What to expect when Miami Dolphins start spring practices Tuesday

Ryan Tannehill looks sweet in those throwbacks, no? (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Almost one year ago to the day, Ryan Tannehill was declaring himself and his knees “100 percent” and “totally normal.”

Tannehill made it through organized team activities, but did not last through training camp, his season ending with an anterior cruciate ligament torn in practice. But this year is different.

Tannehill’s knee has been surgically repaired. And there is every indication that while doctors feel outstanding about his recovery, everyone in the organization wants to make sure to protect Tannehill from his own competitiveness.

The first of 13 important spring practices begin Tuesday in Davie. Tannehill is planning to participate. But coach Adam Gase has warned this may also be a great opportunity to get a close look at the David Fales-Brock Osweiler backup battle.

In part it’s to evaluate them, but also to ease Tannehill back, as he’s not the type to ever ease himself back into anything.

Miami needs Tannehill healthy to have any chance to exceed expectations this season (five-to-six wins, says Vegas). And so really, there is absolutely no need to push him in these organized activities. Tannehill already has the advantage of an extra year of mental reps in Gase’s offense.

“I’m a coach and not a doctor,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last week. “I trust our medical staff here, they’ll tell us everything we need to know about that with coach Gase. We’re in the process of putting together a good plan for him coming up with OTAs. What I’ve been able to see from him is that he’s a good thrower that can make all of the throws.”

When Tannehill is under center, he’ll be taking snaps from a new center (Daniel Kilgore), be protected by a new Pro Bowl guard (Josh Sitton), handing off to a new Pro Bowl center (Frank Gore) and passing to new receivers (Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola) and tight ends (Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe).

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Gone are security blankets Mike Pouncey, the center, and Jarvis Landry, the receiver. But Tannehill is perpetually positive and non-controversial. So while he may be saddened by their departure, surely he’ll stress excitement about the new additions. Dolphins media and fans have not heard from Tannehill since his latest injury, last August.

So when Tannehill speaks, it may be enlightening.

Tannehill wears a headset, to communicate with Gase. And getting up to the speed of offense Gase and Loggains plan to operate this season will be interesting to watch unfold.

On defense, linebacker Raekwon McMillan had planned to wear a headset and lead Miami’s defense as a rookie. All eyes will be on #52, as he makes his return from a season-ending knee injury sustained on his first and only NFL preseason game play.

The Dolphins have been encouraged by the progress of Tannehill, McMillan and cornerback Tony Lippett (Achilles), and all three will be on the field in some capacity next week. It is still uncertain how much work all three will actually do, however.

[RELATED: 10 Reasons why the Miami Dolphins won’t stink as much as sports books think]

Miami will need improved pass rush from a group of players with high pedigree — Cam Wake, Charles Harris, Andre Branch and newly acquired Robert Quinn. How those four players perform against Miami’s first-round offensive tackles, Ja’Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil, bears watching.

So too, will watching how Miami’s two rookie tight ends perform, especially when matched up with tight-end stopping rookies Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jerome Baker.

Miami’s organized team activities are closed to the public. But don’t worry. You’re all invited to training camp this summer.

And more great news: The Palm Beach Post’s Daily Dolphin will be reporting from the select spring practices open to the media.

We’ll be charting every catch from Amendola, Wilson, Gesicki and Smythe. And of course, every single move made by Tannehill, in his official return to the field and as the leader of Miami’s offense.

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Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke has been given what he’s asked for

Minkah Fitzpatrick should answer questions for Miami defensive coordinator Matt Burke. (Getty Images)

We’re going to start by pointing out that, yes, since last season ended, the Miami Dolphins have cut their most talented defensive player, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

But he cost too much and wasn’t the ideal leader, so there are reasons. Valid reasons.

We’re now going to note that Miami’s defense should be better in 2018 than it was in 2017. And it had better be. And who else believes it’s going to be? Defensive coordinator Matt Burke.

“We have high expectations in the defensive room, on this staff, for this unit, and I expect that we’ll perform better. If not, I’m sure I’ll hear it from you guys,” Burke said at a recent press conference.

The defense should be better because it is more balanced and deeper and because since since the arrival of Burke and coach Adam Gase in 2016, the Dolphins have heavily invested in the types of players Burke says he needs, especially in the draft.

NFL teams are truly built in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Since the new regime change, Miami has invested five such picks on defensive players and only two such picks on offensive players.

Miami’s salary cap is also tilted toward defense, an overarching organizational philosophy.

