NFL training camp is finally underway and there are moves, particularly one from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that are very intriguing and may change how we view those teams in the future. Julio Jones, formerly of the Falcons and Titans, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a one-year contract. He will now be joining Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as one of the best wide receiver trios in the NFL.
You might be thinking that Jones isn’t the same receiver as he once was. While you may be right, I’m here to tell you — with the help of some film from a game against the Seattle Seahawks — that he still has some left in the tank. I’ve compiled some tape from last year that shows just how good Julio Jones was before he got hurt and battled injury throughout most of the season, and that he still can be very good in a wide receiver three or four role on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Attacking the Football
This first clip of Jones truly demonstrates that he can still attack the football at a high level. He’s on the bottom of the screen and, as the defensive back is coming off, he is prepping to run an in-breaking route. Ryan Tannehill looks his way the entire time. Jones makes a really solid break towards the ball, goes up and high-points the football, and makes a great catch. His ability to make hands-catches is rare, and Jones showed that he still has some left in the tank.
Speed and Big-Play Potential
You might not think of Julio Jones’ speed as something that can still impress this late in his career and as something he may have lost when he went to the Tennessee Titans. However, in spurts it really is still there, and here’s a prime example of it.
On this deep ball Jones is on the top of the screen. The defensive back is playing off so Jones attacks him outside stepping in and doing a little stutter step. This throws the defensive back’s footing off just enough that Jones is able to speed past him, go over the top, and catch this great throw from Ryan Tannehill. It really is that footwork right before that makes this play possible.
Here’s an example of a crossing route, which Tom Brady really loves to throw. In this instance, Tennessee runs a play-action and Jones comes from the top of the screen down. What he does really well is attack the empty spots on the field, rather than just running the route the way that it’s written down in the playbook.
He attacks the empty part of the field and comes back to attack the football as soon as Ryan Tannehill makes this throw. This could have easily been batted down or incomplete, but he comes back and attacks the football. Julio Jones’ ball skills are still some of the best in the league, and he’ll have ample opportunity to show that with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yards After the Catch
On this play we see more of Julio Jones’ running ability and how it really was still there before he went down with the injury that sidelined him several weeks. He’s really good at not only attacking the football, but attacking defensive backs and using his footwork to gain leverage.
Here he does that exact thing. It’s really a simple route, but because he didn’t give up his intentions, the defensive back has no idea where he’s going. When he makes this simple cut in it almost makes the defensive back drop to the floor. Jones is able to catch the ball in space and attacks the open grass for a big gain.
Here is another example, and really the best combination of Julio Jones not only attacking space on the field, but also attacking the football when it comes his way. From the snap, he just goes straight to his spot and makes a quick little move on the defender.
This is vintage Julio Jones if I’ve ever seen it, and if he can bring some of these plays to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he’s healthy, they’re going to be an absolutely dangerous team.
Jones’ quick feet are what’s going to keep him relevant in this game for a while — and what has done so to this point. Here, it’s really a simple route, but it puts the defensive back in a blender. Jones spins back towards the football and goes up to make a play. His foot speed is still off the charts when healthy, and he can still teach defensive backs a lesson.
The Bottom Line on Julio Jones and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This game really showed some of the vintage Julio Jones that still remains in 2022. He had 133 yards receiving and dominated just about anybody that was put in front of him. However, teams with wide receiver needs, such as the Ravens and Packers left him for Brady and the Bucs. it’s only a matter of time before they come to regret this and we see the Brady-Jones connection in action.
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared as a video on Tyler’s YouTube channel. Head over there to check out the full video!
The NFL season is inching ever closer, and so is the Patriots training camp. Rookies, quarterbacks, and rehabbing players have already reported for training camp in Foxborough. Full training camp kicks off on July 27. A quick recap of the team’s off-season activity shows a healthy influx of new faces at critical positions. But it is accompanied by a dearth of talent and familiarity walking out the door.
RB/WR Ty Montgomery
WR DeVante Parker
OL Darryl Williams
LB Mack Wilson
CB Malcolm Butler
S/LB Jabrill Peppers
QB Jarrett Stidham
RB Brandon Bolden
C Ted Karras
OG Shaq Mason
LB/DE Chase Winovich
LB Kyle Van Noy
CB J.C. Jackson
LB Dont’a Hightower (remains unsigned)
As the team gears up for another season, here are five storylines to watch as Patriots training camp opens:
Development of Mac
The most important storyline of the Patriots training camp — and season — will be how second-year signal caller Mac Jones progresses. Mac had a solid rookie season finishing with 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions; enough to be named a Pro Bowl alternate in his debut season.
