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.
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.”
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.”
DAVIE — Patrick Surtain was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Miami Dolphins and like rookie Cornell Armstrong, he played at Southern Miss.
So Surtain expressed a desire to connect with Armstrong, and it recently happened.
“He told me to go out there and get as many reps as I can,” Armstrong said Wednesday. “He said, ‘Don’t hide in the back, go out there and just do what I do, do what I did to get here and just play ball.'”
As a sixth-rounder, Armstrong knows there’s know guarantee he’ll make the Dolphins’ 53-man roster. Of course, there was no guarantee former fifth-rounder Bobby McCain was going to make the Dolphins as a rookie and he just earned a $27 million deal.
McCain recently said Armstrong reminds him of himself. And so Armstrong has also connected with McCain.
“One day after practice, I just went up to McCain,” Armstrong said. “I just got out of that shell of just hiding back, so I had to go talk to him. I was like ‘Man, why did you do this? Why did you do that?’ Because I want to be up there where those guys are at one day. I decided to just stop shying around and just go out there and speak to all of those guys and treat them like they’re my brothers.”
In what ways is Armstrong’s style similar to McCain’s?
“Physical,” Armstrong said. “I like the way he plays. He’s a physical guy. He’s not scared to go in there and get rough with you. I like that. That’s just how my game is.”
Armstrong said McCain’s success gives him confidence.
“Man, it gives me a lot of motivation,” he said. “Yes, I look up to (McCain) a lot. Just to see that and where he came from – a fifth-round guy, late-round guy – yes, it means a lot. It does.”
Armstrong, whose focus in the spring has been at outside cornerback, said he’s had a few pass deflections.
“Every day I could say I laid a brick, I laid a foundation, to get better every day,” he said. “I may have a few mistakes but the next day, I’ll build off that. I’ll make sure that I don’t mess up again on the same mistake. Every day I’m just laying a foundation and just stacking bricks.”
DAVIE — Ryan Tannehill completed most of the 400 catches Jarvis Landry had over the four years of his Miami Dolphins career.
But Landry revealed Wednesday he and Tannehill were actually not close.
“I’m not surprised,” Landry told NFL Network, when asked why he had not heard from Tannehill since his departure. “We didn’t really have a good relationship anyway, so I’m not surprised.”
Tannehill leaned on Landry since the receivers’ arrival as a second-rounder from LSU. Tannehill also at times praised Landry’s competitiveness and toughness.
“I wasn’t trying to look back in the rear view mirror, you know,” Landry said. “I’m focused on here and where we’re taking it here. I wasn’t trying to take a shot at him. I understand how hard every guy in this NFL works, especially at the position, especially at the quarterback position. But at the same time too… I give credit where credit is due.”
Landry is referring to comments he made recently in Cleveland, suggesting the quarterbacks in Cleveland are “a lot better” than what he had in Miami. Landry’s quarterbacks with the Browns are Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield.
DAVIE — Isaiah Ford leaped into the air in the end zone and amid a crowd, came down with the football.
Ford can leap, really leap, especially now that he’s fully healed from that knee surgery last season. Ford celebrated with teammates on Tuesday, hauling in the pass from Bryce Petty.
Mark it down. Ford is a Miami Dolphins sleeper to monitor.
“He’s done a good job,” Miami coach Adam Gase said Tuesday. “He’s made a lot of plays, a lot of catches. I think he’s … We felt so good about him last training camp and it was really tough for him getting hurt because he was making strides. He was starting to break through working him in the slot and he still has ability outside. He had a really good feel for what was going on.”
Ford, a star at Virginia Tech drafted in the seventh round last season, is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. He can play inside or out. Ford is actually the third-tallest receiver on the Dolphins, as it is a diminutive group.
Assuming Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant make Miami’s roster, this leaves players like Leonte Carroo, Ford and Rashawn Scott battling for one or two roster spots.
It is very possible that while some veterans are limited this preseason, Ford breaks out as he has in practice.
“He’s been very productive this spring,” Gase said. “Really, for him, it’s going to be about once we get to training camp and preseason games, the live action stuff, because he hasn’t had an opportunity to do that yet.”
Ford is an exciting athlete with a basketball pedigree. He’s showing good burst and route-running. He can both track deep balls as well as gain yards after catch on shorter passes in the middle of the field.
Somewhat off the radar now, Ford may be squarely on the radar by the end of the summer.
DAVIE — @Lastname_Baker (Jerome Baker Jr.): “Please don’t fight my battles I need these scars.” 18 May 2016
Jerome Baker is a speaking about the Twitter post he’s had pinned atop his account for more than two years.
Baker is speaking about scars. And how many he has.
“Quite a bit,” Baker said Tuesday. “Quite a bit.”
Baker is rookie linebacker from Ohio State, a third-rounder. And right now, he’s a second-teamer. And right now, Baker can actually draw upon his freshman season in Columbus, when he questioned why he was struggling.
Then, older teammates like Raekwon McMillan (now a teammate with the Dolphins) pulled him aside. And assured him. We all need scars.
