The Plan at Tight End

The Dolphins have several options at TE, including Mike Gesicki and Hunter Long. So what’s the plan with them?

In 2020, tight ends were a focal point of the Miami Dolphins offense. 3rd year star Mike Gesicki posted his best season as a pro with 700 yards and 6 touchdowns. While Gesicki was the main attraction, Durham Smythe and Adam Shaheen were key contributors in run blocking, providing strength up front while creating holes for Miami’s running backs.

Even with the success of Mike Gesicki, who is looked at as a top 10 tight end in the NFL, the Dolphins still selected another tight end in the 2021 NFL draft. With their 3rd round pick, Miami selected Hunter Long of Boston College.

Unlike Gesicki, who is primarily looked at as a pass catcher with lackluster run blocking ability, Hunter Long looks to offer a mix of both traditional tight end skills, running in-line routes as well as providing size in the run game with his 6’5″, 254 pound frame.

He was one of the most effective receiving tight ends in the country, posting 57 receptions and 685 yards in 2020. Those stats were enough to earn him a spot on the all ACC first team.

Dolphins rookie TE Hunter Long catches a touchdown.

As far as his strengths, he excelled in open field speed and showed an innate ability to haul in contested catches. Much like Miami’s use of Smythe and Shaheen in 2020, Long was often used on screens and dump-off passes, with Boston College relying on his ability to gain yards after the catch. His knack for making big plays off of short passes should help the Dolphins, as they ranked 23rd in yards after the catch in 2020.

A play against the Cardinals displays how Hunter Long could be used in 2021.

Along with Long and the retainment of the other 3 tight ends, the Dolphins continued to show that they are not content with their current group, adding rookie Jibril Blount and utility man Cethan Carter.

With Head Coach Brian Flores’ focus on competition, and the tight end depth chart, it begs the question: How will the Dolphins use their tight ends under new Offensive Coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville?

Dolphins TE/FB Cethan Carter catches his first career touchdown.

While Eric Studesville lacks playcalling experience, Godsey called plays under Bill O’Brien’s Texans in 2015 and 2016, the latter of which saw 2 tight ends (Ryan Griffin and CJ Fiedorowicz) eclipse 400 yards.

Although the group wasn’t nearly as talented as this 2021 Dolphins group, Fiedorowicz saw 7 or more targets in 9 of the 16 games he played, showing Godsey’s commitment to the utilization of tight ends. And more than their stats, the type of tight ends Godsey has worked in the past can potentially show what he looks for.

Primarily a blocker, much like the majority of the Dolphins group, Fiedorowicz showed the versatility and ability to be in for pass and run plays. This unique skillset was one Godsey took with him to Miami when he came in under Chan Gailey, who often used Shaheen and Smythe as threats in the short pass game along the line, with Gesicki having more of a Wide Receiver type role.

George Godsey saw production with lackluster QB play.

With Hunter Long fitting the mold of the dual threat tight end that Godsey wants, the real wild card is Gesicki. He doesn’t block at a particularly high level, and most of his snaps came from the slot, rather than the in-line styles of the other tight ends on the roster.

While we can guess that his role as a big slot receiver will remain the same in 2021, his future with Miami is uncertain.

Entering the final year of his contract in 2021, Gesicki will be looking for an extension this training camp. Proving himself to be an elite talent, the recent patterns of signings and draft picks show that there may not be a fit for him on this roster.

Many are looking at Long as the tight end of the future, with quality backups behind him. And if you want to look at Gesicki as a receiver, that room is also crowded, with Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Albert Wilson all being able to do work out of the slot. Under Miami’s current cap situation, they may have to choose between giving an extension to a tight end who doesn’t fit their ideal skillset or Xavien Howard, who is looked at as a top 5 cornerback in the league.

Since Gesicki doesn’t fit the mold of the other tight ends on the roster, he could still be in the Dolphins future plans.

In 2020, only 4 teams ran more 12 personnel, which includes 2 tight ends and 1 running back on the field. The potential of a pass catching tight end tandem of Gesicki and Long is dangerous, with both offering unique skillsets that help quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who excelled in 12 personnel, no huddle looks last season, as well as his experience with deadly YAC receivers at Alabama.

