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The Phinsider Mailbag: Team identity, special teams, and running backs

Our first mailbag session of the Miami Dolphins’ 2023 offseason is here. Let’s answer some of your questions.

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images

The Phinsider Mailbag is back! Earlier this week, we asked for your questions about the Miami Dolphins and their 2023 offseason. You did not disappoint. Today I take a look at the questions you sent in and give you my thoughts on the special teams unit, multiple tight ends, the offensive line, and the team’s identity.

Time to get to the questions...

I have a few questions regarding the overall plans of [head coach Mike McDaniel] and [special teams] coach Dan Crossman pertaining to this year’s special teams units. Are they planning to change up their approach of attacking and defending? Are they counting on overall improvements from this year’s personnel? Do they believe they can succeed with the same approach as last year but with a healthier unit? Lastly, is it worth bringing in any additional kickers to compete with Jason Sanders? - Call_for_the_Priest’77

I think they are re-tooling some things and have made upgrades where they think they needed to make a change. While Thomas Morstead was a solid punter, he was not a guy who was going to single-handedly flip the field. They added Jake Bailey as someone who they expect to be able to do that. Bailey had a down year last year, but he also only played in nine games due to an injury and a suspension. He was a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2020, and the Dolphins expect that level of play for him this year.

Adding a played like wide receiver Braxton Berrios, who should slot in as the primary returner for the team, should add a dynamic to the position without needing to put wide receivers Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle back as the returner.

I do not think they are going to suddenly change anything in terms of the scheme they run on special teams - Crossman has been an NFL special teams coordinator for four teams over 20 years. He knows what has worked for him and is going to continue to do that. I think we will see the players on the field change, but the system itself will likely be the same.

As for Sanders, I could see the Dolphins look toward an undrafted free agent kicker this summer to provide some competition. Sanders finished the season well last year, even though his overall numbers were down from a couple of years ago, so I would expect him to at least be given a chance to keep the job.

The interesting piece may be the kickoff duties. While Sanders has been fine with kicking off, Bailey has also done that. Could Miami look to use Sanders on field goals while Bailey handles kicking off?

I guess my questions are:

What do they intend to do to contain/control running [quarterbacks]? I imagine [new defensive coordinator Vic] Fangio will have some ideas, but will we need to wait until our first games against teams like [the Buffalo Bills] or Chicago [Bears] to find out?

With the potential for this Defense to be really good, will we see more attempts to go for it on 4th and whatever? Will they be running or short passing plays? - Yarganaught

The running quarterback has been a thorn in the side of the Dolphins’ defense for many a year. When the Bills’ Josh Allen gets outside and takes off, Dolphins fans find themselves reminded of their nightmare from the previous night. It has been long repeated in South Florida, and it needs to stop.

Fangio’s defensive system is not necessarily designed to stop the running quarterback, and it can give up chunks of yards if the defense does not stay him on their rush. The defense is made to force an offense into a running situation rather than passing, and then to close on the ball carrier. If they can get teams trying to run more, stuffing the running backs and taking out the threat of the running quarterback, that will be a big piece of slowing down the running quarterback.

Watching what Fangio has done in the pass, he typically does not employ a spy to try to stop an opposing quarterback from running, but rather looks to the pass rushers to maintain their responsibility and keep the quarterback contained. Fangio’s scheme also is not a blitzing scheme, which will be a big change from the last defensive system Miami used. If the defense is not sending extra rushers, Fangio could tweak his system to add safety Jevon Holland into the box as a spy and it could be a role that perfectly suits his abilities.

As for the 4th-and-short possibilities, I think as a whole the NFL is moving toward going for it more. As I discussed above, they do have a punter they are expecting to be able to switch the field position game, so maybe they do want to punt still, but I would not be surprised if, with a healthy quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Miami was to take the chance on a conversion more often in 2023.

