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MIAMI GARDENS — In a dysfunctional season that has been littered with disappointment the only thing left to do is assess what’s salvageable, and double down on it.
That’s why the Miami Dolphins are likely using the second half of this 2-7 season to evaluate what can be used as a building block for the future, and investing in those players like it they were Bitcoin at the start of cryptocurrency movement.
Safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones represent two youngsters with the brightest future on the 2021 team, and their performance in Sunday’s 17-9 win over the Houston Texans (1-8) indicates that the growing pains Miami’s secondary experienced playing them early is beginning to payoff.
Holland and Jones opened and closed the game with big plays. Holland ended Houston’s first drive of the game with an interception in the end zone on a play where Jones hit Houston quarterback Tyrod Taylor on a blitz, forcing him to overthrow a pass intended for Brandon Cook.
Holland was giving a center field look from a cover-three call in Miami’s secondary, and he followed Taylor’s eyes to the right corner of the end zone, where the 2021 second-round pick plucked the ball out the air.
“He is a great quarterback, so all week I’ve been preparing trying to get the next step, and I read my keys and just executed,” said Holland, who finished the game with two tackles, one quarterback hit, one interception and one pass breakup. “Coach [Gerald Alexander] always says when splash plays happen, it’s opportunity meets execution. So that’s what happened.”
The game plan was to be aggressive against Taylor and Houston’s struggling offensive line, applying constant pressure with blitzing. And Miami applied that pressure with blitzing linebackers and safeties, primarily Holland and Jones, who sealed the game late in the fourth quarter when he recovered a fumble Eric Rowe forced.
The strategy seemingly worked considering the Dolphins recorded a season-high five sacks, and Houston committed four turnovers (one fumble lost and three interceptions).
“The Bills game we were bringing a lot of pressure, and that’s what our game plan was basically this game,” Holland said.
Earlier this season the pair of young safeties were hot and cold. They’d make a play here, and there. But would also sprinkle in a busted coverage from time to time, and sometimes those busts would lead to big plays and scores.
But the hope was that the more they played, the more snaps they saw, the better they would perform down the line.
That’s why they’ve eaten into the snaps of veterans like Rowe and Jason McCourty, who is on injured reserve.
The way Holland and Jones have been playing lately, don’t be surprised if the safety rotation comes to an end, and Holland and Jones become full-fledged, every-snap starters for the final eight games, barring injury.
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The Dolphins made Holland the first safety taken in the 2021 NFL draft because of his range, and playmaking ability. He’s finally delivering on the turnovers in games he routinely pulls down in practice.
As for Jones, a 2020 third-round pick who has started six games this season, he’s viewed as one of the team’s best blitzers. But the Dolphins are beginning to put more on his plate.
“I always call him a ball hawk [because] he is always around the ball, and he goes full speed every time,” said defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. “He hits hard for his size. I like his development.”
Miami needs to use the second half of the season to gauge which other youngsters should be viewed as building blocks, and who should be thrown into the pile of pieces that need more work or to be replaced. But for now, based of on what Holland and Jones are delivering, it seems that the pair has the potential to be blue chip players.
“We’ve got a lot of young developing players getting playing time, getting a lot of experience, and I think those two guys are probably two of the hardest working guys we have,” coach Brian Flores said. “It’s nice to see them have some production.”
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