DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins need tight end Anthony Fasano on the field more, and if that’s at the expense of tight end Julius Thomas, so be it.
The Dolphins need more of Fasano because he is a physical, aggressive, brawling, blocking tone-setter.
The Dolphins need more of Fasano because when he’s on the field, there are essential positives for quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Jay Ajayi, the two most important players on the Dolphins offense right now, because neither has gotten going.
With Fasano on the field, Cutler is more likely to have an extra second or two to find Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker or Kenny Stills.
With Fasano on the field, Ajayi is far, far more likely to find a glimmer of light in a crease when what he’s mostly experienced in the first three weeks are small, dark spaces.
Fasano is 33 years old, in the admitted twilight of his career.
But when you watch him play, what you see is a relentless to dominate the man before him.
Thomas is 29 years old, but at times he appears to move like an older man.
There is a reason the Jaguars were willing to trade Thomas to Miami for a seventh-round pick, and so this is not to suggest that Miami has somehow sacrificed much in exchange for disappointment.
Due largely to a series of injuries, Thomas just doesn’t appear to be the explosive, dynamic athlete he once was in Denver, when Peyton Manning was his quarterback and Adam Gase was his coordinator.
This is a different Thomas.
It was evident in organized team activities and mini-camps and training camp and the preseason.
We kept waiting and waiting and waiting for Thomas to break out. And it just never happened.
It might very well never happen for Thomas, as much as his advocate and supporter, Gase, wants it to.
Perhaps there will be a few matchup advantages that Gase has envisioned, or that often worked in Denver, that will pay dividends before the season is through. But right now, it seems Thomas is not a matchup advantage at all.
Consider last week, when Cutler threw a fade into the end zone for Thomas, who was matched up with a much smaller player. Not a great throw by Cutler. Not even good.
But it didn’t seem that Thomas made a great play for the ball. And everyone was left wondering if a fade to Thomas was the best course of action in that moment, anyway.
Gase says Thomas has improved as a blocker since his days in Denver.
And I trust that that it true.
But Thomas still seems to be below-average.
Consider two moments from the embarrassing shutout loss to New Orleans.
On a first-and-1o at Miami’s 40, Thomas had a false start, in anticipation of blocking Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan.
Later, on a 3rd-and-1 at Miami’s 34, the man Thomas was attempting to block made the tackle on Ajayi.
While all agree Ajayi should have cut inside, in general, Thomas is just sometimes overpowered.
And I’ve seen Thomas work really, really hard on this craft before and after practice. So it is not a lack of effort. It is not a lack of desire.
Thomas wants to do it well. But, honestly, he was at his best as a vertical threat, a converted hoopster in the mold of Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates.
But it seems his prime has passed.
According to Pro Football Focus, this is the fifth consecutive season in which Thomas’ overall grade has decreased — 82.5, 79.8, 60.4, 58.5 and this season, 42.8, which ranks 58th among NFL tight ends.
Thomas isn’t getting separation to the extent that Cutler regularly glances his direction. Thomas really hasn’t seemed to get great separation since his arrival.
And at times, he seems tentative. And at times, his hands haven’t seemed particularly reliable.
Fasano is not the split-the-seams, vertical threat that would ideally fit into this Gase offense.
But he’s actually much quicker, a much better route runner and much better receiver than one would imagine. Fasano has only eight catches in his last 19 games, including 16 games with the Titans (Sunday’s opponent) last season.
But Fasano was a legitimate receiving threat in his first stint with Miami, averaging 33 catches and five touchdowns over five seasons, between 2008-2012.
In the locker room on Thursday, I asked Fasano if he could recall all the Dolphins quarterbacks he’s caught a pass from in his career.
“Chad Pennington… Chad Henne… Matt Moore… Ryan Tannehill… Is David Garrard in there?… Ronnie Brown count?” Fasano said.
“I think you forgot two,” I replied. “Tyler Thigpen… and Jay Cutler.”
“No,” Fasano said. ” I haven’t caught a pass from Jay.”
Fasano, in fact, does not have a catch over his first three games back in Miami.
But that should change.
“(Anthony) surprised me with how good of a receiver he is,” Gase said this week. “I really enjoy being around him because he’s the ultimate pro. He’s constantly trying to perfect his craft.”
When the Dolphins got rolling last season, I noticed former Miami tight end Dion Sims and current third-stringer MarQueis Gray were often involved in devastating blocks that helped spring long Ajayi runs.
Fasano was the best blocking tight end in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus.
Sims, like Fasano, wore number 80.
Fasano also uses Sims’ old locker, first on the left as you enter the locker room from the practice field.
I raised Sims and Gray to Gase this week.
“We haven’t been good enough,” Gase conceded of 2017 tight end blocking. “I know we can get better with that we’re doing. One of the main reasons that we really liked bringing in Anthony is because we felt liked that gave us an advantage in that area.”
Fasano believes he’ll be even better, but he’s been adjusting to a zone running scheme, which is a bit different than his previous offensive schemes.
But he is far and away Miami’s best blocking tight end. And the team needs that now.
There will times when Fasano and Thomas are both on the field together. The key here is that if Fasano’s repetitions increase, it figures to help the overall success of the team.
And perhaps we’re on to something, because while Thomas’ snaps have decreased from 65 to 37 and 39 the past two weeks, Fasano’s have gone from 16 to 29 and 18.
In 141 snaps, Thomas has only 8 catches on 12 targets for 71 yards.
Fasano can play a big role in re-establishing a brand of physical, smash-mouth football that was central in Miami’s turnaround from 1-4 to the playoffs last season.
More Fasano. Starting Sunday, against a tough, physical Titans defensive line.
More Fasano. Starting Fasano would be ideal, but as we know, who starts if far less important than who plays the most.
Right now, at tight end? It should be Fasano.