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Omar Kelly Talks Tua Tagovailoa vs Justin Fields, Miami Dolphins’ Offensive Line, Jevon Holland and More

NFL: AUG 12 Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I had the privilege of interviewing the longest tenured beat writer for the Miami Dolphins, the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s, Omar Kelly, this past Friday as I co-hosted the Don’t Hassle Us, We’re Local radio show on ESPN 1170 in Davenport, IA. Omar has been covering the Dolphins/Bears practices in person this past week, so I wanted to get his firsthand insight on all the latest news and happenings regarding our Miami Dolphins, because love him or hate him, he definitely always keeps it real.

Here’s what was discussed:

How does it make you feel knowing that you’re the longest-tenured Dolphins beat writer at the moment?”

There’s no celebration there. Despite the fact that I don’t really socialize with Armando, I do like him. I don’t like his views, but I do like him as a person, so I’m sad to see him go. Armando basically leads us in hotel guidance – making sure we stay at the right places – and now he’s not on the road with us anymore. I wish him the best. It makes me the most senior coverage guy, which I’m not necessarily certain I’m comfortable with that, or what that means. You live and you roll with the punches. I’ve had my chances and opportunities to go elsewhere.

You’ve been saying that the Dolphins’ offensive line doesn’t look any better than they did last year. Would you say it’s worth kicking the tires on a veteran?”

Nothing should be put past them... I don’t know what’s available out there. I know a lot of the veterans just don’t want to participate in training camp and I understand because it just gets to be a grind. Some of the stuff is protocol and COVID. People don’t realize this, but once you get past year 7 of the NFL, you start to awaken to all the bullcrap that the league puts people through, so you don’t want to participate in it anymore. You don’t want to do the foolishness. Teams allow it sometimes. Brent Grimes would literally, you know not to tell his business, but when he was playing in Tampa, he would only show up for the OTA practices that the media attended and then he’d go home... When they know you’re going to be ready to play, they allow it. So, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with this offensive line, but it’s not very good. I can’t even say it’s a step forward because you lost Ereck Flowers and while people said he was average, you do realize that your whole line was average last year right? Parts of your line were below average and now the guy who’s replacing him was the below average part, so that makes you below average. I believe that your line is only as good as your weakest link. That’s really what they’re grappling with right now.

Do you believe when it all shakes out, Solomon Kindley is going to take that left guard spot over Liam Eichenberg who was struggling and then seemed to suffer an injury?”

No, it’s unfair to say he was struggling because while he might have been struggling with Chicago, it might have been a product of an injury. So, we don’t know and it’s not like this team is absolutely revealing stuff to us from an injury standpoint. We literally watched Hunter Long blow up his knee and according to Flores, he’s day-to-day, which I don’t believe, but the fact that he hasn’t had surgery, or we think he hasn’t had surgery, is a good indicator he’ll be back at some point this season. I don’t know what the right answer is, and we won’t know until we actually see some contact – hitting, people trying to take people to the ground, no-holds-barred - we just don’t know yet. But it doesn’t help that you start out with probably the most physical d-line you could face in the preseason. That Bears line is no joke.

On Twitter you said Jesse Davis was holding his own against Khalil Mack, which is encouraging.”

Yeah, people who know me, know I’m a Jesse Davis fan-club member. I will defend Jesse Davis until the end of time. And as a trench-play lover – I watch the offensive line on every single snap of every single practice, of every single game – I know Jesse Davis is a good offensive lineman. Jesse Davis is your best offensive lineman, so you can put all the disrespect you want to behind his name, but as I always say to the Dolphins fans, tell me the game and the play where Jesse Davis was a liability. You can’t. That’s what you should aspire to for all of your offensive linemen.

From one rookie to another, Jevon Holland seems to be doing well in practice – seems to be doing well against the Bears. What is his potential in this defense at the safety spot?”