Burke has been provided top prospects at all levels — physical corners Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley, athletic middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, edge rusher Charles Harris and dynamic, playmaking defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Frankly speaking, it is more than enough to be better. Now. This season.

“I have high expectations,” Burke said. “I do every year. Obviously, we’ve been fortunate the last couple drafts and offseason to add some pieces. Chris Grier and those guys have done a good job in trying to get … I’m like the broken record in terms of me always wanting more, more, more and ‘Give me this,’ and ‘I don’t have this,’ and all of that. They’ve done a good job of providing some of those weapons and pieces.”

In 2016, Miami was scorched by opposing running backs. The Dolphins’ defense was among the very worst in the league in rushing yards per game allowed and rushing yards per carry allowed.

In 2017, Burke, in his first season as defensive coordinator, made adjustments that successfully, for the most part, addressed that.

But Miami’s pass defense suffered. Last season, Miami was among the worst in the league at opposing passer rating, turnovers, interceptions, and sacks. As a result, Miami was among the worst in the league at points per game allowed.

Simply put, this must be a year the entire group steps forward. This must be the year Miami plays better overall team defense. And there are reasons for optimism.

There are zero excuse for Miami to not produce much, much more pressure and many, many more sacks. Cam Wake, newly acquired Robert Quinn, Harris and Andre Branch should be among the best pass rush groups in the league.

If they are not, something is wrong.

And Burke, who is scholarly and diligent, now has an extremely versatile collection of assets who can both cover and blitz. That group includes Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker.

It is on Burke to make it work. It is on Burke to figure it out.

“We’ve got some different body types and some versatile players in there that may end up shaking out,” Burke said. “Again, looking ahead, it’s sort of package to package or week to week and things like that.”

Barring injury (McMillan’s season-ender dealt an early and crippling blow last year) Burke will have matchup advantages, and must capitalize on them. Burke made it clear last season he didn’t have the ideal player to cover tight ends and running backs, especially tight ends, on a consistent basis.

Miami drafted Fitzpatrick and Baker, in large part, because they can both do just that.

Burke and a new group of defensive position coaches must also facilitate growth in Miami’s young corners (there must be more turnovers), maximize Fitzpatrick’s massive talents and somehow, get more from Miami’s front seven. They must do this while not regressing so badly in the area of run defense that it’s deja vu all over again in the middle.

Miami’s defense was 18th in scoring defense and 29th in total defense in 2016.

Miami’s defense was 29th in scoring defense and 16th in total defense in 2017.

There is enough talent and depth on this roster for Miami’s defense to be in the top half of the league in both scoring defense and total defense in 2018. There should be more sacks, more turnovers, improved pass defense and fewer points allowed.

“You put me on the spot,” Burke said recently. “Yes,  Again, right or wrong, I have high expectations every season. But the more that we develop these guys and the more we kind of get the pieces that we think fit our scheme… The more of those guys that we keep adding to the puzzle and the more we can get them comfortable playing the techniques we want to play and doing the things we want to do, obviously the better we should play.”

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Adam Gase: Why the Miami Dolphins doubled down on draft TE’s

Tight end Mike Gesicki of the Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DAVIE — Why did the Miami Dolphins use second and fourth round draft choices on tight ends?

Well, the Dolphins really, really need tight end help. And they really, really liked Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe.

“We like the group that we have here; we just wanted to add to it,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Thursday. “The way that (general manager) Chris (Grier) had the board stacked, it worked out in our favor as far as Mike (Gesicki) being available. We kind of emphasize that position of a pass-catching-type tight end that can win one-on-one matchups versus safeties and linebackers. It was the right time for us. We felt like he was the best guy at that pick for us. We thought it was a good addition.”

The Dolphins are hoping the extremely athletic Gesicki can be a weapon in the seam, on the sidelines and in the red zone. They can only hope he has the kind of impact on Miami that Rob Gronkowski once had on New England as a youngster.

The selection of Smythe in the fourth was even more interesting. Considered mostly a blocking tight end at Notre Dame, it should not surprise you that Gase sees more of a complete player in the rookie.

“We were interested in (Smythe); we were high on him,” Gase said. “We weren’t sure where he was really going to be and if he would fall to that spot; and when he did, we felt like that was a guy that we knew had extreme value as far as his blocking in run and pass protection. We felt like he was a better route-runner than a lot of people were giving him credit for. We felt like his production could be something that we value a lot here, especially with what he showed in the run game.”

It is possible Gesicki and Smythe earn starting jobs right away. It’s also possible veterans A.J. Derby, MarQuies Gray and Gavin Escobar compete for playing time.