Despite ranking among the most accurate quarterbacks last year, the offense often seemed timid. Mac rarely attacked downfield in the same aggressive manner he did at Alabama. To complicate matters, the Patriots lost their offensive coordinator to the Las Vegas Raiders and haven’t exactly replaced him.
Year two is crucial for every player’s development, but even more so for young quarterbacks. Mac has put in the off season work with organized throwing sessions with receivers all across the country, all while ditching his dough-boy appearance for a leaner, meaner Mac. Last year he tore it up throughout summer activities; this year, he needs to do the same with a more aggressive approach of attack this time around.
The Pats don’t have a top-tier talent at receiver or tight end, but have a plethora of solid 1B/2A types. Adding Devante Parker gives Mac a contested ball guy who can win outside the numbers. Parker should free Nelson Agholor up to move around the formation into favorable match-ups. The Pats offense needs to add a more aggressive downfield element in year two of Mac.
Matt Judon and Who Else?
The linebacker group looked a step (or two or three) slow against the Bills late in the season. With the rest of the AFC East gaining speed this off-season (hello, Tyreek Hill), the Pats look to be shying away from their big-bodied thumpers at linebacker. Matt Judon started the season scorching hot before fading down the stretch.
The Pats are hoping to replace Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy with a combination of Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings, and trade acquisition Mack Wilson. The latter group features smaller bodies with a lot more speed.
The Pats desperately need at least two of these guys to become reliable starters — Wilson and Uche project to be three down players, if they develop as the team hopes. Perkins should bring a pop to the pass rush and may develop into a full-time edge defender; splitting time between DE and OLB wouldn’t be a surprise given his college production.
McMillan will most likely play alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley as primary run defenders. Any way you slice it, the Pats will be faster at the second level of their defense next season. The important thing is if they can be effective with their speed.
Who are the Corners?
J.C. Jackson cashed in in free agency with a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. Replacing him will garner a lot of attention this summer and throughout the season. The Pats brought in veterans Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell while also drafting Jack Jones (fourth round) and Marcus Jones (third round). The guarantees for Butler and Mitchell are low enough that their roster spots aren’t guaranteed.
The health of Jonathon Jones bears watching. His return will help against the spread ‘em out attacks of the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets. But past him, the depth chart is anything but settled.
Speed, Speed, Speed
The Patriots were focused on speed throughout the draft. They drafted the fastest player overall while also adding speed at corner and running back. We already touched on their plan to add speed to the interior of the defense.
Perhaps most importantly, many sources within the team have highlighted a change in the offensive structure and play calling. Having fast players only matters if you allow them to play fast. By simplifying the systems, the Patriots are hoping to let their guys play fast.
Protecting Mac Jones
The Patriots have questions at arguably four of their five offensive line spots. Not great. Tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown don’t have the cleanest track records with health.
The backup tackle spot is a question mark among young players and unproven vets. First-round pick Cole Strange was viewed by many as a colossal reach, but internally is being viewed as a day one starter. Right guard will fall to third-year man Mike Onwenu, who had a stalwart rookie year but a lackluster second. For Mac and the offense to reach their full potential, he will need to be kept upright.
Before we delve into the game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Kyle Phelps of Bengals ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this preseason matchup article.
Q. Last week the Dolphins had their dress rehearsal game. Was it the same for the Bengals? Which bubble players should we look out for?
KP: ” I wouldn’t exactly call week 2 a “dress rehearsal” for the Bengals. We definitely saw an emphasis on the first team trying to put more of a game plan together than they did Week 1. However. the majority of the snaps still went to the second and third team players.
I would expect the same against the Dolphins this week, as the Bengals seem to be mostly focused on developing their depth right now. The positive side of that is we’re sure to get a solid idea of who deserves to survive the roster bubble. Two players, in particular, you’re going to want to watch are WR Trenton Irwin and Edge Darius Hodge.
Irwin had a fantastic camp and first week of preseason that made it look like he had the inside track for the final WR spot on the team. Unfortunately, a poor performance in Week 2 hurt his case. But, it’s not like Trent Taylor, likely his biggest competition for the spot, has done much in the first two weeks at all. So, Irwin probably has a chance to redeem himself this week and make his case for that No. 6 spot.
