2018 NFL Draft: Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki talks with Dolphins

Penn State’s Mike Gesicki already has the Dolphins’ attention. (Getty Images)

Early in his time at Penn State, Mike Gesicki’s role at tight end was in jeopardy because he was having a bad time with drops. That wasn’t promising for his future at the school or his chances of one day turning pro.

But Gesicki didn’t let that derail him. He dove deep into the problem with his mind bent on burying it. He spent hours doing tennis ball drills, caught around 300 balls each day at practice and reached a point where he was confident his hands would never be a liability again.

“It was three years ago, but it seems like forever now,” he said. “I just did whatever was in my power… My last two seasons were much better. It’s very rewarding to see the hard work pay off.”

Over his junior and senior years, Gesicki became one of the most surehanded targets in Penn State’s offense and totaled 105 catches, 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns to turn himself into one of the best tight end prospects in this year’s NFL Draft class. He is widely considered to be a top-five player at his position.

Naturally, that interests a team like the Dolphins, who haven’t had an impactful tight end in years. Their most productive player at that spot last season was Julius Thomas with 41 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns. The year before it was Dion Sims at 26, 256 and four.

With Thomas not expected back and there being limited choices in free agency, it’s time for Miami to draft a tight end and develop him into a weapon. It’s one of the main things that’s been missing from this offense during Adam Gase’s two years as head coach.

Gesicki, 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, is a good possibility. The Dolphins would likely have a shot at him in the second round with the 42nd pick and got started on their evaluation process by sitting down with him at last month’s Senior Bowl.

Gesicki described the meeting as in-depth and efficient, with team representatives getting straight to the point about what kind of player he is. He fielded questions about what plays he’d call on certain downs and distances and what defenses he’d expect to face in some situations.

“They were putting me to the test a little bit,” he said. “I’m getting to know them and they’re getting to know me.

“Ryan Tannehill’s a great quarterback. He’s proved that. And with their receivers, they have a lot of talent. If you add one guy here and one guy there that can make a difference, it’d be awesome.”

With the hands issue in the past, Gesicki’s goal leading up to the draft is to show teams he’s a capable blocker.

“Some people question my ability to do so,” he said. “I have a great desire to do it, I’m strong enough to do it and I’m big enough to do it.”

The Dolphins have never taken a tight end in the first round—second-rounder Jim Mandich at No. 29 in 1970 was the closest—and aren’t likely to do so this year. They have the No. 11 pick overall, which appears to be a reach for even the best tight ends in this year’s class.

South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are thought to be the top-five tight ends, too, but it’s possible none of them will be first-round picks. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has Andrews as the first one off the board at No. 29, and colleague Todd McShay likes Goedert going first at No. 31.

The consensus among draft gurus is that this is a year stocked with good tight ends, not great ones.

That said, Miami would be more than happy with a good one. The only tight ends currently expected to be on the roster for the upcoming season are A.J. Derby (37 career receptions), MarQueis Gray (27) and Thomas Duarte (none). The team also must decide whether it wants to bring back 33-year-old Anthony Fasano, who hasn’t said whether he intends to keep playing.

Those circumstances make it clear the Dolphins need to prioritize tight end in the draft, and Gesicki’s already got their attention.

[Dolphins feeling good about where they stand at cornerback–for now]

[Miami Dolphins players react to Parkland shooting]

[The Palm Beach Post‘s first 2018 NFL mock draft]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Three years in, Miami Dolphins’ DeVante Parker lags far behind early careers of top receivers

The Dolphins’ DeVante Parker stiff-arms Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

For Dolphins fans, the DeVante Parker question has become as much a rite of spring as wondering how many games the Marlins will lose and how close the Panthers will come to missing the playoffs.

Once again, the Dolphins can only hope next fall is the one in which Parker’s potential and Parker’s production become one in the same.

No one can predict the future, but there is plenty of information available to help answer that question now.

Next season will be Parker’s fourth in the NFL. Is four the magic number for premier receivers to break out? Or, if they’re that good, should that question be answered already?

To find out, I took the top 20 receivers from this season and crunched their numbers to pinpoint where they were after three seasons. We know Parker has 139 career catches for 1,908 yards and eight touchdowns, but this exercise will shed light on whether it’s reasonable to say Parker is or isn’t keeping pace, considering he was a first-round pick.

The verdict: He’s not keeping pace. Not in terms of number of receptions. Nor receiving yards. Nor touchdowns.

On average, today’s top 20 receivers had 172 receptions after three seasons (33 more than Parker). They had 2,401 yards (493 more than Parker) and 16.6 touchdown catches (more than double Parker’s total). Those numbers don’t include the Saints’ Michael Thomas and the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, for reasons that also don’t flatter Parker. Neither has even reached Year 3 of their careers, yet both cracked the top seven receiving leaders this season.

