Davis: Flores' stance on Stills' invites scrutiny of his coaching style
The most extraordinary Dolphins performance didn’t happen on the field Thursday.
It came after the 22-7 win against the Jaguars when coach Brian Flores disclosed that he used the Jay-Z hit parade at practice earlier in the week to motivate wide receiver Kenny Stills.
It was eye-opening and emotional as Flores made it clear that he supports the social justice protests that Stills and other NFL players have staged the past three years.
It was unlike anything we’ve seen from a Dolphins coach, and in that way it was revealing.
It provided insight into Flores’ approach to leadership, including his handling of quarterback Josh Rosen, who made his strongest case for the starting job yet in Thursday’s game – more on that later.
Flores brings a personal perspective that is atypical of the NFL coaching fraternity. Yes, it is partly the Belichick influence but also indicative of his background and personal experience.
He framed his support of the player protests in the context of, “I’m the son of immigrants. I’m black. I grew up poor. I grew up in New York during the stop and frisk era, so I’ve been stopped because I fit a description before. So everything that these guys protest, I’ve lived it.”
It was raw. It was riveting. It was real.
At the same time, Flores opened himself to valid questions about his coaching methods: Does it make sense to publicly challenge a veteran player who has been the Dolphins’ most productive receiver over such a hot-button issue?
Stills has 21 touchdowns since 2016 – the most on the team – during the period he has taken the controversial stance of kneeling for the national anthem and dealing with all of the fallout that has brought him.
So, does calling out Stills for substandard performance during the preseason strengthen his command of the team?
Some of predecessor Adam Gase’s heavy-handed attempts at motivation didn’t turn out so well.
Meanwhile, the gauntlet Flores has presented to Rosen is working. The second-year quarterback is getting better.
It is easy for many of us on the outside to say, start Rosen now!
I am in that camp because I don’t see this team achieving anything significant with Ryan Fitzpatrick. That is not to say Rosen will lead them to the playoffs this season, but he’s shown enough progress that I want to see what he can become.
Granted, the 99-yard touchdown drive Rosen led Thursday came in the fourth quarter against second- and third-team defenders, many of whom won’t be playing in two weeks. Fitzpatrick also led a touchdown drive in the second half against backups after accomplishing nothing in the first half when he faced Jacksonville’s starters.
But Rosen’s resourcefulness is intriguing. He seems at his best avoiding trouble and finding – and connecting with – receivers while on the move. The talent that made him a first-round draft pick is becoming more evident.
He’s also exhibiting much better “body language” that Flores called him out on recently, which relates to commanding the offense on the field.
Flores does send mixed signals about the quarterback competition. Prior to Thursday’s game, he made it seem the starting job was Fitzpatrick’s and that the results of one performance wouldn’t be conclusive.
Afterward, he said, “We’re still evaluating both guys.”
So which is it?
All coaches have their ways of pushing players and cajoling them to maximize their ability.
I think Flores has determined a certain level of competency that Rosen must meet, and is willing to wait as long as it takes.
Fans and media fixate on who starts the season opener. Flores is looking at a bigger picture.
At the same time, the rookie head coach is also under scrutiny. So far this century, we’ve seen several others in his spot fall by the wayside in Miami.
We haven’t seen anything quite like Flores.
It will be fascinating to watch if he can translate the winning ways he learned in New England to a franchise that hasn’t won anything notable in decades.
His methods may be open to question, but the conviction of his beliefs is clearly firm.
Will that make him a winner?
All we know right now is this Dolphins coach is no pushover.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns
(Video: Prior to the Dolphins' third preseason game, Brian Flores discussed what he needs to see from Josh Rosen)
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