DAVIE (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins’ defense took center stage during Thursday’s training camp practice at the team’s facility in Davie.
Generally in the weeks leading up to the regular season, practices tend to favor the defense. At least that’s how things have been with Miami for the past decade or so.
And yes, in the seven on-field workouts so far this year, the Dolphins offense has had a bit more success that what we’re generally used to seeing, but the defense still has had the edge.
Coaches have been preaching consistency to the defense, especially the younger players.
The results on the field have been largely positive but there is still work to be done.
“With everybody on defense, something that we’re trying to stress is it’s not good enough to do it one play or one series or one game,” said defensive coordinator Matt Burke. “It has got to be every day – day in and day out – that we’re performing at the level of expectation that we hold.”
Third year pro Xavien Howard has been focused on becoming more consistent.
Howard is leading a group of playmakers in the defensive backfield, including several that have only been in the league a few years.
Torry McTyer and Cordrea Tankersley were rookies last season and now both are battling for the starting cornerback position next to Howard.
Also in the mix for that job is Tony Lippett, who was drafted all the way back in 2015.
“He’s done well,” Defensive Backs Coach Tony Oden said of McTyer. “He’s been competitive. Not perfect, but none of them are. He’s been competitive. He’s doing everything that I’ve asked him to do. They all are. I’m not singling him out. As a group, they are. He just happened to be the guy you asked about. I’m pleased with their progress.”
With such a tight battle, regardless of who ends up the starter come Week One, it’s clear Miami could have more depth at corner in 2018 than the team has had in a very long time.
At safety, Miami has been rotating veterans Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald and rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“I think we drafted the right guy and he’s doing well,” Oden said of Fitzpatrick. “He is who we thought he was. He loves football. He asks for extra help. He does work. He’s smart. He’s a problem solver. He fits into our room and that’s the key thing. I’m pleased with his progress.”
Fitzpatrick started camp working with the first team but has recently taken more snaps with the backups, due mostly to the strong play of McDonald who is having an excellent camp.
McDonald is entering his second year with the Dolphins. He started the final eight games of last season after serving an 8-game suspension for an off-the-field incident that took place while he was playing for the Los Angeles Rams.
“I think T.J. has been probably one of the pleasant surprises,” said Burke. “Reshad has been very good. Obviously, he has got his hands on a lot of balls, too. But I think T.J. has been a pleasant surprise at camp. He has shown some range in the back end. He has made some plays down the field.”
Collectively, the group has been a thorn in the side of Miami’s quarterbacks since camp opened.
HOWARD HAS DOMINATED
It’s becoming clear that in Howard, Miami may have found the NFL’s next top-tier cornerback.
The 25-year-old entered training camp in great shape and is picking up where he left off at the end of last season.
After a slow start in 2017, Howard finished the year with four interceptions and a sack during a three-week span in December.
Howard intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times on Thursday and he now has five picks in the Dolphins last three practices.
“He has been getting his hands on balls,” Burke said. “I think for us with ‘X,’ it’s continuing that high level of play and keeping the consistency. He can’t get lazy with his techniques or get bored, and he hasn’t been. We’ve really been pressing him to stay competitive play in and play out.”
While Howard will enjoy his big day, saying he couldn’t wait to “get in [the locker room] and talk some trash,” nobody has to remind him that a good practice on Thursday won’t mean much if he has a bad practice on Friday.
“That’s a great day for a DB, three picks,” he said. “I’m just trying to feed off of each practice and trying to get better each day.”
ON THE LINE
According to his coaches, Charles Harris needs to think less and play faster.
Harris was Miami’s first round pick in 2017 and finished his rookie season with 19 tackles and two sacks.
Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has been working closely with Harris and says the 23-year-old was at his best “when he just pinned his ears back and went as fast as he could.”
Kocurek wants to streamline things for Harris and keep him from overthinking on the field.
“I wanted to try to simplify things for Charles and get him playing to his skill set as fast as he can go,” Kocurek explained. “As a rookie, you come in and you get all of this stuff thrown on you – scheme, technique, repetition. It’s the first time in a new environment, and sometimes it can just overflow your mind and all of a sudden you’re playing hesitant. I just want Charles to play as fast as he can because if he does, good things are going to happen for him.”
SWAP IN THE MIDDLE
Second-year defensive tackle Davon Godchaux played with starters Thursday, replacing enigmatic potential star Jordan Phillips.
Godchaux has steadily improved through the opening week of camp and earned his first team reps.
“He’s been working hard, he’s been doing well,” Kocurek said of Godchaux. “So we got him in there with the ones a little bit more. He’s been rotating with the ones, so it isn’t something new. He’s been getting some reps with the ones and he took a little bit more today. It was good work for him.”
Phillips’ move down to the second team had nothing to do with his play and everything to do with giving Godchaux some higher quality reps.
It’s been a solid camp thus far for Phillips, and he didn’t skip a beat on Thursday. On consecutive plays, Phillips ripped through the offensive line and stuffed running back Senorise Perry in the backfield.
“He’s showing up with a great attitude and practicing hard,” Kocurek said of Phillips. “Consistency is starting to come. He’s done well. He had a really good day today. He was disruptive in the backfield, especially in some of our short-yardage situations. You really saw him show up. I’m pleased with Jordan.”
Holding labels like ‘underachiever’ and ‘inconsistent’ throughout his career, Phillips is entering the final year of his current contract so if there was ever a time to show that he can reach his immense potential, now is the time.
NOT FORGETTING THE LINEBACKERS…
Chase Allen, an undrafted rookie last season, also moved up to the first team on Thursday.
Allen lined up in a starting outside linebacker spot that had been mostly occupied by Stephone Anthony since the open of camp.
Coaches have been pleasantly surprised with Allen, who continues to improve and can play inside or outside.
“Chase came in last year and proved to us that he’s worthy of giving a look,” said linebackers coach Frank Bush. “He played some spot duty for us last year outside as well as inside. He’s done a good job in the offseason of preparing himself. We just want to keep the competition going. We don’t want anybody to get comfortable, so we’re putting him back outside to make sure he and Steph [Anthony] have real competition out there; but meanwhile making sure that he’s getting enough reps inside.”
The other two starting linebacker spots belong to Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan.
As a rookie last year, McMillan entered the preseason as Miami’s starting middle linebacker.
In a stroke of horrible luck, he tore his ACL on the first kickoff of the first preseason game and was lost for the remainder of the year.
Fast forward 11 months and the 22-year-old has picked up right where he left off.
“He is who we thought he was,” said Bush. “He’s doing all of the things we suspected. His legs have come around; his brain has always been good. He’s just consistently getting better.”
Defensive lineman William Hayes suffered an apparent right leg injury while doing one-on-one drills.
He was on the ground for several minutes before walking off the field with a severe limp, accompanied by a trainer.
The Dolphins have not provided an update on Hayes’ status.