Dolphins put on pads again. What that means for key veterans, some top picks, and the QBs

It’s going to feel a little like a homecoming.

How else to feel about watching the Miami Dolphins practice on Monday? How else to feel about watching football for the first time in 231 days? That’s how long it has been, you know.

The Dolphins took off their pads and helmets on the afternoon of December 29, 2019, after beating the New England Patriots, 27-24 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. On Monday they will put on those pads and helmets for the first time since that game, as they continue preparations for their season opener against the New England Patriots at Foxboro.

The Dolphins have less than a month to get ready for that regular-season opener.

So do the Patriots, obviously.

But as you’re concerned with the locals, let me share some facts:

Former Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard is expected to miss the first day of padded practice. He has been on the Covid-19 reserve list since Aug. 11 and on the physically unable to perform list before that. He has not participated in the team’s acclimation period.

So even if he is removed from the Covid list and then doesn’t go back on the PUP list, he’s not ready to practice. He’s going to have to go through something of an acclimation period when he returns.

So don’t expect him today.

Guard Ereck Flowers, who spent nearly two weeks from Aug. 2 until Aug. 15 on the Covid-19 list, is uncertain as of this writing to practice Monday in pads. Although he has been cleared off the Covid list, team trainers have to be certain he is in condition to go through Monday’s 90-minute session in pads after being quarantined away from the team for 13 days.

It’s important to get Flowers in shape and in pads and on the field because the Miami offensive line is a major question mark, and he’s penciled in as the starting left guard.

Update: A decision to let Flowers practice, at least limited, was made Monday morning.

While we’re on the subject of that offensive line, think of rookie Robert Hunt, selected in the second round as either a right tackle or guard, as a tackle for the time being. That’s where the Dolphins want him to play, ultimately.

And that’s been where he has been getting a lot of work so far.

With the pads on, coaches will be able to understand somewhat quickly if Hunt can handle the tackle spot full-time and to what degree — as in, like a starter or backup.

That will impact what coaches do with veteran Jesse Davis, who has been working all around the offensive line during the early part of camp despite being the starting right tackle last season.

I cannot believe this is the first post of the first padded practice and I still haven’t mentioned the Dolphins quarterbacks. Allow me to correct that:

Firstly, rookie Tua Tagovailoa will practice in pads ‘like most of the other players,” said coach Brian Flores. Flores repeated that Tagovailoa is ‘fully healthy” but added the team will make decisions on his status on a day-to-day basis.

As you should know, the Dolphins have a quarterback competition going on among veteran incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick, rookie first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa and veteran backup Josh Rosen. If you have been reading this space, you also know Fitzpatrick has been taking most of the first-team drills in OTAs and walk-throughs.

The question beginning today is how that is all shared? And how everyone looks?

Look, it’s easy to be a franchise quarterback against air. It’s easy to complete passes to receivers running free with no pass rush chasing and no offensive linemen backing up into your throwing motion if they get beaten.

Next phase is look good under some minimal pressure — and it is minimal because Dolphins QBs wear a red jersey which means they are untouchable.

Next phase is also find alleys to throw the football over the behemoths up front without getting the pass batted. That means move in the pocket. Have pocket awareness.

Measuring that ability begins today.

You know the Dolphins already missed all of the offseason and the conditioning and usual camps that happen during normal offseasons when the world isn’t upside down. The Dolphins last week also missed the previously scheduled dual practices with the Atlanta Falcons and their preseason game in Atlanta with that team.

There won’t be a makeup.

No matter, because everyone is in the same situation.

The regular season opener is Sept. 13.

Let’s go!