Miami Dolphins veterans good with helping players who could eventually replace them

·5 min read

Imagine if you worked as a computer engineer and there was a young prodigy, fresh out of Dartmouth, working in your department eager to take your job.

And imagine if your boss expected you to teach the new employee everything you knew, to make him better equipped to take your job, leaving you with a lesser job or potentially unemployed.

That’s the type of thing expected from seasoned players in pro sports, and the Dolphins have done a good job finding selfless, team-first veterans who don’t resent mentoring their potential replacements.

That dynamic was happening with Jason McCourty and second-round rookie Jevon Holland at safety before McCourty sustained a long-term foot injury Sunday against Atlanta.

It’s happened with Jesse Davis and second-round rookie Liam Eichenberg at tackle, before the Dolphins shifted Eichenberg from right tackle to left tackle.

It’s happening with three veteran tight ends and rookie Hunter Long.

The rookies spoke in recent weeks about how they appreciate the mentorship from older teammates at their positions.

And the veterans explained why they do it, even if it might work against their own self-preservation.

“It’s not hard,” McCourty said, aware of the inevitability of Holland supplanting him as the starting free safety at some point. “I would say [it’s not difficult to mentor younger potential replacements] because I can remember the specific guys my rookie year that poured into me. Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope, Vinny Fuller, so many guys took the time to pour into me. They were all defensive backs and we were all competing.

“As an older player, you realize that no matter if you want to help a guy or not, that’s the natural progression. A young player that can play ball, and knows what he is doing, he’s going to find his way on the field.”

Holland at times this season has taken more snaps away from Rowe than McCourty, though it’s McCourty that he’s essentially replacing. Holland played every defensive snap against Atlanta, a pattern that likely will continue with McCourty out. Coaches say he has played well.

“I think what makes it easy is the type of player and the type of person Jevon is,” McCourty said. “He’s very serious about his job. He puts in a ton of work, not just physically, but mentally making sure he knows what to do.”

McCourty has nicknamed Holland “Old Canada,” a reference to the rookie growing up in British Columbia.

Holland said he appreciates that McCourty and Rowe “are really giving me the little pieces and make sure that I’m taking care of my body, make sure that I’m communicating with the coaches and asking them questions.”

The Davis/Eichenberg situation is somewhat different because both are starters. Unlike McCourty, Davis isn’t on the back end of his career.

And for now, the Dolphins have found a way to play both, with Davis moving to right tackle in Week 3 against Las Vegas, Eichenberg joining the starting lineup at left tackle and Austin Jackson moving from tackle to guard. That shifting of Jackson to guard essentially preserved Davis’ starting job.

Throughout training camp, after Eichenberg took reps, he often went to the sideline to consult with Davis.

“He tells me what he sees and I tell him what I see, what we can improve on and what we can do better,” Davis said. “He’s my eyes and I’m his. [I help with his] hand placement, footwork and that kind of stuff. It’s been fun.”

Does Davis ever think to himself “this guy is competition” or does he believe the right thing to do is to tell him everything he knows?

“Yeah, I think with that in mind, I know that he’s here for a reason,” Davis said. “I’m here for a reason, too. If he’s better than me, he’s better than me and I want to help him grow as well.”

PFF ranks Davis 67th and Eichenberg 72nd of 78 offensive tackles this season, but the Dolphins yielded only one sack last week and did good work in run blocking.

The Long dynamic is interesting because if he impresses management and coaches this season, it could make the Dolphins inclined to keep either Mike Gesicki or Durham Smythe, as opposed to both. Gesicki and Smythe are eligible to be unrestricted free agents in March.

“They’ve all helped,” Long said of Gesicki, Smythe and Adam Shaheen.

“I’ve asked them all questions and tried to pick their brain as much I can. They’ve all been great since I’ve gotten here and are fantastic older guys.”

And Gesicki said he’s more than happy to help.

“I came in here four years ago as a second-round pick, and I was looking for that guidance and help and somebody to help me out,” Gesicki said, noting tight ends MarQueis Grey and A.J. Derby and receiver Danny Amendola helped him as a rookie.

“So,” Gesicki added, “I know exactly the shoes that Hunter is in right now, and anything I can do to help him, I’m willing to do it. We — me and Durham [Smythe] — we even went out to dinner with him” several weeks ago.

“[We] hang out and just help with football. It’s not the competition that people would think like, ‘oh man, I’m not telling him this because I don’t want…’ No. We want everybody to succeed in our room.”

Because of the team’s veteran depth at the position, Long has played only 29 offensive snaps and five special teams snaps all season. So even though some evaluators have been effusive about his potential — former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli has called him a future Pro Bowler — the Dolphins can’t totally be sure what they have.

Here’s my Thursday Dolphins notebook with lots of nuggets.

Here’s part 1 of my 3-part in-depth look at the Marlins farm system, with feedback from a team executive.

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