LAKE BUENA VISTA — After rushing for more than 1,200 yards in a breakout season, Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has purchased drones for his offensive lineman and tight ends as gifts of appreciation.
“Hopefully we can have a drone party,” Ajayi said Saturday at the Pro Bowl.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ajayi was the third-best running back in the NFL. Although the ratings service did not rank Miami’s offensive line high overall, tackle Ja’Wuan James, center Mike Pouncey and tight ends MarQueis and Dion Sims did score well in the area of run blocking.
“I am grateful for those guys, having a good season,” Ajayi said. “Just trying to show my appreciation to them. And just a little gift, hopefully those guys like it. I think all of those guys (linemen and tight ends) did a great job. I think Dion (Sims) did a great job this year at tight end being a dominant run blocker for us.”
Ajayi selected the Yuneec Breeze drone, a flying camera controlled by an iOS or Android phone and weighing just under one pound. According to Yuneec, the device can be used to capture aerial photos and video in 4K Ultra High Definition.
It is unknown if the Yuneec Breeze can fly over a New England Patriots practice and return to Dolphins camp in Davie unnoticed. But that is one possible creative use.
Ajayi’s gift is both thoughtful and creative. The second-year running back out of Boise State is interested in all sorts of technology and may even buy a Hyperbaric machine this offseason, for recovery.
At the Pro Bowl, AFC teammates have been trying to sell Ajayi on the virtues of compression machines.
“You have to invest in your body,” Ajayi said. “I have an ice machine. You learn so much from these guys about different ways to stay healthy.”
Ajayi said in particular he has developed a bond with Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas this week.
“We’ve been able to get real close,” Ajayi said. “Building our relationship. It’s been cool getting to know these guys outside of the helmet. You see all these guys playing for other teams and you maybe forget that they’re just regular guys, just like you. They’re the best players for this year.”
Ajayi was pleased to hear that Dolphins general manager Chris Grier feels Ajayi has “just scratched the surface.”
“I am grateful that they believe in me,” Ajayi said. “That they believe that my best years are still to come and I believe that as well. I’m confident that I was able to have a great year. But there were still some games I didn’t even really play in as much. And we were still not doing kind of what we were best at. Our identity. We were still figuring it all out. So I still feel like I missed out on some things here or there. So this year (2017) I’m excited to just hit it from the jump. And you know, Year 3, I feel like I definitely need to take a jump.”
So, you were either rooting on Chris Hogan Sunday night, knowing his story, remembering Hard Knocks and feeling good that a guy who began his college career as a lacrosse player could do all that.
Or, you were cursing Chris Hogan Sunday night, knowing his story, remembering how Reggie Bush once dubbed him “7-Eleven” (of course, because, Hogan’s always open) and wondering why the Dolphins would let a guy like that go.
Chris Hogan is always open as a New England Patriot, it seems.
Of couse, he was always open in Miami Dolphins training camp in 2012.
The Miami Dolphins are loaded with young, highly-skilled running backs and wide receivers. It really is among the best young stable and corps in the NFL. But a closer examination of the Dolphins’ Top 10 players under 25 reveal glaring needs in the 2017 NFL Draft. In particular, the defensive line and linebacker groups must be replenished.
Of the 10 players on this list, seven play offense, including the best six.
There are reasons for hope below. The Dolphins are mostly (not counting veterans like Cam Wake and Mario Williams, the latter of whom should soon be gone) an inexperienced, ascending roster.
Here is The Daily Dolphin’s Top 10 Miami Dolphins under 25:
Jarvis Landry, WR, 24 years old — Worthy of that contract extension.
Jay Ajayi, RB, 23 years old — Led the NFL in broken tackles.
Ja’Wuan James, OT, 24 years old — Very strong recovery from slow start.
The Dolphins didn’t end their playoff drought by accident. They did it by making plays — lots of them, in fact, to go 10-6. Now, in no special order, we offer the 10 special moments that brought out the best in them.
Ryan on the run can be dangerous weapon
Dolphins 30, Steelers 15
The situation: Pittsburgh was up 8-3 in the second quarter when Miami had the ball on its 46.
The play: With No. tackle Daniel McCullers in his face, Ryan Tannehill rolled left, raising the degree of difficulty for a right-handed passer. McCullers didn’t give up easily and pursued Tannehill, who was running out of room as he approached the sideline. Tannehill never took his eyes off the secondary and spotted tight end MarQueis Gray, who had eluded cornerback William Gay. Tannehill let it fly for a 53-yard completion that nearly was a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, Gray was tackled at the 1. They ended up settling for a field goal.
