MIAMI GARDENS–A sick feeling permeated the Dolphins’ locker room on New Year’s Day as players cleaned up the clutter from a 6-10 season. It’d been in the back of some of their minds over the previous few weeks when they’d blown key games to squander their shot at the playoffs, and it hit hard knowing there was no longer anything they could do to fight it.
For many veterans, it was a familiar scene. Reshad Jones, a safety who’s been with the organization since 2010 and never appeared in a postseason game, looked around disgustedly.
“I think we’ve got the right guys in this locker room,” he said. “I’m not sure what we need to change but something has to change. I can’t put one finger on it right now.”
Personnel moves are surely coming, but coach Adam Gase’s began his attempt to cure Miami’s mediocrity by overhauling his staff. He’s preparing for the upcoming season with new position coaches at 5 of 8 spots, as well as some other additions, and a retooled power structure.
Several underperforming position groups will have new supervisors when they hit the field for Organized Team Activities this spring: offensive line, running backs, wide receivers, defensive line and defensive backs.
“Sometimes change is good,” safety T.J. McDonald said. “We definitely needed a little change, whether it was through the coaches or whatever it might have been, so if this is the first step they felt like we needed, then we’re all in.”
The biggest shift comes at the top of the Dolphins’ offense, where Gase replaced coordinator Clyde Christensen with Dowell Loggains. That’s more than merely swapping out nameplates on office doors.
Christensen has almost 40 years of experience in coaching and agreed to be Gase’s offensive coordinator knowing that title wouldn’t come with much, if any, authority since the head coach would still be calling plays and managing every detail. He was a vital advisor, but as he put it, “It’s his show, and I’m just dancing in it.”
It won’t be that way with Loggains at all. Gase won’t let go of play calling, of course, but he brought in a 37-year-old peer and is willing to delegate some aspects of the offense.
The offensive line has been a major concern during Gase’s two-year run, and it was a mess last season with the forced resignation of Chris Foerster. The Dolphins brought in Dave DeGuglielmo as an emergency option mid-season, Gase settled on Jeremiah Washburn last month as a permanent solution.
Washburn was the assistant o-line coach in 2016 and left to take the same job in Chicago last season. Miami is keeping Chris Kuper on as his assistant.
It’s likely no new coach faces more critical decisions than Washburn, who comes in without a starting five in place. With right tackle Ja’Wuan James possibly on his way out, Washburn has to figure out where to play guard/tackle Jesse Davis, whether guard Ted Larsen works better on the left or right side and how to get more out of left tackle Laremy Tunsil after a disappointing season.
Gase fired running backs coach Danny Barrett and replaced him with Eric Studesville, who he worked with in Denver. Studesville also holds the title of Run Game Coordinator. At receiver, he promoted longtime Dolphins staffer Ben Johnson from assistant position coach to the head job, and former receivers coach Shawn Jefferson is now the Assistant Head Coach.
Gase retained tight ends coach Shane Day despite that position being a debacle each of the last two seasons and kept quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree. Hardegree was responsible for most of Miami’s red zone scheming last season.
Defensively, the Dolphins shelled out the fourth-highest amount of money for a defensive line in the league and finished 26th in sacks. Kris Kocurek, Ndamukong Suh’s first NFL position coach, came in from the Lions to see if he can do what Terrell Williams couldn’t. Kocurek also coached in Detroit with Matt Burke, who is staying on as defensive coordinator.
Burke and Gase also made a change in the secondary after the team finished middle of the pack in passing yards allowed and in the bottom third of the NFL in opponent completion percentage and passer rating. The Dolphins intercepted nine passes out of 528 attempts against them last year.
There’s a sense that the talent isn’t the issue, and that must’ve been Gase’s thinking when he fired defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo. Tony Oden, who was freed up by the head-coaching change in Detroit, has already made a strong impression on the players.
“Coach Oden’s a really good coach, great guy,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “I met with him a couple times… He knows what he’s doing. We’re happy to have him. We’re excited to get started.”
Miami is also giving former safety Renaldo Hill his first NFL coaching job. He jumped from the University of Pittsburgh to be Oden’s assistant.
At linebacker, another position of concern, the team is sticking with position coach Frank Bush and assistant Charlie Bullen.
All the new faces will make it a much different atmosphere for the Dolphins when they get back to football over the next few months, but it’s not just a shakeup for the sake of doing something. Gase obviously believes he’ll be more comfortable and effective in this setup, and ultimately his job is the one that’s at risk if the plan doesn’t work.
“I definitely trust what Coach Gase and everybody is doing,” McDonald said. “We’re gonna ride with it and buy in.”
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