The Miami Dolphins’ 2020 training camp has moved from the acclimatization period, through the gradual ramp-up period, and now begins the contract integration portion of the summer. In other words, pads can come on now and camp is really beginning. The team got on the field this morning for the first time, though this year there are no fans in the stands watching, and reporters present cannot live-tweet what they are seeing. It is a different training camp in 2020, but it is still camp and the Dolphins are getting ready for the regular season.
The main focus for the Dolphins, at least from the outside looking in, will be on fifth-overall draft pick Tua Tagovailoa. Will the dislocated and fractured hip, an injury that occurred almost exactly nine months ago while playing at Alabama, allow Miami’s presumed franchise quarterback to fully participate in camp, and maybe even compete for the starting job in Week 1?
“We’ll take it one day at a time,” Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said of Tagovailoa just before the start of practice. “He’ll be out there today along with the rest of the quarterbacks and the majority of the players on the team. He’s looked healthy in the OTAs and walkthrough type practices. This will be the first one in pads. Yeah, he’s looked healthy. We’re taking this one day at a time with Tua, as we are with every player, and hoping that he improves on a daily basis. Like any rookie, he needs the snaps and he needs the reps to improve and get better and give himself a chance.”
For Tagovailoa, as well as incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and third-year quarterback Josh Rosen, Flores is looking for some of the basics as the practices start to move more toward real football speed as compared to the walk-through heavy past week. “Obviously it’s the first day in pads,” he explained. “We’ve seen a good amount from these guys, I would say, over the last two practices, which where more O vs. D and team oriented. I want to see them get guys in and out of the huddle, good communication, good execution, good fundamentals at their specific position – just from a footwork, ball placement, accuracy, those types of things. We’re still in the early stages. Obviously, it’s a new offense. We’re trying to execute at a good clip early on.”
The Dolphins seemed fairly locked in on Tagovailoa as their top target in the 2020 draft after the 2018 season. The talk of “tanking” for Tua throughout the 2019 season was unrelenting, and the Dolphins, despite some rumors and smokescreens that they could be targeting another quarterback with the first of their three first-round picks in this past April’s selection process, never seemed to waver, even after the hip injury. A player who could have been the first-overall pick if not for the injury, Tagovailoa comes into Miami anointed as the future face of the franchise, but also comes in knowing he has to learn the NFL game. The relationship between he and Fitzpatrick seems to be solid, despite the two battling for the starting role; Tagovailoa wore a Fitzpatrick jersey to his media availability last week, talked about (virtually) meeting Fitzpatrick’s family, and they both speak highly of each other.
Flores said of the “buddy-buddy” nature of the relationship between the quarterbacks, “That dynamic, I’m seeing it across all positions. I think we’ve got a lot of good guys on this team and I can see some friendships and bonds building. That only helps on the field from a communication standpoint, even from an asking-for-help standpoint. There’s some instances where you can sit and the offense comes out in something and you’re uncertain about it and you can ask the guy next to you, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ And you help each other get lined up. It’s the same thing offensively, the same thing in the kicking game. I think Tua and ‘Fitz’ and Rosen as well, I think those relationships that are building, it’s just one example of hopefully what we’re getting from the majority of the guys in the locker room.”
The quarterbacks are not the only position where competition and growth are needed, however. Just in front of whoever is taking the snaps, the offensive line has continued to be a question mark over the past several years in Miami. Can this year’s group make a difference? How are they progressing as the pads come on for the first time?
“Well, obviously we’ve got young guys in that group with some veteran players sprinkled in like Ted Karras, like Ereck Flowers, who just got back, like Jesse Davis. (Michael) Deiter was here a year ago,” Flores stated. “We’ve got a few of the young guys as well. Look, there’s a lot of chemistry that has to be built there. I think that’s coming along. It could be better. We’re working on a few different combinations on the o-line, but you don’t really know what you have until you put the pads on. You’re literally fighting pressure with pressure and it’s another body, working a double-team, working the combinations in the run game, feeling the speed, the speed rush, power rush, bull rush, speed-to-power, converting to power and feeling those things. You don’t know what you have until you’re put into that setting, which starts today. From a walkthrough and a non-padded standpoint, I think they’re coming along. Obviously using those 14 padded practices will tell us a lot about that group and really the entire team.”
As for the odd offseason in 2020, and whether the team is ready for pads and to start hitting again, Flores put it pretty simply:
“We have no choice but to be ready. We’re going out there today and if you’re not ready, then there’s going to be some problems; but I think we are (ready). I think the guys are raring to go. They’re excited. I think when you put the pads on, the one thing I try to stress to them is to focus on the technique and the fundamentals because once you put pads on, the adrenaline gets going and in some instances, guys forget about those techniques and fundamentals that we’ve been trying to drill into them for the last – I don’t know how many days it’s been, let’s call it 20 days. That’s kind of the focus. That’s where I want them to put their focus. Let’s focus on the technique and the fundamentals. It’s the same techniques that we’ve been talking about except we’re in pads. They have more protection and we’re going to let them go a little bit more today.”
The 2020 season will not include any preseason games, meaning the first time we will see the team will be in Week 1 against the New England Patriots. Between now and then, the Dolphins will be allowed 13 more padded practices, with some of those likely to be live tackling work to ensure the defense is ready for the season, while the offense continues to prove themselves.
Will Tagovailoa show why he was Miami’s target for so long? Will the offensive line come together and become a unit that can protect him? A lot of questions remain to be answered this summer, especially now that football is starting to look like football again.