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Dolphins offseason: Three position battle updates

The Miami Dolphins are complete with their first set of Organized Team Activities, with the next two-day period coming at the start of next week. The team is in the very early stages of the preparation for the 2019 regular season, with players working to understand the playbooks and schemes of a new coaching staff, while new players are working into the team and some players are working to master new positions.

It is a busy time in Davie, Florida, even as there is no live hitting happening in these practices. The coaches are starting to get an impression of the team, and the individual players. Where should a player be positioned? Should he start? Is he a backup? Can he play on special teams? There are an infinite number of questions that can be asked, and the observations of the coaches this week could go a long way to finding answers to some of them.

With the first couple of practices complete, where do some of the key positions battles stand? We take a look at what we know now, though, as head coach Brian Flores explained, every position battle - and every position - is a fluid situation, “(It’s) day-to-day. Everybody is getting evaluated in this building every day, period. That’s just what it is.”

1. Quarterback - Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Josh Rosen

This is probably right where it was in the second round of the NFL Draft when the Dolphins made the trade for Rosen - Fitzpatrick is the starter, with Rosen fighting to claim that spot. “I’m here because this was an opportunity that I would have a chance to play, to compete,” Fitzpatrick said on Tuesday. “It was a job that was open. I know that nothing is ever going to be handed to me. I enjoy it. I enjoy being out here. I enjoy days like this. I try to get better every single day. Throughout my career, I think every year I’ve done that and hopefully can continue to do that.”

He added, “I’m going to try to be the best version of myself every single day and try to get better every day. I have a formula of things I do, which is put your head down, work hard. That has worked for me throughout my career. That’s all I can do and all I can ask of myself.”

“I think we’re going to have a really good relationship,” Rosen said of Fitzpatrick. “So far, our quarterback room has been a lot of fun. He likes to goof around but he works really hard. I think he’s been in this league for a really long time and if I can take at least even a couple of lessons from him, I think they’ll do me very well in the long run.”

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He explained that the last few weeks have been a whirlwind, from working as the starter with the Arizona Cardinals to the trade to getting into Miami and trying to learn yet another new offensive system. He said, “My head is spinning, but I think a lot of that is just trying to weather the storm as much as you can and it will get better a little bit each day. It’s just about making progress. No matter how big, how small, it’s just about making some progress each day so that a couple weeks or months down the road, you can look up and turn around and realize you’ve come a pretty far way.”

He even pointed out that some of the simple things become different when you uproot and chance so quickly. “It’s been [a] good [transition,]” he explained, “You kind of underestimate, from the outside looking in, all of the logistical issues from literally having to move and uproot your place. I’m walking into the receiver room thinking it’s the bathroom. There’s a lot of kind of little things that go into it, but when you step on the field, you have to kind of let all that go and just play football.”

On the field, there were some issues, especially with some fumbled snaps by Rosen, but he chalked that up to working with multiple new centers and just trying to get back into rhythm while still adjusting to the system. “I’m trying to break down this offense so I can focus more on playing football than playing against myself,” Rosen said. “I think we’re getting better.”

Asked on Tuesday if he expects Fitzpatrick to serve as a mentor to Rosen, Flores replied, “I expect Ryan to compete for the starting position. I expect him to lead from the quarterback room but really the entire offense. Obviously he has a wealth of knowledge and a lot of experience. Again, there is competition but at the same time, we’re trying to build a team. We’re all trying to help each other become the best versions of ourselves on the field. I expect him to be the leader that he is, which he’s done a good job of that so far.”

He then followed up with an explanation of what the coaches want to see in the quarterback battle. “We’re looking for leadership,” Flores stated. “We’re looking for accuracy. We’re looking for an understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively from a protection standpoint, from an alignment standpoint. We’re looking for guys who can consistently move the ball down the field.”

On Rosen specifically, Flores said, “I mean obviously he’s a talented play. (He has a) big arm; but like everyone else, he’s got a long way to go (with the) fundamentals, technique (and the) playbook. It’s so early. We’re not going to cut the roster today. It’s so early. There’s an evaluation process here that’s ongoing and until we get into the nitty gritty of OTAs to veteran minicamp to training camp to preseason games – everyone kind of knows the schedule here – we’re not cutting rosters today.”

2. Cornerback - Who will start opposite Xavien Howard?

Eric Rowe appeared to take the first snaps opposite Howard, though all he would comment was, “Mhm” when asked about it. He opened up a little more when asked hypothetically about the importance to him to be a starting cornerback, admitting he was at least with the “one” right now. Rowe explained, “It’s just important to me to stay healthy. Right now, I know he has me running with the ones, but for me it’s just trying to improve each day because it’s not just competing – obviously against young corners here that are really good – but it’s competing with guys on all 32 teams and all of the receivers out there. Kind of through my years in New England, I learned that you’re not just competing with the guys – you have to compete with yourself because there’s receivers on the Falcons, the Seahawks or whoever we play that are really good, so you have to get ready for them.”

