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Phinsider Mailbag: Dolphins training camp opens

Miami Dolphins Training Camp Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins fully opened their 2022 training camp this week with the veterans arriving at the team facilities on Tuesday and on-field practices starting on Wednesday. The regular season opens six weeks from today, with the Dolphins playing their first regular season contest in 45 days. The season is still a little ways off, but it really is starting to feel like football is back.

Earlier this week, I asked for your questions for the second edition of the Phinsider Mailbag for this year. Now we will take a look at what topics are on your minds and give you my thoughts on them as well.

Do you think people are overestimating the impact of the new coaching staff being a run first group? The NFL is a passing league, and there are usually only a couple teams that run the ball more often than they throw it. I am not sure Miami has the backs to run 500 times, but they definitely have the receivers to throw well over 500 times.(SF had 499 runs last year and 514 passes) I think as long as the run is a legitimate threat, and with Hill always being a threat to go deep, safeties are in for a long season against Miami. - Thomas23059

I think the definition “run first” has changed in recent years. I think it has transitioned to just being a team that is committed to the run. There are teams that will happily abandon the run and turn themselves into pass only offenses if they are given the opportunity. We have seen that with the Dolphins at times over the past several years. In 2021, the Dolphins were the 10th most passing offense, throwing the ball (or at least calling a passing play) on 59.7 percent of their plays. That was up from 2020 when they ran passing plays on 58.1 percent of their offensive plays. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the league in passing on nearly two-thirds of their offensive plays, while the Philadelphia Eagles were nearly perfectly balanced at 50.1 percent passing plays. The San Francisco 49ers, as you pointed out, passed on 51.5 percent of their plays, making them the 29th ranked team in terms of passing on offensive plays. What could make the difference here for the Dolphins is, Mike McDaniel was not the play caller in San Francisco. He learned from Kyle Shanahan and may have similar tendencies, but we do not know exactly how he would execute a game plan as a play caller. We will find out this year, but I would expect the Dolphins to be outside the top ten, but not a 50/50 team either. They will be committed to the run, but I do not see them becoming a team that has a majority of running plays. We will have to check back after the season, but I would guess they land somewhere in the 57-58 percent passing plays range, which would put them around 20th in the league from 2021.

Tua had a few injuries in college and there were questions about his durability when drafted. In his first two years Tua has sustained three injuries and has missed six starts since the Rams game in 2020 as a direct consequence of those injuries. What, if anything, can the coaches do to minimize the risk of further injuries to Tua? (Besides getting a better right tackle which appears to be out of the question) - Gllmiaspr

I think the “injury concerns” about Tagovailoa were overblown - other than making sure his hip was fully healthy. Tagovailoa had several injuries in college, including broken fingers, a sprained knee, and a quadriceps injury, and he played through all of them up to having the “tight-rope” surgery on his ankle in 2018 and 2019. These are procedures designed to allow a player to return from a high-ankle sprain quickly (like within a week, quickly) so it is not necessarily a surgery he had to have to be able to continue his career, but it was something he did to keep him on the field. As for the hip injury he sustained in 2019, that was obviously something major.

With the Dolphins, he has had a thumb injury in 2020 that kept him out a week, the fractured ribs in 2021 that landed him on IR for part of the season, and the broken finger that landed him on the sidelines only to have him available to backup Jacoby Brissett.

All of that said, yes, he has had some issues with injuries, and he has to stay healthy. Part of that, I think, was him having to learn to trust his hip again and part of it was just plan bad luck (the broken finger apparently happened in practice and no one was really sure when it happened and based on his availability as a backup was just plain confusing). I do not really see Tagovailoa as “injury prone” but maybe that is just me.

The other part of that is, Miami has not put him in the greatest position to avoid injuries. The pass protection has to improve, and when you are a top ten team in terms of passing plays called (see the question above), other defenses know you are going to pass so they do not worry about the run as much. Establishing a consistent running game will help keep Tagovailoa upright and effective in the passing game.

The other piece of all of this is, Miami has had a very young offensive line over the past few years. That group has to be ready to make the leap from developmental players into a solid, or better, starters (...right?!?). That will help immensely.

My question is who will be the first Dolphin player to be traded this offseason? Wide receiver, running back? Possible corner. This is a very talented team and someone is going to be gone! We are sitting in an enviable draft position next year to be able to do what they want and parting with a good player this year may just help out with the salary cap and draft picks next year and the future. Do they risk the depth they have if a young player steps up in the next month or so? - Dolfanjoe

If you mean this summer, I would not count on trades. I know they happen, but it is usually someone you are about to cut who another team would like to keep on their current contract and is willing to give up a late round pick. That really is not overly exciting, and projecting that is taking a random guess.

If I had to make that guess, I would probably say a running back. Sony Michel, Myles Gaskin, and Salvon Ahmed are all players who provide good depth, but will be fighting for limited roster spots this year. I could see someone there being at least attractive enough to warrant a team looking to add a depth runner to their roster.

If you mean after this season as the team looks to add draft picks, I could see someone like Byron Jones come up as a potential piece, but the Dolphins would be eating a lot of salary there. To make that move possible, though, Miami needs to have Noah Igbinoghene develop into the potential that made him a first-round pick. If you have read anything I have written about Igbinoghene, you know I have stressed that he is still among the youngest players on the team as he does not 23 until November, giving him NFL experience early with time to grow. I have hopes for him still.