Quote: “Especially rolling to the left, he never set his feet and then he threw it a long ways it seemed like,” coach Adam Gase said. “Good play by him, because the scheme was really garbage, and he didn’t have anywhere to go, and he made a play.”
Ajayi haunts the Bills once more
Dolphins 34, Bills 31 (OT)
The situation: The Bills had the Dolphins pinned on their own 15 with four minutes left in overtime.
The play: Out of the shotgun, Matt Moore handed off to Jay Ajayi, who nearly ended the game with his run. Left tackle Branden Albert set up Ajayi with his block on Lorenzo Alexander while left guard Laremy Tunsil occupied Kyle Williams. As Ajayi burst past the line of scrimmage, Williams began to slide away from Tunsil, but Ajayi brushed him aside with a stiff-arm, then was off to the races for a 57-yard gain to the Bills’ 28. Six plays later, a 27-yard field goal by Andrew Franks gave Dolphins fans an early Christmas present. Speaking of presents, the Bills had only 10 men on the field for Ajayi’s run. Ajayi finished with 206 rushing yards, his second 200-yard rushing performance against Buffalo this season.
Quote: “His name is Jay Ajayi and he does what he wants,” Tunsil said.
Kiko could have run all the way to L.A.
Dolphins 31, Chargers 24
The situation: It was 24-all with a minute left when Philip Rivers got greedy from the Miami 42-yard line.
The play: Rivers tried to hit Tyrell Williams. Rivers threw it right into the hands of linebacker Kiko Alonso, who was sitting on the route and waited for Rivers to make his move. Alonso easily returned it 60 yards for a pick-six and a win.
Quote: “It’s the team that goes and takes it,” Alonso said. “That’s what we really stressed: We have to go take it.”
Drop a distant memory as Stills goes deep
Dolphins 28, Bills 25
The situation: With the Dolphins looking to build on their 21-17 lead with 2 1/2 minutes left, Ryan Tannehill hit a home-run ball from his 34-yard line.
The play: Two Bills were in the vicinity of Stills along the right sideline, which was their problem. Once Stills caught the ball, he took a step to his left, sending the two defenders into one another and making the rest of the 66-yard play academic. What’s significant about this is it helped Stills erase the memory of dropping a sure touchdown in the opener in Seattle. It helped send Stills on his way to a career-best nine touchdowns this season.
Quote: “They’re doing everything they can to stop the run,” Tannehill said. “They’re going to make us throw it to win it, basically. It was a critical situation. The offensive line did a good job, Jay (Ajayi) actually stepped up and blocked the linebacker in the hole for me and Kenny did a great job adjusting to the ball downfield and making a play.”
Parker makes plenty of noise in L.A.
Dolphins 14, Rams 10
The situation: The Dolphins awoke from their long slumber to cut the deficit to 10-7, but with less than a minute left, somebody still had to make one more play.
The play: DeVante Parker usually is a man of few words but left Southern California with a bang, making a nice diving catch of Ryan Tannehill’s 9-yard pass for a touchdown. The Rams figured they’d put heat on Tannehill by rushing five, but that left Parker one-on-one against Tremaine Johnson. Relying on a quick release, Tannehill perfectly led Parker toward the pylon with 36 seconds to spare.
Quote: “As long as there’s time on the clock, I believe we’re going to win,” Tannehill said.
Full speed ahead for Jay Train vs. Steelers
Dolphins 30, Steelers 15
The situation: The 1-4 Dolphins seemed poised to pull off the improbable — an upset of the Steelers — when Ben Roethlisberger got Pittsburgh back in it with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton with a minute left, making it a one-score game at 23-15.
The play: Ajayi used a block by tight end MarQueis Gray to find space and simply outrun the defense for a 62-yard touchdown to seal it. It was a season-defining moment for both Ajayi and the Dolphins. Ajayi finished the day with a career-high 204 yards — which he surpassed the following week against Buffalo. Even though nobody could know it at the time, the Dolphins had turned around their season.
