Dolphins have missed since Kenny Stills, if Stills ever was the answer. Dropped passes against Seattle still haunt us as fans. Despite some injury concerns, there is no disputing the levels of production. Despite starting only 11 games in a lackluster Texans team, Fuller racked up 879 yards and 8 TDs. Having missed voluntary OTAs, all eyes will be on Fuller at mandatory minicamp on June 15.

3. Jaylen Waddle- Given the post draft hype around the “perfect prospect” according to the Jags and many teams around the NFL, Waddle is certain to be a starting receiver. In his rookie season he will likely see most of his snaps in the slot with Parker and Fuller on the perimeter. Nevertheless, Coach Grizzard has expressed an intention to move all receivers around the field.

“We look at these guys for the versatility of all of them to play anything. We can move them around based on formation, so you will see different guys in the slot, and outside, its just more of the formation of it than actual like he is a “slot” receiver”

WR Coach Josh Grizzard speaking at the start of OTAs

At Alabama the duo of Tua and Waddle had a 74% completion percentage for an average of 16.6 YPC with a 137.9 passer rating. Although college stats are not necessarily an indicator of success at the pro level, Waddle has the freak speed and elusiveness to score from anywhere on the pitch and he is an immediate impact maker. 

The Likely Ones

4. Lynn Bowden Jr– Despite joining the team just one week before the season kicked off, Bowden got up to speed learning the playbook, eventually starting 10 games, stepping up when the team was hit with injuries. Although only making 28 receptions for 211 yards he offered a much needed level of consistency to the offense. Bowden has the instincts and abilities to play all over the offense, his abilities can seriously open up the Dolphins playbook with potential to deploy the wildcat formation along with Malcolm Perry. For an in depth view analysis into everything that Bowden offers I encourage you to read Hussam Patel’s recent article on him.

5. Preston Williams– If only he could stay healthy. Despite showing some promise with Tua after some drops earlier in the season, he remains the biggest unknown. When weighing production value against cost, Williams likely makes the team. With the additions that the Dolphins made this offseason his workload will likely be less, reducing his chances of sustaining injury, although he will inevitably be pushed down the depth chart.

The Main Competition

In 2020 the Dolphins went into the season with 7 WRs. At first thought the Dolphins would be wise to continue this, given how injury plagued the room was last season. However, with the introduction of Hunter Long to the TE room who all have their relative worth to the team, it may result in the Dolphins electing to roll with the conventional 6 receivers. The competition essentially falls on 3 players: Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Allen Hurns.

Following a recent video released by the Dolphins of Tua throwing the ball into tight coverage with Wilson making the reception, fans have been calling for Wilson to make the team. At this time Wilson appears to be the odds on favorite to make the roster; his speed, experience and YAC potential was something that the Dolphins greatly missed last season. However, his worth primarily in the slot may be overshadowed by that of Waddle and Bowden. If cut, Wilson would save $2.85m against the 2021 cap.

Allen Hurns appears to be the forgotten man. In 2019 he was 2nd on the team in yards per reception and had a completion percentage of 67% for 416 yds and 2 TDs. Hurns could play a similar yet improved role to that of Isaiah Ford in 2020.

Finally, Jakeem Grant the Second Team All-Pro kick returner went 36-54 for 373 yards and a TD. Expectations for Grant were high following his “I’m a receiver now” claim. However, it is somewhat strange given his speed and elusiveness in the return game he has never been able to fully translate that as a receiver. Grant has the biggest chance of being a cap casualty with a saving of over $4 million.

Outside Looking In

It is perhaps unfair to not include Mack Hollins as being part of the main competition given his value on special teams. Hollins’ season was captivated by a few plays including his TD catch from Tua vs Cardinals, the catch against the Raiders and ending Stephon Gilmore’s season. If Hollins does not make the final roster there is a chance he makes it to the practice squad; although I believe he has shown enough in big games to be claimed by another team. If that is the case the Dolphins’ locker room will have lost a big character.

Malcolm Perry is another anomaly. Although unlikely to make the team as a receiver, given his potential as a Swiss army knife in this offense, there is a growing speculation that he makes the roster as the final roster as a RB, most likely at the cost of Patrick Laird. Robert Foster also appears to be an odd one out. Last season he only played in 4 games with two receptions. Given the potential of the room it makes it very unlikely that he makes the final roster. As of this time it seems that the futures of Kirk Merritt and Kai Locksley will unfortunately be confined to the practice squad.

All things considered, when healthy the Dolphins now have a top 10 receiving core. A fascinating combination of speed, elusiveness and ability to make plays in tight coverage. In theory everything that you would want from a group of receivers, as long as they can stay on the field. How that room eventually looks come Week 1 will remain to be seen, all eyes will be on minicamp and training camp to see how this competition unfolds. Fins Up!

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2020 Season in Review: Should the Dolphins have redshirted Tua Tagovailoa?

Despite what should be regarded as a successful 2020 campaign, this off-season has been full of question marks surrounding the future of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Looking back with hindsight were the Dolphins right to play Tua in 2020?

Despite what should be regarded as a successful 2020 campaign, this offseason has been full of question marks surrounding the future of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Following on from endless criticism from the likes of Colin Cowherd, Chris Simms and Skip Bayless amongst others, Tua finally broke his silence on his rookie season at the start of OTAs this past week. In what can only be described as an incredibly honest and self critical interview, much of what he said leads to the question, were the Dolphins right to play Tua in 2020?

Looking back, it is very easy to see the argument in favor of red shirting Tua. After all, the same approach was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs when they elected to roll with veteran QB Alex Smith and to sit the future MVP and Super Bowl winner Patrick Mahomes in his first season. Tua is not Mahomes. In fact Tua has endured a much more challenging ordeal. 

A rookie QB coming off a potentially career ending injury, with rehabilitation and a global pandemic hampering any chance of a productive offseason, to enable him to hit the ground running in his first season in the NFL. It is now clear that despite what fans were told about Tua’s hip being ready to play in the NFL, it was not ready for him to be Tua, the most efficient and accurate passer in college history; the Tua that Dolphins fans thought they were getting with the 5th overall pick.

Tua himself admitted to not having the confidence in his first year to make the appropriate alerts and checks, caused by his own failure of not knowing a playbook designed for Fitzpatrick well enough. It is therefore very easy to come to the conclusion that knowing this, the Dolphins should have elected to redshirt Tua, not risking the season or the health of an unprepared QB. So why did the Dolphins take that risk and did it pay off?

Following on from the 2019 season, nobody seriously expected the Dolphins to progress in their rebuild as far as they did. From improving from 5-11 to 10-6 in one season, highlights the direction of the team moving forward as a legitimate AFC contender. Whilst some questions may continue to linger throughout the media and on Twitter, had Tua not seen the field at all last season, even more questions would have arisen, following successful rookie campaigns of both Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.

After being selected 5th overall and to not see the field over the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen, comparisons will have inevitably been made with Jordan Love in not being NFL ready. By allowing Tua the opportunity to make his mistakes in a weakened AFC East, with both the Jets and Patriots very much below par, meant that any rookie mistakes that were made did not come at the expense of winning in the moment.

Therefore, whilst it may be seen that electing to play Tua was setting him up for failure in 2020, it has subsequently created a platform for him to succeed in 2021 and beyond.

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