But Miami felt tight end was a position it really needed an injection of youth.

“We wanted to create competition at that spot,” Grier said, after the draft. “The big thing for us is we spent a lot of time with all of these guys. With Durham, we had a really good interview with him. We liked what we saw on film. We saw him play down here versus Miami. For us, adding another guy who can block, another body to the roster to compete with those guys. Having variety and being able to have Adam have different chess pieces – whether 12, 21, whatever, 13 personnel – so it just gives you more opportunities and creates competition, which will make all those guys better.”

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Miami Dolphins’ Adam Gase: DeVante Parker approaching offseason with purpose

DeVante Parker is having a strong offseason, according to Adam Gase. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

DAVIE — Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker has been reading a book about legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice, according to a person close to Parker. It’s all about realizing the commitment it takes to become great.

According to Dolphins coach Adam Gase, Parker’s offseason is off to a very good start.

“He’s done a great job so far this offseason,” Gase told The Audible, a Miami Dolphins podcast. “He’s really been one of the guys that has tried to do things on his own. He doesn’t need someone to hold his hand and take him here and say eat like this and do this. He’s doing things on his own. And that comes with maturity, too. He was drafted young. And he’s been doing it now. This is his fourth season. Sometimes it takes a second to say OK I know how to do this. And I’ve been doing it. And I don’t need someone to tell me I need to do this. He is doing things on his own. And trying to find ways to get better on the field. I think he has more of a purpose when he comes out on the field.”

Parker has begun to realize that doing only what is assigned — on and off the field — will not allow him to fulfill his potential.

Gase contends Parker’s biggest issue has been injuries. Gase says Parker was poised to break out last season.

“He’s had a little bad luck,” Gase told The Audible. “We felt like things were going really well last year. He had a really good camp. Things were really trending in the right direction. And then he gets the ankle. And it was legitimate. He had a high ankle sprain, which anybody who moves around knows, it’s hard. You’re not working in a phone booth. You have to be able to move. You have to be able to defend yourself. You have to be able to jump. Accelerate. And it’s a tough one to come back from. And I’ll say this. He proved it to me the year before when he had the back. He’ll play through pain. It’s just as a play caller you’re trying to figure out where is he at, what can he do. There are a lot of things that go into that. When you see him on the field and in your mind when he’s 100 percent you throw a lot of things out the window and you’re saying just get it to him. It doesn’t matter what you call. It doesn’t matter how many guys are on him. Just get him the ball. And when he gets banged up then you’re trying to measure, like, where is he at, really?”

Gase said the presence of Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola will continue to help Parker’s growth.

“(Parker) says, ‘I’m going to work on this today,'” Gase said. “Kenny (Stills) has done a good job of guiding himself in the right direction, without holding his hand. He’s been trying to show him the right things to do. He’s been around a minute. He’s on his second contract. He knows exactly how we want to do things. He’s the leader of that room. And then adding a guy like Danny (Amendola), who has done it, and played in big time games and made big time plays in big moments and those guys watch him at 32 and he runs every route like this might be the last one. And when guys see that it just picks up the whole environment of that wide receiver group.”

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10 Reasons why the Miami Dolphins won’t stink as much as sports books think

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill last played for Miami in 2016. (AP Photo/Brad Penner)

I’m not a sports bettor, as evidenced by a recent venture to Las Vegas highlighted by a tribute performance to The Beatles in which circus-trained acrobats dazzled the crowd with incredible feats of athleticism.

It was really good.

Vegas does not think the Dolphins are going to be really good. In fact, Vegas thinks the Dolphins are going to stink in 2018.

Perhaps I am a sucker. When a line seems too good to be true, it usually is, and Vegas usually knows more than even the guy who covers a team on a daily basis.

There’s a sports book at The Mirage (that’s where The Beatles: LOVE can be seen) and there are also plenty of online wagering destinations, which all seem to have this in common: they hate the Dolphins.

It seems the folks in the desert feel Miami’s talent pool has dried up (see Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey, and yes, The Jupiter Juggernaut, kicker Cody Parkey).

There are issues. Plenty of issues. But an over/under line of 5.5?

Hmmm. I’ll bite. If, you know, I was the wagering type.

It seems Miami is projected to win between 5.5 and 6.5 games this season, after winning 6 last season (with smokin’ Jay Cutler! at quarterback). It seems I have a different perspective on Miami’s roster building strategy.