If [University of Tennessee quarterback] Hendon Hooker is available with our second pick do you think the Dolphins pick him? Would they even think about it? Would it be a waste of a pick since we have Tua and need a TE/OL/RB/LB? Me personally, I’d seriously consider it but I’m not a football GM. - dedstrk316

Would they think about it? Probably, but that is because I think they would think about everyone who is available. Would it be a waste of a pick? I would think so. Not because I think it is bad to go after a quarterback, but because they do not have a lot of picks this year and they are clearly looking at their championship window as being open right now. Adding a quarterback in the second round who is not going to see the field - save for an injury - until at least the 2025 season does not seem like a good use of the pick. The Dolphins locked Tagovailoa in for the 2024 season with a $32.8 million dead money number if cut this year and a $23.2 million fully-guaranteed salary for next year. I get the idea of trying to position the team if something goes wrong, but if this team is looking to win now, a second-round quarterback who will be expected to sit on the bench is not the priority.

As much as I hate the Patriots, could this be our year to mirror them and take 2 TE’s like they did when then they took [Rob Gronkowski] “Gronk” and [Aaron] Hernandez? (Laporta and Kraft or Schoonmaker) If Hernandez had not gone all hoodlum they probably would have had 2 more [Super Bowl trophies]. - 72Phins4ever

I am all for adding weapons to the tight end position. They have the wide receivers to be able to run their pass-first offense, but they need to find the tight end compliment that head coach Mike McDaniel’s offensive system uses. If they were to grab two tight ends, I would trust that McDaniel knows he can use them and they will not be shunned like Mike Gesicki was last year. I think this would be an awesome move for the team.

Kept every running back! This makes me wonder if they will draft a running back, or instead go with the undrafted for camp competition and hopefully a gem among men. So draft a running back at any position ? Or go with the undrafted and possible last day cut among the veterans ? - Dolfanjoe

I would not be surprised at a drafted running back, but I think they like the idea of Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Jr., leading the position group. I do not see them thinking they have to have a “workhorse” runner on the roster, and I do not know that they are going to be dramatically more run-oriented than they were with Tagovailoa last year. The offensive line growing - or adding someone in the draft - could be the key to getting those two going. I know fans love to hate on Myles Gaskin, but he is a solid option as a depth piece for the team, as is Salvon Ahmed. I am comfortable with the running back position as it stands if they head into the season with this group, but would not be against trying to add another piece if someone suddenly becomes available.

That said, the tight end idea above, offensive line, and probably defensive line/linebacker depth are ahead of the running back need for me right now.

People are stressing on the [offensive line] and [right tackle] and to a lesser extent the [left guard] positions, I understand that to a point but [the Cincinnati Bengals] flipped their entire line last year and the results were so so - don’t you think the coaching change and a healthy [tackle Austin] Jackson and [guard Liam] Eichenberg carry the day or is it broken and if so the who are the FA or draft guys we go get? - dnordel

Drafting a tackle is not off the books by any stretch of the imagination, but I think the coaches like what Austin Jackson showed when he was healthy last year. He can grow well into the right tackle position, so I do not know that it is the top need for the team this year. Both Jackson and Liam Eichenberg can be solid players, and that is all they need to be. Sure, you want five Pro Bowl players on your offensive line, but you do not need them to have success in the NFL. The key to the offensive line is Terron Armstead. As long as he is playing and healthy, the offensive line should be fine.

I would like to know what the teams goal is for its IDENTITY on both offense and defense?

We all know the rhetoric of, top ten in both categories, smash mouth, big play, well balanced, etc.

Pushing all that jargon aside, what are we?

Example of an answer: We want be a pass first offense that hopes to be average rushers. - MIAMI235

Stop the run on defense by showing a soft run defense, then switching the look at the snap to trap the runner. It is the staple of a Fangio defense, and it is what I would expect to see. The previous system was built to run man-to-man coverage with strong cornerbacks, then blitz to get to the quarterback. You will not see that much this year. The team is going to give Cover 2, Cover 4 types of looks, then bring safeties into the box to shut down the run.

I think Mike McDaniel will look to establish the run more this year than he did last year, but when you have a quarterback who can execute the offense like we saw a healthy Tua Tagovailoa doing last year and you have weapons like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, you use them. This will be a pass-first team that uses the short-passing attack in slants and in-routes to soften up the deep ball, then go for the deep strike using the ridiculous amounts of speed they have.

Thank you to everyone who sent in questions. We will run another mailbag next week. Look for the post on Monday asking for your question submissions.