The Miami Dolphins have gotten off to an impressive, and surprising to some, 3-0 start. That being said they are still looking for some breakout performances, especially from their young and highly drafted players. Here are three from that group in a position to step up on Sunday against the Patriots.
Through the first three weeks, rookie tight end Mike Gesicki has gained experience on the big stage. However he has yet to make an impact on the stat sheet or score board. It was a slow day against Tennessee in his NFL debut for the Dolphin’s rookie tight end. Gesicki came down with only one catch for 11 yards. He earned sporatic playing time against Tennessee only appearing in 34 percent of the snaps in the opening week.
Those percentages have steadily increased in the subsequent weeks as he’s now playing around 58 percent of the snaps since Week Two. Against the Raiders he came down with all three of his targets for 31 yards, a nice 10.3 YPC average. So far, Gesicki has shown that he can gain a chunk of yardage when targeted. If Gase could put Gesicki in the mix more, he has a good chance at making a big impact.
With the injury to A.J. Derby making his status in doubt (he has been absent from practice this week), this makes it even more probable to see an increase in targets for the young tight end from Penn State.
What has Mike Gesicki learned during his first 3 games with the Dolphins? https://t.co/cHKCsvnsIa
— Antwan V. Staley (@antwanstaley) September 26, 2018
The Patriots’ pass defense is suspect, ranking 28th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. They do have some solid players in the secondary and could give the Miami receivers trouble at time, but that could also open up a few more targets for Gesicki. Miami should have no trouble moving the ball on the ground or in the air.
New England is a “bend, don’t break” style defense. The return of Patrick Chung should give them a veteran boost. If the Dolphins have a chance to strike in the red-zone, this could be the week Gesicki gets his first NFL score. That would be great considering the tight end on the opposing sideline, you know Gesicki wants to show out in this one.
On the defensive side of the field for Miami, injuries are beginning to haunt Gase. Last week, William Hayes and Andre Branch both went down. Hayes is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL. Andre Branch is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with a knee injury. So with these two big blows to the defense, who is next man up?
Charles Harris is one possible player who could get more playing time with injuries on the defensive line starting to take their toll. Charles Harris was drafted in the first round of the 2017 draft out of the University of Missouri. Charles Harris has been mostly invisible so far in his NFL career. In two games this season, Harris has four combined tackles with four assists. In his two professional seasons, Harris has 23 combined tackles with eight assists and 2.0 sacks. This could be a huge opportunity for Harris with the depth issues on the defensive line.
Miami is hopeful that they can generate a pass rush while only rushing four and dropping seven in coverage. This means a lot of run for Harris who will likely be one of the first defensive ends rotated in. An effective pass rush will also be a great benefit to the next player on our list.
The young linebacker from Ohio State has the opportunity to make a real contribution in this particular matchup. We all know who Tom Brady’s favorite target is, and expect Gronk to earn a heavy workload all day. McMillan and his Buckeye running mate Jerome Baker must be solid in coverage and acutely aware for the entire game. Now in his fourth meaningful game, his conditioning should be coming into form.
After McMillan missed his rookie year when he tore his ACL in the first preseason game of 2017, he had a full year to learn the NFL lifestyle and get acclimated to a professional locker room. Now that Raekwon is back, he’s put up thirteen combined tackles with 5 assists. Not a bad start to his redshirt year.
The Patriots are going to look for favorable matchups, as they always do. If McMillan and company can at least keep Gronk somewhat in check, it could bode well for the overall defense. As mentioned Miami will look to drop numbers into coverage, there cannot be the soft spots in the middle of the field this week.
With the Patriots not getting a lot of looks at these young players, they could all play a huge role in Sunday’s game. The Patriots just took a loss on the road, hopefully the Dolphins can give them a loss at Gillette Stadium.