Quote: “I told him before the game, ‘Let’s go for a couple of hundred,’ ” guard Jermon Bushrod said. “He said 150. And I said, ‘No, a couple of hundred.’ ”
No speed limit as Franks goes 55
Dolphins 34, Bills 31 (OT)
The situation: The Dolphins trailed 31-28 with 25 seconds left. They were out of timeouts. They had to get their offense off the field and their field-goal unit on the field to have a shot at forcing overtime. Their playoff hopes were resting on this one.
The play: The Dolphins got their kicking unit on the field in time. Problem was, they didn’t get their ‘K’ ball — designated and prepared specifically for kickers — onto the field. If that weren’t bad enough, Andrew Franks noticed the problem as he started to swing his leg for a 55-yard try, which was 14 yards longer than his previous long for the season. Oh, and it was coming in frigid Buffalo, a tough place to kick. Franks made it, then added the winner from a mere 27 yards in OT. Somewhat overlooked: The Bills were signaling for a timeout just before the snap on the 55-yarder. The officials didn’t see it.
Quote: “It’s one of those things where you just see it, it’s like, ‘Awesome!’ ” Franks facetiously said of having to kick the wrong ball. “The odds were already not in our favor. This is getting better and better. At this point, you’re just like, ‘All right. Let’s just hit a clean ball and see what happens.’ You never know how those things are going to fly.”
Scrum’s the word as Williams, Landry score twin touchdowns
Dolphins 28, Bills 25
The situation (Part 1): The Dolphins trailed 17-14 with four minutes left when Jay Ajayi was given a breather after four carries in five snaps, which moved the Dolphins into the red zone.
The play: The Bills weren’t given a breather when Damien Williams got the ball instead on the Buffalo 12. Williams appeared to be stopped by four defenders at the 5 but the mass of bodies was shoved across the goal line by Branden Albert, Ja’Wuan James and Jarvis Landry. Officials reviewed the play to see if the ball reached the end zone before Williams’ knee hit the ground, but there were so many bodies around him, it was impossible to tell. Call upheld.
Quote: “It wasn’t all just me,” Williams said. “I had Jarvis pulling me. I had the line pushing me. I’m the type of person that doesn’t quit, so my leg’s always pumping.”
The situation (Part 2): The Dolphins trailed 10-0 with four minutes left when Ryan Tannehill flipped a pass to Landry from the L.A. 10-yard line.
The play: Landry obviously was inspired by Williams’ TD against Buffalo. Only this time, he wanted to be the guy scoring, not assisting. Landry was met by two would-be tacklers at the 3 and seemed certain to be stopped before James, Jermon Bushrod and, fittingly, Williams shoved him into the end zone.
Quote: “I saw ‘70’ (James) hit that thing, and you saw the rest of those guys get involved in it. Jarvis did a great job of staying (up),” coach Adam Gase said. “Initially, he should’ve went down and somehow stayed up and then did a great job of keeping his feet. I know, especially at that point in the game, he was exhausted. He has pretty much exerted everything he had, and the fact that he could stay on his feet was impressive.”
The situation: The Jets had just taken a 23-20 lead with five minutes left when they kicked off. Problem was, Antonio Allen was offside, forcing the winded Jets to kick off again.
The play: This time, Kenyan Drake, not Jakeem Grant, fielded the kick on the Miami 4 and was no match for the coverage team. Drake began to stumble as he broke past the pack at the Miami 25, but once he got in high gear, he was gone — 96 yards, touchdown. Drake had atoned for an illegal block in the back game that had wiped out Grant’s 57-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Quote: “I’m just a little sick,” Drake told reporters after initially excusing himself to throw up. “I had to run back and forth” on various special teams. “Just a little winded still. But hey, that win makes it feel a lot better, I guess.”
The situation: The 49ers had driven to the Dolphins’ 6-yard line with two seconds left.
The play: San Fran quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been a thorn for the Dolphins’ defense all day, finishing with 113 rushing yards, passing for 296 and three touchdowns and looking like the Kaepernick of old. This time, he opted to keep the ball and try to squeeze up the middle into the end zone. With the defense stretched, it appeared Kaepernick had a decent shot at forcing overtime before Kiko Alonso and Ndamukong Suh corralled him at the 2 to end the game.
Quote: “There was some bad blood there for me with Kaepernick,” Alonso, whose father is a Cuban exile, told The Miami Herald. Alonso was referring to pro-Castro remarks made by Kaepernick to the South Florida media before the game.