Yes, Miami’s overall approach in free agency and the draft can be questioned. But did you notice that the power trio of Mike Tannenbaum-Chris Grier-Adam Gase made moves designed to win this year? We’re not talking a Super Bowl. We’re talking be a legitimate contender for the playoffs entering December. And I’m here to tell you that’s how I see it.

I’m here to give you 10 reasons for hope (hey, it’s May). And I’m here to say I believe Miami definitely, positively, absolutely, without question, without hesitation, with full conviction, will win — at least six games. More likely seven to nine.

But five-and-a-half???

We must begin this story of hope with references to 1. starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and starting middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who return this season after missing all of last season with knee injuries.

How devastating is it to play without the men expected to wear the headsets, as Miami’s coaches on the field, before the season even begins? Tannehill is a polarizing figure in this town, which is hard to believe considering how vanilla his persona can seem.

But he can be good enough. There I said it. Again. Why can’t Tannehill be Matt Ryan-Kirk Cousins-Alex Smith-like? Why can’t Tannehill be worthy of Pro Bowl consideration? I know many of you are tired of hearing it. But what if, just maybe, you see it this season?

Tannehill is worth at least two or three wins over the 2017 version of Cutler. He just is.

Kenyan Drake is one of the NFL’s emerging backs. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The Dolphins need a star as Miami is a star-driven town, and there aren’t too many obvious ones on the roster at the moment. But I present 2. running back Kenyan Drake. What if I told you no running back in the NFL had more yards than Drake over the last five weeks of the season? None. What if I told you Drake had three rushing plays for 40-plus yards, which tied for the second-most in the NFL, despite starting just five games?

Miami dumped Pro Bowlers, especially Ajayi, Landry and Suh, in part, because they felt their leadership style wasn’t conducive to a winning atmosphere. Miami wanted to reconfigure its nucleus with players they feel bring a more team-oriented approach. Enter 3. Josh Sitton, Frank Gore and Danny Amendola.

All three players have won in the league. Sitton is still playing at a very high level, filling a long-suffering need at guard. Amendola is going to have a hard time justifying his salary, but he is a quality addition to the locker room. And Gore, a true professional, can help mentor Drake.

You’re going to claim blasphemy for raising 4. DeVante Parker at this moment. But Parker has turned a bit of a corner in his preparation, knowing this is truly a make-or-break season in his career, say those who know him best. We’ll see. But Parker has the ability. It’s never been about ability. And having Tannehill back will help him.

For years, Miami has been embarrassed by tight ends and has trotted out embarrassing performances by tight ends. Thus, Miami drafted 5. Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe to catch and block and 6. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jerome Baker to blanket Rob Gronkowski and friends.

Those were very role-specific selections. And you may not agree with all of them. But they should help in this area.

In fact, for years, there have been outcries for a guard, a tight end and a linebacker or safety who can cover the tight end. If there are outcries about that this season, it won’t be because Miami didn’t try to address the concerns.

Robert Quinn can change the course of a game. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

We’re losing a bit of steam but we come to 7. Robert Quinn, the pass-rusher slyly acquired by Tannenbaum for a fourth-rounder. It can be argued that Quinn, if healthy, will generate more game-changing plays this season than Suh would have, if mostly by nature of his position.

No two players in recent NFL history have created more strip-sacks than Quinn and Cam Wake and the notion that they may be charging rookies like Josh Allen (Buffalo) and Sam Darnold (New York Jets) should foster some enthusiasm.

Remember that time Wake and Suh crunched former Jets quarterback Bryce Petty? Oh, sorry, forgot for a moment the Dolphins have signed Petty. We won’t bring up the backup quarterback situation here. Story for another day.

Tannehill has been quite effective throughout his career when protected, and so the decision to exercise 8. Ja’Wuan James’ fifth-year option, along with the expected development of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, gives Miami capable bookends. From a pure upside perspective, in fact, these former first-rounders have the ability to dominate at times. What if they do, far more often?

You might say we’re reaching when we talk about Miami’s 9. re-configured coaching staff, but Gase trusts offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains explicitly. And there are new voices for the receivers, running backs, offensive line, defensive line and defensive backs. And it should very much help defensive coordinator Matt Burke that this is his second season calling plays. It also helps that the club has loaded up on young defensive talent in the first three rounds of recent drafts.

This exercise nearly complete, I bring up reason 10. why I don’t think the Miami Dolphins fail to win at least six games this season. I say, for sure, at least seven games, all the way up to nine or 10.

The AFC isn’t very good. And Miami’s schedule isn’t as good as it was last season.

There are five or six hard games on the Dolphins schedule, but even if they were to lose all five, there are five or six games they should be favored, in my opinion, to win.

