Entering 2020, the Miami Dolphins looked to move from the roster tear-down that was a major storyline just a year earlier and start the roster rebuild that was desperately needed. Once a premier franchise in the NFL, the Dolphins have spent the last 20 years stuck in mediocrity, with big named free agents and early draft picks unable to break the team out of the pack and push them back to being among the league’s elite.
Still holding on to the sixth-highest winning percentage in league history, Miami now is looking to build the foundation of a franchise that can find success for years to come. The endless era of band-aids and quick fixes seem to be over, with the team looking this year to add youthful talent that can grow with the team and return the team to playoff - and potentially Super Bowl - contenders in the next few years.
The addition of 21 rookies this offseason, including 11 draft picks, was a huge part of the youth movement. Finding free agents like running back Jordan Howard, who, at 25 years old, can provide both proven veteran leadership while still being young-enough to grow with the team, was also a critical aspect when it comes to Miami’s rebuild.
“I just like the opportunity presented,” Howard told South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter Omar Kelly recently when asked why he decided to join the Dolphins. “I felt like we can turn things around down here and I wanted to be a part of that. I was part of a turn around in Chicago, so I embrace those types of things.”
Howard joined the Chicago Bears in 2016 as a fifth-round pick. The Bears were coming off a 6-10 season in 2015, then fell to 3-13 in 2016. They moved to 5-11 in 2017 then jumped up to 12-4 in 2018, losing in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. In those three seasons, Howard ran for 3,370 yards on 778 carries for a 4.3 yard per attempt average with 24 touchdowns. He also recorded 568 receiving yards on 72 receptions and a score. He was selected for the 2016 Pro Bowl as a rookie. The Bears traded Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles ahead of the 2019 season, where he picked up 525 yards on 119 carries (4.4 yards per attempt) with six touchdowns, as well as 69 yards receiving on ten receptions with one score.
Howard’s rushing yards have gone down each year of his career, from 1,313 in 2016, 1,122 in 2017, 935 in 2018, and 525 last year. Is that a sign of a decline in the running back, or will he return to a player who averaged over five-yards gained every time he touched the ball as he did in his rookie campaign?
“I don’t really have to prove to anybody, just to myself really, that I can still be that type of player,” Howard replied when asked what he has left to prove to critics. “I still feel like I am one of the top backs in the game, even if people don’t give me credit or respect. They did once upon a time, but that was a long time ago, my rookie year, so I’m just still out there trying to show what I can do.”
The coronavirus pandemic, and the measures used to mitigate its spread, impacted the NFL this offseason, with players unable to use team facilities and all offseason training work having to be virtual. Howard discussed the changes with Kelly, explaining, “It’s definitely been different, just not being able to be around the guys, especially being on a new team, and stuff like that. We’re doing Zoom calls, learning the playbook just through online meetings. It’s definitely been different, but I feel like we have been making the best of our circumstances. Just getting as much work in as we can. I definitely feel like we are in pretty good shape, but good shape and football share are different, so it’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period.”
Just because players could not go to the team facility to work out or get on-field practice time does not mean they did not get together to do some work this offseason. “I feel like that helped just to go through the plays,” Howard explained of players getting together on their own to do some workouts. “We missed out on a lot of that stuff. Just repetitions because we are putting a new offense in, so it’s new for everybody. Everybody has to learn, pretty much besides Fitz [quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick], he’s the only one who knew the offense before. This new offense and we got a lot of new guys, so I feel like that definitely helped us and was definitely important.”
Miami changed offensive coordinators this year, moving on from Chad O’Shea after just a season and bringing Chan Gailey out of retirement for a second stint as the Dolphins lead offensive coach. Gailey, who was with Miami from 2000 through 2001 under Dave Wannstedt, coached Fitzpatrick as the Buffalo Bills’ head coach from 2010-2012 and as the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator from 2015-2016.
The NFL is expected to have players begin reporting to training camp as early as Monday, with rookies from around the league all anticipated to be at team facilities by the end of the week and veterans throughout the following week. The league and the NFL Players Association are still negotiating aspects of how camp and the season will work in the coronavirus pandemic, including if preseason games will be played this year, how often testing of players and staff will be conducted, roster sizes, practice squad sizes, ability to return additional players from the injured reserve and non-football injury lists, and limited practices to half-rosters with multiple practice sessions per day. Miami is a “hot spot” for the virus right now, with an increasing number of cases every day.
Howard admitted that he has concerns about the virus and reporting to camp. “I’m definitely concerned because it’s been going on for a while. I definitely didn’t think it was going to be this big or go one for this while. Since they can’t get a hold of it or what’s causing it, there’s definitely a lot of unknown. I feel like the unknown is the scariest part. There’s definitely a lot of concern.
“I still have a concern [about starting camp]. I feel like they had all this time to figure things out, but they, for some reason, just decided to start wrapping things up and start figuring things out at the last minute. But, hopefully, they can work things out so we can get back to playing football.”
Miami’s rookies are expected to report to camp on Thursday, with quarterbacks able to report the same day, according to NFL guidelines. The rest of the veterans, including Howard, are expected to report a week from Tuesday.