Dolphins coach Adam Gase more confident than ever that he’s got a winning roster

Kenny Stills and the Dolphins’ offense are looking to snap back from a low-scoring 2017 season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Dolphins coach Adam Gase emerged from free agency defiant amid widespread criticism of the team’s offseason and claimed he had a winning roster.

Miami had just finished unloading Mike Pouncey, Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry, as well as their massive salaries, and didn’t make any flashy signings to replace them. Still, particularly on offense, this group of personnel was closest to what Gase envisioned when he took the job in January 2016.

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He’s had a while, including the last four weeks of offseason practices, to reevaluate whether he was right about that and he’s now more confident than ever. Watching Ryan Tannehill work behind a remodeled offensive line with several new skill players confirmed for Gase that his offense is on track for a big comeback this season.

“I think so,” he said. “I see a lot of the guys doing things the way we need them done. I like the way that we’re handling the mental game of it as well. Things are moving fast. We’re reacting very quickly.

“Really, it’s going to come down to how we handle training camp when it starts to get hot (and) the preseason games. You’re always going to have an injury. Who’s going to step up and fill those voids? We’ve still got a long ways to go. The season is a long ways away. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and we’ll just keep grinding.”

Tannehill is the biggest difference, taking command and making plays that were simply beyond the capacity of Jay Cutler and Matt Moore. Nothing makes Gase more confident than that.

While those outside the building have always had doubts about Tannehill, who has yet to produce an above-average season since being picked No. 8 overall in 2012, Gase has been unwavering in his belief that this is a winning quarterback.

He immediately bought into Tannehill’s ability as a dual-threat playmaker and thought all he needed was to be emboldened by a coach who pushed him into being more of a leader. He appears to have adopted some of Gase’s personality, and his past year and a half on the sideline made him fully fluent in Gase’s system as well.

Watching him operate that offense over the last four weeks heightened Gase’s optimism about the upcoming season.

“He’s gotten better,” he said of Tannehill. “We’ve been working (on) a lot of pocket movement things and getting him comfortable in that aspect. It doesn’t seem like he’s really changed much as far as worrying about bodies around him. He’s out there playing. He’s throwing the ball well. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time with these skill guys in the offseason.”

Almost everyone Tannehill will be throwing to is new to him. Among the main pass-catchers, only receivers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker were playing a significant role in the offense when Tannehill went down in 2016.

He worked frequently with Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola, A.J. Derby and rookie tight end Mike Gesicki in player-run passing sessions this offseason.

“I feel right now that we legitimately have two groups of receivers that can play at a high level for us,” Tannehill said. “So if we want to sub somebody out and keep fresh legs in there, or if someone goes down, I don’t feel like there’s really going to be much of a drop off.”

Amendola and Wilson were both as good in Organized Team Activities as Gase anticipated, and Gesicki was a breath of fresh air at a position that’s hurt Miami for a long time. That said, there’s no certainty they’ll be able to perform like that against live defenses.

Is Wilson prepared to be used all over the field? Is Amendola going to be another overpriced, past-his-prime signing like Julius Thomas, Lawrence Timmons and Mario Williams? Are there ever any certainties when it comes to rookies?

Kenyan Drake has to prove himself as a versatile, every-down running back, something hasn’t done as a collegian or pro. Even if Drake thrives in that role, the Dolphins still need something out of 35-year-old Frank Gore or fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage (preferably both of them).

On the o-line, San Francisco castoff Daniel Kilgore takes over for Pouncey, Jesse Davis is a new starter at right guard and Laremy Tunsil looks to rebound from a frustrating season in which he was beaten or blocked the wrong man too many times.

And that’s just the offense.

With more than a month between now and training camp, and another month-plus until the season begins, Gase isn’t fretting over any of those things. For now, he likes what he sees.

“We’re gelling pretty good,” he said. “They like to practice against each other, they like playing together. You can tell there’s a lot of energy out there. I think that’s really one of the things that’s going to be improvement for us. We kind of lost that a little bit last year. This year we’re looking like we’re headed in the right direction.”

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Dolphins coach Adam Gase high on QB David Fales, but remains undecided

David Fales still has quite a fight ahead of him to win the backup quarterback job. (AP)

DAVIE — The way everything has lined up for quarterback David Fales this offseason, it’ll be a surprise if anyone else claims the Dolphins’ backup quarterback job.