Like Irwin, Darius Hodge went undrafted and has performed like a hidden gem so far. He absolutely terrorized the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the preseason along with another solid performance against the WFT in Week 2. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Bengals’ defensive edge right now, Hodge could very easily find his way onto the final roster with another big performance against the Dolphins.”
Following Tuesday’s roster moves, the wide receiver competition looks like it is nearing an end. Having cut Ford, waived/injured Foster and placing Bowden on IR, the receiving room is taking shape. A big opportunity now presents itself for Kirk Merritt, a player who has been productive throughout camp, to make one last push for the final 53.
Early this week Brian Flores stated that going into the final preseason game around 3/4 positions are left unfilled on the final roster. Keep your eyes peeled at who makes the final depth spots on the offensive line. Jackson, Kindley, Deiter, Hunt, Eichenberg and Davis are all locks, Skura likely makes the team as a backup. Therefore, the battle ultimately falls on Rob Jones, Durval Queiroz Neto, Larnel Coleman and Greg Little. The Dolphins invested heavily in Jones as an UDFA, while recently trading for Little for backup at tackle. However, it is Coleman that has impressed throughout camp and in preseason even getting some reps with the starting offense.
Another interesting battle to look out for is how the corner backs lower down the depth chart can fare in their pursuit for the final roster spots. I believe McCourty makes the roster as safety, meaning the battle ultimately falls on CreVon LeBlanc, Jamal Perry, Javaris Davis and Trill Williams. As it stands Perry/Williams are the favorites to battle it out for a spot on the final 53. However with Trill Williams a hot property, its unlikely that if cut he clears waivers. It will all depend on what Miami sees in Williams long term. Throughout this week of practice Williams has continued to impress as the boundary corner in the second team.
Q. How did you fare in the first two games of preseason? What went well? Stand out performances? What/who concerns you?
KP: “The Bengals split their first two preseason games, beating the Buccaneers and falling to Washington. But, most aren’t worried about those results. What’s more important is the first-team defense has looked remarkable so far. One of the Bengals’ biggest problems in 2020 was the lack of a pass rush, but the first team defense has generated a sack and multiple pressures in both contests. They also haven’t allowed a score yet.
On the offense, one of the biggest standout performers has been Jacques Patrick. A former XFL running back, he is battling for the third and final RB spot (most likely) behind Chris Evans. Incumbent Samaje Perine has been either invisible or disappointing this preseason. In contrast, Patrick has arguably been the single best performer on the team both weeks. So, it’s just a matter of proving the Bengals should take a chance on the lesser known, younger talent in lieu of the more established player you know.”
Technically like the Bengals the Dolphins split their first two games. However, when the starters and even second teamers were on the field they were 2-0. Tua showed promise in the first game despite the late pick and then continued to build on his strong start to the season against the Falcons.
During the Falcons game Tua showed his poise in keeping his eyes down the field, climbing the pocket with pressure in his face to allow his receivers to get open. The 3rd & 10 completion at the end of the half to Gesicki was a prime example of this. Tua’s footwork and pocket presence was a weakness in his game last year, now the improvements are clear. Throughout camp we have heard reports of Tua holding the ball for too long from the likes of Omar Kelly. While that may be the case from , it could be that in practice, in a non contact situation, Tua has not been able to experience the pressure in his face to that extent to allow him to extend the play.
If we are to nitpick at the faults of Tua during the game, there were a couple of instances where his accuracy was a little off, with the juggled catch by Hollins and then the overturned catch by Waddle. Nevertheless, these were very much an anomalies in an otherwise excellent game. He got the ball out quick, made the right reads and threw with anticipation demonstrating his comfortability within this offensive system. The offense was able to consistently move the ball down field with relative ease.
Q. Which players who are likely locks for the final 53 man roster are you focusing on for development?
KP: “We already have a pretty good idea of who’s in and who’s out at this point. But, some guys still need that extra push to prove what they can do. In particular, second round pick Jackson Carman has been having a pretty good preseason after a rough camp. The Bengals drafted Carman to fill the desperate need at right guard. Famously, they picked Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick under the assumption that they could find a perfectly talented lineman in the second round.
They passed on more notable names when their pick came around like Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, and Walker Little because they were convinced Carman was the best player available. Unfortunately, he struggled to impress in camp and failed to ingratiate himself as a starting-caliber player. He’s performed admirably in his preseason action so far. The hope is he’s still on track to work his way into the starting lineup, but I don’t think that’s even a remote possibility unless he has another great game.
