The Miami Dolphins completed their annual training camp scrimmage on Saturday, their first time on the field at Hard Rock Stadium for the year. The day featured two story lines, one with a player appearing to breakout when given a chance and one a continuing theme from throughout training camp, and over the past few years.
Defensive end Charles Harris saw extra playing time on Saturday, while veterans Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn were limited on the day. Harris took advantage of the situation while lining up both outside at defensive end and inside at defensive tackle. He twice beat the pass protection, once getting past left tackle Laremy Tunsil and once passing tight end Mike Gesicki, to sack quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The second sack, beating Gesicki, would likely have resulted in a crushing blindside hit if the play had been live contact on Tannehill.
“A year ago, Charles Harris was kind of stretched out, kind of in a dark place; but like I said, I just love being out here, love competing, love having the logo on me and everything like that,” Harris said of the differences between his rookie season and now coming into his second year. “I love my teammates and everything like that. I love my teammates. That’s really all we’ve got here, too. I love playing for my brothers. I feel like we really are getting closer and closer together and that’s a shout out to the coaches – (Defensive Line) Coach (Kris) Kocurek – and everybody else that forces us to be together. It’s all love now.”
Head coach Adam Gase, after the scrimmage, discussed Harris’ play this summer, saying, “He’s a tough matchup, especially on pass downs. The thing that he’s improved on, especially from last year to this year and then through training camp, is his transition to a pass rush when it’s first and second down. That’s really kind of where rookies across the league will struggle always. You’ll see that their pass disruption numbers aren’t as good on first and second down because they’re always thinking run and then they have to transition to the pass rush. I think he’s really improved in that area and then you can see he causes disruption, especially if he gets a matchup where it’s a tight end/tackle trying to work with him. It’s really tough if he wins off the ball.”
Harris played about 48 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps last year, playing behind Cameron Wake and Andre Branch. He recorded 19 tackles with two sacks in 16 games played, including two starts. Last year seemed more about giving Harris, the Dolphins’ first-round pick in 2017, experience at the NFL level rather than expecting him to be a dominating pass rusher from the start. This year, the Dolphins are expecting more from him, and Wake appears to believe that improvement is already here. “I actually think Charles Harris has probably had the best offseason, not just any d-lineman but probably anybody on our team,” Wake said earlier in the week. “He came back in tremendous shape. He’s obviously been working on his strength. He’s been working on his football and it’s showing up on tape. I think that’s definitely going to pay off when it becomes time to put these live bullets in and get after these quarterbacks. He’s made great strides and obviously the more the merrier, I’m happy for it.”
Harris was asked on Saturday about Wake’s praise, with the second-year defensive end responding, “That’s big praise from big bro. It’s kind of one of those things that go in one ear and out the other. You’ve got to show up every day. Every single day you wake up, every time you see that sun, it’s a new opportunity to get better at your craft, to be productive, to really be productive. I’m just called to be productive and that’s what I have to do every single day. All the work I put in, it doesn’t matter. It’s about what I’m doing in the present. The present is the most important. The time is now.”
While Harris is showing his improvement from last year, the Dolphins as a whole have yet to figure out how to bring down the penalties. The Dolphins’ scrimmage this year only lasted 36 plays. There were at least six penalties in that span, with five of them coming pre-snap. Some of that could be the team working out some timing issues, especially as quarterback Ryan Tannehill and center David Kilgore get used to playing together - though Gase downplayed that as an explanation after the scrimmage - but the flags in practice are coming at an unacceptable rate, and everyone knows it.
“The only thing I noticed was the pre-snap penalties,” Gase said. “We’ve just got to get that cleaned up. The delay of game, I’ve got to figure out what really happened there. I don’t know if we were a little slow, either me calling it or relaying it in, or whatever happened there. We didn’t change personnel. That was odd. We’ve got to do a better job. I know it’s second group going against the ones and they’re trying to get a little bit of a jump. Sam (Young) going against Robert Quinn, that’s always a fun matchup for him. We’ve got to do a better job of not losing 5 yards on a no play.”
The Dolphins coaches have been having players run gassers after making a pre-snap penalty. After another day with flags flying way too often, Gase answered a question about the effectiveness of the gassers, simply asking, “Did it look like it was working?”
He continued, explaining, “I don’t know [what else we need to do]. We’re just going to have to fix it. We just have to focus and understand the cadence is for us on offense to help us, not to hurt us. We’ve just got to hang in there and we’ve just got to do a better job being consistent with it.”
Maybe the Dolphins are purposely calling penalties tighter than they would be called in the regular season. Maybe the team really is struggling with penalties. The Dolphins were the second-most penalized team last year, and had the second-most pre-snap penalties. They were also the second-most penalized team in 2016, though they fell to sixth in the pre-snap penalty count. And it is not just a Gase-era issue either, as the team was fourth in penalties in 2015, while leading the league in pre-snap penalties in 2015.
The Dolphins need to get back to playing like they did in 2014, when they were penalized the third-fewest times in the league, though even then, the pre-snap penalties were bad, jumping them to 15th in the league with nearly half their accepted penalties coming before the snap that year.
The Dolphins have to fix the penalty issue, something that has continued the plague them into this summer and was especially noticeable during the scrimmage.