“I don’t need anybody to take it for me,” Baker said. “That pretty much was my whole college career. Coming in as a freshman, being behind some first rounders, Raekwon and all of those guys, they just sat me down and said, ‘You need all the pressure and all the hard times you go through. It’s going to pay off in the end.’ Honestly, it did and I kind of just stick to that. The hard times are going to come, but they’re not going to last.”
Baker has speed and athleticism and an ability to run and cover. But he doesn’t have the experience. It’s why a veteran like Stephone Anthony is ahead of him right now.
“I’m learning the playbook pretty well; but now it’s just the focus on the little details,” Baker said. “The little things I’m pretty much focusing on. The basic things are going well, but the little things is what’s going to separate me.”
Baker can draw a direct parallel to his college experience.
“I’ve been through it before, so I know it’s going to come and it’s going to go,” he said. “So, just take advantage of it and try to learn as much as you can. The faster you learn, the faster it gets over with.”
Baker knows with time, mistakes will become fewer and further between.
“The physical part, I really never really questioned,” he said. “It was more the mental part of, ‘I keep making the same petty mistake.’ And after a while, three mistakes turned into two, those two mistakes turned into one and next thing you know, you’re not making as many mistakes anymore. The mental part is what’s – with any athlete – is what’s the hard part. Once I got that under control, the physical part just took care of itself.”
Ohio State has a tradition of linebacker play that is hard to live up to.
“My freshman year at Ohio State, that was the biggest hard time in my life,” Baker said. “Coming in as a senior in high school and a star player, you think I’m going to come in and pretty much do whatever I want to do, be behind Darron Lee, Christopher Worley, Josh Perry, Raekwon (McMillan). They humble you fast. They try to bring you along, but they understand that it’s a growing process and they definitely helped me.”
Baker’s social media accounts are worth following. At @Lastname_Baker, he’s constantly trying to motivate himself and others.
“Don’t count the day, make the days count.” – 11 June 2018
“I just don’t got time to feel sorry for nobody. Nobody felt sorry for me. #KeepPushing” 5 June 2018
“Sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne.” 29 May 2018
But Baker has elected to keep his post about scars atop his account for some time, now.
DAVIE — Akeem Spence wears 93 for the Miami Dolphins, which is the same number Ndamukong Suh wore here and in Detroit, Spence’s last stop.
“I really didn’t want to be 93,” Spence said Tuesday, in his first comments since a trade brought him to south Florida. “But it was the only number available so I just took it.”
Spence actually began his career in Tampa Bay, where another 93 from Suh’s draft class, Gerald McCoy, was similarly dominant. Spence is not Suh and not McCoy. But he is a very serviceable, professional defensive tackle.
And right now, he’s a Dolphins’ starter.
“I’m not a big flashy guy,” Spence said. “I’m a do-my-job type of guy. Control my gap. Make plays when I can… I’m a quick-twitch guy. I get off the ball. Make plays in the backfield. Hold my gap very well. Just being fundamentally sound.”
Spence was excited to be dealt to Miami, because before this season they hired his former defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek.
“He’s all about ball,” Spence said. “He loves ball. Next to his wife, it’s football. So I tell (my teammates) everything he says he means it. He means well. If he’s not yelling at you or cursing at you then he doesn’t care. He’ just trying to get guys better. He cares so much. He wants guys to get a whole bunch of sacks.”
Many Dolphins players have said this spring that Kocurek and defensive coordinator Matt Burke want less read-and-react in 2018 and more attack. What does that mean, anyway?
“The defensive tackles, next to the ends, should be the first two guys off the ball,” Spence said. “Attacking the guards’ shoulders. Knocking them back. So that way your linebackers can play downhill. Everybody can be downhill. Your ends set hard edges, attacking the tackles at the tip of their pads. Setting edges. So that way we’re gap sound. Defensive tackles playing in the backfield. That should show on the film, guys getting knock back. If not Kris is probably somewhere with his hat off, throwing all kind of obscenities.”
Spence said that sometimes he starts practice alongside Jordan Phillips and sometimes Davon Godchaux. Spence said Suh’s 84 percent snap percentage last season was “ridiculous.” With Vincent Taylor and William Hayes likely taking some inside snaps, too, the goal is for their percentages to all be at or less than 50 percent.
“The idea is to have eight or nine starters and just continue to rotate guys in,” Spence said. “That what (Kocurek) believes in. Get a guy for four or five plays and then get a fresh guy in. Hockey lineup type of deal.”
Spence believes Miami’s entire defensive line will benefit from the bookends of Cam Wake and Robert Quinn. And he believes the waves of defensive linemen Miami plans to play will help fill a void left by Suh.
“It’s just about getting better every day,” Spence said. “We know we have to work hard to make up for some guys that we lost. And that’s a challenge we’re willing to take.”
DAVIE — All this talk about three-safety formations (which the Dolphins haven’t really practiced yet) and about the return of linebacker Raekwon McMillan and the drafting of linebacker Jerome Baker.