That’s not to say all hope is lost. If Parker flips a switch next season, he’ll join a sizable list of receivers doing so. Longtime Dolphins fans will recall that Mark Duper went from 0 to 1,003 yards from his rookie season to his second.

The Vikings’ Adam Thielen, undrafted out of Minnesota State, had just 20 receptions his first two seasons, but his yardage soared from 144 in Year 2 to 967. This season, he was fifth in the league with 1,276 yards and made the Pro Bowl. And consider Hill. Everybody knew of his speed, but he jumped from 593 yards as a rookie last year to 1,183 this season.

Want to set the bar all the way up? Fine. Out of the top 20, only the Bengals’ A.J. Green and the Bucs’ Mike Evans started with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Brown and the Falcons’ Julio Jones managed only one apiece, but 14 of the top 20 pulled it off at least once. Parker hasn’t.

Big days? You’d want to check with the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton and Green on that. Hilton had 16 games with at least 100 yards by now; Green, 15. Parker? Three.

Some might say Parker’s numbers don’t compare because he has been injured often, which is true. He has started only 24 of a possible 48 games, hampered by a variety of problems including ankle and hamstring injuries. But isn’t staying healthy part of the job? Consider Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, who started all 48, or Green (47). In his two seasons, Thomas has more starts (26).

Parker was supposed to be the one who could use his size and catch radius in the red zone. In terms of touchdowns, Parker has one more TD than Brown had … but he has 30 fewer than Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Finally, let’s not forget that as important as Parker’s progress is today, it becomes even more magnified should Jarvis Landry leave via free agency. Speaking of Landry, his career start beat Parker’s by 149 catches, 1,143 yards and five touchdowns.


Top 20 receivers for 2017

The Dolphins’ DeVante Parker’s career totals after three seasons are 139 receptions for 1,908 yards and eight touchdowns. Is that a career track to someday rank among the NFL’s elite? This chart compares Parker’s career start to the first three seasons of receivers who ranked in the top 20 this season. Note that comparisons are not available for the Saints’ Michael Thomas and the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill because they have played only two NFL seasons.

                                                                      Totals for first 3 seasons

 Receiver, team (2017 yardage)                      Rec.  Yds   TD

1. Antonio Brown, Pitt (1,533)                           151  2,062  7

2. Julio Jones, Atl (1,444)                                  174  2,737 20

3. Keenan Allen, LAC (1,393)                            215  2,554  16

4. DeAndre Hopkins, Hou (1,378)                     239   3,533  19

5. Adam Thielen, Minn (1,276)                            89   1,248   6

6. Michael Thomas, N.O. (1,245)                       N/A

7. Tyreek Hill, K.C. (1,183)                                 N/A

8. Larry Fitzgerald, Pho (1,156)                          231  3,315  24

9. Marvin Jones, Det (1,101)                              69   913     11

10. Rob Gronkowski, NE (1,084)                        187  2,663  38

11. Brandin Cooks, NE (1,082)                           215  2,861  20

12. A.J. Green, Cincy (1,078)                             260  3,833  29

13. Travis Kelce, K.C. (1,038)                             139  1,737  10

14. Golden Tate, Det (1,003)                               101  1,297  10

15. Mike Evans, TB (1,001)                                 238  3,578  27

16. Doug Baldwin, Sea (991)                               130  1,932  12

17. Jarvis Landry, Mia (987)                                 288  3,051  13

18. T.Y. Hilton, Ind (966)                                       214  3,289   19

19. Marquis Goodwin, SF (962)                            20   349      3

20. Demaryius Thomas, Den (949)                       148  2,268  16


Dolphins Cancer Challenge motivates Boca man who lost arm to cancer 

Happy Birthday, Cam Wake! (Now, how many years do you have left?)

Jason Taylor: Charles Harris is a future Miami Dolphins Pro Bowler

Jason Taylor weighs in on Jarvis Landry’s future

No way this should be Jarvis Landry’s last game in aqua and orange

Von Miller: Miami Dolphins already have their franchise QB

Why Jarvis Landry was intense, fiery and emotional – at dodgeball

Miami Dolphins Jarvis Landry: I believe Adam Gase wants me to stay

Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

Boca entry in Miami Dolphins’ Cancer Challenge creates ‘work-around’ prosthetic after losing arm

 

Boca Raton’s Kevin Schreiber, who will participate in the 2018 Dolphins Cancer Challenge using a prosthetic he created with a 3D printer. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)

For the thousands who participate in the eighth annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge, it’s a time to know that with every drop of sweat, there’s a dollar, maybe two, raised for cancer research. In that regard, Boca Raton’s Kevin Schreiber is no different from anyone else in the field.

