The Miami Dolphins cranked up the heat on their third day of training camp with the first of 11 scheduled practices in full pads. Braving temperatures that often approached 95 degrees, the added padding not only meant that players would be taking bigger hits from each other, but also the unforgiving Florida sun.
"I don’t know how some of (the other guys) don’t sweat through their colors," defensive tackle Jared Odrick said while looking as if he had just weathered a rain storm rather than a practice. "It’s amazing to me. I sweat through everything."
There was good reason for Odrick’s perspiration, however, as the Dolphins’ mobile defensive front manhandled the team’s revamped offensive line for the majority of Sunday morning at Doctors Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University.
Unencumbered by the added padding, three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake had an easy time getting around 2014 first-round pick Ja’Wuan James and even managed to sack quarterback Ryan Tannehill during 11-on-11 drills.
"This is the first time I’ve put pads on since I was in college, but I enjoy hitting," James said. "It was fun to finally get out here and hit, not just touching. I’m looking forward to the next couple of practices now that we’re comfortable with it, like you said, in this heat."
Down the line, newly acquired left tackle Branden Albert, a Pro Bowler last season with Kansas City, had his hands full with last year’s sack leader, Olivier Vernon, and 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan. Jordan, who will miss the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s PED policy, was even able to intercept an arrant pass from Tannehill at the line of scrimmage — a feat he never accomplished in his four years at the University of Oregon.
After fighting a losing battle in the trenches for the better part of the team’s 2 1/2 hour practice, Albert complimented the Dolphins’ formidable defensive line and noted that the addition of pads brought the team one step closer to "real football."
"We’ve got a pretty (darn) good defensive line, one of the best I’ve seen across the board," Albert said. "It’s a good battle every day and we’re going to get better on both sides of the ball. That felt good because that’s real football and this is going to be a day-by-day, meeting-by-meeting, walk through-by-through and practice-by-practice. Each and every segment we spend together we have to get better."
With many players donning pads for the first time since the end of last season, head coach Joe Philbin’s goal on Sunday was to reinforce basic principals such as proper technique and positioning.
"We talked to the team in general about playing with leverage," Philbin said. "This is the first time they’ve had pads on in a long time so we talked to them about getting their eyes on their aiming point and playing with a low pad level. That was really the number one thing that we stressed, and the second thing was playing with their elbows and their hands inside the framework."
While the effect of added padding was most visible among linemen, veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who the Dolphins signed this offseason to a two-year deal, was happy with the team’s full-padded performance, but could have done without the heat.
"It was a hot day, but it was one that we grind through," Finnegan said, having already removed his sweat-soaked pads. "We just got to keep working."
After an off day tomorrow, the team will have another practice in full pads on Tuesday before mixing in shells, helmets only and "uppers" practices for the remainder of training camp.
"We want to do a good job dispersing the amount of full pads and mixing the shells in there," Philbin said. "This is an earlier time for a day off. Last year we didn’t give them a day off until after the fourth practice, but looking at the injury history that we had the last couple of years when we went four in a row and then a day off, we felt like this would hopefully give us a better chance to keep the players healthy. We’ll take a look at them and analyze that. But that’s why we’re having the day off a day earlier."