It’s a pivotal career opportunity for Fales after bouncing around the last four years. Miami coach Adam Gase is adamant that he’s going to pick from among Fales, Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty rather than call a free agent veteran like he did with Jay Cutler a year ago.

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Part of the reason he’s been so confident about moving forward with this group is what he’s seen from Fales over the past several months.

“I think after that last game, I was feeling good,” Gase said Thursday, referring to Fales’ passable performance in the season finale against Buffalo.

When he brought in offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who coached Fales in Chicago, he confirmed what Gase thought. Fales looked like a much more polished quarterback than he’d been earlier in his career and appeared ready to be Ryan Tannehill’s backup.

Gase was encouraged enough by what he’d seen and what Loggains thought that he didn’t think it was necessary for the Dolphins to make any bold moves with quarterbacks in the recent free agency period.

“We felt like (keeping Fales) was a good first step for us and really we wanted to see how everything played out, because between free agency and the draft, you just never know how things are going to shake out,” Gase said. “By adding Brock and then Bryce, I think it’s been a good competition.

“That’s really what we’re going to be doing going into training camp. We’re just going to let those guys compete and see who wins out.”

As solid as Fales was last year and as well he’s performed in offseason practices, Gase isn’t installing him as the backup after the end of Organized Team Activities. He plans to keep the position battle open well into August.

“Right now I don’t even want to go in that direction yet because I don’t have a great answer for it,” Gase said. “I want to see guys play in preseason games. I want to see kind of how training camp goes. That’s a lot of time there and there’s a lot of football to be played. I want those guys all competing. I’m hoping those guys all have the same mentality that they’re the guy to beat.”

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Dolphins DE Cameron Wake saw ‘missed opportunities’ for sacks in 2017

Cameron Wake isn’t fixated on sack statistics, but he knows the Dolphins’ numbers should be better. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — One of the Dolphins’ biggest problems last season was that they were in the top 10 in defensive line spending and the bottom 10 in sacks.

That’s not Cameron Wake’s fault. He had another double-digit year (his third straight healthy season doing so) with 10.5, but the rest of the team had just 19.5. Only five teams had fewer than Miami’s 30 sacks last season (25.5 from the defensive line), and that’s part of why opposing quarterbacks lit up the Dolphins on a weekly basis.

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“There were a lot of missed opportunities sometimes,” Wake said this week. “I’m not a sack counter. I think you guys know that about me. I honestly couldn’t even tell you where we ranked. I know as a defense and as a team, we didn’t get to where we should’ve.”

The Dolphins were counting mainly on the starting duo of Wake and Branch, which combined for 17 sacks the year before, as well as a significant contribution from first-round pick Charles Harris.

Branch, fresh off signing a three-year, $24 million contract, had three sacks in the first four games before injuries derailed his season. He was hurt most of the year and finished with 4.5 in 14 games.

Harris had a lot of close calls in the backfield, but managed just two sacks.

“If you look at the guys we had and our expectations, we weren’t there,” Wake said. “If we were to have success as a team… I just want to get everybody on the same page as far as winning the game on Sunday and us reaching our potential.

“Obviously potential to be at the top of the sack numbers should be there, but I think that comes with all of the other pieces of the puzzle, whether it’s stopping the run, third-down numbers, some things offenses are going to do or not do. All of that ties into what you get to do as far as getting to the quarterback.”

Miami’s disappointing defensive line play led to major changes this offseason. The team cut Suh, absorbing the biggest dead salary cap hit in league history, and traded for former all-pro defensive end Robert Quinn. The plan this year is to balance snaps at defensive end among a first unit of Wake and Quinn and a second unit of Branch and Harris.

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Dolphins rookie TE Mike Gesicki rips through offseason practices

Gesicki (86) is the highest-drafted Dolphins tight end since 1974. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins’ top two picks in this year’s NFL Draft appear to be as good as everyone thought they were. That’s great when it comes to safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, but it’s essential with tight end Mike Gesicki.

Gesicki, the second-rounder from Penn State, is immediately on the spot to earn the starting job and add something to the offense that Miami’s been missing for years. Tight end has been a hugely problematic position for this team, which hasn’t had a good one since Charles Clay in 2014.