Other players to watch out for include OL D’Ante Smith and RB Chris Evans. Smith is another lineman the Bengals took later in the Draft who has unexpectedly been running with the first team. Evans, the running back they selected in the sixth round, has absolutely earned his spot on the roster. Now, the question is whether he’s consistent enough to solidify the No. 2 spot vacated by Giovani Bernard.”
On Thursday Brian Flores stated how Tua would not feature nor would many of the starters. However I do foresee one exception, the offensive line. After a concerning couple of weeks, the offensive line played well opening up running lanes that had been near none existent against the Bears. However, they still have a long way to go and should feature during the game to build the much needed chemistry and cohesion.
The biggest factor going forward is what to do with Liam Eichenberg. After starting camp as starting RT, to then starting LG, he is now back at RT in the second team behind Jesse Davis. However, with a strong performance against the Falcons he is knocking on the door once again for a starting position. The right side of Hunt and Eichenberg was a key factor in establishing the run and the performance of the line as a whole against the Falcons.
UPDATE: Liam Eichenberg left practice on Thursday having sustained injury. The injury does not appear to be serious. Larnel Coleman replaced him at RT.
Another player I would like to see more of is Jaelan Phillips. Phillips made his preseason debut against the Falcons and looked explosive off the line setting the edge well opposite Van Ginkel. Having missed a considerable chunk of camp sidelined with injury expect him to receive some reps giving him valuable experience heading into the season.
Q. How is Joe Burrow coming along in his journey back? Do you expect him to feature in the game? If so, how much?
KP: “If it was up to me, I would sit Burrow this week. If I had to bet, the coaching staff probably feels the same way. But, we know Burrow does not feel that way. If the staff gives in, he might play a series or two at the beginning of the game mostly filled with simple, safe plays. But, my guess is that you won’t see him take a snap until Week 1 against the Vikings.
(UPDATE: It was announced Wednesday that Joe Burrow WILL be making his preseason debut against the Dolphins.)
Reports of his struggles have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, when camp first started, he was looking unsure on his knee and he was struggling to connect with his receivers. The defense absolutely dominated the offense early on. But, I don’t know what everyone expected. Perhaps he has shown so many good tendencies since arriving in the national spotlight that everyone forgot he is, in fact, human. Far be it from him to act a bit skittish the first few times he steps on a football field after a catastrophic, traumatizing knee injury.
But, since then, he has returned to the confident and poised Joe Burrow we all know and love. Reports from practice since that first week have been nothing but positive. He’s been scrambling, planting, and fearlessly engineering drives with virtually no issues to speak of. On top of that, you keep hearing about all these deep passes he’s completing, which is an improvement over the one major hole in his game last year.”
Q. Do you have any injury concerns entering the game?
KP: “As I mentioned earlier, the injuries on the defensive edge have become rather concerning. Third round pick Joseph Ossai, who was looking like an absolute stud in camp and the first preseason game, appears to have torn his meniscus and could miss the entire season. Fourth round pick Cam Sample is dealing with a shoulder injury that isn’t expected to be serious, but will keep him out against the Dolphins. Seventh round pick Wyatt Hubert tore a pectoral muscle in training camp and is already ruled out for the year. So, it’s no surprise the Bengals went out and signed Noah Spence.
Spence is a former second round pick who has struggled with injury, whom the Bengals picked up earlier this week after the Saints released him. The hope is new DL coach Marion Hobby can re-unlock his potential after injuries derailed his career. At the moment, Khalid Kareem is the only backup edge defender expected to make the roster who isn’t currently injured. So, Spence likely only needs to be able to hold his own on some level to make the final roster. That said, if Spence can return to the level of play we saw in the first six games of his rookie season, he could make the kind of serious impact the Bengals were hoping to get from their Draft class.”
At last, Dolphins fans can rejoice as once again we have been treated with glimpses of Will Fuller and DeVante Parker (non-contact jersey) at practice.
As of Thursday, Preston Williams, Albert Wilson, Vince Biegel, Cethan Carter and Jevon Holland all didn’t practice due to injury. Adam Shaheen also did not practice, although the reason for his absence remains unknown, it is thought not to be injury related.