Vegas clearly doesn’t see it that way. Remember, I don’t bet on sports.

But I’m sure some do.

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How deep or weak is your Miami Dolphins 2018 roster?

Cameron Wake is Miami’s best player. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

This is pretty much it.

The Dolphins have added a few, lost a few (stow those #23, #14, #93 and #51 jerseys deep in closet) and are pretty much through free agency and the draft.

Vegas isn’t convinced. But the games aren’t played in Vegas (at least not yet).

Is Miami’s roster balanced? Well, according to Spotrac, the Dolphins have 59 percent of their current cap devoted to defense, which is second in the NFL. Will Miami’s defense play up to that level of spending? We’ll see.

Miami has reasonable expenditure at quarterback, running back, tight end and defensive back. The Dolphins must, must, must get better production from their defensive line and linebackers for what they’re shelling out.

But it’s not always about money. Miami felt it needed to change the vibe and the chemistry in the locker room. And I’m tired of writing about that and you’re tired of reading about that. And so we’ll mention in passing that perhaps adding some guys with championship experience will grow the culture. And all that.

But let’s look at the roster, highlighting key players. Let’s see where we should have some confidence and still have some serious concern.

SUPREMELY CONFIDENT

• Defensive End: (Cam Wake, Robert Quinn, Charles Harris, Andre Branch, William Hayes) — This group should produce plenty of pressure, plenty of sacks and plenty of turnovers. If not, something’s wrong.

• Safety: (Reshad Jones, Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. McDonald) — We’re not sure what Miami will end up doing with McDonald, but Jones and Fitzpatrick can be one of the NFL’s top duos, this season.

SOLID ENOUGH

• Starting QB: (Ryan Tannehill) — All of Miami’s eggs are in the RT17 basket. If healthy, he’s a Top 12 QB.

• Running Back: (Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage) — Drake has the talent to be a Pro Bowl running back. If he studies and follows Gore, it should have a positive impact. The Herculean Ballage was a very good fourth-round choice.

POTENTIALLY GOOD

• Tackles: (Ja’Wuan James, Laremy Tunsil, Sam Young) — If James and Tunsil live up to their physical abilities, Miami would have one of the best pair of bookend tackles in the game. But they were not close to that last season.

• Wide Receiver: (DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson) — Adam Gase has a variety of skill sets to work with. But the key to the whole group hinges on this: is Parker actually a star, or a bust?

• Defensive Tackle: (Jordan Phillips, Davon Godchaux, Akeem Spence, Vincent Taylor) — The addition of Spence via trade may be worthy of giving Mike Tannenbaum kudos, as we once did with the William Hayes deal.

• Punter: (Matt Haack) — Miami tied for eighth in the NFL in punts inside the 20.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

• Cornerback: (Xavien Howard, Cordrea Tankersley, Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett) — Howard improved later in the season after a slow start, and McCain is solid, but Tankersley must make a giant leap forward in his sophomore season.

• Linebacker: (Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan, Stephone Anthony, Jerome Baker) — The return of McMillan from injury should help, but where is Alonso playing in two-linebacker sets and three-linebacker sets? And how ready is Baker to contribute immediately?

• Interior Offensive Line: (Daniel Kilgore, Jesse Davis, Jesse Sitton) —Kilgore was Pro Football Focus’ 23rd-ranked center. Davis has enormous potential but must increase consistency. Sitton was a key free-agent addition.

• Tight End: (Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, MarQuies Gray, A.J. Derby) — Perhaps Gesicki will quickly emerge as Miami’s Rob Gronkowski. Would be nice, wouldn’t it?

HIGHLY CONCERNING

• Backup QB: (Brock Osweiler, David Fales) — We’ll see.

• Kicker: (Jason Sanders, Greg Joseph) — Same.

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Ranking every Miami Dolphins offseason addition, 1-25

Defensive end Robert Quinn of the Los Angeles Rams lunges at quarterback Carson Palmer in a game at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images).

Since last season ended, the Miami Dolphins have acquired at least 14 players through free agency, 3 players via trade and 8 players in the draft.

The Dolphins finished 6-10 last season and dumped Pro Bowlers Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey.

So the Dolphins need many of these players to come through, and quickly.

Taking into consideration price, value and skill, here is my ranking of Miami’s offseason acquisitions. Keep in mind, this is not a ranking of these players from best-to-worst, but a ranking of the value and quality of the acquisition.

