The depths of the Dolphins’ zone run-based offense under coach Mike McDaniel remain a mystery, with a bevy of returning and new players to incorporate. However, assistants have been laying the foundation of a scheme they hope will continue to evolve with the start of organized team activities days away.
“For us, especially this time of the year, we’re not preparing for any opponent,” offensive coordinator Frank Smith said Wednesday. “You’re really prepping to play the position and maximize your skill set. And just learning the way we see it, playing their position inside of the system. I think a lot of times people rush into the playbook because you feel that desire to get that down as opposed to you learn the fundamentals that will transcend all the way to the Super Bowl.
“Your final goal is February. You’ve got to build the foundation now to build the skyscraper you’re looking to build. … You want to build a tall, strong building, you’ve got to start with the strong foundation. That’s what we’re trying to do now.”
Coaches have particularly been focused on the “hows and whys” of the offense, tight ends coach Jon Embree said, breaking the scheme down to its nut and bolts. McDaniel’s penchant as a teacher was praised upon his hiring, and Embree, who was with McDaniel in San Francisco, said McDaniel brought the offensive coaching staff together before offseason workout programs began to hone in on teaching points.
†[McDaniel] went through all the different things that we were going to do with the coaching staff, with the offensive side of the football,” Embree said, “and really talked in detail about how a play came about. Why it’s called what it’s called. What it means for the quarterback. what the [offensive] line should think when they hear a certain thing. What the tight ends should do when we say certain things. Here’s what we need.
“He did a very good job of going through that with the staff and teaching everyone so that when we went out and communicated with our players, they’re hearing the same message. … It’s like telephone.”
That process has taken on different forms with the various position groups. Amid questions regarding who will be the Dolphins’ starting center, Smith said all of the offensive linemen have practiced taking snaps so the team will have a capable option in any circumstance. Offensive lineman Austin Jackson has noted the detail of coach Matt Applebaum’s teaching.
“If you get the technique down and use that same technique,” Jackson said in April, “it’s supposed to be the same at every position. It’s really allowing for people to be interchangeable.”
Embree said he has been working with the tight ends on how to line up in the offense as the position will be moved around frequently — from inline, to slot to wide and even in the backfield on occasion.
And the centerpiece of the offense will be quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has been working to learn the language of a new scheme.
“It’s been all great so far. We’re really encouraged,” Smith said of Tagovailoa. “You just see his ability to process and his accuracy. It’s been really, really impressive in this short period of what he’s able to take from one day to the next then to the next week. We see the growth as coaches from Week 1 of offseason Phase 2 and now this is the last week. Now, we’re working into the last evolution.
“From a fundamental standpoint and playing the position, from a leadership and communication standpoint — also associated with playing quarterback — everything’s looking extremely optimistic.”
Asked to evaluate Tagovailoa’s arm strength — one of the top criticisms from Tagovailoa’s biggest critics — Smith answered: “I wouldn’t say we’re limiting ourselves in anything.”
The start of organized team activities next Monday should give coaches a good idea of how their teaching methods have been received. During the third and final phase of the offseason workout program before training camp, the team can conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills between the offense and defense.
“You’re teaching how to punch and how to give their Judo chop before you go straight to Dojo fights and karate championships,” Smith said.