Flores spoke about Rowe, with whom he is familiar from their joint days with the New England Patriots from 2016 through last year. Flores said, “Eric is smart. He’s tough. He plays, he has a lot of athletic ability. He’s tall, long, (has) good speed (and) tackles (well). There are a lot of things we like about him. Again, he’s another guy who is working really hard and is doing everything he can to improve on a day-to-day basis from a fundamentals and technique standpoint. I think we’ve just got to continue to do that. We’ll see the chips, wherever they fall, that’s where they fall.

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“We like what we have; but it’s so early,” Flores continued of the whole position group. “It’s OTA No. 2. There is a lot of time here for guys to improve, get better (and) learn the system. We’ve yet to play a game. We’ve yet to put on pads. We’re so early in the process that to kind of make an evaluation, you’re just kind of speaking into the air. We’re not there yet to make true evaluations.”

There is one player who could factor into the position battle, even as he is considered more of a true safety than he is a true cornerback. The Dolphins’ 2018 first-round pick, Minkah Fitzpatrick, is a jack-of-all-trades, and while usually that also includes “master-of-none,” with Fitzpatrick, that does not appear to be the case. He has the talent and ability to play just about anywhere, and he can excel in all of those positions. Asked if there is more of a need for Fitzpatrick to play cornerback than there is a need for him to play safety, where the team also has Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald, Flores replied, “We’re going to play guys in a lot of different roles. Minkah is obviously a very versatile player; but we have a lot of versatile players in the back end. We’ll move guys around and kind of try to get the best four or five guys on the field that we can.”

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Asked if Fitzpatrick would be receiving playing time at cornerback, Flores laughed, replying, “I thought you were talking about Ryan Fitzpatrick. I was like, ‘No. Ryan Fitzpatrick will not get any reps at cornerback.’ Minkah, again, we’re going to move guys around. We’re going to move guys around. It may look like he’s playing cornerback, he’s playing safety, he could be playing linebacker. It depends. I’ll know what he’s doing. You guys probably won’t.”

While Rowe seems to have the early lead and Fitzpatrick - Minkah Fitzpatrick - will factor into the position group in some form, the Dolphins also have Cordrea Tankerlsey, Bobby McCain, and Torry McTyer who could factor into the competition before it is settled.

3. Offensive line

Laremy Tunsil will start at left tackle. After that, every other position on the offensive line else is either penciled in or simply a guess. Daniel Kilgore is probably the starting center. Jesse Davis at right guard seems the most solid after Tunsil, but the team could look to move him out to right tackle, then slide someone else into the vacant guard spot. Jordan Mills seems like he should be the starting right tackle. And left guard is a completely open position right now.

Waiving/injured guard Isaac Asiata did not clarify anything really, other than the hope that he will develop into a starter seems to be over.

The Dolphins have plenty of offensive lineman who can be factors in the determination of the starting five offensive linemen, including 2019 Draft selections, third-round pick Michael Deiter and sixth-round pick Isaiah Prince.

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Asked about Prince’s size, standing at 6-foot-6 with 35-1/2 inch arms - both an inch more than Tunsil at left tackle - and looking “like a basketball player,” while lining up at a position like right tackle, where you can be asked to play on an island, Flores replied, ““I always think of things defensively, so yes it can benefit you, for sure. When you’ve got a guy that long with that much size, it’s hard to get around a guy like that. Yes, I think that definitely benefits him. Again, he’s another guy who definitely needs development. He’s a guy who we’re looking forward to working with at a few different positions. He’s a smart kid. He’s talented. There’s no doubt there. We’re interested to see how he can help us and what he can do.”

Zach Sterup and Jaryd Jones-Smith could fight their way into the position battle, but they seem to be more of a reserve/swing tackle option.

As for how Flores views the offensive line, and whether the five best “players” or the best player at each position is the right way to build an offensive line, the coach explained, “I would like to think that [the five best players regardless of “natural” position works best]. I hear what you’re saying. I appreciate the question. There are some cases where you don’t want to take a guy completely out of position just to get the best five. That’s not the best five. That’s not the best unit. So, I appreciate the question. That’s why we talk so much about versatility and getting these guys to learn multiple spots so we can put our best five guys out there. There are times when a guy can only play right tackle and that’s it. If you try to move him somewhere else, he can’t get into a left-handed stance. That happens. That guy is pigeonholed. I think we all understand that, and we’ve become pigeonholed as an offense (or) as a defense when we’re talking about d-tackles, nose tackles, d-ends – guys who can only play one position. There’s only 46 guys that dress. So if we’re not versatile, injuries occur in this league and guys get tired – hopefully not our team because we want to be conditioned; but eventually, guys will get tired – you have to be able to shift guys around and that’s where versatility comes into play. I understand the question, and we want our best five guys from an offensive line standpoint. (It’s the) same on the defensive line. Really, (it’s the) same on both offense and defense. We want our best 11 guys out there. If we’re locked into ‘You can only do this,’ then if that works, then it works. If it doesn’t and we can get the best five guys out there, we’ll try to do that.”