It’s the opening day of the 2019 NFL season and all three state teams will have home games. Off of three losing seasons a year ago, two of them, the Bucs and Dolphins, will be debuting new coaching staffs.
First in Jacksonville, the Jaguars will take on the defending AFC West champions the Kansas City Chiefs and their electrifying quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. This should be a fascinating matchup of the Chiefs high-powered passing attack against one of the better defenses in the NFL. Led by Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars will give the Chiefs a true test.
On offense, Jacksonville has welcomed in free agent quarterback Nick Foles to get their past game going. As we wrote earlier this week, he’s been bothered by a slight abdominal injury and it remains to be seen if he is healthy enough to be effective for the entire opening game.
A guy that does appear to be healthy for the first time in a long time in NFL regular season is running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette battled a hamstring injury for most of last year’s 5 – 11 season, but if he is ready to roll, then it will greatly help the Jaguar chances.
Next, in Miami, it’s the first game for brand new NFL coach Brian Flores (above). After spending over a decade as a defensive assistant with the New England Patriots, Flores takes over what will be a more than challenging situation in year one.
First, the Dolphins have to figure out their quarterbacking future. For now they will go with longtime veteran or Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the opener with the Ravens at Hard Rock Stadium. However, the team would like to see newly-acquired second-year quarterback and former first-round pick up the Cardinals, Josh Rosen become the guy. Rosen might see action as soon as Sunday, depending if the veteran Fitzpatrick struggles.
The expectations have been lowered greatly in South Florida after Flores and GM Chris Grier have stripped the roster of almost all high-priced veteran players. Gone are the names Ryan Tannehill, Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake, Danny Amendola, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Kiko Alonso. All of those players were either released or traded away this offseason.
Clearly, the Dolphins have their eyes on being better in 2020 and 2021, but the real danger is just how much losing will go on this season before it gets to that?
It will probably be the Dolphins biggest key to try to neutralize former South Florida high school and Louisville Heisman winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Jackson helped lead the Ravens to the AFC North title going 6 – 1 as a starter down the stretch of last season and played so impressively that the team Delta wave former Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco in the off-season.
Whether Miami can contain Jackson with their young and experienced defense, may end up deciding this one.
Finally, the Buccaneers will also welcome in a new coaching staff. Bruce Arians is the fifth new head coach in eight Tampa Bay seasons. He brings a winning pedigree from the Arizona Cardinals and has primarily been brought in, along with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, to get more consistent play out of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston and the Bucs should be familiar with their opening-day opponent the 49ers, especially after beating San Francisco in late November of last season at home.
Tampa Bay has installed a new 3 – 4 defense with coordinator Todd Bowles and they now must be ready for the 49ers to welcome back Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from his season-ending knee injury a year ago.
The Bucs are counting heavily on a rookie first-round pick middle linebacker Devin White and free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to help add to their defense. Suh replaces six Time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy after the very popular player on and off the field was released in a salary cap move by the team earlier in the offseason.
The Buccaneers have high hopes that Arians can turn them around like he did the Cardinals, where they won 10 games in his first season in the “Valley of the Sun.”
Looks like Tua Tagovailoa will work out for teams prior to draft
There will be numerous NFL teams interested, including the Dolphins, on just how healthy injured Alabama star Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is. And, a report on Wednesday says that Tua will likely be ready to throw for teams later in the offseason draft process.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that “NFL quarterback super-agent” Leigh Steinberg and his firm are letting teams know that Tagovailoa’s injured hip should be healed enough for him to be able to throw in early April prior to the NFL Draft at the end of the month:
From our Championship Wednesday coverage on @NFLNetwork: #Bama QB Tua Tagovailoa may throw for NFL teams during a Pro Day in mid-April, thanks to some very positive health news. pic.twitter.com/ooVJCyf0ij
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 15, 2020
This will be especially important for teams like the Dolphins, who will be selecting fifth currently in the upcoming selection process.
Tagovailoa came to Alabama from Hawaii and the same high school as Marcus Mariota, having thrown for over 8,000 yards which at that time was a Hawaii High School record. And, he had a career of 84 passing and 27 rushing touchdowns in three seasons.
Tua burst onto the scene nationally, when he relieved Jalen Hurts in the second half and overtime of Alabama’s thrilling title game win over Georgia in the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship Game. Tagovailoa threw the game-winning touchdown pass on the first overtime possession, as Alabama celebrated their fifth National Title in nine seasons under Saban.
In his second season at the helm in the 2018 regular season, Tagovailoa was named second-team AP All-American and was a Heisman Trophy finalist, as the Tide reached the National Title game, again, before being beaten soundly by Clemson 12 months ago.
As this junior season unfolded, Tagovailoa was named almost became synonymous with the Dolphins, who started the season horribly at 0 – 7 and the moniker “Tank for Tua” began to gain momentum in South Florida.
However, Tagovailoa was injured in Alabama’s 10th game of the season suffering the hip injury on a sack late in the first half at Mississippi State. He missed the Tide’s final two regular-season games and their recent Citrus Bowl win over Michigan two weeks due to the injury.
Typically, players participate in some kind of individual workout or pro day, but as Rappaport relayed, most teams already know what Tagovailoa can do from his previous two seasons at Alabama. The bigger concern is his health and specifically his mobility, as he progresses through the summer and into the first NFL training camp and preseason of his career.
It is believed the Tagovailoa is the second, or at worst third rated, quarterback behind LSU Heisman Trophy winning National Championship QB Joe Burrow. Burrow is expected to be taken first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in late April.
Who is new Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer?
On Sunday night, the Dolphins finally decided to allow first-year defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to leave and take the same position with the New York Giants. And, coach Brian Flores moved quickly to promote a member of his staff, Josh Boyer, to be his defensive play-caller
So exactly who is former New England assistant that will now be in charge Miami’s defensive unit? More on him in a moment.
First, as we wrote, Miami had wavered Saturday night and Sunday on whether to let Graham go to the Giants to be with new head coach, Joe Judge, creating an important void. Graham was only being given a “lateral move” to New York, and Miami could have continued to block him. But, in the end, Flores had someone he could trust already on staff.
That’s Boyer, who has just completed his 14th season in the NFL, all previously in New England and then, obviously, his first with the Fins after coming with Flores last February.
Boyer’s background is as a secondary coach and specifically, working with cornerbacks. He held that job for his last seven seasons in New England 2012 – 18 and was part of three Super Bowl championships under Bill Belichick.
Boyer deserves credit for helping the development of defensive backs like Malcolm Butler, who sealed Super Bowl 49 win over the Seahawks with his famous goal-line interception of Russell Wison in the final half minute of the game. Boyer also worked closely with Pro Bowlers Logan Ryan and more recently, Stephon Gilmore, who iced Super Bowl 53 win last February with a late INT against the Rams.
This past year was obviously a trying one for the Dolphins defensively, as they finished 32nd in scoring and 30th in overall in defense. But Boyer cannot be judged too much, given the cornerbacks he was working with, especially late in the year.
He had his best player, former number one pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, traded away in the first month to the Steelers. Miami also lost veteran Bobby McCain to injury later in the year and had a depleted secondary at the very end of the season.
However, Boyer (shown above with DB Eric Rowe after his week 17 pick six of Tom Brady) obviously impressed Flores and GM Chris Grier with his coaching to get the promotion.
And, he’s following a similar path as Flores, who worked his way up from secondary coach to defensive coordinator with the Pats.
Now, we’ll see if Miami can bolster their defensive backfield this off sesaon.
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