  1. (TRADE) DE Robert Quinn from L.A. Rams for fourth round pick. He’s 27 years old with reasonable two years left on contract.
  2. (SIGNED) G Josh Sitton. Miami adds PFF’s #5 ranked guard, addressing a long-standing need.
  3. (DRAFTED) S Minkah Fitzpatrick. Not a glaring need, but one of the NFL’s best first-round draft values.
  4. (SIGNED) RB Frank Gore. Ranked even with Kenyan Drake in ’17 by PFF, a well-priced mentor for the youngster.
  5. (TRADE) DT Akeem Spence. For a seventh rounder, a reasonably-priced veteran ranked higher than Miami’s returning DT’s by PFF.
  6. (TRADE) C Daniel Kilgore. This is tough because it resulted in Mike Pouncey’s cut. But acquired for mere seventh round slide.
  7. (DRAFTED) TE Mike Gesicki. This feels like a home run or a strike out. But Miami needed an athletic dynamo at the position.
  8. (SIGNED) DL William Hayes. If healthy, an important under-the-radar signing.
  9. (SIGNED) WR Danny Amendola. They’re paying him for one year about what NE paid for three; but he should help.
  10. (SIGNED) WR Albert Wilson. This is a projection/upside signing, but we trust Adam Gase’s WR evaluation.
  11. (DRAFTED) RB Kalen Ballage. The Daily Dolphin heavily endorses this choice, made with Jay Ajayi pick.
  12. (SIGNED) OT Sam Young. Proved highly capable in reserve role last season.
  13. (SIGNED) DB Walt Aikens. With Michael Thomas moving on, securing special teams ace Aikens was important.
  14. (DRAFTED) LB Jerome Baker. In a specialized coverage role, has athleticism to contribute.
  15. (DRAFTED) TE Durham Smythe. If he emulates Anthony Fasano’s strengths, good pick.
  16. (SIGNED) LB Terence Garvin. Can be a valuable cog on special teams.
  17. (SIGNED) LS John Denney. More John Denney is like more Cowbell. It rocks.
  18. (SIGNED) QB David Fales. Adam Gase wanted him back. And he may be Miami’s backup.
  19. (SIGNED) OT Roubbens Joseph. Worthwhile flier on a behemoth.
  20. (SIGNED) TE Gavin Escobar. Worthwhile flier on a former second rounder.
  21. (DRAFTED) LB Quentin Poling. Potential special teamer and reserve.
  22. (DRAFTED) DB Cornell Armstrong. Says he tries to play like Brent Grimes.
  23. (SIGNED) QB Bryce Petty. Worth a look in training camp.
  24. (DRAFTED) K Jason Sanders. If Darren Rizzi says he can kick, I think he can kick.
  25. (SIGNED) QB Brock Osweiler. We’ll see.

 

Miami Dolphins’ Darren Rizzi summoned to New York for safer kickoffs meeting

Who is the Miami Dolphins’ best player?

10 Players Miami Dolphins passed on in 2018 NFL Draft

Which veterans benefit most from Miami Dolphins draft decisions?

Did the Miami Dolphins really, really need to draft a quarterback?

Miami Dolphins drafting physical freaks and workout warriors

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Takeaways from Yahoo Sports’ Miami Dolphins scouting series

The Dolphins didn’t really think they had a shot at Minkah Fitzpatrick. (Getty Images)

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports was granted access to the Miami Dolphins scouting process by executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum. Here are some takeaways from the six parts posted Wednesday:

  1. Tannebaum wants scouts such as Terry Bradway, Ron Brockington, Chris Buford, Adam Engroff, Max Gruder, Andy Howell, Anthony Hunt, Chase Leshin, Minh Luu, Lenny McGill, J.P. McGowan, Chris Rossetti, Grant Wallace and Matt Winston to receive what he believes is warranted credit and attention.
  2. The Dolphins’ official scouting philosophy includes: “We evaluate players for the Miami Dolphins, not the NFL,” “Scout with your eyes and not your heart,” “Protype, traits, football intelligence, toughness, passion,” and “Think outside the box… we adapt and anticipate trends.”
  3. The Dolphins scouts sit in on positional meetings with coaches and players during training camp. Thus, scouts understand even better the coaches are asking those players to do.
  4. Often times, the most important person interviewed by a scout is the strength coach. But Miami also interviews less obvious individuals, such as Josh Rosen’s tennis coach.
  5. The Dolphins ideally want players who fit their prototype. But they’re clearly not afraid to go outside that protype (Charles Harris, Jakeem Grant, Jerome Baker) if they perceive value and foresee a potential role.
  6. According to Miami scouting summaries, Minkah Fitzpatrick has “good coverage awareness,” Mike Gesicki “can make plays in the red zone,” Jerome Baker can cover but “is inconsistent to stack and shed in the box,” Durham Smythe not only has good instincts as a blocker but also “is a chain mover that can make tough catches all over the field,” and Kalen Ballage needs to develop more consistency but “can be a mismatch as a route-runner.”