Former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator and recently-named Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph often said: “We share the truth.”
This is pretty much the greatest thing any sports journalist has ever heard.
But, to tell ‘ya the truth, Dolphins players said they found it refreshing. They said it set a tone of accountability and sense of responsibility to one self and teammates. There was a new culture established by first-year head coach Adam Gase in 2016, but also coordinators like Joseph and Clyde Christensen, encouraged to share the same “truths” in private and public.
It seems safe to bet Joseph’s successor, Matt Burke, will subscribe to the theory, too.
Needless to say, the Miami Dolphins press corps will miss Joseph and wish him nothing but the best in Denver. It seemed like a fun idea to look back at 10 times this season when Joseph minced no words.
“I think most players want the truth,” Joseph said.
On defensive end Mario Williams (10/13/16): “He’s got to play better. He’s got to play harder. He’s got to play better. Obviously he’s being allowed to rush the passer, but the games that we’ve been in, they have been more run-first, pass-second games. For us to be a great rush team, we have to earn the right and stop the run. All of us – Mario, (Ndamukong) Suh, Jordan (Phillips), all of those guys up front. If they want to rush more, stop the run more consistently. So I think Mario has to play better. He has to play faster and more consistent.” (WHAT HAPPENED: Williams didn’t play better. He was benched. And isn’t expected back.)
On cornerback Byron Maxwell (10/13/16): “He has not played overall well. He’s a guy that is here every day. He’s working hard, he studies, he watches film. It has not come together for him. That happens to players – a different scheme, a different place to play. So I’m not totally down on Byron. He’s working at it every day. He wants to be good and when a guy is working at it every day, it’s going to turn for him.” (WHAT HAPPENED: All fired up and motivated by a benching, Maxwell turned around his season and played quite well overall.)
On linebacker Jelani Jenkins (11/23/16): “Maybe a certain role for Jelani fits him better. But right now, he’s our starting dime ‘backer, so he has got to stay healthy. If not, we’ve got guys behind him who are going to play. He understands that. Part of being healthy is a skill set for players, in my opinion. Some guys stay healthy, some guys don’t. So he’s got to acquire that skillset quickly… A different role, maybe playing less, maybe being a dime ‘backer full time, not being a starting base ‘backer. We’ll figure it out.” (WHAT HAPPENED: Jenkins tried to get healthy, but just may not be a great fit for the future.)
On cornerback Chris Culliver (11/23/16): “Chris Culliver was brought in here to help us at the corner spot, obviously. Chris had two major knee injuries. He worked hard – that wasn’t an issue – but he never got back to himself. He was never – in my opinion – full-speed. He needs more time. He needs more time to go home and rehab and train and to get himself healthy.” (WHAT HAPPENED: Culliver felt he was ready to play. But most all observers didn’t. So the team let him go.)
On who other than Ndamukong Suh has stopped the run (10/12/16): “I would say this, out of our front four, no one has. There have been weeks where we have done well, but each week it has been one guy here and there. To be stout in the running game, it has to be consistent across the board. It has to be the front four, linebackers and secondary fitting the run. It can’t be one guy busting the gap here, one guy missing a tackle there.” (WHAT HAPPENED: The Dolphins finished 29th in the NFL against the run. The concerns continue.)
On cornerback Tony Lippett (12/14/16): “It’s experience with ‘Lipp’ (Tony Lippett). ‘Lipp’ was a college wide receiver, so he’s played corner about two years of his life – so more experience obviously. He’s a tall corner, so controlling his body is a major issue; but as far as the kid’s work ethic and his engagement every day, he’s fine. He’s got great ball skills because he’s an ex-receiver, but more experience than anything.” (WHAT HAPPENED: By the end of the season, Joseph was saying Lippett had made the greatest individual progress of 2016.)
On defensive end Cameron Wake (11/23/16): “Cam was off of an injury that we thought was going to slow him down early, but obviously, it hadn’t, so I was wrong there. I still feel good about Cam starting slow, because where he is now, he’s healthy, he’s playing well.” (WHAT HAPPENED: Yes, Wake was able to play more snaps than anybody thought. Yes, increasing his snaps after four weeks was the right move. But it seems limiting Wake’s snaps early in the season, in part at the advice of the teams’ sports performance staff, was also a good one.)
