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Omar Kelly: Dolphins must alter training camp approach because of mature roster

Omar Kelly, Miami Herald on

Published in Football

MIAMI — There was an era in Miami Dolphins history not too long ago (2019 and 2020) where the team openly bragged about having one of the youngest rosters in the NFL.

It was during the rebuilding years — remember “Tank for Tua?” — that coincided with the Brian Flores era, and the youth movement was used to justify the team’s growing pains.

Heading into the start of training camp, which opens July 24 with the team’s first practice, the 2024 Dolphins have seemingly gone the opposite direction, building one of the NFL’s oldest rosters, and this isn’t new.

In fact, Miami was the oldest team in the NFL playoffs last year with an average age of 27 years, five months and 14 days. And this offseason Miami added six veterans — Odell Beckham Jr., Calais Campbell, Jordan Poyer, Marcus Maye, Shaquil Barrett and Siran Neal — in their 30s, bringing the 30-and-over club to 12 veterans, all of whom are expected to make the 53-man roster.

Plenty of these aged players were added because of Miami’s cap constraints this offseason, which forced the Dolphins to target players who were willing to accept one-year deals that were cost conscious.

However, that doesn’t mean these mature vets aren’t talented, or motivated.

“I still got a lot to prove. Especially [after[ getting cut from another team. That adds another whole fuel to the fire right there,” said Barrett, a 10-year veteran whom the Dolphins hope can fill in as a starting edge rusher until Jaelan Phillips (Achilles) and Bradley Chubb (ACL) are medically cleared to practice and play. “The Dolphins are going to be happy they signed me. Tampa is going to be mad they let me go.”

But how much can Barrett and his fellow 30-years-old’s actually go? How many snaps can they handle in 2024?

Dolphins must finish season healthy

One of the biggest questions the Dolphins must address this season centers on how will this team perform better in December and January games, which has been when the season has unraveled on coach Mike McDaniel’s teams the past two years?

The Dolphins instituted a load management program last season, shelving the 30-and-over players for at least one practice per week, and were extra cautious with players returning from injuries.

Expect the volume on this approach to be turned up a decibel or two in 2024 because team sources claim McDaniel is a big believer in analytics and sports science, and those two are very clear that rest for the mature leads to better results.

Raheem Mostert’s Pro Bowl season in 2023, a year where the 32-year-old rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, and set a franchise record for touchdowns (21), is a perfect example of this.

 

Most weeks Mostert was held out of Wednesday’s practice, despite his protests as did other 30-year-olds who were prevented from practicing. However, in hindsight, many admit that approach worked.

“Regardless of any type of program, whether it be Wednesday [off] — if I like it or not — I just have to do what’s best for the team and that means preserving myself, which I know [is important] given my age,” said Mostert, who became the first NFL player in his 30s to rush for 1,000-plus yards since Adrian Peterson in 2018.

That’s why nobody should be surprised if Mostert has a light training camp and exhibition season workload. And it’s unlikely that he will be alone in the Century Village program.

Expect the mature to be paced

Part of the reason Miami drafted offensive lineman Patrick Paul in the second round was because left tackle Terron Armstead has annually worked on the side during the early stages of training camp, and skipped all of the exhibition season to preserve his body.

The goal is to ensure that Armstead, who turns 33 later this month, plays in every regular-season game for the first time in his 12-year career.

“The only thing I can do is control what I can control,” Armstead said when addressing his durability concerns, which flared up last season because of a foot injury he sustained in a joint practice with the Houston Texans during the exhibition season, and a knee injury he sustained in October when he had a knee rolled up on in a loss to Buffalo. “All the things that I’ve mentioned, nutrition, mobility, flexibility, strengthening [work]. Everything science tells you [to do], I’m putting my best foot forward.”

Tyreek Hill, who turned 30 in March, will likely become the newest full-time member of the Wednesday-off club, which he formally entered late last season when was playing through a high ankle sprain late last season. The goal is to ensure Hill isn’t on fumes, or fighting an injury, in the season’s final month like he has been the past two years.

Beckham, 31, sat out the Dolphins’ entire offseason program and will make his on-field debut during training camp, we hope. He has battled injuries the second half of his 10-year career and Miami’s taking a cautious approach to his workload.

Campbell will turn 38 on September 1, days before Miami’s Sept. 9 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It wouldn’t be surprising if this 16-year veteran, who played 852 snaps last season as a starter for the Atlanta Falcons, sat out all three preseason games and was preserved for the games that mattered.

“He’s understanding of the problems we had last year whether it be health or just not doing the correct things that we needed to do,” Mostert said of McDaniel. “We just are going to go out here and try to figure it out. He’s on the up and up.”

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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