Fans can rest easy as all receivers have stated that they feel great in their fitness, but the coaching staff are intent on bringing them back slowly to avoid further complications heading into the season. In addition, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Holland has been walking around fine without any visible discomfort. The condition of Eichenberg is at present unknown.
Q. What is going on with Ja’Marr Chase? Do you stand by the pick giving the obvious need to protect Burrow?
KP: “Ja’Marr Chase is going to be fine. He was having issues with drops in training camp, and those issues popped up again against Washington. Luckily, he has that same blue collar, nose-to-the-grindstone mentality that Burrow has. He’s been working through his issues and the reports have been he’s turned the corner in practices this week.”
“Don’t forget, this is the same guy who wanted to work on his hands in college and made the decision to catch 10,000 passes in one offseason with his fellow wide receivers. That was the offseason that preceded LSU’s undefeated run through the National Championship in 2019, the same season that put Chase on the map.
As far as the selection in the 2021 NFL Draft goes, I personally wanted Kyle Pitts, who wasn’t even available when we picked. But, I had the same mentality the Bengals seemed to have at the time. Everyone acted like Penei Sewell was this can’t-miss prospect, but the Bengals have had plenty of success finding offensive linemen in later rounds and plenty of failures in the first round.
They also replaced RT Bobby Hart with Riley Reiff in free agency, which was a HUGE upgrade. They ended up picking Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith in the first four rounds of the Draft. Carman hasn’t exactly had the fastest start, but he’s looked fine in the preseason, and Smith has been a bit of a hidden gem so far. Not to mention, Sewell hasn’t looked great in the preseason with Detroit. So, I think the strategy was justified.”
Q. Which Dolphins’ player scares you the most?
KP: “It’s preseason, so I don’t know if “scares” is the right word. But, I am definitely going to be watching how well the Bengals’ secondary plays against No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle. In addition to looking scary in college, I’ve been hearing nothing but good things from my friends who follow the Dolphins. It sounds like he’s the whole package, and could see a lot of playing time this week.
Naturally, as I’ve been impressed by the Bengals’ pass coverage this preseason, I’m fascinated by this matchup. I’m not currently sure who will be covering him during the game, as I’m not entirely sure when Waddle will be playing in the first place. But, I would love to see him challenge guys like Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple, who have both been fantastic free agency additions for the Bengals this year.”
Once again I would just like to thank Kyle for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go and follow him on Twitter. The preseason finale will look different for many reasons. No Tua, no X, no Byron along with many other starters. Nevertheless, over the past 2 years this organisation has shown its worth in finding the diamonds in the rough. The players that get overlooked and go unrecognized, we will get our biggest look at the potential candidates yet this week. Who they will end up being we will find out come August 31 when the final 53 is finalized. Fins Up!
Ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals final preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, I collaborated with Bradley Davies at Dolphins ATB to profile the team the Bengals will be hosting in Cincinnati this week. Although we aren’t likely to see a true representation of the team the Dolphins want to present in the regular season on Sunday, there will still be plenty of storylines developing and key players to watch.
Q: Who has been the biggest standout in camp and the preseason so far? Any particular roster battles that are shaping up to produce a different result than would have been expected a few months ago? Anyone we should be keeping a close eye on in the final preseason game?
If you would have asked me this question 2 weeks ago there would have only been one answer and that would be Albert Wilson. Throughout the early weeks he was everywhere and seemed to have seamless chemistry with Tua. From a potential cut candidate to starting receiver on the first depth chart, Wilson had a very impressive camp before being sidelined with injury (as is the case with nearly every Dolphin’s receiver). Ever since I would have to say the camp standout would most likely be either Holland or Waddle, both rookies have hit the ground running with their explosiveness and play making ability.
In relation to the positional battles, the biggest surprise is what is happening with the offensive line. Coming into camp everybody believed that the starting line was set in stone. It was presumed that it would be: Austin Jackson (LT), Solomon Kindley (LG), Matt Skura ( C), Robert Hunt (RG) and Liam Eichenberg (RT). Since then both Kindley and Skura have had spells with the 3rd team, while Jackson has been bullied throughout joint practices and preseason. Furthermore, Michael Deiter, a player who did not start a single game for the Dolphins, has transitioned from left guard to be the starting center.
The biggest factor going forward is what to do with Liam Eichenberg. After starting camp as starting RT to then starting LG, he is now back at RT in the second team behind Jesse Davis. However with a strong performance against the Falcons he is knocking on the door once again for a starting position.