But as happy as he is to be able to help line the coffers of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Schreiber knows he will not be just giving, but also receiving, as he pedals 35 miles on Feb. 10 with wife Laura.

About three years ago — right after the birth of his second son, Charlie — Schreiber came down with a rare form of cancer that claimed his left arm. Through all the radiation treatments, through all the chemotherapy and all the uncertainty, there was one certainty on the mind of this longtime triathlete.

“I knew I wanted to get back to doing it again,” said Schreiber, now 47. “That was the big thing. It was like a challenge to just go back to doing what you did. That was the main thing that really drove me. I didn’t want this thing to change me.”

The technical name for “this thing” is extraskeletal osteosarcoma. Once doctors determined that the tumor itself was bleeding and threatening complications worse than was already the case, they told Schreiber immediate amputation was essential.

While it might be tempting to say amputation itself changed Schreiber, you should know a couple of other facts about him: First, this is a man who earlier completed an Ironman Triathlon. Second, following the loss of his arm, he was so determined to get back on his bike that when he learned there wasn’t a satisfactory prosthetic on the market to help him grip the handlebars, he exhibited the same drive that carried him 140.6 miles in that Ironman race.

He bought a 3D printer and created a prosthetic himself.

“There’s a work-around for anything,” he said. “That’s all I can do — keep moving forward, no matter what.”

And make no mistake, work-arounds are a part of his daily life. When he runs, for example, he doesn’t wear a watch. Yes, he could put it on his right wrist, “But there’s no way of hitting the button,” he said.

Adaptation, he said, took time.

“It took awhile for me not to start reaching to do something with that arm,” Schreiber said. “Everything that you do — even opening a Ziploc bag, where you have to pull — you can’t do that very easy with one hand. It’s like a million things you don’t think about during the day that you just grab something with two hands and do whatever. Putting on pants. It’s not easy to put pants on and snap from one to the other using one hand. It’s little things, the little, frustrating things, that you have to go through every day.

“You really just have to take a second, take a step back and say, ‘This is going to take me three times or four times longer than it used to take me, but it’s what I have to do.’ ”

Schreiber considers himself fortunate that he’s right-handed. As a software engineer, he became proficient typing with just his right hand. Sometimes, he’ll use his feet to grab items. Sometimes, he just makes do, such as when he runs, pushing Charlie and 4-year-old Alan in a double-wide jogger with just one hand, awkward as it may feel at times. Work-arounds are there — you just have to look hard enough.

After surgery, he bought a conventional prosthetic, the “big and clunky kind” he’d been warned about, and, predictably, it wound up in the closet. Most prosthetics are for those who have lost legs, he said, so with few other options, he got his 3D printer and an Xbox Kinect, performed a 3D scan on his arm, found the right software and created a prosthetic. It locks onto his handlebar to allow proper balance to ride.

After doing the 13-mile ride last year, he’s graduating to the 35-miler, another step following the long ordeal with cancer, the diagnosis for which he received by phone during a family trip to Cleveland.

At first, doctors hoped radiation would shrink the tumor. Not only did he soon lose his arm, but a month later, another surgery was required because of a staph infection, necessitating the removal of more of his arm. In the interim, he’d been studying up online, “looking at the odds and everything,” which only made a trying time worse.

Finally, on March 16, 2016, Schreiber’s chemotherapy was complete and, it is hoped, that chapter in his life closed.

“I’m good,” he said. “I have not had any issues for a while. Every three months, they do MRIs and CT scans, but they’re just monitoring me now.”

His doctors won’t declare him cancer-free until five years of those scans have elapsed.

In the meantime, there are plenty of miles to cover.

Boca Raton’s Kevin Schreiber, who will participate in the 2018 Dolphins Cancer Challenge, with sons Charlie, nearly 3, and Alan, 4. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)

Eighth annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge

What: Dolphins’ signature community event each year. Has raised more than $22.5 million for the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

When: Feb. 10

Where: Hard Rock Stadium unless noted

Events: Cycling — rides range from 13.6 to 100 miles, starting at various sites in the tri-county area but all ending at stadium. Run/walk — 5K, 9:30 a.m.

Kickoff party: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 9

Concert: Goo Goo Dolls, Big Head Todd and The Monsters, 1 p.m. Feb. 10

For prices, tickets and registration: dolphinscancerchallenge.com, (305) 943-6799 or RideDCC@Dolphins.com. Twitter: @TackleCancer.


Happy Birthday, Cam Wake! (Now, how many years do you have left?)