At 6-foot-6, 249 pounds with exceptional athleticism, Gesicki could be the trend-breaker. He’s got great speed for the position and presents a big target in the red zone with his leaping ability. The main question has been whether he can handle everything thrown at him mentally at this level and master the playbook, and he seems to be progressing well in that department.

“He’s had some really good days,” coach Adam Gase said at the end of Organized Team Activities. “(Wednesday) was a good example where we had a two-minute drill and we had some things in the red zone where he was able to take advantage of a couple matchups that he had.

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“He’s aggressive to the ball and he can make plays. He’s a big man that can run and has really good hands. It’s been fun to watch him kind of develop and trying to learn this offense. He puts a lot of time into it. He’s trying to be one of those guys that can play fast.”
Gase added that Gesicki’s “been good” with the mental side of the game as well. He’s been putting in extra study time with fellow rookie tight end Durham Smythe in their hotel room. The players take turn calling out plays for the other one to draw up on a whiteboard.

Gesicki isn’t much of a blocker and he’s working on that, but the Dolphins didn’t draft him to block. He caught 105 balls for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns in his final two college seasons, and that’s what they’re looking for out of him.

In the last three seasons, no Miami tight end has caught more than 41 passes and the position has been a glaring void in the offense. Julius Thomas’ season of that many catches, 388 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 was better than the Dolphins got out of Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims before him.

It’s not totally surprising given how little emphasis the organization has put on tight ends in the draft. Prior to this year, the Dolphins hadn’t selected one in the first three rounds since Michael Egnew in 2012. Gesicki is the third-highest picked tight end in franchise history.

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

What Adam Gase said on final day of Miami Dolphins spring practice

Adam Gase and DeVante Parker working at practice. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins wrapped up their 13th scheduled practice on Thursday. And here are some of the highlights from Adam Gase’s final availability until training camp starts near the end of July.

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• The Dolphins were making less mental errors at the end of the spring than the beginning.

• The rookies are ready for training camp because they’re thinking less now.

• There is more positive energy at practice this season.

• Ryan Tannehill has worked hard on pocket movement this offseason.

• David Fales and Jakeem Grant have hooked up all spring.

• He’s not ready to say Fales is ahead of Brock Osweiler until they play in preseason games.

• Mike Gesicki crushed it in practice on Wednesday.

• They’re going to play the best corner. That means Tony Lippett has to be ready to beat out Cordrea Tankersley.

• Robert Quinn’s bend is freakish. Similar to Von Miller.

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Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil ready to move on from ‘horrible taste’ of 2017 season

Laremy Tunsil is ready for a comeback . (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Nobody needs to tell Laremy Tunsil last season didn’t go well for him. It’s been on his mind for months.

In his move from left guard back to his natural spot at left tackle, he struggled with missed assignments, inconsistency and just straight-up getting beat by defensive ends. The Dolphins’ coaching staff thought it’d be an easy transition for him, but that’s one of the toughest positions in the game regardless of how familiar a player is with it.

Tunsil’s not hiding from how poorly he played, but he’s not going to stay stuck on it, either.

“It was a bad taste, a horrible taste,” he said today when Miami wrapped up its offseason practices. “I just wanted to improve my game. That’s the main thing I was dwelling on. I know I could’ve been better.

“Now I’m here and it’s a new season, new person. Let’s get it.”

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Burying the past is probably for the best, and Tunsil’s right to think of this as a fresh start.

He spent a lot of time analyzing film of his mistakes in the offseason, zeroing in on his worst games and thinking through the corrections. New offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn has been an uplifting influence on him after a chaotic year for that unit last season and he’s intent on keeping everything positive for Tunsil. He’s also got a new wingman at left guard in Josh Sitton, a four-time Pro Bowler with a decade of experience.

All of those elements are working together to set Tunsil up for a bounce-back year.

“I just wanted to work on my overall game: pass, set, run game — anything,” he said. “I just wanted to be a complete player.”

Sitton’s presence, both as a mentor and as a better player than anyone Miami had at left guard, is gives the Dolphins good cause for optimism with Tunsil. If he stays healthy, he’ll make Tunsil’s job easier and steady the line.

Sitton said last month he’s eager to help Tunsil and their relationship is already off to a good start. They’ve spoken extensively throughout the offseason, and Sitton is setting the example the Dolphins want Tunsil to follow.

“The guy you’re playing next to, you see how he operates,” coach Adam Gase said. “You see how he works in meeting rooms and then comes on the field and works individually. That’s the thing I’ve been most impressed with.

