Miami Dolphins 2020 Season Primer: Part One

We’re only days away from the start of the 2020 NFL season, and what a journey it’s been. This holds true not just for the world at large, but also for the Miami Dolphins.

After a tumultuous 2019 season that ended on a high note — in Foxboro against Brady’s bygone Patriots, of all places — the roster has again been completely shaken up and re-made much the same way the offseason schedule was.

This time, however, the roster was reshaped not in a tear-down, but in the first stage of the rebuild. Bereft of talent in 2019, the Dolphins still managed five victories. This year, the Dolphins have talent. And what’s more — they have more than a few young players who could be centerpieces of this franchise far beyond this season.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Just like the year it’s beginning in, the 2020 season promises to be full of highs and lows even for a team as young and hopeful as the Dolphins — especially for a team as young and hopeful as the Dolphins. To get ready for the season and Miami’s week one showdown against Cam Newton’s Patriots, let’s take a look at a two-part A-Z primer for the Miami Dolphins 2020 season. Positive or negative, these 26 factors will be what make or break this year’s campaign as the team attempts to transition from a rebuilding franchise to a perennial contender.

A: Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opt-outs — Unlike the Patriots, Miami was able to escape the Covid-19 opt-out deadline without losing any household names. They also didn’t lose any people along the all-important O-line this year, but the two players who did opt out filled very similar roles on offense. Without both Wilson and Hurns playing in the slot, the Dolphins will be relying heavily on less-experienced options like Isaiah Ford, Malcolm Perry, or even Lynn Bowden Jr., who the team just acquired from the Raiders a few days back. Mac Hollins may also play a role, but no matter who ends up taking most of the snaps at slot, that person must step up to the plate. Personally I like Ford in that position given his strong finish to the 2019 season when he had 21 catches in the final four games.

B: Brian Flores’ second-year — Plenty has already been written about this, and I touched on it here in one of my earlier articles, but year two of the Flores era will be intriguing to watch. Now with more of “his guys” on the team like Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and several new additions on the staff, Flores has much more direct ownership of this 2020 group than he did with last year’s squad. Expectations aren’t mounting for Flores yet, and likely won’t start to until year three, but anything other than a record near or above .500 this season would likely be viewed as a disappointment. Especially given the uncertainty surrounding the coming season due to the virus, Flores’ leadership will be a key factor in determining whether this team sinks or swims in 2020.

C: COVID-19 — You’re tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of hearing about it. I get it. But guess what — it’s not going away within the season’s timeframe and promises to be a factor all the way through the playoffs. Miami made it through the opt-out period, okay, but now the onus is on the players to be smart, make sacrifices, and keep each other safe so that people aren’t contracting the virus and missing games. Much of this again comes back to the example Flores sets, and the Dolphins stand to gain an advantage if they stay healthy and possibly face teams who are down starters because of positive tests. Cross your fingers that the season isn’t disrupted along the way.

D: Draftees in the spotlight — The Dolphins are an extremely young team, to begin with, but what’s more, is that this year’s draft class will play a huge role in either making or breaking this season. 2020 rookies Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley are starting week one on the O-line, and Robert Hunt figures to play meaningful snaps as well this season. Along the defensive side of the ball, Noah Igbinoghene and Brandon Jones will be important parts of the secondary, and Raekwon Davis and Jason Strowbridge will need to grow into reliable options to become part of a balanced rotation up front. The 2020 draft class’s performance this year will likely mirror the overall outcome of this season for the Dolphins.

E: Energy — Going off of the youth of this year’s squad, the overall energy level of the team could be an asset this season. One (very) positive appraisal of Flores’ effort last season was that even with speculation of a franchise tank-job floating around in the national media, he held the locker room together. Late in the season, once the wins started coming, the energy levels this young team brought to the field were a joy to watch. Now without the Energizer-bunny presence of Vince Biegel on the defensive side of the ball, these young players will have to feed off each other and keep the intensity high throughout games.