Jason Taylor: Charles Harris is a future Miami Dolphins Pro Bowler

Jason Taylor weighs in on Jarvis Landry’s future

No way this should be Jarvis Landry’s last game in aqua and orange

Von Miller: Miami Dolphins already have their franchise QB

Why Jarvis Landry was intense, fiery and emotional – at dodgeball

Miami Dolphins Jarvis Landry: I believe Adam Gase wants me to stay

Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones: I play for my daughter

Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones at Hard Rock Stadium (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

LAKE BUENA VISTA — If you ever had a chance to speak with Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, you’d be able to sense the emotion and energy that channels through him at almost every moment.

And if you ever want to see Jones’ face light up and even seem a little sappy, ask him how his daughter is doing.

Many players post Instagram photos or videos of themselves working out or lip-syncing to rap music, but very often, Jones posts photos of himself with his daughter, a 4-year-old who made the trip to Disney World for the Pro Bowl.

“She means everything man,” Jones said, after Friday’s practice. “She just gives me something to work for. Just having her around it’s a cool atmosphere for the family to enjoy everything that they have set up. She’s everything to me. My only daughter. My first one. It’s special.”

On one Instagram post with his daughter, Jones wrote: “It’s you that helps me become a better me.”

In another post, Jones writes: “You have been a blessing from the start.”

View this post on Instagram

Late nights early mornings #G5

A post shared by Reshad Jones (@mr.jones_g5) on

Jones had 122 tackles this season and if that seems like a lot, well, it is.

But it wasn’t all easy. As Jones worked his way back from a season-ending injury this season, there were a few rough spots early.

“I played like myself,” Jones said. “I went out and made plays. I feel like a left a couple plays out there this year. But coming off an injury I think I did pretty good. I’m in my prime. I’m still going up. I’m getting better as I grow. The injury I’m over. I’m back to 100 percent. So the sky is the limit.”

Jones should be even better in 2018. He was arguably Miami’s most impactful defensive player when on the field in 2015 and ’16. Jones is also, still, one of the most underrated players in the league.

View this post on Instagram

Its you that help me become a better me 🌎

A post shared by Reshad Jones (@mr.jones_g5) on

Pro Bowl recognition seems to mean a bit more to Jones, who was once a fifth-round pick out of Georgia.

“It means a lot,” Jones said. “I put all the hard work and dedication in. It just shows that all my hard work and dedication is not going unnoticed. People are watching.”

Why Jarvis Landry was intense, fiery and emotional – at dodgeball

Michael Bennett praises Dolphins activists; ‘The NFL can’t stop us from speaking…’

Miami Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry: Finding elite slot receivers isn’t so easy

Miami Dolphins Jarvis Landry: I believe Adam Gase wants me to stay

Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

Michael Bennett praises Dolphins activists; ‘The NFL can’t stop us from speaking…’

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills, safety Michael Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas  kneel during national anthem at Hard Rock Stadium last November. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The NFL has had a polarizing few seasons in many ways, notably some feeling athletes should stick to sports and not protest injustice, while others praise the social activism of some players.

One of the most outspoken players in the league, defensive lineman Michael Bennett of the Seahawks, praised Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas of the Dolphins, in comments to the Palm Beach Post on Friday at the Pro Bowl.

All three Dolphins have played key roles in community outreaches and have also drawn attention to social issues by kneeling during national anthems before NFL games.

“What they do in football is just a small part of their life,” Bennett said. “But what they do outside the field is what you really want from a man. I think they’re doing a great job of showing a commitment to their community. And a commitment to people. I think the most important thing is not being an NFL player, but being a global citizen and I think those guys are global citizens. They speak up for people who don’t have a voice. And they use their platform to continuously build bridges to different communities. And bring in the organization to places that they’ve never been. And I think all those guys are leaders and the team is lucky to have them.”

Bennett has celebrated a successful play by raising his fist high into the air. Bennett, one of the NFL’s leaders in the area of social justice, explained that “the raised fist represent unity or solidarity with oppressed peoples.”

Bennett has sat during some national anthems, protesting the mistreatment of minorities and the need for police reform. Bennett said he has frequently engaged Michael and Julius Thomas and Stills in highly-productive conversations.

“I’ve had so many memorable conversations with those guys to where they always put the people first,” Bennett said. “They always put the community first. And I think they’re always trying to put those people that don’t have a voice out there. And I think that’s what makes them so special. And I continuously love working with them because of that.”

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Miami Dolphins players and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross have created a yearly fund, with the purpose of advocating for and sponsoring social justice programs in South Florida. Stills is traveling the country in his 1972 Volkswagen bus, volunteering his time and meeting people in grassroots organizations.

Bennett said that the NFL is never going to be able to stop the players from expressing their feelings about important issues outside of football.

“I think there has never been a proper place to speak about real issues,” Bennett told The Post. “Because nobody wants to talk about real issues that these guys are talking about. At the same time, it’s our job as human beings to take care of other human beings. That’s the most important thing people can possibly do. And I think they do a good job of that. And I think the NFL can’t stop us from speaking our mind. Or telling our truth. I think we all have a story. And I think our story needs to be told. In our way. And through our eyes. And through our vision. And we’ve got to continuously, don’t lose our voice. And I think people before us fought to have a voice and we have to continue to have that voice.”