Who is the Miami Dolphins’ best player?

10 Players Miami Dolphins passed on in 2018 NFL Draft

Miami Dolphins 2018 undrafted free agents: 2 highest-touted players

Which veterans benefit most from Miami Dolphins draft decisions?

Did the Miami Dolphins really, really need to draft a quarterback?

Miami Dolphins drafting physical freaks and workout warriors

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Who is the Miami Dolphins’ best player?

Cam Wake or Reshad Jones. Whose the best Dolphin? (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

Over the course of the last few seasons, it’s been generally accepted that Ndamukong Suh is the best player on the Miami Dolphins.

But because Suh plays defensive tackle, his impact wasn’t always evident.

To an extent, the Dolphins will learn this season what that impact really was, as Suh has been cut for salary reasons.

The NFL Top 100 Players of 2018 list has recently begun to be unveiled on the league’s network, and I’ve been wondering which Dolphins will make it. No, an anonymous player vote isn’t necessarily the best way to evaluate relative talent.

But I know it meant something to Jarvis Landry, the Cleveland Browns receiver who would always used his perceived-too-low ranking as a motivation. Landry, too, has been sent away from the Dolphins, as part of a reconfiguration that includes the extraction of some serious skill.

Landry caught more passes than anyone in the NFL in recent years, so it would be foolish to suggest he was not one of the Dolphins’ best players, arguably their most important offensive player.

Sent away too, on Halloween last year, was running back Jay Ajayi. Like Suh and Landry and cut center Mike Pouncey, Ajayi is a Pro Bowler. When Ajayi was posting 200 yard games, I was writing about how he was the Dolphins’ most important and most indispensable player.

Things changed. And quickly. Coach Adam Gase didn’t want to ride Ajayi, didn’t really jive with Ajayi, and didn’t really trust Ajayi.

Which is all fine and good. The Dolphins felt Gase was “changing the culture” upon taking over and this offseason “changing the culture” still seemed to a be a part of the plan that’s unfinished.

But like any NFL team, Miami needs more talent. They need more players. They need better players.

Which got me to thinking — who on this current roster is great?

Miami hopes that some of picks from the last three drafts will end up as great players. It’s crazy to think that tackle Laremy Tunsil, who is supposed to possess Hall of Fame skills, was taken three drafts ago.

Perhaps Tunsil, Xavien Howard, Kenyan Drake, Charles Harris, Raekwon McMillan or Minkah Fitzpatrick (or dare I say, DeVante Parker) will emerge this season as a Pro Bowl talent. Perhaps one of those players will emerge as the best player on the roster.

That would be ideal for Miami, which is clearly in a transitional-replenishment phase. This season will not be an intended tank job for Miami. So the youngsters Miami has selected really need to take giant leaps forward to facilitate a competitive product.

The Dolphins added consummate professionals in guard Josh Sitton, wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Frank Gore this season. Miami has a handful of solid, proven NFL players such as Kenny Stills, Ryan Tannehill, Ja’Wuan James and Kiko Alonso.

If Tannehill rises to the level of play that Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan have shown at times during their career (why not?) he could arguably emerge as Miami’s best player in 2018. We know there are skeptics. We know Tannehill is turning 30, but it’s not too late at his position.

Which brings us to Cam Wake, Robert Quinn and Reshad Jones. Despite Miami’s struggles on defense at times over the past few years, it’s interesting that Miami’s three best players may be defensive players capable of applying pressure.

Quinn, 27, is the youngest of the bunch and his acquisition for a fourth-rounder could prove to be a steal for executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum and Miami. But Quinn has dealt with some injuries in two of the last three seasons, and may have peaked in 2013.

Jones, 30, is a two-time Pro Bowler, like Quinn. Jones played incredibly in 2015 and was off to an excellent start in 2016, before an injury ended his season. Jones is capable of game-changing plays, and was solid last season, but surely feels he can play at an even higher level this season.

Which brings us to Wake, 36 years old, and yes — the best player on the Miami Dolphins.

It’s not ideal when your best player is 36. But what a remarkable example Wake can set for his teammates in so many ways. Undrafted. Began his professional career in Canada. Through superior nutrition and commitment, he’s producing at an incredibly high level at such an advanced stage.