“I think (Tunsil) being able to talk to him every day, as far as, ‘Hey, what do we want to do here?’ or ‘How do we want to set on these pass rushes?’ — those two guys working in tandem is going to be a big thing for us.”

The Dolphins’ overhaul of their offensive hinges largely on whether Tunsil is able to establish himself as the top-quality left tackle they envisioned when they drafted him 13th overall in 2016.

They started him at left guard because Branden Albert was at left tackle, then offloaded Albert to Jacksonville to make room for Tunsil’s triumphant return to the position last season. It didn’t go as planned.

“I never assumed it was going to be easy,” said Tunsil, who was a left tackle his entire career prior to his rookie season. “Playing left tackle at the highest level of football, I never thought it’d be easy.

“It’s very natural, but it’s the highest point of the game. You get what I’m saying? You’re going against some of the best athletes in the game. It’s always going to be a competition every week.”

Now they’ll line him and Sitton up on the left side next to new center Daniel Kilgore, a much more affordable option than three-time Pro Bowl pick Mike Pouncey. Jesse Davis is done jumping around and has settled in at right guard next to tackle Ja’Wuan James. Those moves won’t matter much, though, unless Tunsil turns it around.

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MarQueis Gray: Don’t underestimate Miami Dolphins’ crowded, diverse TE corps

MarQueis Gray is helping mentor the Dolphins’ two rookie tight ends. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — If there’s one player who could have done a double take at the Dolphins’ draft, MarQueis Gray is the guy.

It surprised no one when Miami took Mike Gesicki in the second round, but the real twist came two rounds later, when the Dolphins did a double take of their own, nabbing Durham Smythe — another tight end.

Yes, Gray was watching.

No, he says, he wasn’t sweating.

“We just got two new guys,” Gray nonchalantly said. “I’m not a stranger to it. I’m undrafted. I’ve been in competition all six years I’ve been in the league. So I didn’t really think too much of it.”

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Despite seeing Julius Thomas depart, Gray finds himself in a crowded room. Besides those three, the Dolphins also have Thomas Duarte, a former-seventh round pick in 2016; plus veterans A.J. Derby and Gavin Escobar, who were plucked off the waiver wire.

Although Gesicki might have the inside track because of his pedigree and the downfield threat he presents, he is a rookie, so the Dolphins have a long way to go toward settling on a starter.

In previous seasons, Gray said, “I either had a head guy that has been assigned or they brought in some all-star guy, like they did last year. For us to have an open spot this year is pretty rare. You are competing.”

Competing, but also teaching. Gray said all the tight ends have been splitting first-team reps, which can only compound the questions he gets from the rookies. He welcomes it.

“I didn’t have any choice,” said Gray, 29. “I’m the oldest guy in the room, I’ve been in this playbook the longest with Thomas. So anytime those guys have questions, whether it’s on offense or special tams, I’ve got to be the one to step up and help them.”

Gray’s primary message: “Just be able to get the formations down and everything else will come. So they’ve done a great job so far this offseason and it’s going to continue to grow during camp.”

Both draftees have impressed Gray.

Regarding Gesicki: “He’s been making plays. I see why we got him in the second round. He’s a big-time athlete and he’s going to help us out a lot.”

Regarding Smythe: “Oh, man. They talked about his run-blocking and he’s been doing a great job of it, but he also can get open and make those tough catches.”

Are people underestimating Smythe as a threat?

“I believe so. They’re underestimating everybody, really.”

Gray shouldn’t be underestimated. Even though he was a quarterback at Minnesota, at 263, he’s the heaviest of the tight ends and respected by the Dolphins for his blocking ability so much they gave him a two-year contract through this season. It wasn’t for his receiving ability; he caught just one pass for 10 yards last year.

Bottom line: The tight end competition will be one to watch in training camp.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can do everything, really,” Gray said. “I mean, line up in the backfield. Play fullback. Line up in the slot. Line up at receiver. Tight end. We’ve got a lot of diversity in our room and that’s a real good thing to have.”

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Miami Dolphins OT Ja’Wuan James not talking contract

Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Ja’Wuan James is the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL in 2018, at $9.34 million.

But James doesn’t want to talk about it.

“I am just focused on having a good year here,” James said Thursday, when asked about Miami’s decision to process their fifth-year option. “I am focused on having a good year for this team and that’s it.”