Why Jarvis Landry was intense, fiery and emotional – at dodgeball

Miami Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry: Finding elite slot receivers isn’t so easy

Miami Dolphins Jarvis Landry: I believe Adam Gase wants me to stay

NFL Draft 2018: ‘Canes DL Chad Thomas improving his draft stock

Will the Miami Dolphins pick up DeVante Parker’s option?

Stud QB prospect Josh Allen: ‘I would definitely welcome’ backing up Ryan Tannehill in ’18

Top 10 Senior Bowl Targets for Miami Dolphins

Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

Why Jarvis Landry was intense, fiery and emotional – at dodgeball

AFC receiver Jarvis Landry of the Miami Dolphins competes in the Epic Pro Dodgeball event during the Pro Bowl NFL Skills Showdown on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

LAKE BUENA VISTA — It was dodgeball, so yeah you can insert all the ESPN8 jokes you want and talk about how, no, this really does not prove Jarvis Landry deserves $14 million a season.

I mean, we think he does. And we actually think it wasn’t just that Landry was the NFL dodgeball champion during Pro Bowl week but that he seriously wanted to win so badly that is relevant here.

No, the jerks from Globo Gym (the Patriots) aren’t represented here this week. But Landry represented.

If there is one memorable photo from this week, it was one which showed Landry with an intense, determined scowl as he closed in on the Dodgeball championship. Jalen Ramsey can be seen hooting and hollering. And other AFC Pro Bowlers were laughing.

But to Landry, this was no laughing matter. To Landry, winning is everything. In everything.

“Money was on the line so we had to go get it,” Landry said after a Pro Bowl practice Friday. “That goes to show you just as much passion and energy as I have for that, that’s how I play Connect Four. Tic-Tac-Toe. Think about that, and how much amplified it is on a Sunday. That’s just how I am.”

Landry ended the game by taking out the NFC’s kicker. And then he went to social media to talk about how we couldn’t possibly have thought he was going to get taken out by a kicker.

Landry wears his heart on his sleeve. At times he can appear to be an emotional basket case. But at the root of it all, is how much he cares. He truly cares about winning. He wants so badly to win.

“I just want to play football with an organization of guys that want me to be there, that love that I’m there, that love what I bring to the table, embrace my personality and win games,” Landry said. “I want to win. Now.”

If Miami lets Landry walk, perhaps it will be a reflection on their decision to not embrace his personality.

And that may very well be a costly mistake.

Landry competed this week. During a series of Pro Bowl practices in which, really, guys don’t compete all that much.

He practices hard. He practices when he’s hurt. He battles in the spring. (He showed up in the spring, when he didn’t have to.)

He even competed hard in a Pro Bowl contest in which for some reason a drone dropped a football from the sky this week.

Of course, he won that too, beating out Patrick Peterson.

Last year, Miami paid Reshad Jones. They paid him in part because of his intense desire to win, his emotional connection to the game.

Miami has two Pro Bowlers here and it’s Landry and Jones and the common denominators are not lost on Landry.

“I think we are both Alpha Males,” Landry said. “I think not only that. I think we both play hard. We both have a lot of leadership qualities and leadership abilities. We’re playmakers. And you can’t go wrong with that. And that’s just a short list, a condensed list.”

Miami needs to add Alpha Males. And they need to keep the ones they have, too.

Miami Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry: Finding elite slot receivers isn’t so easy

Miami Dolphins Jarvis Landry: I believe Adam Gase wants me to stay

Will the Miami Dolphins pick up DeVante Parker’s option?

Top 10 Senior Bowl Targets for Miami Dolphins

Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

 

Did Miami Dolphins’ defensive line meet expectations? ‘Absolutely not’

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins’ MVP in 2017, pressures Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

FIFTH IN A SERIES

What went wrong for the Dolphins this season? What went right (if anything)? We assigned letter grades to each position group after every game. So with the season over, it’s time to issue final grades and see who flunked and who gets a gold star. Today, a position in which the Dolphins have invested heavily: defensive line.


Straight talk

This is another position that, on the surface, appears to be short-changed by my harsh grading tendencies.

Smash the numbers together and you have a tepid 2.29 GPA, or a C-plus, for a unit in which the Dolphins have invested heavily, a unit that boasts the 2017 team MVP, Ndamukong Suh, and ageless 10.5-sack man Cameron Wake.


