Linebacker Channing Tindall, the Miami Dolphins’ top draft pick from 2022, is coming off a rookie season where he barely saw playing time on defense.
A special teams contributor throughout his first professional campaign, Tindall only saw defensive snaps in three games, for a grand total of nine snaps. He had just three total tackles between defense and special teams.
As disappointing as it was to not get more out of the third-round draft pick out of Georgia, who was Miami’s top selection because the team traded its first- and second-round picks in the previous draft, Tindall feels confident he’s on the right track with a year in the NFL under his belt.
“I’m good where I’m at right now,” Tindall said in an interview near the end of the Dolphins’ season. “I know what it takes now, so I’m going to do everything I need to do.”
Tindall never got a greater opportunity because he had veterans in front of him that rarely missed time due to injury. Fellow inside linebackers Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts didn’t miss a start. Duke Riley played in every game.
According to general manager Chris Grier, Tindall is right where he was expected to be at this point, given those ahead of him on the depth chart.
“We’re excited for his future in terms of developing, which we kind of expected that this year he would be more of a special teams guy,” Grier said during the Dolphins’ season ending news conference.
Tindall, listed at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, feels confident he can be an everyday NFL linebacker who excels in three critical phases of the position — tackling in the box, pass coverage and rushing the passer.
Former Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, who was fired Thursday, said during the season: “He runs well. He’s a physical player. He tackles well. Those are things that obviously we like that he does. We’re encouraged by that.”
While Baker and Roberts each had 100-tackle seasons, as Tindall develops, the Dolphins could certainly use his speed covering running backs out of the backfield and spying on mobile quarterbacks — two areas where Miami linebackers struggled in 2022.
Tindall knows he needs to make sure he’s not using his own speed against himself, letting the game come to him and not over-pursuing ball carriers.
“Sometimes, I tend to move a little too fast,” he said of his own constructive criticism, analyzing his game, “so just reading everything out on what’s exactly happening before trying to make a decision right then and there, right away.”
Advice he has received from linebackers coach Anthony Campanile, who is up for the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator opening, is to use his hands more. That should help him be effective against blocks from big offensive linemen, along with simply using the offseason to tack on muscle.
“I like going downhill, but I don’t always use my hands. Using my hands is something I can work on,” Tindall said. “I’m a little stronger. I do want to get even stronger, though, because these [NFL] linemen are big and fast.”
Outside of his Miami teammates, Tindall looks at other NFL linebackers with a similar build: Tennessee’s Zach Cunningham, Indianapolis’ Darius Leonard and San Francisco’s Fred Warner.
Tindall also had to learn how much more extensive an NFL defensive playbook is from that of his college days, even at a national championship-winning program like Georgia.
“An NFL playbook is definitely very different from a college playbook. It took me a while to grasp it, but I feel like I’m in a good spot now.
“Even to this day, there’s stuff that’s still confusing to me, but I know it. … I’ll say around midseason. That’s when I started picking it up.”
Tindall enjoyed watching his Bulldogs repeat as college national champions in 2022, even as the defense lost five first-round picks from the 2021 title-winning team, plus he and fellow linebacker Nakobe Dean, who were third-round selections.
“I can’t be more proud of them. Them boys got it done,” he said. “Time to go for the three-peat. Make history for real.
“It doesn’t surprise me just because I know what coach [Kirby] Smart, what he coaches and the message he’s giving those boys. It didn’t surprise me at all, because I know the type of work that they put in. I just felt like the work we put in was more than any — like, I don’t know what they do at other colleges, but I just felt like what we did was just more than anybody else.”
While Baker is under contract next season, Roberts and Riley enter free agency, opening up the possibility for greater opportunity for Tindall in 2023. There’s also a potential out for Miami in Baker’s contract over the next two seasons if the organization decides to move on. Linebacker is believed to be a position where the Dolphins could seek an outside upgrade this offseason, but Tindall is confident he can make an impact.