MIAMI GARDENS — As much hype as there is around Tua Tagovailoa and whether the Miami Dolphins quarterback’s arm strength has improved this offseason, what may be of greater importance for this offense is if new coach Mike McDaniel will transform the team’s run game.
The Dolphins have been among the bottom four teams in rushing yards per attempt each of the past three seasons, and McDaniel’s background leading a rushing attack with the San Francisco 49ers will have to flip that script.
Along with installing his outside-zone scheme, McDaniel revamped the backfield upon arriving in Miami, bringing in the speedster Raheem Mostert, the dynamic Chase Edmonds and the between-the-tackles rusher Sony Michel to tack on to Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, who return from last season.
The full stable hasn’t yet been on display in practices that have ranged from two weeks of organized team activities to this past week’s two-day mandatory minicamp, with one more week of OTAs to follow, but that’s expected to change by training camp in late July. The Dolphins also should have free agent left tackle Terron Armstead, a run-blocking bulldozer, participating in team drills by then.
And even amid Tagovailoa’s expected third-year strides and the receiving corps upgrade that Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson Jr. bring, McDaniel’s offense still projects to be run-first. An effective ground game can open up the passing game and play-action pass for Tagovailoa.
While the run game will mostly be understood of new pieces, that’s not to say there’s a lack of familiarity surrounding it. McDaniel brought in Mostert, who has all 1,610 of his career rushing yards in his system in San Francisco after being a journeyman tailback with the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and even the Dolphins. Armstead can play the Trent Williams role from that group’s pounding offensive line.
Even Edmonds has watched McDaniel’s rushing attack do what it does from the sideline twice a year while an NFC West rival with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I’ve played against it for the last four years,” said Edmonds following Wednesday’s minicamp session where he showcased his speed. “It’s something special with how they disguise everything, the window dressing to make everything look the same. It really confuses the defense and holds the defense to be disciplined and have gap integrity.”
Edmonds is efficiently accustomed to working in the inside zone, going back through high school, college and in the NFL with the Cardinals, so it’s still an adjustment for him.
“Just getting used to the wider tracks, and the cuts are going to be at different angles and the lanes are going to be at different angles,” Edmonds said. “The flow of the [line]backers are different because, in inside zone, it’s more slow to fast, where I can pitter-patter my steps. Outside zone here, it’s kind of like you’re riding a wave. Once you hit that wave, you’ve got to hit it and go. I’m getting used to that. I’m getting my feet under me. I’m taking pride in that journey, that challenge, of fine-tuning it.”
Edmonds said the system is primarily why he came to Miami, along with his belief in McDaniel being able to highlight his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
The Dolphins’ tight end group will also be instrumental with their run blocking in the outside zone. McDaniel said it was a process for him and his staff to decide this offseason to keep last year’s unit of Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long and Cethan Carter together.
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“We knew fully that we’d be asking these guys to do some different things than they’ve done in the past,” McDaniel said. “After really deep-diving and watching all of the guys, it felt like not only did they put some good stuff on tape, but there was a lot of room to grow.”
Probably foremost in the “room to grow” category was Gesicki’s run blocking, while presenting the dynamic, tall, long pass-catching target able to line up in multiple spots that he is.
“He’s been as impressive as any player on the team in terms of going after a challenge,” McDaniel said. “Three point [stance] wasn’t his primary position, and he’s been working diligently in the run and pass game to do things that this offense can feature without taking away the stuff that has made him who he is.
“He’s really attacked it with full vigor and has done a great job of working on his footwork in the run game. I’m hoping that carries over to pads when that happens in whatever month that is.”
McDaniel also will incorporate the fullback position into the Dolphins’ run game. Enter Alec Ingold to fit the mold of the 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk in recent years. Connor Williams, a guard the last four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, appears set to anchor the offensive line at center after coming over to Miami in free agency.
Everything involving the run game to this point in the offseason still cannot be accepted at face value until those pads come on following the first few practices of training camp.
“It doesn’t count with no pads,” Edmonds said. “That’s my opinion. You separate the men from the boys once the pads get on.”