On cornerback Bene Benwikere (12/7/16): “Well, he needs to show us that he’s ready to play. That’s from practice, because he won’t play in a game because he’s on the practice squad. So in practices, he’s got to show us he’s ready to play.” (WHAT HAPPENED: Benwikere never did play for the Dolphins.)
On defensive end Andre Branch (11/9/16): “I think Andre Branch is a talented guy. He was when we signed him. He’s been a guy over the years that hadn’t been consistent. Now he’s being more consistent. He’s playing with a tougher attitude. He’s not avoiding contact up the field. He’s working with the tackles. He’s playing the run game well. He’s in a contract year. He wants a long-term deal somewhere, so I don’t blame him. You play well and you get your long-term security. He’s a guy that’s a top-round pick. He should be a good player because he’s talented enough.” (WHAT HAPPENED: A motivated Branch had a career season opposite Wake. But one wonders if the Dolphins saw enough to lock him up to a player-satisfactory, long-term deal before his unrestricted free agency.)
On defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (1/5/17): “Jordan played really well last week, first of all. Jordan is a player that, if you can take his explosive or flash plays, you can make a tape and it’s special. But you can take his bad plays also and make a lowlight tape. So he’s a young player that’s inconsistent. He’s obviously a big man with talent. If he’s on and doing it right, he can be a special help to us this weekend; but he’s got to put the bad plays to rest.” (WHAT HAPPENED: Joseph often defended Phillips against criticism. But when Phillips surged at the end of the season, Joseph noted that the youngster must still strive for consistency.)
It also suggests right guard Jermon Bushrod struggled, which is true. But saying Bushrod was “disastrous in the run game” and the worst run-blocking guard in the NFL seems a bit extreme.
According to the report, left tackle Branden Albert got worse at the season progressed, which is true, but… Albert played through a serious wrist injury.
The Dolphins played most of this season with four lineman who had played left tackle in their careers.
The Dolphins at times also had four first-rounders on the line: left tackle Albert, left guard Tunsil, center Pouncey and right tackle James.
Miami invested $28.6 million into its offensive line in 2016, according to Spotrac.com. Miami’s investment of 19 perecent of salary cap to offensive line was fifth-highest in the NFL.
And the only position group Miami spent a higher percentage of salary cap on was defensive line.
Here is why it seems hard to believe only two NFL teams in the NFL had a worse offensive line:
• Miami finished 9th in the NFL in rushing offense. Yes, Jay Ajayi led the NFL in broken tackles. But there were certainly times when the offensive line contributed with key blocks.
• Miami quarterbacks were sacked 30 only times. This is 10th-best in the NFL. And yes, quarterback Ryan Tannehill increased his pocket presence and willingness to move, but he also had a history of being sacked.
For the record, PFF says San Diego and Seattle were worse.
San Diego was 26th in rushing offense and 19th in sacks allowed.
Seattle was 25th in rushing offense and 27th in sacks allowed.
DAVIE–It was a curious year for the Dolphins, who at one point went on a 9-1 stretch in which every week a different element of the team seemed to shine. There were days like the win in Los Angeles where the defense shut out the Rams all afternoon to keep victory in play for the offense on the final drives, and days like Christmas Eve when it felt as though Miami wasn’t playing defense at all and was fortunate to have a high-powered offense.
DAVIE — Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase was asked about moving guard Laremy Tunsil to left tackle next season and on Wednesday, he said he’ll need to see “how things shake out.”
So, no, there weren’t any definitive proclamations about what seems inevitable.
Tunsil, 22, would like to eventually move to left tackle.
There is no question Tunsil is perfectly capable of playing left tackle well.
And there is also no doubt that the Dolphins will at least discuss if they should move on from the remainder of Branden Albert’s contract or ask him to take a paycut.
Albert, 32, has a salary cap hit of $10.6 million next season and the Dolphins could save $7.2 million if they cut him.
The Dolphins. in general, prefer not to create a hole (in this case left guard) when not necessary.
But Albert, Tunsil’s mentor, struggled at times this season, especially when he tried to play through a wrist injury.
After Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh, Tunsil said he was willing to play any position to help the team.
There are so many areas of the Dolphins that need improvement — linebacker, defensive end, tight end, guard — that they may decide it is worth keeping Albert at the same, or a slightly reduced, number.
Gase said the coaching staff needs to take some time to decompress. After that, he’ll engage in more in-depth discussions about “who’s playing what.”