FINAL REPORT CARD FOR 2017 MIAMI DOLPHINS

[GRADING THE QBs: Barely a passing grade is all they deserved]

[GRADING THE RBs: Kenyan Drake’s explosiveness offers hope for ’18]

[GRADING THE OL: Without upgrade next season, team isn’t going anywhere]

[GRADING THE RECEIVERS: The top two are obvious … but then what?]


So what gives? Ask Wake, whose analysis late in the year makes me wonder if I actually was too soft on these guys. Asked if the line was playing up to expectations, he said, “Absolutely not.”

He explained: “My expectations are heavy. They’re big, really big. I expect every player on the field to be making game-changing plays every week, because we can. When you look at the names of the guys we have, I couldn’t see anybody expecting anything less. We’ve got to work.”

Cameron Wake, who turns 36 at the end of the month, had another double-digit sack season. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

And, truth be told, there were many Sundays when the line did play to its potential. There was the Broncos game, where everybody appeared to make a monster play, from a safety caused by Wake to a tipped pass by Jordan Phillips that led to an interception. The same everybody-chips-in frolicking highlighted victories over playoff entrants the Patriots and Titans.

But this team didn’t lose 10 games on bad luck. Many weeks rolled around when defensive coordinator Matt Burke complained about missed tackles, surpassed, perhaps, by unforgivable pre-snap penalties. (Who can forget 17 total penalties for 123 yards vs. the Bucs?)

Adam Gase says too much emphasis is placed on sacks, and maybe he’s right, but is it too much to ask for this high-priced line to do better than 30 sacks (about half of what league leader Pittsburgh produced)?

And, finally, the line couldn’t contend with mobil quarterbacks, as proven by Cam Newton, Alex Smith and that future Hall of Famer, Tyrod Taylor.

Looking at players individually, it’s not hard to zero in on highs and lows. Andre Branch was rewarded for a solid 2016 with a $24 million deal. His tackle totals dropped in half.

William Hayes was a terrific addition until his season was cut short with six games to go by a back injury. The Dolphins would be wise to re-sign him.

First-round pick Charles Harris remains a work in progress, with much of that progress falling under the radar. That’s OK for a rookie, but more will be expected next season. Hey, Jordan Phillips needed time to find his footing, but he’s getting the message on how much impact he can make.

Davon Godchaux: You’ll be hearing that name a lot over the next few years. Promise.

What it all means

Stats and league rankings: Defense ranked 16th overall, 14th in rushing, 16th in passing, 29th in points allowed, 25th in sacks per pass play.

Number of times DL received an A: 3

Number of times DL received an F: 1

Season GPA: 2.29 (C-plus)

Analysis: When the line was good, it was very good. When it wasn’t, often it was because it received zero support from the offense and wore down as games went on. But one thing that separates average lines from good ones is consistency. Toward that end, the Dolphins fired line coach Terrell Williams and replaced him with Kris Kocurek of the Lions, who worked with Suh at the start of his career.

Adjusted final grade: B-minus

Without upgrade to offensive line, Miami Dolphins will stay stuck in neutral

Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

THIRD IN A SERIES

What went wrong for the Dolphins this season? What went right (if anything)? We assigned letter grades to each position group after every game. So with the season over, it’s time to issue final grades and see who flunked and who gets a gold star. Today, a position of great concern: offensive line.


Straight talk

Looking over my game-by-game notes on the offensive line, it occurred to me how much time I wasted by not doing a cut-and-paste each Sunday.

That’s how predictable it was with penalties by this unit. There were scores of pre-snap penalties that became a hallmark of both the offensive and defensive lines, plus too many holding penalties. An uncanny amount occurred in the red zone or wiped out double-digit gains, sometimes touchdowns.

[RELATED: See how low the quarterbacks fared in the season-ending report card]

[RELATED: Running backs get a lift from Kenyan Drake’s explosiveness]

The development of Laremy Tunsil, the 13th overall pick in 2016, will have a massive impact on this team’s fortunes. Tunsil was given the left tackle assignment this season over the departed Branden Albert. His first four games there included a red-zone sack that forced a field goal, a facemask penalty that nullified a 16-yard run and a 14-yard sack when the Dolphins were trying to run out the clock, all of which illustrate that the 10 yards marched off tell half the story.

Tunsil was penalized a dozen times this season, second on the team only to Ndamukong Suh’s 13. Of Tunsil’s flags, eight were for false starts and two for holding.

“At times, I think he would tell you that he’s felt like a rookie and he’s played like a rookie,” former offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen told reporters. “At times you see glimpses and the same thing that you mentioned. It is just the consistency. I believe with all of my heart that it’s going to hit for him. Just (with) some experience, he’s going to end up being a really, really fine player. But you do have to go do it. I’ve thought that about a lot of people and it didn’t happen. You just never know.”

On the plus side, center Mike Pouncey proved he can last an entire 16-game schedule (and if you don’t believe it, just ask him), G Ted Larsen finally got healthy. The right side of the line eventually settled on G Jesse Davis and T Sam Young.