Gesicki has also shown improvement every year in the league, having a career year in 2020, which came off of a breakout in 2019. The belief is that he can be a top 5 tight end in the league with some time and continuity at the quarterback spot, something he hasn’t had over the course of the season since he entered the league. Having a second year with Tua Tagovailoa should help with communication and improving the connection they already have.

Tua Tagovailoa throws a deep touchdown pass to Mike Gesicki.

Waiting on giving Gesicki a contract could help the Dolphins, as they only have about 5 million dollars in cap space now (assuming they sign all of their rookies). But that number balloons to about $51 million in the 2022 offseason when you include linebacker Jerome Baker’s new extension.

This gives the Dolphins the future cap the get a Howard and Gesicki deal done over the next year or so.

At the end of the day, training camp will show a lot of Miami’s true plans for the future at the tight end spot, but the behaviors of the team and the coaching staff have already shown plenty as to what they may do. The battles on the depth chart and reports of negotiations will be exciting to watch as we determine how the vision for the Dolphins roster will be realized, especially at tight end.

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Miami Dolphins: Brian Flores isn’t on the hot seat, but issues persist

Brian Flores, unlike reports, is not on the Hot Seat going into 2021. But one issue should not be overlooked.

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores

On June 25, NFL Writer Jason La Canfora released an article containing 9 head coaches who are at risk of being fired if they have a lackluster season. Among those on the list: Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins.

La Canfora cites quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s divisive 2020 campaign, along with roster and coaching turnover as reasons why Flores could potentially be let go. But there is one thing I am sure of. Brian Flores is not on the hot seat.

Although the Dolphins missed the playoffs, Flores led the team to a 10-6 record and a top 5 scoring defense in 2020. That’s coming off of a 2019 campaign where the team went 5-11, winning 5 of their last 9 games with what was considered one of the worst rosters in the history of the NFL. In both years, the Flores led Dolphins have exceeded expectations.

Las Vegas Sportsbooks had the Dolphins finishing with 6 wins in 2020.

Many saw last season as a growth period where contending was an afterthought, but Miami finished 1 game short of the playoffs. Flores’ leadership and schemes have shown that he deserves an extension, rather than being let go.

There are some reasonable concerns for Flores’ long term future; however, with the primary concern stemming from the offensive coordinator position. Going into his 3rd season, Flores has hired 4 different offensive coordinators, including new co-coordinators Eric Studesville and George Godsey.

Under the previous regimes of Chad O’Shea and Chan Gailey, the team finished 25th and 15th respectively, with an inability to stay in games with the best offenses in the league.

Losing games down the stretch to the high powered Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs knocked Miami out of the playoffs, and ended Gailey’s tenure with the Dolphins, as he retired in what some considered as a mutual parting of ways. Now, the pressure is on Flores and his 2 new OC’s to perform this season.

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa says he had to execute plays he wasn’t comfortable with.

If Flores and his two-headed idea for Offensive Coordinator can find success, they will have eliminated the lingering issue that has plagued the team, kept them out of the playoffs, and stimulated the ideas for Jason La Canfora’s article. And there are reasons to believe that they can be successful.

Along with new coordinators, the Dolphins also brought in weapons to help their second year QB. Former Texans Wide Receiver Will Fuller and Tua Tagovailoa’s collegiate teammate Jaylen Waddle look to bring an explosive element that the team lacked in 2020.

Their young offensive line will also be a year older, with time to develop and grow, with former tackle Robert Hunt moving back to his primary position of right guard, the drafting of Notre Dame tackle Liam Eichenberg and the signing of veteran pieces like Center Matt Skura and Tackle DJ Fluker.

Miami Dolphins WIde Receiver Will Fuller ranks among the top of the NFL in deep threat ability.
New Dolphins Center Matt Skura was top 10 in both Pass Block and Run Block win rate in 2020.