I think he has the potential to be a bigger producer of big plays. He has the potential to be a guy who walks away from the season with 6 turnovers. The only problem I have with that is it’s not his primary job or responsibility. In that position, your primary job and responsibility is to be the quarterback of the defense – make the signal calls, make sure everybody is on the same page – and play that play where you serve as the last line of defense. You don’t let anybody behind you. Your job is not to get that turnover. Your job is to make sure that nobody beats you and they’ve been beating us deep a lot. Now, I’m not saying that it’s his fault, but yesterday we talked to Eric Rowe, and Rowe was like, “Yeah, he has to get better at making his calls, because he’s not making his calls loud enough.” When you don’t make your calls loud enough, everybody doesn’t hear it, so everybody is playing the same thing. That’s when breakdowns happen.

Do you think that’s something that he’ll grow into as he gains more experience?”

You’re always going to hear guys say in their second year, “Man, I’m so glad. The things I didn’t know last year, I know now. That’s going to make me play better.”

I was just having this conversation with somebody about Tua. I was thinking to myself, if Tua can stay healthy and his arm doesn’t die on him, by year 4, he’s going to be a really good quarterback. He’s going to have seen everything that everybody’s going to throw at him. Once he’s seen everything, he knows how to counteract that because he’s very smart. There’s no guarantee his arm is going to survive, or that his body is going to survive, but once you get the experience and the reps, it’s going to be on and poppin’. The problem is, I don’t think the Dolphins fans have the patience to get to that point. They spent 7 years waiting on Tannehill. I’m not sure they want to spend 30 games waiting on Tua. That’s just a byproduct of where we are as a society in this microwave generation where kids feel like if you don’t have an instant starting quarterback, you suck. And yeah, Herbert had a great deal of success statistically, but what was his record? Did he lead his team to wins? Say whatever you want about his defense and how games fell apart on him, whatever. Tua had a winning record last year. Herbert didn’t. Would I have loved to have seen Tua throw the ball like Herbert and sling it everywhere? Yeah, absolutely, but if it doesn’t result in wins, what are we doing?

Sticking with Tua, how big of a leap forward do you think he’s taken in his second season so far?”

The only way that I can compare it so people can actually understand it is, I think he’s at, right now heading into year 2, I think he’s at Tannehill year 3, maybe year 4 in terms of comfort, understanding of offense, mastery, ability to execute. There are plays if you don’t put any pass rush on him, if it’s just 7 on 7, he’s just going to carve you apart. If there’s nothing in his face, with accuracy and anticipation, he’s just going to continue to put the ball in positions where only his men can catch the ball and there’s nothing you can really do about it. That’s why it’s fun watching him in 7 on 7 redzone, because it’s just touchdown, touchdown touchdown, okay maybe that’s an incompletion, maybe that’s a knockdown, maybe that ball is thrown out of bounds, but then touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, on every throw. I haven’t seen that level of mastery since Chad Pennington. Not even Ryan Fitzpatrick had that level of mastery. That’s props to him and his strengths which are accuracy and anticipation. Now the problem is, when you put things in his face, even he admits, he’s only 6 foot, he’s not that tall. He cannot see over the offensive line. He’s admitting he throws to spots. He doesn’t look and throw to open receivers, so if something is in his face, it’s not going to be good for him. That’s where you gotta get to the point where you have consistent and reliable offensive line protection.

Would you say fortifying the interior of the offensive line is more important than the tackle spots?”

No, I woudn’t say that. I would say all of it is important, even the center play.

You had somewhat of a controversial tweet where you said that if you were forced to choose between Tua and Justin Fields, you would pick Tua.”

There’s no question and so would most of the NFL. Tua was selected 5th. Justin Fields was selected as the fourth quarterback in a class where none of the quarterbacks even compared to Tua. People act like I’m saying something controversial. Justin Fields was the fourth quarterback selected in his class. Nobody can explain to you why he fell? You can sit there and twist it however you want, but he’s not my style of QB. He’s not a QB I would have drafted at all. I believe he has the inclination to use his athletic ability and run, and I don’t like those kind of quarterbacks.

Fields did have a pretty good practice (on Thursday) correct?