Going into the final preseason game it is likely that we will not see many starters at all including Tua. The game will primarily focus on players that are on the bubble of the roster and practice squad players. Given the vastly changing nature of the Dolphins wide receiver room on Tuesday, I would keep a close eye on Kirk Merritt for one last push to make the roster. He has been productive throughout camp after failing to break in to the team last season
With Joe Burrow seeing his first live-game action since his gruesome knee injury, it’s probably best to protect him. No one wants to see him put his body on the line for a game that doesn’t count. That said, as I referenced in last week’s review, preseason does matter for those fringe roster players. So, it’s interesting to see how guys like Jalen Davis and Eli Apple fare against hungry Miami Dolphins receivers. Wilson and Merritt, in particular, are good ones to watch. Also, I am fascinated to see how Jackson Carman plays this week in comparison to Liam Eichenberg. Eichenberg was a player many Bengals fans were hoping the Bengals would target at 38.
Q: The big talk in the Draft surrounded the Dolphins’ decision to trade down and back up in the Draft. There were a lot of opinions surrounding this decision. But, it seems like they have found a solid player in Jaylen Waddle. Was accumulating picks and drafting Waddle the right move? Should have stayed put and selected Florida TE Kyle Pitts,popular among Florida-based Dolphins fans?
Absolutely. There is no doubting Pitts’ ability, he is a freak athlete that would have created a matchup nightmare. However the Dolphins are not short of contested catch specialists with a strong TE room. As for Waddle, his speed, explosiveness and what he brings to this offense is invaluable. He is just special and has shown that comparisons with Tyreek Hill is no exaggeration. To come away with Waddle and another first round pick from one of the picks robbed from the Texans is nothing short of remarkable. The Dolphins are much further ahead in their rebuild now than anybody could have imagined. They are a legitimate playoff contender already, and their added draft capital over the coming years gives them the flexibility to really build something special.
Of all the top pass-catching prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, Chase seemed like the obvious target for the Bengals. But, many fans were hoping for Pitts. Few made the argument for Waddle at the time. However, so far Waddle has been the most impressive of the bunch for the Miami Dolphins. If you believe everything the national media tells you, Chase looks like the most disappointing of the bunch so far. But, he’ll likely have an opportunity to influence that narrative this week as both rookies could get some playing time.
Q: What is going on with Tua Tagovailoa? He had an up-and-down rookie season and that appears to be continuing this preseason so far. What is the general feeling around his potential as the Dolphins’ long-term solution at QB?
It is no secret that Tua’s rookie season was somewhat underwhelming, it wasn’t great but at the same time he didn’t stink like many would lead you to believe. Let us not forget prior to making his NFL debut, Tua was less than a year removed from a potentially career ending injury. I’m sure Bengals’ fans can now sympathise with the ups and downs that you endured throughout Joe Burrow’s return.
I personally believe that the Miami Dolphins had their hand forced into playing Tua before he was fully ready. With the strong starts made by Burrow and Herbert, if the 5th overall pick did not see the field over the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen, scepticism over his potential would have been even more rife across the NFL. 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 any rookie mistakes that made did not come at the expense of winning in the moment.
Any notions of his rookie struggles continuing this offseason are incorrect. Tua has come on leaps and bounds. Throughout camp the Dolphins’ passing game has improved tremendously. Despite the likes of Will Fuller and DeVante Parker not being on the field, Tua has had no issues in being able to push the ball down the field against an elite Dolphins’ defense. Tua has done this with consistency throughout camp with around 7 times more touchdown passes than interceptions throughout the entirety of camp.
Coming into the preseason games there was much anticipation as to how he would perform in a game setting. When evaluating his rookie season there were a few holes in Tua’s game: elements of his mechanics, decisiveness and confidence in the playbook. Throughout preseason Tua has been efficient with the ball, getting it out quickly with his feet set. In addition his pocket presence has come on enormously, as he has not been afraid to climb the pocket whilst his receivers get open. From what we have seen so far, everything is set for a big leap in 2021. Whether he is the long term solution we will see. A sample size of 9 games in an unprecedented season is not enough to make any judgement whether good or bad.
For a large chunk of 2019, a lot of Bengals fans thought the Bengals should target Tagovailoa in the Draft. I know because I was one of them. However, as Burrow’s legend grew, and Tua’s faded after his injury, it became clear who was the obvious choice. The Bengals will likely be seeing Jacoby Brissett and Reid Sinnett taking all the snaps this week. But, understanding the situation around Tua is essential to understanding the Dolphins.
