Minkah Fitzpatrick excited to play key role in secondary-driven Dolphins defense

CraigDavis

(Video: Minkah Fitzpatrick talks about studying film of the New England Patriots secondary to escalate learning the defensive scheme under Brian Flores)

DAVIE – Too much Dolphins talk this summer has been focused on the wrong Fitzpatrick – QB Ryan instead of DB Minkah.

Granted, quarterback competitions are always center stage in the NFL. But the most intriguing question about this Dolphins season remains:

Can first-year coach Brian Flores translate the precepts of a Super Bowl-winning defense into a reasonably effective unit despite personnel limitations?

At the core of that equation in the making is Minkah Fitzpatrick, the 2018 first-round draft pick who showed the potential of something special during his rookie year.

Minkah perked up immediately when it was mentioned this week that the defenses Flores shepherded in New England revolved around the secondary, particularly the safeties, and that he now had a chance for a starring role in a similar situation.

“It’s exciting. It’s really exciting,” he said. “The scheme I ran at Alabama was kind of set up that way. It was based around the DBs. The DBs would move around, do different things, and obviously, we had a great d-line in front of us to support us and help us.

“I got excited when I heard about [what] we’re installing and what we’re doing. I like just moving and making plays. It’s a challenge, though, at the same time, but it’s definitely going to benefit us.”

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Emulating the Patriot Way

The interesting revelation of the week was that Fitzpatrick and his secondary cohorts have been watching a lot of video of the Patriots’ secondary.

That is helping escalate the learning process, though he said they aren’t going so far as to try to emulate the play of specific New England DBs.

“Some of the stuff, yeah, and then obviously we have to put our own little wrinkles on stuff. They show us a lot of Patriots stuff in film,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think we have a little bit of different type of personnel than the Patriots – just body-type-wise and skillset-wise – I think it’s a little bit different.”

That will likely become readily apparent.

Meanwhile, don’t expect to learn a lot about schemes in Thursday’s exhibition opener against the Falcons or throughout the preseason. This month will be mostly about evaluating players.

Likewise, don’t make much of the initial Dolphins depth chart that lists Fitzpatrick as a second-team safety.

Last season Fitzpatrick played more snaps than any Dolphins defensive back and the second-most on the defense. He will be vital to any success they have stopping opponents this year.

Just don’t try to pinpoint where he’ll be found in the scheme.

Minkah embraces multiple roles

If there was a position known as here, there and anywhere, Fitzpatrick would be at the forefront. And he will be.

As a rookie, Fitzpatrick played various roles in the secondary, including safety, nickel cornerback and boundary corner.

Flores’ defense involves even more use of players in different spots to confuse offenses.

Early in training camp, Fitzpatrick was frequently seen playing slot corner in the nickel package. This week, with veteran safety Reshad Jones nursing a foot injury, he has been roaming the middle of the secondary alongside Bobby McCain.

McCain, mainly a cornerback in his previous four seasons with the Dolphins, embraced the switch to being the center fielder of the defense. He is currently listed as a starter at safety.

Fitzpatrick and McCain expressed a comfort level with playing side by side in the middle. It may continue for awhile. Flores couldn’t definitively say whether Jones will be ready when the regular season begins.

Curiously, early in camp, in base defense that had only four defensive backs on the field, Fitzpatrick was often on the sideline.

That raised some eyebrows, and Flores was asked about whether to expect seeing Minkah playing virtually every down.

“I think if he shows us that he can play on every down, play in different spots, tackle, play the deep part of the field and cover, the guy is deserving of playing every snap. That’s up to him,” Flores said.

Challenge accepted

I take that as Flores challenging a player, as he has shown he likes to do.

This is training camp, and the emphasis is on trying out different combinations of players. It’s a safe bet that when games count, Flores is going to want his most versatile defender on the field.

It could be here, there or anywhere.

As for Thursday, don’t look for anything too sophisticated. Here is what Flores said about the objectives for the exhibition opener:

“The plan offensively is obviously not to go backwards, keep the ball moving forward,” he said. “I think that’s a simple thing; but all too often, you see false starts and holding penalties, so let’s move the ball forward. Defensively, let’s tackle well, defend the deep part of the field, do a good job communicating. In the kicking game, it’s ball security.”

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

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