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James, 26, signed a 4-year, $8.4 million contract as a rookie. So, presumably he’s happy about earning more than that in one season.

But is James still hopeful a long-term deal can be reached with the club?

“I’m really just focused on the season and getting better,” James said. “I’m focused on this hamstring and getting myself to 100 percent.”

James is generally one of the most affable, cordial, gregarious players in the Dolphins locker room. He is extremely approachable and professional. He just clearly doesn’t want to talk about his contract right now.

James was asked about Pro Football Focus ranking him as the fifth-best pass-blocking tackle in the NFL.

“I feel like I’m just trying to get better every day,” James said. “I’m just focused on coming back from this injury. Being a whole lot better. And finishing this season.”

One interesting thing James alluded to a few times was overcoming his season-ending hamstring injury. James missed the last eight games of last season with a severely pulled and torn hamstring.

“I feel like I’m past it,” James said. “I just feel the first couple of days, it felt different. The game is so fast and stuff. Just from not being out there. But once I started picking it up I was fine.”

James has been working closely with first-year offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn.

“Just using my technique the same every time,” James said. “That’s the hardest part, just doing the same thing, every time. No matter who you’re going against. Silent count. Whatever it is. Maintaining the same consistency in my technique.”

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Practice report: Miami Dolphins close out Organized Team Activities

The Dolphins held their final day of offseason practices this morning. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins are in the practice bubble this morning for the final session of Organized Team Activities and they’ll close it out with a light workout. Here are some notes from today’s practice:

— There are several absences, but these workouts are technically voluntary. Frank Gore, Kenyan Drake, Cameron Wake and Andre Branch were in attendance. Those all appear to be rest-related.

— It was a light day overall, with a modest amount of 11-on-11 work. Most players did individual drills, and the Dolphins worked on kickoffs as well.

— All four quarterbacks worked. Ryan Tannehill practiced every day through OTAs and minicamp.

— David Fales threw a 45-yarder down the middle for a touchdown pass to Jakeem Grant, beating two defensive backs in coverage.

— Tannehill found Danny Amendola in the middle of the field for a 30-hard touchdown.

— He struck again at the end of practice with a 40-yarder to DeVante Parker.

— Left guard Josh Sitton was back at practice after missing a day for undisclosed reasons.

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Latest on the progress of Miami Dolphins’ backup quarterbacks

David Fales is the favorite to win the backup quarterback job. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins still have ample time to sort out their quarterback situation, but it continues to look like David Fales is the man to beat for job of being Ryan Tannehill’s backup.

Fales, who was with the team last offseason and the back half of the regular season, is getting significant snaps with the second-string offense, with Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty behind him.

“We’re just going to keep, really, just pushing those guys and keep opening up the offense to do as many things as possible,” coach Adam Gase said this week. “They’re trying to get used to the guys that they’re practicing with. I know even for David it’s a different group than he was last year.”

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

Fales took third-string reps last offseason behind Tannehill and Matt Moore, but Gase said he’s spent more time second unit this year. He’s had a lot of plays with Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant, both of whom are borderline starters.

“Those guys are really good receivers and they challenge those DBs.,” Gase said. “It’s been good for both David and Brock and Bryce to get to work with a lot of the guys they’re working with right now.”

Fales, Osweiler and Petty have not been available to the media this offseason.

Tannehill is the clear starter and takes the majority of his reps with DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola.

Gase is out to back up his claim that he has a dependable No. 2 quarterback on the roster and won’t need to call a veteran free agent if Tannehill gets hurt again. Fales and Petty have limited playing experience, and Osweiler hasn’t been viable since 2015.

The advantage for Fales and Osweiler is their experience with Gase prior to this year. That’s especially true for Fales after playing in the offense last season and impressing Gase with extended playing time in the season finale. Dating back to January, Gase has repeatedly indicated Fales is a strong candidate to be Tannehill’s backup.

“Last year we felt really good about how David was coming along,” Gase said three months ago. “Letting him move on (to another team) was not going to be an option for us.”

Gase also said at that time he would “probably” keep three quarterbacks on the active roster in 2018, compared to two each of the past two seasons, though that was factoring in the possibility that the Dolphins would draft one. It’s unclear whether he still intends to go that route, and he doesn’t have to decide until the cut from 90 to 53 players at the end of the preseason.

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