That would be the starting five if the Dolphins had to play this weekend. But they’re not playing this weekend, and the offensive line is one of many reasons why.

What it all means

Stats and league rankings: 25th overall on offense, 29th rushing, 18th passing, 28th scoring, 11th fewest with 33 sacks allowed. In addition to Tunsil’s stats, Pouncey was called for holding six times and Bushrod five.

Number of times OL received an A: 0

Number of times OL received an F: 1

Season GPA: 1.61 (about a C-minus)

Analysis: Miami’s offensive line has been stuck in the “serviceable” range for ages. It’s no coincidence the team’s record has, too. That’s not going to change without a significant upgrade in the line’s performance.

Adjusted final grade: C-minus

Did he really catch that? Circus grabs highlight Miami Dolphins’ plays of year

Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills (10) battles for a ball against New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine (41) in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on October 22, 2017. Stills made the catch on his back. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Just because it was a downer of a season — with the Dolphins managing just six wins — doesn’t mean it didn’t have its moments.

Today, we bring you the first of a two-part installment of the 10 best plays of the season by the Dolphins. And as you’ll soon see, if you had a ticket to see one home game, you got your money’s worth.

Stills performs a juggling act 

Situation: First quarter, first-and-10 on Jets’ 40.

The play: Jay Cutler throws an incompletion deep to Kenny Stills … hey, wait a second … did the ball ever hit the ground? Answer: No, it did not. This play required the red challenge flag from Adam Gase and probably fooled everybody (definitely the game officials) watching it in real time. It even took a couple of different replay angles to determine that even though Stills juggled the ball a couple of times while lying on the ground, he did catch it and he also managed to prevent his left heel from coming down out of bounds. On the next play, Cutler hit Jarvis Landry for a 4-yard TD and early 7-7 tie.

Quote: “I should have caught the thing the first time,” Stills said. “It was in my hands. The lucky part about it is that it didn’t touch the ground.” Stills said it was the craziest catch he’d ever made. “I saw somebody had tagged me on it (as the catch of the year). It’ll last for a week and then somebody else will make a crazy play.”


Spectacular double play

Part I: Howard’s second interception of Brady

Situation: Early third quarter, third-and-16 on Patriots’ 14.

The play: The Dolphins led 13-10 at halftime and coming out of the break, Jordan Phillips nailed Tom Brady for an 8-yard sack. Perhaps frustrated, Brady then drops back to pass and has ample time, eventually looking to find Brandin Cooks deep left. And, for a couple of seconds, it appears Cooks, who has two steps on Howard, will make the catch at the Dolphins’ 35 and possibly score. But while the ball is in the air, Howard makes up the ground, reaching up in front of Cooks at the last possible moment to make the interception.

Quote: “That is one of the great interceptions you will see,” analyst Jon Gruden said during ESPN’s Monday night telecast. “Cooks had two steps and Xavien Howard blurs the screen with a spectacular interception.”

Part II: Grant’s first TD a tall order

Situation: Third quarter, second-and-6 on Patriots’ 25.

The play: Five plays after Howard’s interception, the Dolphins make the Patriots pay for a 20-10 lead. With one of the best passes he threw as a Dolphin, Jay Cutler lofts on into the end zone, where Jakeem Grant is racing with (and covered by) Malcolm Butler. Despite giving up at least 4 inches to Butler, Grant leaps to high-point the ball and scores his first career touchdown.

Quote: “He played it within five yards so I used my speed,” Grant said. “I thought it was going to be an over the shoulder ball but Jay threw it up there and trusted me to come down with it so I had to make a play. Like I told Adam previously, I promised my kids I would score a touchdown for them so I had to. I was hungry enough to get that touchdown and come down with it. Also I wanted to make that play for the team to show them that you can trust me.”


Drake puts Patriots through the spin cycle

Situation: Third quarter, first-and-10 on Patriots’ 35.

The play: What the heck got into the Dolphins, anyway? Just 5 1/2 minutes after Grant’s spectacular touchdown, which followed Howard’s spectacular interception, Kenyan Drake decided it was time for him to make the highlight reel. He took a handoff from Jay Cutler, intending to run up the middle, except nobody blocked safety Patrick Chung, who shot through the gap just outside left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Chung was about to come nose to nose with Drake. Surely, a tackle for loss was about to happen. But Drake did a 360-degree spin, screwing Chung into the ground, before running around right end for a 31-yard gain, denied a touchdown by Devin McCourty. Two plays later, Cutler cashed in, hitting Jarvis Landry with a 4-yard scoring pass.

Quote: “Even when we don’t quite block it right, he makes it work,” coach Adam Gase said. “He has good vision. With speed like that, he just gets a little bit of green grass and seems to go a pretty good distance.”


