Where does the Dolphins Defense stand? A Late Pre-Season Update.

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Last week was the turn of the offense. Today, I’m going to take you through the state of the Dolphins defense, in my opinion, accompanied by stats from Pro Football Focus.

What can I say about this Defense? Let’s face it, winning games isn’t going to happen this year. No veteran is safe, so this is hard to predict. But foundations have been built and the future is looking bright.

What similarities are there from the New England Defense?

Well, just like New England, the Dolphins’ new defense is incredibly flexible. Once the regular season arrives, I expect a tonne of different looks. Sometimes a different one in every drive.

One player, who fits this scheme perfectly at Foxborough is Patrick Chung. Last year, the 2009 second-round pick played in the box, off the ball, and at linebacker.

One player with a similar skill set is Minkah Fitzpatrick (pictured). And already in training camp, we’ve seen the 2018 11th overall pick out of Alabama, used in multiple positions. Flores and Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham, will certainly know how to utilize the versatile DB. Of Minkah’s 106 snaps, he ‘s had 65 in pass coverage, 40 defending the run, and a single snap as a pass rusher.

One look, that occurred in about 15% of snaps for last year’s Flores and Belichick defense was the 3-3-5. Brought to the forefront by The Iowa State Cyclones. It’s a modified dime package with 3 linemen, 2 linebackers out wide, sometimes with a “joker safety” down in the box, alas Chung or Fitzpatrick. 4 extra DB’s, usually 2 Corners and 2 extra safeties complete the formation. The joker safety is brought into the box to look like a 3-4, without substitution. I expect to see this look often for the Dolphins D.

Before we get any further along, so far this pre-season Miami’s D has performed far better than many assumed would happen. In the last 2 pre-season games, in the 12 possessions against first teamers, only 10 points have been allowed. Alongside that, a 22.2% conversion rate on 3rd and 4th down is outstanding. Finally, the 7 sacks in those 12 drives are an amazing stat. Which leads me on nicely to my next segment.

How will the Dolphins Defense fare without a primary pass rusher?

I for one was surprised to see that Nate Orchard, of Browns Hard Knocks fame and Charles Harris would be the starting pass rushers for this Fins D. But both have shown up this pre-season and training camp, with a combined 6 sacks and 21 pressures.

Harris was drafted 22nd overall back in 2017, but has failed to perform at all really, and only recording 3 sacks in 2 seasons. However, under this new staff, Harris is like a new player, his emergence this pre-season has been very impressive and he should have a better season than his last. In the preseason game against Jacksonville, he put up 5 pressures and was causing so much havoc, that he was double-teamed. He’s finally using his hands properly at the line of scrimmage and has an overall PFF pass-rush grade of 83.9 this preseason.

Charles Harris (pictured, far right)

As for Orchard, since both his, and Carl Nassib’s surprising cuts on Hard Knocks 12 months ago, he has struggled to hold down a roster spot. He was cut by the Bills and Chiefs, last year, before being cut by Seattle this offseason. The former member of the Utah Utes has, like Harris, been less than impressive in his 4 years in the league. But has played multiple first-team reps and he leads the NFL with four sacks, putting pressure on the Jacksonville quarterbacks, Foles and Minshew, six times. He has put up an 87.0 Total Defense Grade for the past 3 games.

Tank Carradine and Jonathan Ledbetter should also make the roster. Dewayne Hendrix also has a shout.

All of these are good backups, and at a push second choice starters, but not really starting guys.

Maybe that’s about to change…

Can we take anything out of the Jadeveon Clowney rumours? Would he be a fit for the Dolphins Defense?

If you don’t know what I’m referencing, the Fins have been reported as interested in Jadeveon Clowney for a few weeks or so now, and there was a new development late Tuesday night.

NFL Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Clowney met with the Dolphins Executives and Head Coach Brian Flores, in person. This news came just about an hour after the 2014 first overall pick fired his longtime agent, Bus Cook.

Acquiring Clowney would be a high risk, high reward kind of move. He wouldn’t cost a first-round pick or anything like that, but there’s also a chance he might contest free-agency. This could bring up a high compensatory pick, however, and Miami has a tonne of cap room in 2020.

But nothing can happen at all until Clowney signs his one-year, $16 million franchise tag with Houston, which he has yet to do.