Completely lost in the shuffle was former first-round linebacker Stephone Anthony. Anthony is still here, and actually as of right now, he’s a starting Dolphins linebacker.
Anthony is still young and still fast and still strong and still has the potential to make a positive impact.
“He earned it by the same way all guys earn it,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said of Anthony taking many spring reps at starter. “He’s been working hard. It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up. He works really, really hard. He’s a big athlete. He’s almost 6-foot-3. He’s 240-something. He can run and we like those body types.”
Burke believes a full offseason with Miami will really benefit Anthony, who was criticized in New Orleans not for his physical tools but his ability to consistently diagnose offensive plays. The Dolphins consider Anthony, 25, a part of their 2018 draft class, as he was obtained for a fifth-rounder.
“We’re trying to really overload him a bit and give him a full offseason, a full year of coaching with us, and see what he can do,” Burke said. “I think we’re doing the same thing at linebacker. I think a lot of our other linebackers are younger guys right now. So Steph’s been here. He has a little bit of history in the scheme, so I think there’s just a little bit of comfort level with him in terms of knowledge.”
The Dolphins have shown in the past that they want rookies and newcomers to earn their playing time and starting statuses. So it’s completely possible that by the time the season starts or say, Week 5 of the 2018 season, rookie Jerome Baker has surpassed Anthony as Miami’s third linebacker.
But from a physical standpoint, there’s no reason Anthony can’t contribute when called upon. And right now he’s a starter.
“Stephone is another guy that he can do it all,” Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso said. “He can drop into coverage, play the run. (He’s a) high-energy guy. He’s another guy that (is) a playmaker.”
DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins have the potential to be one of the fastest offenses in the NFL this season.
What this has led to is an exhaustive debate that permeates the locker room and the practice fields. It’s a controversy that may never truly be resolved, because, frankly, NFL players don’t test in the 40-yard dash after the draft.
All fast people think they’re the fastest, which is part of the mindset of running so fast.
To bring you in on the conversation that is happening this spring at Dolphins camp, let’s do just that:
Vincent Taylor (6-foot-3, 296 pound defensive lineman): I guess they’re having a debate right now who’s the fastest out of Jakeem Grant, Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake. But Jakeem’s a special player. He played at Texas Tech and I played at Oklahoma State, so I remember playing him my last year. We played up there. The opening kickoff, he took a kickoff right to the crib, so that just goes to show you what kind of player he is. Jakeem’s very fast.
Jakeem Grant (has tested at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash and says he is the fastest player on the team): Me, of course. Hands down. Neither one of them – not Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills, neither one of them. No. It doesn’t matter. You pick the race. It doesn’t matter.
Albert Wilson (has tested at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash and says he is willing to participate in a race to settle the debate): Oh yes, definitely. I’ll win.
DeVante Parker (has tested at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash and says Grant is the fastest, he’s second and Stills is third): The GPS tracker says I was second. With the GPS I was at 20.9 miles per hour and somebody else had one time faster than that. Yes, I think I am getting ripped off. But it’s fine. It’s alright.
Kenny Stills (has tested at 4.38 seconds and says receiver Malcolm Lewis actually posted the top speed this spring): We keep seeing that. You guys should ask the head coach because we have these little things that are on our shoulder pads that track the speed for practice. You guys have to ask coach about that. So we know and the coaches know.
Adam Gase (who is intrigued by the discussion): I was looking at that today actually, because I saw that Kenny said that. I don’t know. We can line them up and let them decide. It depends what routes you’re running. If somebody is running the type of routes where they’re stopping a lot, then they’re not going to get the high miles per hour that they’re looking for. Jakeem, it seems like he’s running more go routes than everybody, so maybe it might add up after a while. I don’t want them to really (race.) I don’t know. It would be interesting though, because there’s some legit speed with those guys. I know every one of them will say that they’re the fastest.
Cordrea Tankersley (on the player who is hardest to cover downfield): Man, they all give you a little different taste; but I’d definitely have to say Jakeem. That man be rolling.
Vincent Taylor: Albert Wilson is a pretty fast guy. I’ve seen him run, so he’s pretty fast also. Me? Playing against Jakeem and seeing what he did to us in the Big 12, he’s a pretty fast guy, so I’d probably say him. I know when we played K.C. last year, they’ve got a guy named Tyreek Hill. Practicing against Jakeem Grant, that helped us out as a defense.
Jakeem Grant: I always average every practice in the 20s. That’s my job. We always do it every single day, to see who’s the fastest and who had the fastest miles per hour in the receivers room. I’m always in the top three, so as long as I’m in the top three, I’m good. Is there a race in the future? If you guys want a race, there could be a race. It doesn’t matter. As long as we’re not running a marathon, a 400 or anything like that, I’m good. Yes, I’m admitting I’d lose the marathon because, I’ve got short legs.
Kenny Stills: We’re all on the same team. We know we have a lot of speed and hopefully that puts some fear into some of the defenses we’ll play.