Another potential area of depth for Miami to consider a trade would be tight end - if they re-sign Mike Gesicki after the season. If Hunter Long can show some of his potential this year, he could be someone worth a mid-round pick if he is just going to be stuck behind Gesicki and Durham Smythe again.

What if any are the challenges for the offense to adjust to a lefty quarterback (ie Spin)? Conversely are there advantages for the offense since defensive players for other teams are not used to facing a lefty quarterback? Lastly are there challenges for the offense to adjust if Tua is out with a righty Quarterback. - Dolfansince68

I think really the major adjustment for the offense is simply building the offensive line correctly. There is a difference in a right tackle versus a left tackle, and it is not as easy as moving a player from the left to the right and expecting the same results. Players who have played right tackle their entire career from high school through college are not going to be comfortable trying to relearn all of their fundamentals as they mirror themselves to the right.

I mean, just look at Laremy Tunsil being uncomfortable as a left guard instead of a left tackle in his rookie season. We might not always see it this way, but each position on the line really is unique. Playing the best five players on the line does not always mean you can play the five most talented players on the line, since that talent may not work in a specific position.

Left tackle is seen as the sexy position on the line, and the position that is going to get a player paid. In college, players want to be the left tackle so they can show they are NFL-caliber left tackles. Right tackle is just not sexy enough, especially in terms of pass blocking. That is a run-blocking, mauler position traditionally. Unless you have a left-handed quarterback, and in the NFL, there is one: Tua Tagovailoa.

The flipping of the sides of the field is not limited to the line - the wide receivers are flipped and their route trees and options can be different - but the line is definitely what we see the most.

You also have some differences with the running game. A left-handed quarterback’s drop-back is opposite of a righty, so the run or play action could be coming from the opposite side. It seems like a minor difference, but when 99 percent of the time, you run a play one way, then have to adjust to the opposite way, it does take some time.

And, of course, the ball comes out differently from a lefty compared to a righty. There is a lot of focus on the spin, which is opposite, but the nose of the football is also slightly different. A receiver who has caught thousands of passes from a right-handed thrower now has to adjust to those differences. It takes some time. Tagovailoa and new players like Tyreek Hill and Cedric Wilson will need to work together a lot to get them used to the differences. The team has to make sure the passing machines spin the ball like a lefty.

In a 1993 New York Times article by Tom Friend focusing on Jerry Rice’s transition from right-handed Joe Montana to left-handed Steve Young included a line, “Rice dropped nine passes early this season, two of which became interceptions.” Rice did not drop passes, but the switch to a lefty quarterback caused him early struggles.

A 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times from Sam Farmer explained how Rice worked through some of those situations, turning to an assistant equipment manager for extra passing reps:

In his 18 seasons with the 49ers, Ted Walsh had the official title of assistant equipment manager. But for several of those years, he also had the coolest assignment in sports: playing catch with the NFL’s greatest receiver.

This wasn’t some kind of privileged perk — Walsh is no relation to legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh — but began by happenstance. Walsh, now clubhouse manager for the Seattle Mariners, is left-handed, and Rice needed a southpaw to help smooth the transition from the right-handed Montana to the left-handed Young. A right-handed ball spins clockwise off the passer’s hand; a left-handed ball spins counterclockwise.

“Ted saved my arm,” Young recalled. “Jerry wanted to catch 4 million passes a day, and I needed Ted to throw 31/2 million of them or I wouldn’t have made it. That’s how Jerry got used to the spin; it was Ted Walsh. And I’ve got to tell you, for 10 yards, Ted throws a nice spiral.”

Lots of adjustments players and schemes need to make when you have a left-handed quarterback. And, of course, if Tagovailoa misses time and Teddy Bridgewater comes in to play, the team will have to adjust back to a righty on the fly. All things to consider.

As for defenses facing a left-handed quarterback, things are similar for them. Interceptions are going to be made with the spin the other way. A team with an offensive line built for a lefty will have their linemen negating the typical pass rush tendencies for a defense. The run lanes may be different. The route trees and options may be different. These are all things defenses have to adjust to for the one time they face a lefty quarterback.

It is not triple-option offense difficulty level of adjustments, but it is still an adjustment.

Aside from Mike McDaniel, who on this coaching staff do you anticipate will have the most beneficial impact on their position group, given their experience, track record and coaching ability? - AGuyFromThe305

My immediate reaction is to look at the offensive line. Matt Applebaum comes to the team after having spent the last seven years as an offensive line coach at the collegiate level. He has a big job in front of him, but the offensive line’s past struggles should allow him to make quick improvements that will have a beneficial benefit early on this season.

My Dolphins-fandom means my answer has to be Wes Welker, Sam Madison, and Patrick Surtain. These are star players who can (hopefully) relate to their position groups (wide receivers for Welker, defensive backs for Madison and Surtain) and provide them with insight.

I know being a great player does not always translate to being a great coach - like Barry Bonds as the Marlins’ hitting coach not understanding why players cannot see what he could see - but I wan to believe having Welker, Madison, and Surtain around the team will only led to improvements.

That is it for today’s mailbag. If you want to join in the next one, watch for our article requesting your questions soon. You can always hit us up on Twitter as well. If you add #AskPhinsider to your tweets at any time, we will look to add it to the next published mailbag. We also give you a chance to leave your questions over on our Facebook page. Finally, you can also check out our Instagram site to leave a question there.