The New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins meet twice a year, so both teams experience the other’s personnel changes on a rather immediate level. And there has been quite a bit of those since the two last met during Week 17 of the 2019 regular season. With the two division rivals set to go against each other again on Sunday, let’s take a look at just how different the Patriots and Dolphins both look heading into this contest.
No more Tom Brady, duh
For the past two decades, Tom Brady was the engine that powered the Patriots’ offensive machine. With him now gone and replaced by Cam Newton, nobody knows what to expect from Josh McDaniels’ unit heading into the 2020 campaign. The Dolphins, for better or worse, will be the first team to find out what a Newton-led New England offense looks like — and one that may have to draw up a defense on the fly with no film whatsoever available.
Changes up front for both teams
Over the last eight months, both the Patriots and the Dolphins have experienced some serious changes along their offensive line. The starting units from that Week 17 game is a clear illustration of this:
- Patriots: LT Isaiah Wynn — LG Joe Thuney — C Ted Karras — RG Shaq Mason — RT Marcus Cannon
- Dolphins: LT Julién Davenport — LG Michael Deiter — C Daniel Kilgore — RG Shaq Calhoun — Jesse Davis
While the Patriots will get David Andrews back to resume his role as their starting center, the team will have to find a way to replace Marcus Cannon at right tackle. Jermaine Eluemunor has been the top option in training camp, and is therefore projected to take over for the veteran who opted out of the 2020 season earlier this summer.
Miami, meanwhile, might see some changes at four of the five starting positions up front: rookies Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley might start at left tackle and right guard, respectively, while Ereck Flowers projects to be the top choice at left guard. Fellow offseason addition and 2019 Patriots starting center Ted Karras is the top candidate to start at center. Only right tackle Jesse Davis stays in place compared to last year.
The great linebacker migration of 2020 strikes
New England’s linebacker corps was one of the best in football in 2019, but it will look drastically different after an offseason of change. Gone are Dont’a Hightower (opt-out), Kyle Van Noy (free agency), Jamie Collins (free agency) and Elandon Roberts (free agency), with Ja’Whaun Bentley the only member of last year’s off-the-ball crew to stay in place. Meanwhile, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Cassh Maluia were added via the draft to help replace the departed veterans.
Miami picked up two of the Patriots’ former linebackers: Van Noy and Roberts will wear the aqua and white this year. They are not the only linebackers to be brought aboard by the team this year, though, as the Dolphins also invested in edge defender Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah as well as inside linebacker (and ex-Patriot) Kamu Grugier-Hill. Needless to say that the team’s linebacker corps will look quite different compared to last year’s — one that included former New England practice squad defenders Calvin Munson and Trent Harris.
New secondary looks
While the Patriots are entering the 2020 season still fielding arguably the most talented defensive backfield in the NFL, it did experience some changes compared to last year and the game against Miami: gone are Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, who played 68 and 46 of the contest’s 68 defensive snaps last year. Offseason acquisitions Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips are projected to help replace their contributions.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, invested considerable resources in improving their own secondary. After signing former first-round draft pick Byron Jones and Clayton Fejedelem in free agency, the team also spent the 30th and 70th picks in the draft on defensive backs: with the first-rounder, Miami selected Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene; the third-rounder was used to bring Texas safety Brandon Jones on board. All four men could see considerable snaps on Sunday, even though Jones was limited during Wednesday’s practice.
Offensive skill position turnover
Be it because of injury or inconsistency, the Patriots’ offensive supporting cast struggled in 2019 and the Week 17 game against Miami was no exception. Fast forward to today, however, and you find that three of the top four skill position players that day are no longer on the team: wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was released last week, tight end Benjamin Watson retired, and fellow tight end Matt LaCosse opted out.
While it remains to be seen how Sanu will be replaced — his playing time share could go to second-year man N’Keal Harry, for example — the tight end spots will be filled by rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene as well as third-year man Ryan Izzo.
The Dolphins altered their running back position, in the meantime. Gone are the days of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick being the team’s most dangerous runner, especially due to the addition of Jordan Howard via free agency. Miami also will have Matt Breida and Myles Gaskin available as part of its rotation.
Don’t forget the coaching staffs
While the players get most of the attention, the men on the sidelines cannot be disregarded either — and both teams saw some big changes in this area.
The Patriots will no longer have the services of long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, wide receivers/special teams coach Joe Judge and defensive line coach Bret Bielema available. The three men have been replaced, in that order, by O-line coaching duo Carmen Bricillo and Cole Popovich, Mick Lombardi (wide receivers) and Cam Achord (special teams), and DeMarcus Covington. New quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch was also added, as was safeties coach and former coaching assistant Brian Belichick.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, parted ways with offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea after the 2019 season to replace him with veteran coach Chan Gailey. The team also hired a new coaches to work with quarterbacks (Robby Brown), wide receivers (Josh Grizzard) and the offensive line (Steve Marshall).
Miami also replaced defensive coordinator Patrick Graham with Josh Boyer — both former Patriots — and has hired new linebackers coaches (Anthony Campanile and Austin Clark) and a new defensive backs coach (Gerald Alexander).