He did have a pretty good practice. I’m not saying I see him run now, but I’m telling you, when he’s facing pressure, his first instinct isn’t going to be, let’s step up into the pocket and throw to this open man down here, his first instinct is going to be to run. That’s great and it works, and even Lamar Jackson, who also would not be a QB I would have drafted... because I ultimately know that when that athleticism goes away, what are you left with? You’re left with RGIII. I don’t want that. That’s what people have to really grasp when I says that it’s not my style of QB. Does he have a superior arm to Tua? Absolutely. Does he have a superior build to Tua? Absolutely. Does he have superior athleticism to Tua? Absolutely. Tua’s got accuracy and anticipation. If you asked me right now and asked most smart football people what they want from their quarterback, they’re going to tell you accuracy and anticipation. Accuracy is the number one trait and you don’t have to have all that fancy stuff if you’ve got accuracy and anticipation.

Tua, when you compared him to Tannehill year three, are you talking about his experience, how to manage a game, or are you talking about numbers? When you look at Tannehill’s year 3, it’s probably his best year in Miami.”

I wouldn’t know his numbers because I just don’t sit there... offenses and styles... whether they’re going to let him throw... the problem with the Dolphins is they let Tannehill throw 40 times a game which is ridiculously dumb for a bad - for an average quarterback. Even Tennessee now, he’s not throwing 40 times a game. That’s not the style you’re going to play and win with. I don’t sit there and compare numbers for quarterbacks.

Is it experience and leading the team?”

Oh, leadership is by far... he’s probably further ahead than Tannehill ever was. Probably still is. I’m sure Tannehill is a leader now. The reasons why I advocated, nobody remembers this, the reasons why I advocated for the Dolphins to draft Tua a year before he was even in the draft is because he has that intangible, he has that leadership. He has that Pied Piper-ness to him that makes people gravitate to him... Tua gave (Solomon Kindley) such a pep talk and all I saw was Solomon Kindley nodding his head like, yeah, I got you, yeah. And Tua is sitting there doing offensive line stances as if to say, all I need you to do is just anchor. Set your feet and don’t let anybody get past this spot. And Solomon is like, I got you. Tannehill would NEVER, EVER, EVER in his life do that. I’ve never seen him do anything like that. That’s not an indictment on him, sometimes it’s just not a player’s personality. Part of the reason I’m so adamant about Tua is he’s everything Tannehill was not. Now Tannehill has some things that he does not have, but the IT intangibles, the leadership, the accuracy, the anticipation... He’s reading defenses better than Tannehill did during his Dolphins days. Probably not the late Tannehill, the Gase Tannehill, but his ability to read defense goes from one of his weaknesses in year one to hey, he’s actually becoming pretty good at it. Now it’ll be interesting to see what happens when he’s got pressure in his face and defenses coming after him, because the game changes a little bit when people are trying to knock your head off, so we still don’t have a finished product there. He’s picked up. This offense is built around him and he has a great comfort level with it.

What’s the one thing that could be the most encouraging thing for Dolphins fans to see in Saturday’s preseason game?”

A run game. Don’t care how they get it, but just a run game. I honestly believe that the best way to relieve the pressure put on Tua and the defense is to be able to run the ball effectively. That’s what I want to see, and I also want to see them stop the run. Those are two major indicators of success in the NFL. Can you run the ball and can you stop the run? Passing doesn’t mean anything. You can look at the top passing teams in the league and that means absolutely nothing in terms of correlation to success. This game is still won and lost in the trenches, no matter what fantasy football tells you. So, I’m going to be looking forward to seeing if they can run the ball effectively against a Bears defense that is pretty good and pretty stingy and looked stingy in the practices.

Would you include screen plays in with the running game? Get it out quickly to Waddle and Wilson.”

I guess those jet sweeps count, so I’ll take it. QB scrambles. Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing in 2019, so I guess you have to count it. Can you move the chains on the ground?

Check out the full interview by clicking the link below. The Omar Kelly portion of the show starts at the 60 minute mark.