clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole

Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell has been trying to employ a physical style of football because he feels that is the way to win. While many also feel that same way, he needs to step back and take a look at this roster to decide whether or not he can make that happen with this team.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I wrote a column talking about why Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell should be judged not just on wins/losses, but what he does in numerous areas both on and off the field. In one of the points I made, I talked about how this Dolphins team isn't built in the style that he wants it to be. While Campbell is looking for a big and physical team, the vast majority of the players have been brought in under the Joe Philbin regime for a finesse scheme.

And that got me thinking. We always talk about how the better coaches in football - regardless of the level they are coaching at - adjust to the players on the roster and not the other way around. Well, it's time for Campbell to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Sure, we saw the physical practices and such as soon as Campbell took over. It paid off against two inferior opponents in the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans. But then, the Dolphins hit the road to take on the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills and got blown out.

The fact of the matter is that this roster is not assembled to support a tough and physical style of football. Yes, Campbell has tried making changes to turn it that way. This includes inserting offensive guard Billy Turner into the starting lineup and now bringing in running back Jay Ajayi into the mix.

That still doesn't make up for someone like Dallas Thomas. According to his draft profile on, Thomas was "someone who can get to the second level quickly while showing good speed and hustle downfield." One of the major weaknesses of Thomas' coming out of college was that he wasn't strong enough in his lower body and would give up a bit of ground against powerful defenders.

Putting Turner and Ajayi into the mix also doesn't make up for someone like Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry, who are both small and shifty receivers. Of course, any team in the NFL, regardless of scheme, would benefit from having Landry on their team. But to ask him to play outside and go toe-to-toe with the bigger cornerbacks in the NFL is not a long-term recipe for success. Stills cannot always get separation from the bigger cornerbacks in the NFL and instead, must rely on his speed. Rishard Matthews, who has tremendous hands, is only six feet tall and 217 pounds.

In fact, when you look at the starting four receivers (Greg Jennings, Matthews, Stills, Landry), none of them are taller than six feet! The one who stands in at six feet, three inches is DeVante Parker, but ironically, Campbell doesn't want to put him in the game until he shows more consistency! Compare that with someone like Demaryius Thomas who is the same height as Parker or Calvin Johnson, who is six feet, five inches.

Jordan Cameron, who was best known for making the tough catches before injuries hit, has been relegated to a blocking tight end here in Miami because that's what offensive coordinator Bill Lazor thinks he is best suited for right now. We all know that's a mistake and that he isn't being utilized the proper way. Dion Sims goes out for passes but some can argue that they target him at all the wrong times, such as at the one-yard line before the end of the half against the Buffalo Bills with two seconds left on the clock.

The irony in all of this is that the players who can help Campbell turn this into a physical team (Cameron and Parker) are either not playing or not being utilized the proper way.

Moving to the backfield, you have someone like Lamar Miller. Yes, he is a special talent but he isn't going to run guys over. He is small, fast and shifty and as we have seen over the past several weeks, he can make a huge impact when catching the ball out of the backfield. Can Ajayi be that change of pace back who can run guys over and get the tough yards? We saw some flashes against Buffalo and can only hope he continues to improve each week while getting more opportunities.

Moving to the defensive side of the ball, more questions pop up. When you start with the cornerbacks, you can see just how small they are. Brent Grimes and Jamar Taylor are both five feet, ten inches. Brice McCain is an inch shorter while Bobby McCain is an inch taller than Grimes and Taylor. While the Dolphins have two corners who are taller than six feet in Zach Bowman and Tony Lippett, both are inexperienced and not ready to take on a full-time role throughout the game. The kicker? None of them, with the exception of Bowman, weigh more than 200 pounds.

In comparison, you have players like Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Desmond Trufant and more who are taller than six feet and weigh more than 200 pounds. Yes, you have those who are the same height as Grimes such as Vontae Davis, Darelle Revis and Chris Harris Jr., but those are the exceptions and not the rule.

Moving to the linebacker position, you have Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins and Kelvin Sheppard. Without even looking at the type of linebackers they are, the biggest problem with that unit is that Sheppard is the starting middle linebacker. There are very few teams, if any, throughout the rest of the league that would have Sheppard as their starting middle linebacker. Misi is a solid player, but he gets taken down and pushed out of the play too much. Jenkins, as we all know, is a good player and would be a good fit on a lot of other teams in the league.

Then, looking at the defensive line, Oliver Vernon and Earl Mitchell are over-matched quite often. Ndamukong Suh is that physical presence you want on the line and despite what the national media will tell you, he is most definitely doing his job by opening up one-on-one match-ups for the other guys on the line. The problem? They can't win their match-ups and the linebackers behind him are getting pushed out of the play by the offensive linemen getting to the next level after shedding off the smaller defensive linemen. Do you see the problem here?

Let's bring it all together now and do some basic math. There are 22 starters, counting both offense and defense. When you take out the quarterback, that's 21. Out of those 21, I would say only eight of them are fit for the physical style of football that Campbell wants to employ. This includes Branden Albert, Mike Pouncey, Reshad Jones, Cameron, Turner, Landry, Suh and Jenkins.

Using basic math, that means there are 13 other guys who are best suited to play in a finesse scheme. Going further, you can put guys like Albert, Pouncey, Jones, Landry, Suh and Jenkins into either scheme so when it really all boils down to it, there's only one guy left who fits into that real physical scheme and that's Turner. You might say Cameron too but remember, he isn't being utilized the proper way at this current time.

The fact is that this roster is built - for better or for worse - to run a finesse scheme. It's time for Campbell and his coordinators to come to that understanding and realize that his best chance to win, regardless of what he thinks, is to game-plan to put his players into the best position to succeed. Asking them to play physical football is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and it's not a recipe for long-term success.

This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter!