The Miami Dolphins are a young team, trying to rebound from a rough start to the season and looking to regain the momentum with which they ended last year. At 1-3, the Dolphins need players to step up and reach the the coaches and front office believed they had when they were selected in the NFL Draft. For two rookies, that growth is starting to settle in. First-round pick Jaelan Phillips recorded his first half-sack of his career this past Sunday and is starting to look like a pass rushing threat. Second-round selection, tackle Liam Eichenberg, is finally settling into a position on the offensive line and is ready to become the franchise right tackle - quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s blind side protector - the team needs.
“I’d say that I’m just starting to get more comfortable just in terms of within the game, being able to work different moves, being able to just consistently get off the ball and consistently try to create pressure,” Phillips, the 18th overall pick this year, said on Tuesday. “I feel like just getting in the game flow and seeing what’s working, seeing what’s not, I’m starting to just kind of understand what I need to be doing to be, like I said, creating pressure.”
When it comes to getting after the quarterback, pressuring him and, hopefully, bringing him down for a sack, Phillips explained how it feels, saying, “It’s like getting a taste of something a sweet. Like if you eat a bite of a cookie, you’re not about to stop eating the cookie. Honestly, it feels like when you’re getting pressure and stuff like that, it makes you want to do more. It makes you want to get to the quarterback. It makes you want to get a strip sack, just to continue to create havoc and have an impact on the game.”
Eichenberg was moved around the offensive line during the summer, playing guard and left tackle before being installed as the starting right tackle after the season began. On Tuesday, he explained that he is not looking to force his way into any one position, but would rather play wherever the coaching staff asks him to play. He said, “I kind of just assumed after being drafted that I was coming in to play right tackle. But no, at the end of the day, it’s wherever the team wants me, wherever they need me. I’m just trying to improve every single week. Like you said, I have played a couple different positions. Hopefully I am able to stay at right tackle, which I think is the case. I haven’t heard anything new. I’m looking forward to this week practicing, and improving on the little things that I have made mistakes on.”
He continued, explaining that he feels right tackle will be home for him, saying, “I think right tackle will be great for me. Like I said before, I need those reps, I need practice and I’m looking forward to that – something I can work on and improve on.”
But he has not lost his ability to switch to the left side should something happen to Austin Jackson. “I do some work after practice, just making sure my movement pattern is still there,” Eichenberg explained of how he keeps ready for any left tackle work he may be askd to do. “At the end of the day, it goes back to wherever they want me to play. Like I said, these past two weeks I’ve just been playing right tackle, so I have kind of shifted into that mindset.”
He also believes the team is set with Jackson, a 2020 first-round pick, at left tackle. “I think Austin is a better left tackle than I would be, if I’m being honest with you,” Eichenberg replied when asked why he thinks his best position is right tackle. “Just like myself, we each have things we need to work on from a technique standpoint and a fundamentals standpoint. But for my mindset, I think that I have been a right tackle for a couple weeks and I personally have seen improvement in my movement and how I punch and just also from a run-blocking and pass-blocking standpoint. I think it’ll be my best position.”
Both Phillips and Eichenberg may feel like they are settling in to their respective positions and into their NFL careers, be they also know there is plenty of work to do to fully reach their potential. Eichenberg discussed what he saw from Sunday’s game film and where he needs to continue to improve, explaining, “We watched the film. It just kind of goes back to the little things. For me, it’s about not leaning and staying square when I set. I think that will improve as time goes by and I get more and more reps. For me, like I said, I’m really looking forward to practice. It’s frustrating because I know I can do it and it’s tough letting the team down, to say the least. I’m looking forward to getting back at it, improving and helping this team win.”
He added, “I would say switching from the left to the right, I think personally I feel like as reps go on, I will have a better ability to keep my balance on the right side than on the left compared to in college. I think I leaned a lot more in college on the left side. On the right side, I think I have a better ability to stand my ground and be balanced. From a fundamental standpoint, I think I need to keep my head up when I punch. Those are kind of the biggest things. Also, get used to throwing the hands more.”
Phillips, likewise, addressed things he can do better, saying, “You can always work on your consistency. So for me, just being able to bring that day in and day out in practice, in games, and just to be able to continue to improve on my mechanics, my fundamentals. Just everything like that. Then just whenever my name is called and whenever I get those opportunities, to be able to come through and deliver for the team.”
During Sunday’s game, Phillips was called for a facemask penalty, while replays showed he had his hand on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz’s shoulder, not his facemask. Asked about what happened there and if he go an explanation for the penalty, Phillips turned it back onto himself and having to get better with his pass rush. “Yeah, frankly I can’t do anything about what the refs want to call. All I can do moving forward is just make it so that there’s no gray area,” he explained. “Be able to win cleaner on my rush so I don’t have to be grabbing his shoulder and I can just wrap him up properly. So yeah, I don’t really have anything to say about that.”
Eichenberg also turned a question right back to his own development when he was asked about the struggles for Miami to get a consistent rushing attack established. “My personal run game, I need to work on not false-stepping,” he stated. “I need to work on gaining ground and helping the guard out. Like I said, it goes back to fundamentals and technique. For us as an offensive line, we need to focus on those details.”
Before he left the media availability, Phillips was asked about facing Tom Brady this weekend as the Dolphins prepare for a visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Yeah, Tom has been in the league 21 years? And I’m 22 years old this year. It’s pretty crazy obviously to have the opportunity to play against somebody I’ve been growing up my whole life watching,” Phillips replied. “I can remember all of the Super Bowl parties at the house when I’m eight years old or 10 years old, watching him dominate. But to be honest, coming into the game, I’m not about to be starstruck. You can’t really focus on ‘Oh my gosh, this is Tom Brady.’ Or ‘this is Leonard Fournette.’ Everybody is nameless and faceless, so you’ve got to prepare for everybody just like they’re anybody else. At the end of the day, our execution is what matters so we’ve just got to go out there and execute. I’ve got to go out there and execute. It will be fun, no doubt.”
The Dolphins need growth from their young players this season, and they need it quickly to salvage a rough start to the year. It sounds like the team is starting to see some of their rookies find a comfort level with the speed of the game and their roles within the team.