Waddle’s revelation about what Hill has done for him. And Dolphins injury, personnel news

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com
·6 min read

A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Thursday:

The most exciting part of this Dolphins start beyond Tua Tagovailoa’s epic game on Sunday?

Imagining the possibilities of this Tyreek Hill/Jaylen Waddle receiver tandem.

Hill is first in the league in receiving yards with 284, Waddle third at 240. (Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs is second with 270.)

It’s a small sample size, but Waddle has seemingly taken a step from very good NFL receiver to an elite one, or is well on his way to that.

So has Hill, his friend and teammate, pushed Waddle to be even better?

“Just having a guy like that playing alongside him, you’ve just got to up your game,” Waddle said. “Seeing him go out there and make plays. How he approaches the game. You have no choice but to improve.”

Waddle has 15 receptions, and his 16.0 average tops his 9.8 average of a year ago. (Yes, it’s a small sample size.)

Hill drawing double coverage is naturally going to help Waddle.

How do they complement each other?

“You have got to respect Cheetah, as dominant as he is,” Waddle said. “Defenses have got to respect him. He opens up a lot, not just for me, but for other guys, tight ends, running game. You always have to be accountable for a guy like that.”

Dolphins receiver River Cracraft put it this way:

“They are similar athletes with their speed, but they’re unique in their own way. Jay has got that explosive quick twitch. Obviously you would say the same thing about Tyreek... They’re different receivers. Having them both out there, the threat is so high.

“It’s like you can get it from any angle and from either guy and if they’re on the same side, how are you supposed to play that? To me, it would be really tough as a defense.”

Both the Bills and Dolphins have well-regarded cornerbacks on the physically unable to perform list: Byron Jones for the Dolphins and Tre’Davious White for Buffalo. Both are out Sunday.

Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who missed practice Wednesday with a groin injury, was asked if he’s ready to go Sunday after practicing today: “Yeah, I feel good,” he said. Cornerbacks coach Sam Madison said he’s not concerned about Howard’s availability.

Howard, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis (knee) and receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. (ribs) were limited in Thursday’s practice.

Tight ends Hunter Long (ankle) and Cethan Carter (concussion) remained sidelined Thursday, as did left tackle Terron Armstead (toe).

But it would be surprising if Armstead missed the Bills game; offensive line coach Matt Applebaum said he was “pretty confident” that Armstead would play last Sunday with the same toe injury.

The Bills have several significant injuries.

Starting safeties Micah Hyde (neck) and Jordan Poyer (foot) didn’t practice Thursday. Cornerback Dane Jackson (neck) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (hamstring) also didn’t practice.

Starting receiver Gabe Davis (ankle) said he’s “100 percent” optimistic about playing Sunday.

Jaelan Phillips has no sacks so far this season, but he has graded out well against the run (an area he emphasized) and had a strong 31 percent pass rush win rate on Sunday against Baltimore, per ESPN’s Seth Walder.

Phillips always has admired Bills Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller and plans to go to his pass rush camp next offseason.

He’s close with Bills and former UM defensive end Greg Rousseau (who has two sacks this season), but they never make any bets with each other and don’t talk the week before the teams play.

The Dolphins had only two sacks in the two games against the Bills last season. Besides studying tape of the Bills’ first two games this season (lopsided wins against the Rams and Titans), Phillips said the Dolphins are watching those two 2021 games: “They are going to repeat certain plays that worked well against us in the past but they’re also going to have new things.”

Nik Needham said Dolphins coaches didn’t immediately explain to him why he was essentially benched at halftime against Baltimore and replaced by Kader Kohou, but he’s fine with that.

“It wasn’t surprising,” he said of playing only three defensive snaps in the second half.

Coaches eventually told him it was a “matchup” issue and Needham didn’t quibble: “Coaches know what they’re doing.”

Needham isn’t pleased with how he’s playing.

“I need to do a little bit better and be more consistent in my technique,” he said. “That’s what’s lacking.”

He has been asked to play a lot on the boundary in the absence of injured Byron Jones. He played primarily in the slot last season.

“Just getting back used to the outside world and corner island [is an adjustment],” he said. “I’ve been in the slot for a couple years. Now just getting back used to that [boundary] role and getting more comfortable out there. I think I can play way better than I have the last couple weeks and I plan on doing that this week.”

Though Liam Eichenberg’s Pro Football Focus grades aren’t great, he hasn’t given up a sack in two weeks and played well on Sunday in his second regular-season game at left guard.

Eichenberg said it’s too early to know his best position but “I do enjoy playing guard. I enjoy it a lot. I’m focused on improving at that position. I’ve loved it so far. I think it will be a good fit for me.”

He said new offensive line coach Matt Applebaum “does a great job of communicating and explaining and pushing us to improve on our technique.”

And Eichenberg said it’s helping that offensive coordinator Frank Smith has offensive line coaching experience.

“When you have guys who have coached the offensive line and understand and are on the same page, it generates a better communication,” Eichenberg said. “Frank understands it from the offensive line position; it’s just not understanding it from the quarterback or running back position. He understands everything that goes into making that play work. It’s extremely beneficial having an offensive coordinator that was an o-line coach.”

Players really like how the line is being coached. “These guys are great; they’re patient and understanding and understand everyone is different,” said Greg Little, who played well at right tackle against Baltimore.

Also key: Armstead has been going above and beyond to help the younger offensive linemen.

“Every vet doesn’t help the way he does,” Little said. “He showed you how to watch film. He’s like another coach.”

Quick stuff: River Cracraft said he retrieved the football he caught for his first NFL touchdown (against Baltimore) and will keep it at home by his bed…

Offensive coordinator Frank Smith had an amusing description on Tua Tagovailoa’s two deep touchdown passes to Hill: “John Harbaugh said [one] was a busted coverage; the other was a situation where [Ravens cornerback] Marcus Peters wasn’t thinking, ‘he’s going to go downtown on me.’ He had a business decision to make. Fortunately, [Hill] was able to run past him.”..

For those without a subscription to Amazon Prime: Channel 39 will televise next Thursday’s Dolphins-Bengals game on free television in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but the game won’t be televised on any broadcast or cable network in Palm Beach County.

Here’s my Thursday piece on six unsung heroes early in this Dolphins season.

Here’s part 1 of my 6-part series on the Miami Marlins’ failed rebuild.