F: Fitzmagic’s crucial role — This one is absolutely huge. Like Ryan Fitzpatrick’s beard-type huge. It isn’t being talked about much now that Tua is waiting in the wings, but the man who really holds the keys to the season is the same person as last year: Fitzmagic himself. He played some of the best football of his career at the end of 2019 and carried his team to five wins, but we all know that where good Fitz shines, bad Fitz lurks not far behind — not many quarterbacks in this league can lay claim not only to a five-touchdown game, but also a five-interception game. The ultimate hot-and-cold passer, Fitzpatrick could set the Dolphins up for a playoff bid with inspiring play over the first month of football or could end the team’s season before it really begins with a string of bad games against a primarily difficult schedule to start the year. Fitzpatrick’s leadership is also key for this team, but his play to begin the year will be a deciding factor this year.

G: Gailey’s offensive scheme — Coming out of retirement to act as the Dolphins’ 2020 offensive coordinator surprised a lot of people around the league, and now it’s time for Gailey to surprise people with more than just his presence. It’s time for him to unleash a few new wrinkles. It’s time for him to put those years in retirement to good use and catch defenses off guard. We can likely expect a balanced offense between run and pass (a sight for sore eyes after last season’s lackluster rushing effort) and an even split between running backs, but key factors for Gailey’s scheme will be how well receivers can utilize his creative approach to route-running and how quickly young players can adopt the system. He has personnel with varied skill sets both in the backfield and outside — alphas like Parker and Williams, speedsters like Grant, and the Swiss Navy Knife in Malcolm Perry — so it will be up to him to leverage their strengths and conceal their weaknesses.

H: Hollins, as in Mac — You all need to see Mac Hollins’ hair if you haven’t yet. Seriously, take a look… Like Jackie Moon but somehow even better.

I: IdentityI keep harping on how young this team is, and that statement extends to their head coach and much of the staff. As cool and collected as Brian Flores is, he’s as new to his job as many of these players are to theirs. Now in year two with a roster, he seems to be much more comfortable with — there was almost no roster turnover this year after cutdown day compared to major churning this time last year — Flores will be looking to establish exactly what type of team he wants to coach. It’s often said that a team takes on the personality of its head coach, and I buy that sentiment completely. I’m hopeful about what it might look like, but it’s time to see what sort of personality Flores imparts on a team that he can truly call his own.

J: Jakeem Grant’s role — Similar to Isaiah Ford, Jakeem Grant stands to see an increase in targets this year thanks to the absence of Hurns and Wilson. Grant’s speed and shiftiness are undeniable, but his health has been an issue after dealing with ankle, Achilles, shoulder, hamstring, and concussion issues over the past two years. If the 5’7” jitterbug can stay healthy and get past his occasional bout of the dropsies this season, he has the ability to finally become a dynamic threat on offense and at worst a playmaking number three receiver. Ideally, Chan Gailey will be able to maximize Grant’s unique skill set, and if Grant can break out this offense will be much better for it.

K: Kalen Ballage’s breakout year — I’m sorry, but I couldn’t leave this column without making one Kalen Ballage joke. Don’t worry, he’s no longer on the team and I don’t see a revenge tour happening anytime soon (or ever).

L: “Last Dance” Dolphins? — Remember that Miami is only in year two of its full-scale rebuild this season, and thus will be continually assessing who fits the team’s vision for the future and who doesn’t. This is where I remind you that the goal isn’t to win a Super Bowl this year; the goal is to compete, make progress, and put Stephen Ross’s franchise in a position to win championships for years to come. A crucial part of that vision is to continually evaluate the team’s talent, especially so early on in the process. Players like Davon Godchaux, Nik Needham, and even Ryan Fitzpatrick — while fan favorites — are in a contract year with the team. Their performance as major contributors, in addition to being key to this year’s record, will determine whether or not they’re still wearing the aqua and orange next season.

M: Mike Gesicki’s growth — Compared to a lackluster rookie season two years ago, Gesicki enjoyed something of a breakout year in 2019 and finished with 570 yards and five touchdowns. Much of the improvement was due to coaching, as Flores’ staff put Gesicki in positions where he was likely to succeed and protected him from situations where he was outmatched (e.g. in-line blocking). Gailey’s offenses have never been known for their heavy involvement of tight ends in the passing game, so this year Gesicki may have to take matters into his own hands and make plays whenever they come his way. As a third-year player blessed with plus athleticism at his position and a long frame, Gesicki can keep defensive off-balance if he’s able to continue his positive trend of development and earn Gailey’s trust as a key offensive cog.


Thanks for reading — check back in tomorrow for Part Two of the primer!