Jones’ interception vs. Falcons (Tankersley with the assist)

Situation: First-and-10 on Miami 26, 47 seconds left. Dolphins had just taken a 20-17 lead on Cody Parkey’s 38-yard field goal, but following the kickoff, the Falcons drove from their 13 to the Miami 26 in eight plays.

The play: Matt Ryan looked for Austin Hooper deep over the middle, but Cordrea Tankersley was all over Hooper and carefully reached around him — avoiding pass interference — to deflect the pass. Reshad Jones had no time to react but instinctively snagged the ricochet to seal the improbable comeback from a 17-0 halftime deficit.

Quote: “That’s something we saw on film all week,” Tankersley said. “Reshad kind of told me, ‘Hey, you’re by yourself on that play,’ so I was just playing one on one, squeezed it, got my hand on it and Reshad just made a great play.”


Kenyan Drake looks like a back who can carry the load for Dolphins in ’18

Dolphins’ QBs barely scrape by with passing grade for ’17

Championship Sunday underscores 25 years of Dolphins mediocrity

Jay Ajayi’s Train of thought: Win Super Bowl, make Dolphins regret trade

Vikings made historic TD, but here are top 20 stunning plays by Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2017: bad on field, but how bad against the spread?

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New train of thought: Miami Dolphins’ Kenyan Drake can carry load for RBs

Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) breaks off a big gain against New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty at Hard Rock Stadium in December. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

SECOND IN A SERIES

What went wrong for the Dolphins this season? What went right (if anything)? We assigned letter grades to each position group after every game. So with the season over, it’s time to issue final grades and see who flunked and who gets a gold star. Today, a position that endured turmoil: running backs.


Straight talk

Whatever we thought we knew about the 2017 Dolphins when training camp opened, we really didn’t know.

It was true of the quarterbacks, obviously. And the linebackers. For sheer shock value — and forgive the terrible pun — there is one position that could give either of those positions a run.

We thought that in team MVP Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins had their running back for the present and the future, the kind of workhorse who could take over games.

[RELATED: See how low the quarterbacks fared in the season-ending report card]

Today, the Jay Train has left the station and the Dolphins hope Kenyan Drake can be that guy. No, I did not predict the Dolphins would trade Ajayi to Philadelphia for a mere fourth-rounder, but looking back over my report cards, I was struck by a comment after the game against the Ravens, which would be Ajayi’s last with Miami. Ajayi started that game with a 21-yarder before things went south.

“The number of carries by Ajayi that fail to gain yardage (and many lose yardage) is a troubling trend, so bad that Ajayi averaged 3.27 inches on his next 11 carries,” I wrote that day.

Dolphins running back Damien Williams grimaces as he is carried from the field on a cart against the Patriots in Foxborough. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Ajayi’s penchant for swinging for the home run, along with his attitude, were too much for Adam Gase. The next man up was Damien Williams, a powerful back whose production-to-opportunities ratio would surprise you. But Williams was banged up the second half of the season, as was just about every back outside of Drake, who until then had always been told to wait his turn.

And then? A 42-yard run against the Raiders by Drake. A 66-yard touchdown on an otherwise downer of a day in Carolina. Another 42-yard run, this time for a touchdown vs. the Broncos. Most impressive: 193 yards from scrimmage in the home game vs. the Patriots.

So where does that leave us? With a couple of curious statistics about this team that really make you wonder about its offensive identity: The Dolphins ranked at the bottom of the league in rushing attempts (last), rushing yards (29th) and rushing TDs (tied for last). But they more than held their own with runs for chunk yardage, finishing in the middle of the pack in runs of 20-plus yards and among the league leaders with four runs of 40 or more yards.

What does this tell us? Two things:

1. Even without Ajayi, the Dolphins continued their boom-or-bust ways on the ground, hitting home runs or striking out, but rarely delivering the singles and doubles you need.

2. Just like in the Joe Philbin era, they continue their annoying habit of falling behind in games and either choosing to abandon the run or having no choice in the matter.

In 2018, that must change.

What it all means

Stats and league rankings: 360 attempts (last in NFL), 1,388 yards (29th), 3.9 average (tied for 22nd), 4 TDs (tied for last), 10 runs of 20 or more yards (tied for 14th), 4 runs of 40 or more yards (tied for 6th), 5 fumbles (tied for 10th fewest)

Number of times RBs received an A: 4

Number of times RBs received an F: 0

Season GPA: 2.59 (B-minus)

Analysis: I like what I see in Drake, who can catch and has a burst that scares defenses. I’ve always liked what Williams offers, especially in the red zone. On the times Miami’s backs have gotten stuffed, I tended to blame blocking more than the backs themselves.

Adjusted final grade: B

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