Q: Opinions about head coach Brian Flores have generally ranged from highly impressed to somewhat skeptical. It was an impressive turnaround from the 5-11 team he coached in his first season. But, is there significant pressure to make the playoffs this year? What happens if they don’t?
People should not forget the position the Dolphins were in 2019. With what was considered the worst NFL roster of all time, calls for the league to investigate whether Dolphins were tanking and putting their players at risk. From starting 0-7 the Brian Flores has since gone 15-10 all in one year of a rebuild. Very few of Belichick’s coaches have been successful since leaving New England, Brian Flores is certainly one. The culture that he and Chris Grier have built in Miami is something truly different to what the Dolphins have had in some time and it is refreshing. While missing out on the playoffs this year will inevitably be a disappointment, if the team continues to develop in their rebuild and improve on both sides of the ball, Flores will be just fine.
However as Tyler DeSena said in one of his articles, there is pressure on Flores to ensure that he has finally sorted the offensive coordinator position at the 3rd time of trying. From Chad O’ Shea’s highly technical and confusing offense, to an archaic offensive system designed by Chan Gailey specifically for Ryan Fitzpatrick, all eyes are now on George Godsey and Eric Studesville to modernise the Dolphins’ offense. However, so far so good. Pre-snap motions are being used to create separation, creating leverage allowing them to beat the defenses.
There are actually quite a few similarities between the Miami Dolphins’ turnaround and the Bengals’ rebuild with Zac Taylor. Both teams are run by young, first-time head coaches and both looked bad enough to draw tanking claims in 2019. Each targeted a franchise quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft. Both teams hope to have found a game-breaking wide receiver with their top pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Each head into 2021 needing to prove the rebuild is working.
The biggest difference? The Bengals have a 6-25-1 record in that time frame and the Miami Dolphins are 15-17. In fact, the Dolphins just barely missed the playoffs. Flores’ job could be in jeopardy if the Dolphins put together an abysmal season. But, Taylor is under pressure to show progress now. Another sub .500 season with no hope of playoff contention would absolutely be a death knell for this regime.
Last Saturday, the Dolphins fell to the Bears in their first preseason game. The Dolphins starting offense showed signs of life, but only put up 3 points. The starting defense locked down the Bears offense. There were still issues for Miami though. Containing Justin Fields and poor OL play were the most significant.
Below is a list of improvements we’d like to see in tonight’s game versus Atlanta.
The starting OL was below average. 2020 first-round pick Austin Jackson had the toughest day out of everyone.
On one play, he was driven straight back at QB Tua Tagovailoa. Jackson was thrown back and flew into Tagovailoa’s legs. The Dolphins escaped disaster on that play. Jackson stayed in after most starters were pulled and finished the first half. The Dolphins will look for more consistent pass protection from Jackson against an Atlanta DL that isn’t as dangerous as Chicago’s. The Dolphins traded for OT Greg Little, so it’s no secret Austin Jackson’s performance was a concern.
The running backs didn’t have a great performance. Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed showed potential with the first-teamers, but hesitated and lacked vision at times. FA signing Malcolm Brown also struggled, with 9 yards on 8 carries.
Some of these struggles could be attributed to poor OL play, but the RB’s weren’t doing their part either.
Ahmed was solid in the passing game and has been contributing all week at practice. Although Miami plans on a committee-styled RB room, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ahmed get more work with the starters.
It will be important to keep an eye on all the RB’s and see how they fare against a slightly easier front-7 in the Falcons.
The starting defense got off to a great start, and the Bears didn’t pick up a first down until the end of the first half. There were still issues with the defense later on in the game.
Miami has always struggled against mobile QB’s, or any QB once they get outside the pocket. Last week, Bears rookie Justin Fields showed that it was still an issue.
Although Matt Ryan and AJ McCarron aren’t dual-threats, Feleipe Franks is. If Franks gets time with the 2nd-team, it will be interesting to see how Miami’s front-7 contains him.
The pass rush was lackluster for the most part. Besides a handful of good plays, Fields had plenty of time to throw. In that game though, rookie Jaelan Phillips and Emmanuel Ogbah didn’t play. If Miami can get into the Falcons backfield, the defense is going to be even scarier than last week.