How is the interior D-Line looking for the Dolphins Defense, Sam?

Foundations are being built at the line of scrimmage. Christian Wilkins looks to be a steal at pick 13. He’s already got his first NFL sack in the preseason, and has impressed the coaching staff. He’s played a total of 83 snaps.

As for Davon Godchaux, he’s still improving. He had a good year last time out, putting up an 85.4 rush defense PFF grade. And has really established himself as a starting defensive lineman.

The newly acquired Robert Nkemdiche will start the season on the PUP list. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in South Beach.

Other than those three, I have zero clues as to who makes the roster. Joey Mbu? Adolphus Washington? Vincent Taylor?

What’s the current state of the Linebacker unit? Is it the end for Kiko Alonso?

I’m saying it now, Jerome Baker is going to go far! After a super impressive rookie season, he has a PFF Total Defense grade of 91.1. That’s the highest in the team. In his 28 snaps defending the run, he’s put up 10 run stops, earning a run defense grade of also 91.1. He’s being used all over as well, 20 snaps as a pass rusher have earned him 1 sack, 2 hurries, and 3 pressures. There are another 35 snaps in coverage as well, showing he can do anything. Coach Flores has stated that he sees him as a leader on defense.

One of the most positive and incredible stories this preseason and training camp has been Sam Eguavoen. Yesterday, I published a piece on his story. On the whole, he’s played very well. Against the Tampa Bay Bucs, two weeks ago, Eguavoen finished the game with seven tackles, including two for a loss, and a forced fumble. He then backed that up with 1 hurry, 3 tackles and a run stop against Jacksonville on Thursday.

On a whole this preseason, Sam Eguavoen has put up 10 tackles and 1 assisted tackle as well as 5 run stops. Pretty good for what he’s been through, I’m sure you’ll see this guy for years to come in the NFL. Particularly if he shines for the Dolphins this year.

Kiko Alonso should get cut, I don’t see a place for him on this team. He’s barely practiced this camp, and has fallen behind Eguavoen, and isn’t really a scheme fit. He’s also a decent cap hit, so might be worth cutting him now, he has no future on this team.

Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso
Photo by DAVID SANTIAGO

Raekwon McMillan should make the team, but we’ve not really seen him yet, due to injury. So nothing is certain.

At least one of Tre’ Watson, Nick De Luca and Terrill Hanks should make the roster. Maybe all three. I hear De Luca is a similar player to Rob Ninkovich, so he is definitely a scheme fit.

How is the secondary looking beyond Xavien Howard?

Thin. Especially at corner.

Xavien Howard is an elite cornerback, no questions should be asked about that. He’s fully earned his contract and deserves to be paid top money. His production is going to drop off this year, just because no one is going to throw his way. They’ll be going towards Eric Rowe.

Eric Rowe needs to show up this season. He’s a decent backup corner, don’t get me wrong. But he’s also gonna get a whole load of balls thrown his way. He’s a scheme fit and is clearly liked by the staff, no doubts about that. But he has to prove it. Prove that he is a true number 2 corner.

So far this pre-season, he’s played well. Against Jacksonville, he had 2 pass breakups and 1 interception. He’s also got a PFF coverage grade of 90.6 and an overall grade of 90.2. If he was to continue this form into the regular season, then I’d be happy. Hopefully, he does.

Other than Jamal Wiltz, I really don’t know what other cornerbacks will make the roster.

I’ve already gone into detail about Minkah’s role on this team, so I won’t go any further on that.

I really don’t know about Reshad Jones, I was dead certain he was getting traded until TJ McDonald was cut earlier this week.

Jones has been the heart of the Dolphins Defense for years now, but his contract is so messed up. And he wasn’t a happy chap in Miami last year. Flores likes Reshad, but as previously stated, this team is in a complete teardown and nobody is safe.

Bobby McCain has been playing a lot of safety in this camp, which makes me think he’s safer than others. Hopefully, he is as good there as he is in the slot. One thing is certain though, he’s not a boundary corner.

Chris Lammons has made plays on special teams, he and Walt Aikens should be kept for that reason.

But other than that, I really don’t know what’s gonna happen to this Dolphins Defense come Saturday evening.

Final Thoughts.

Other than the obvious starters, I really don’t know who’s gonna be on the final 53. I expect many additions after that deadline. It’ll definitely be very interesting to see.

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