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5 Questions with The Phinsider: Tua extension, pass/run balance, surprise breakout players, and more

Kevin Nogle provides us with some keen MIA insights ahead of our matchup.

NFL: Preseason-Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins are coming to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers who are currently three-point favorites on Sunday, per DraftKings Sportsbook. One of my favorite weekly segments of our in-season coverage is when we get to pick the brain of another diehard football fan to give us some insider — or in today’s case, Phinsider information. This week, Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider was kind enough to answer five questions I had about the Miami Dolphins.

1) The Dolphins led the league in deploying their 21-personnel set on 46% of all first down plays last year, slightly outpacing the 49ers at 42% (however, the Ravens take the cake if we count 21 and 22-personnel). The Dolphins called for pass plays on 64% of their snaps, whereas the 49ers were much more balanced at 53%. When Mike McDaniel coached the 49ers in 2021 with a healthy Jimmy G, they called pass plays 51% of the time. After Alec Ingold’s extension, is there an expectation that the team will implement a more balanced offensive approach moving forward?

Absolutely. McDaniel, who started as the run-game coordinator for the 49ers before becoming their offensive coordinator, admitted after the season that he needed to be a little more committed to the run. Miami was clearly a pass-first, pass-often, pass-always offense in 2022. When you have Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, it becomes very easy to focus on getting them the ball to let them do what they do. The offense is still going to be a pass-heavy offense looking to get the ball into the hands of Hill and Waddle, but there should be a little more balance to the offense this year.

When Miami did run the ball last year, they were solid at it. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and that includes Chase Edmonds, who Miami traded away mid-season, averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt. Raheem Mostert, who comes back as the top running back on the depth chart this year, averaged 4.9 yards per carry last year and should be able to have a similar performance this year.

The offensive line is the weak point of the offense, leading to some concern about their ability to open running lanes. However, if there are line concerns, they are also there when talking about protecting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. How do you slow down a pass rush? Provide the threat of a rushing attack. Miami needs to create that threat to ensure they can better protect Tagovailoa.

McDaniel recognizes he was out of balance last year. It should be a little more balanced this year.

2) Mike Gesicki was always a fun tight end to watch, and I was surprised he wasn’t featured more in McDaniel’s offense. Are fans disappointed to see him go, or was he just not a fit for what McDaniel wanted to build? Is there a tight end ready to break out on the roster right now?

Fans loved Gesicki and his passion on the field, but it really was just a system fit issue. I thought all season last year that at some point, Gesicki would be unleashed, likely as a slot receiver more than a true tight end. It just never happened, and that is why he is now with the New England Patriots. He has so much talent as a pass catcher, but he is a big receiver and not a true tight end. McDaniel wants his tight ends to be blockers first. Gesicki being on the field was simply an advertisement of what the Dolphins were going to do, because defenses knew he was not likely to be working as a sixth offensive lineman or have major blocking duties.

Durham Smythe is a really solid, all-around tight end. Will he be a Pro Bowl selection or play like George Kittle? Probably not. But he will be able to be a good piece of the Miami offense this year. I would expect the tight ends to primarily be a sixth offensive lineman, then provide a pass catching option if needed. Smythe can do that. Tyler Kroft is primarily a blocking tight end and provides a veteran presence to the group, but I am not expecting a ton from him this season. Undrafted free agent rookie Julian Hill is an interesting player, but is probably more of a developmental player than someone who will be a star this year.

The interesting player to watch is someone you already mentioned - fullback Alec Ingold. I think he is absolutely someone who can and will factor into the tight end position for Miami this season. He has the ability to play a hybrid fullback/h-back/tight end and I think you will see him line up in multiple ways this season. It will mess up the personnel tracking stats, but I would be surprised if Ingold is not moved around and playing all over the offense this year.

3) Do you believe the 49ers quarterback situation is putting a hold on extension talks for Tua? Is there a debate amongst fans that the Dolphins shouldn’t spend over $50 million per year on a quarterback, knowing that McDaniel’s system has thrived without a typical franchise quarterback?

I think Tagovailoa was just not a priority to re-sign this year. As the preseason was winding down, there was a mention that the team and Tagovailoa’s representatives had agreed to hold off any further discussions until after the season. Miami committed to the fifth-year option on Tagovailoa’s contract, so there is no rush to re-sign him. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is the higher priority for the team because he is in the last year of his contract. The two sides seem far apart when it comes to a new contract for Wilkins, likely because he wants to be among the elite defensive linemen, but Miami can still use the franchise tag on him for 2024, then work on a long-term deal after that.

I think Tagovailoa does land a long-term extension after the 2023 season, but it just is not high on the moves Miami felt they needed to make this year.

4.) The Chargers are favored by three points over the Dolphins, per DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you believe that will hold true by the end of Sunday’s game?

The Dolphins still have one of the most-explosive offenses in the NFL but it’s tough when you consider how much worse Tua performs when Terron Armstead is not protecting him. Since he’s out of this game, I believe the Chargers ultimately will win, especially when you take into account their star-studded defense is fully-intact, as well.

5) Who is one player that could have the biggest impact on this season that no one is talking about? In what way could they make or break things for the Miami Dolphins?

Everyone who came to mind is on the defense, in particular linebacker Jerome Baker and David Long, Jr., and safety Jevon Holland. Baker and Long manning the middle of the defense have to be able to stop the run. They both are good NFL starting linebackers, but Miami needs them to push into great levels this year to free up the rest of the defense in Vic Fangio’s system.

Holland is a breakout star just waiting for people to notice him. Fangio’s defense is probably built to highlight the versatility that Holland brings to the back end of the defense. He should be allowed to roam the field, using his instincts to make plays. He has the ability, but if the defense struggles or he is forced to play as a center fielder only, Miami’s defense may struggle. Holland needs to be able to lineup in multiple places and be free to make plays if the defense is going to work at full strength. By the end of the season, a Pro Bowl selection should be Holland’s and he will not be a player no one is talking about.

5.) The Chargers are favored by three points over the Dolphins, per DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you believe that will hold true by the end of Sunday’s game?

The Dolphins still have one of the most-explosive offenses in the NFL but it’s tough when you consider how much worse Tua is when Terron Armstead is not protecting him. Since he’s out of this game, I believe the Chargers ultimately will win