But if the offensive group fails to produce, the perception of Flores across the league could change. A coach who is looked at as a rising star will have a blemish, marking his inability to find consistency on the side of the football he lacked experience with. A blemish that usually follows coordinators who can’t make the jump to head coach.

And while I believe that the burden for a potential lack of success in 2021 could be placed on Tua Tagovailoa, some of the blame would have to be put on Flores, which is why this year is so crucial for his career as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

While he certainly won’t be fired after this season, his job could be in danger for the following year. In order to truly have stability at the head coach spot — which is something the Miami Dolphins haven’t had since Don Shula — Brian Flores must fix the lackluster offense that has plagued him each of his first two seasons. Only then will he be the franchise savior Dolphins fans believe him to be.

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The Future of Miami Dolphins Cornerbacks

Xavien Howard is holding out for a new contract. Here are some potential options if his situation carries into the season.

As Xavien Howard, the Miami Dolphins Defensive Player of the Year nominee, sits out of minicamp in search of a contract that would make him the highest paid defensive back in the NFL, Miami enters their workout programs with a variety of potential options at the cornerback spot.

Paying Howard

The first, and most popular option among Dolphin fans, is paying Howard, who is looking for a contract upwards of $20 Million. That is the average annual salary of Jalen Ramsey, the current highest paid corner in the league. While the number seems steep, Howard definitely made his case for why he deserves a pay-raise of that caliber. With 10 interceptions and 20 passes defensed, Howard played well enough to place third in the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year voting. On a team that went 10-6 and is looking to make the playoffs on the back of their 4th ranked scoring defense, keeping Howard seems to be the most logical solution to this contract dispute.

Playing Time for a 1st Round CB

If Xavien Howard continues his holdout, with the Dolphins unwilling to renegotiate his contract, another potential route is a trade request from the First Team All Pro CB. A trade is being considered by him and his team, according to Dolphins beat writers. If the Dolphins were to go through with his request, they would be looking in different spots for a second cornerback to go alongside Byron Jones. The most likely fit for that spot is 2020 first round pick Noah Igbinoghene. 

Coming off a year where he saw little of the field, Igbinoghene had a rough time in the limited snaps he took. Dolphins DB’s, led by Igbinoghene, allowed 8 catches for 153 yards to Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs in week 2 last season. Aside from that game, Igbinoghene logged very few snaps, mostly coming at the end of games that were already decided. 

But there is promise for the former Auburn Tiger, who has worked on his game and has impressed with his work ethic and production in minicamp, as he broke up several passes during the 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills. After spending a top 30 pick on Igbinoghene last year, the Dolphins have high hopes that he could come in and produce and potentially replace Howard if he were to be dealt.

Dolphins Writer Josh Tolentino labels CB Noah Igbinoghene a standout from minicamp.

Familiar Faces and New Additions

Along with Igbinoghene and Jones, the Dolphins have other intriguing cornerback options that could see playing time if Howard was moved or misses games with his contract dispute. Among those are Nik Needham, Justin Coleman and Jason McCourty. Needham was the Dolphins starting slot corner who had impressive stints last season, but struggled down the stretch and showed some inconsistency in coverage over the middle. With his struggles, he has still shown vast improvements in his game over his first 2 seasons, where he went from an undrafted free agent to a starter on an elite defense. 

Coleman and McCourty, on the other hand, are new additions, each with time playing in the system similar to the one Brian Flores and Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer run in Miami, along with both playing under Flores when he was the DC in New England. With their experience and knowledge of the scheme, the Dolphins could opt to go with them over a younger and more experienced option, such as Igbinoghene.

Dolphins Writer Travis Wingfield describes an interception in Minicamp from new addition Justin Coleman.

The Best Option

Although the Dolphins have many intriguing players at the cornerback spot, one constant still remains: None of them are as good as Xavien Howard. Coming off of the best season of his career where he played in all 16 games, Howard has shown that he can be a shutdown corner in this league for years to come. And in the modern NFL, where teams are passing more and more, a dominant defensive back is necessary in order to slow them down. 

The best option remains to pay Howard, but we will see what the Dolphins opt to do in the coming months regarding his contract, weighing their potential options for the future of their cornerback position.

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