This is part two of a four part series for all four teams in the AFC East.
The young quarterback chase is on in the AFC East as Josh Rosen (Miami), Sam Darnold (New York), and Josh Allen (Buffalo) battle to determine the next great quarterback in this division that has been dominated by 6-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady (New England). But, while the Bills coaching staff has remained intact this offseason, the Dolphins, Jets, and Patriots have swapped some of their coaches with Adam Gase moving from Miami to New York and Brian Flores moving from New England to Miami. With these coaching changes, could Josh Allen be the one to challenge Tom Brady over the next few seasons while Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are learning under their new head coaches?
With preseason training camps almost here, each AFC East team has questions to answer on both sides of the football. I will give my opinion on two questions for each team (one concerning the offense, one concerning the defense) to keep an eye on during the regular season this year.
- After a year off from coaching, can Jim Caldwell help Josh Rosen become the next face of the Dolphins offense and will Kenyan Drake be able to take over more responsibility in Miami’s running game?
When Jim Caldwell was Joe Flacco’s quarterback coach in the Ravens run to Super Bowl XLVII, Josh Rosen was just beginning his football career at St. John Bosco High School (a 30 mile drive from UCLA). Five years later, Caldwell was on the hot seat as the head coach of the Detroit Lions while Rosen came back from an injury in 2016 to have his best season as UCLA’s starting quarterback with 3,756 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. This year, both of their careers are starting over, after Rosen was traded from Arizona to Miami, as they will work to transform a Dolphins team that has struggled to find a solid and consistent quarterback since Dan Marino’s retirement at the end of the 1999 season.
However, despite using a 2nd round draft pick to trade for Josh Rosen, the Dolphins are still trying to find an offensive identity with no Pro Bowl experienced players on offense. Jim Caldwell and new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea will have a tough challenge in their first year together in Miami, but they have a young quarterback, an experienced receiving corps led by DeVante Parker as well as Kenny Stills, and a young running back ready to play a bigger role in the Dolphins offense this season.
In the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dolphins selected running back Kenyan Drake from Alabama. In his four years at Alabama, Drake was primarily used as a backup running back playing behind future Pro Bowl selection Eddie Lacy as well as T.J. Yeldon and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. After playing behind Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi in his rookie season, Drake was given an opportunity to be in Miami’s starting lineup in 2017, but only made six starts and had less than 900 scrimmage yards in a 6-10 season. However, despite losing his job to Frank Gore last year, Drake had his best season with the Dolphins scoring nine touchdowns and became a dual threat running back with 53 receptions as well as 1,000+ scrimmage yards in 2018.
Kenyan Drake will most likely be Miami’s starting running back again this year, but he has to take advantage of this opportunity with 7th round draft pick Myles Gaskin, a running back from Penn State, and backup Kalen Ballage looking to take his job. If Drake can improve on his statistics in 2018, the Dolphins running game could be significantly better and help quarterback Josh Rosen to have a balanced offensive attack in his first season in Miami.
- Will Christian Wilkins become a great replacement for Cameron Wake and can Brian Flores have one of the best secondary units in the NFL this year?
When Cameron Wake led the Dolphins to a 10-6 record in 2016 for their first postseason berth in eight years, Christian Wilkins was a first team All-American and second team All-ACC selection on the Clemson Tigers national championship team. But, after the 2018 season, Wake signed a free agent contract with the Titans while Wilkins was named a unanimous All-American and earned a first team All-ACC selection on the Tigers 2018 national championship team. This April, the Dolphins used the 13th overall pick in the NFL Draft to select Wilkins and he will join a defensive line with no Pro Bowl experienced players after losing Wake to free agency.
As a three time All-American and the first William V. Campbell Trophy (“Academic Heisman”) winner in Clemson history, Christian Wilkins has the ability and mindset to become the next defensive leader of the Dolphins. Despite losing their great leader this offseason, the Dolphins defensive line still has some solid role players to help Wilkins including defensive tackles Akeem Spence as well as Davon Godchaux and defensive end Charles Harris. But, while Wilkins is joining a defensive line in need of Pro Bowl experience, head coach Brian Flores has a talented secondary unit with a lot of potential and some key Pro Bowl veterans.
After beginning his career with the Patriots’ scouting department in 2004, Brian Flores quickly rose through the ranks to became a member of Belichick’s coaching staff in 2008 and began coaching New England’s defense during their run to Super Bowl XLVI. Over the next seven years, Flores worked with several key Pro Bowl/All-Pro players on the Patriots defense including safety Devin McCourty as well as linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins to lead New England to three Super Bowl titles in five years. This season, Flores will be coaching against his former mentor, but he also has a key veteran player in Miami’s secondary unit ready to learn a new defensive philosophy.
As a 5th round draft pick in 2010, Reshad Jones began his NFL career as a backup safety behind Yeremiah Bell (a Pro Bowl selection in 2009) and Chris Clemons under head coach Tony Sparano. Over the next eight years, Jones became the leader of the Dolphins secondary and earned two Pro Bowl selections in 2015 as well as 2017, but Miami struggled under four head coaches. After losing Cameron Wake this offseason, the Dolphins will need Reshad Jones to step up as their defensive leader after mentoring Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard last year. But, with a young Minkah Fitzpatrick ready for his sophomore season, Jones could have the chance to mentor another Pro Bowl player while safety T.J. McDonald and Super Bowl champion cornerback Eric Rowe can provide more experience on the Dolphins secondary unit.
With Miami’s schedule consisting of teams in the AFC North and NFC East this season, the Dolphins will have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and have a record of 6-10. I am concerned about Miami’s offense especially if Josh Rosen and Kenyan Drake don’t live up to their expectations, but I believe that Miami’s defense could significantly improve with their acquisitions of Christian Wilkins, Eric Rowe, and a new defensive minded head coach in Brian Flores.