Patrons of football gambling are responsible for at least a portion of the chandeliers in Las Vegas. Picking games against the spread is a difficult way to make a living. The outcomes are unpredictable and, more often than not, the house wins.
Why is this? Every year, players prove to be something different than what we originally thought. I’ve learned to put very little into pre-season predictions, mock drafts, anything that has “pundits,” (and I use that term very loosely) trying to forecast results that they really have limited access and data too.
Take 2015, for instance. Any Eagles fan, and most general NFL spectators, would’ve told you that DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell would be key cogs in a Philadelphia playoff run. Hell, I thought the Ravens were a Super Bowl contender last year (we won’t get into the injuries and other factors there that I would use to exonerate myself.)
What I’m trying to say is that every year, players arrive on the scene from nowhere and players once held in the limelight fall from grace. This piece is going to discuss five Dolphins players that will take a big step forward in 2016.
Neville Hewitt went back to school this spring to complete his undergrad degree despite some late season success in his 2015 rookie campaign. He speaks clearly and concisely, has a humble aura about him, and plays some pretty damn good football. In the season finale win over the Patriots, Hewitt went into coverage on balls thrown to Rob Gronkowski twice and both fell incomplete. He kept his contain off the weak edge all afternoon, and had a calculated feel for diagnosing plays inside.
In his two starts with the Dolphins, Hewitt registered 10 tackles, two of which were in the backfield and he intercepted a pass. The Marshall grad might not open camp on the starting 11, but I am certain that he’ll be in the lineup before you know it.
Jordan Phillips registered the first sack for the Dolphins in 2015 and was viewed more as an interior rush and sub package player in his rookie year. With a year of seasoning and a more conditioned playing weight of 325, Phillips should get base looks to eat up blockers on the nose in the Dolphins new wide-9 alignment. Phillips has an arsenal of pass rush moves and has the ability to translate those fast and violent hands into being a sturdy run defender.
At this time last year, Tony Lippett was a converted wide receiver adjusting to the NFL while learning a new position. When acquired, I doubt the plan was to have the coaching staff get wiped out and bring in a new group that believed in physicality and a man-press scheme that had the corners playing more of a bump and chase technique, but it worked out perfectly for 6 foot 3 corner. He’s strong, long and can lock his arms on a receiver disrupting the route. He has the ball location awareness of a receiver (go figure) and only had his name called a couple of times in the win over New England – the best compliment a cornerback can receive.
Billy Turner was one of many punching bags for the Dolphins porous offensive line last year. Among the interior backups that saw time, he flashed the most and got embarrassed the least. He’s a road grader in the ground game with the ability to get into space and deliver smashing wham and seal blocks to create big lanes. His pass protection wasn’t spectacular, but I’m more inclined to put that on the shoulders of a coaching staff that constantly had him changing positions. It will improve by a good margin in 2016.
Cleyon Laing is following the path of Cameron Wake. If the CFL only teaches pass rushers one thing, it’s an explosive get off as the rules state they must line up a full yard off the ball. At 280 pounds and electric speed around the edge, Laing could be a force late in games with fresh legs and might even be able to kick inside as a nickel rusher.
If Hewitt, Phillips, Lippett, Turner and Laing all play at elevated levels, this team could surprise this season. The general feeling is that this is team that will win somewhere between five and eight games but I’m excited for a couple of reasons (as you’ve read in my earlier pieces.) They are going to experiment with guys that fit what they intend to do on defense with the wide-9 and bump and run man scheme. The over used Parcells-ism can be applied here – these are “Adam Gase guys.”
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