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Shade Tree Mechanic: How To Fix The Dolphins

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Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Since there will undoubtedly be numerous opinions expressed this week about whether the Miami Dolphins will retain head coach Adam Gase and general manager Chris Grier, I won’t attempt to speculate about their futures with the team. What I’d like to do is have a discussion about what the Dolphins should do to improve themselves this off-season, regardless of who’s coaching the team or picking the players. To keep it simple, let’s combine the draft and free agency into a single entity. Here’s what I would do if I were in charge:

Number one, linemen, linemen, linemen. The Dolphins were pushed around at the line of scrimmage far too many times over the past couple of years, on both sides of the ball, particularly between the tackles. Look for Miami to acquire guards, centers and defensive tackles early and often in 2019, whether it be via free agency, the draft or through trades. They also need to place a premium on positional flexibility; at least one of their offensive linemen should be able to line up at both guard and center.

The next thing I’d be looking to do is strengthen the linebacker unit; maybe 2017 second round pick Raekwon McMillan will vastly improve in his second full year as a starter, but the team shouldn’t count on it. I’d also like to see a better option at cornerback, to pair with up and coming star Xavien Howard, and move 2018 first rounder Minkah Fitzpatrick to free safety, where his instincts and intelligence will best serve the team.

The Dolphins need to find a quarterback who can be counted on if Ryan Tannehill is out for any length of time; Brock Osweiler simply wasn’t up to the task this past season.

There is a running joke around the league that a young wide receiver making his first start was watching film in preparation for playing the Dolphins, and he was apprehensive about facing the huge, imposing players he saw lined up on the outside for Miami. He told his coach that he didn’t think he could handle such large players in his first game as a pro. His coach said, “Don’t worry, son, those are the Dolphins’ defensive ends. They like to have them line up near the sidelines, in case they’re needed in run support along the perimeter”. Miami needs to scrap that ridiculous ‘wide nine’ scheme in favor of a more traditional alignment. They should also greatly reduce their use of zone defense in the passing game, as well.

Speaking of zone, one of my biggest criticisms of the Dolphins in recent years is their being so enamored with the zone blocking style of offensive line play; you’re not going to out-scheme the kinds of tough, physical defensive fronts that the AFC East is known for. As Bill Parcells used to say, power football will beat finesse football almost every time. I think the Dolphins should go to a more physical, man-on-man style of line play, while still retaining some of the aspects of the zone system. Legendary San Francisco coach Bill Walsh used to say that the reason many types of offensive philosophies don’t succeed in the NFL because the coaches who run them are too gung ho about using them; many of these types of schemes actually tend to work better when they’re used as part of the overall offense, rather than as an every down style of play.

Overall, I was actually fairly pleased with the Dolphins this season, although I would have liked them to win about three more games. They beat the three teams I most wanted them to beat, in Chicago, New England and Oakland, and they were at least entertaining in most of their games. If Gase and owner Stephen Ross can come to some kind of agreement, in terms of Gase’s play calling duties and a few other things, I think Miami will be a much better team in 2019 than they’ve been the past couple of years.