Perhaps Wake and Jones will represent Miami on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2018 list. What’s more important is that in the coming years, the Dolphins have far more players worthy of consideration for the list.

10 Players Miami Dolphins passed on in 2018 NFL Draft

Miami Dolphins 2018 undrafted free agents: 2 highest-touted players

Which veterans benefit most from Miami Dolphins draft decisions?

Did the Miami Dolphins really, really need to draft a quarterback?

Miami Dolphins drafting physical freaks and workout warriors

Will Miami Dolphins second rounder Mike Gesicki do Jimmy Graham-like things?

Get our articles sent right to your Facebook feed by clicking here

 

Miami Dolphins 2018 undrafted free agents: 2 highest-touted players

Utah State cornerback Jalen Davis had 11 interceptions and 4 touchdowns at Utah State, where he was Walter Camp first-team All America this season. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)

The Miami Dolphins have secured commitments from at least 12 undrafted free agents, though they are unannounced and always subject to change.

But don’t underestimate the impact an undrafted player can make. And remember that last season, five undrafted players made the Dolphins roster out of training camp (Mo Smith, Chase Allen, Eric Smith, Matt Haack and Torry McTyer).

The Dolphins also have a history of success with undrafted players, including: Damien Williams (Oklahoma), Michael Thomas (Stanford), MarQueis Gray (Minnesota), Matt Darr (Tennessee), John Denney (BYU), Andrew Franks (RPI), Neville Hewitt (Marshall) and Mike Hull (Penn State).

And we shall never forget that, somehow, Dolphins great Cameron Wake was undrafted out of Penn State. Wake’s long, successful journey is surely inspirational to all the players whose phone didn’t ring for the three days in their life when they wanted it to ring most.

Here is some information about the two players from Miami’s free-agent class that were rated highest by ESPN:

• Mike McCray, LB, Michigan, 6-1, 243 (ESPN: 257th best overall player) 

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

ESPN Scouting Report: “McCray is a disciplined run defender who flashes the ability to beat blockers to the point of attack and disrupt plays on the backfield. He’s an above-average tackler who flashes good stopping power and masks his athletic limitations by playing with sound body control. McCray projects as an above-average backup inside linebacker with the potential to develop into a core special teams contributor and starter in time. He projects as an early Day 3 pick if he checks out medically.”

NFL.com Scouting Report: “Son of former Ohio State linebacker captain… McCray is a big, physical inside linebacker who plays with most of the characteristics evaluators want from an inside linebacker, but his limited range could hurt his draft stock. McCray could be a consideration for 3-4 teams looking to pair a big body next an athlete at inside linebacker, but he’ll need to come off the field on passing downs. If healthy, McCray could become a backup linebacker with a chance to work himself into starting contention down the road.”

Pro Football Focus Commentary: “Excellent run-defense grades over the past two seasons for Michigan, but his coverage fell off in 2017 and he had some very ugly games on his tape.”

• Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State, 5-9, 180 (ESPN: 271st best overall player)

VIDEO PROFILE

ESPN Scouting Report: “Davis is an instinctive playmaker who reads quarterbacks, plays the ball not the man and has above average ball skills. But he doesn’t play quite as fast as his timed top-end speed — he ran a 4.44 40 at his pro day — and his short shuttle time (4.50) is a red flag for a corner.”

NFL.com Commentary: “Davis is blowing up this year, but if no one’s watching the Aggies, is there a sound? Scouts think so. I loved Davis’ game coming into the year, and now he’s tied for the FBS lead with 5 interceptions, returning 3 to the house, in 6 games. The four-year starter is a tough player and a ball hawk. I believe he’ll be a starting nickelback in the NFL.”

Pro Football Focus Commentary: “Davis was a combine snub largely due to his lack of size, but he showed well athletically at his pro day with a 36-inch vertical and 40-yard dash times in the 4.4s. On the field, Davis is a ball hawk who looks to make plays on the ball and has excellent ball skills when he gets there, as proven by his five interceptions along with his 12 passes broken up in 2017. Opposing quarterbacks didn’t have much success targeting Davis in 2017 and his 30.5 passer rating when targeted ranked third among all draft-eligible cornerbacks.”

Which veterans benefit most from Miami Dolphins draft decisions?

Did the Miami Dolphins really, really need to draft a quarterback?

Miami Dolphins drafting physical freaks and workout warriors

Will Miami Dolphins second rounder Mike Gesicki do Jimmy Graham-like things?

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