Bobby McCain has a 4-year deal worth $27 million, including $13 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid nickel back in the NFL, according to a source.
McCain was often Miami’s best cornerback in 2017, outperforming teammates Cordrea Tankersley, Xavien Howard and released Byron Maxwell. McCain was so good the team will even consider giving him some outside repetitions this season.
McCain is only 5-11, 192 pounds, but coaches cite his diligence on and off the field. McCain is also one of the most fiery Dolphins, both during games and practices.
“I need him outside and I’m going to need him inside,” Dolphins defensive backs coach Tony Oden said. “If he’s in the game, it’s going to happen. If we don’t practice that, I can’t expect him to compete and excel at an elite level if we haven’t practiced it.”
Miami coach Adam Gase has been a fan of McCain since his arrival. Gase has pushed back on any criticism of McCain citing him as a player who always does things right.
“The spot that he plays, there’s so much nickel personnel that’s being played that he probably played 600-plus snaps last year,” Gase said. “That’s just the way the game is. If he had to play outside, then slot inside and do things like that, it’s a lot of plays.”
McCain was a fifth-round draft choice from Memphis in 2015. McCain has 3 career interceptions, 17 passes defended and has played 16 games in each of his three NFL seasons.
DAVIE — Josh Sitton had an idea at a recent Miami Dolphins organized team activity practice.
Sitton decided the offensive lineman should participate in a pass-punt-kick competition.
“He’s very competitive, a very competitive guy,” Dolphins offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said. “He’s just a natural athlete.”
Anyone who’s been around a Dolphins practice has seen how well offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James can throw a football. For such big men, they really are nimble, all-around athletes.
“Yes,” Washburn said. “I have seen them throw it and I’m just going to tell you right now, I’ve got video evidence that they both lost to (Josh Sitton), so absolutely. They have to work on their field-goal kicking in the offseason.”
The biggest reason Miami’s offensive line is expected to be better this season is the addition of a guard. Now, historically, Miami hasn’t really felt doling out much dough to a guard is the best way to spend.
But for Sitton, the Dolphins ponied up a 2-year, $13.5 million deal. It’s because he’s tough, physical and proven.
“He’s very competitive but he’s got a really calm demeanor, which is great for an offensive lineman, particularly an interior lineman,” Washburn said.
Sitton is a four-time Pro Bowler, including three of the past four seasons.
“He’s just a really good guard,” Washburn said. “He’s really productive in what he does. I was in Detroit for seven years so we watched him non-stop. He was kind of our guy in that room, as well, as just a guy that was really good in the zone game. He’s a natural pass blocker and he’s just a smart football player and a good guy to have in your room. All of those qualities made it pretty easy for us.”
Guard Jesse Davis said he had studied Sitton even before he signed with the Dolphins.
“We watched a lot of Chicago film with (coach Adam) Gase, so seeing him and his game reps from previous years, he’s a great athlete,” Davis said. “You wouldn’t expect it as a big guy, but he’s a hell of an athlete. He can move. He can do it all. You kind of want to take some of his aspects of games and say, ‘Maybe I can use this on a certain play,’ or if you’re struggling or something, because he has a lot of good things and good qualities.”
Gase said Sitton’s knowledge of the game is as important as his strength.
“He brings confidence with that group,” Gase said. “He’s got something about him that’s probably different than a lot of guys I’ve been around. He’s very confident, very knowledgeable.”
But at the age of 35, Gore has his ways of reserving strength and still getting himself ready for the season. That means passing on many spring football organized team activity reps.
“I haven’t done OTAs in seven years,” Gore said Thursday. “My second year with (49ers coach Jim) Harbaugh. Once he understood who I was and who some of the vets who were on our team were, and what we bring to the table, as long as we come in here, work out, do individuals and help the young guys, he knew that we were going to be ready for training camp. I think that kind of helped me with my career – not doing flag football.”
There is value for Gore in being around the facility and learning his new teammates and a new offense. But at this stage of his career, with 3,226 NFL carries under his belt, there is little reason to push the pedal now.
“Frank is not going to do a whole bunch in the spring,” coach Adam Gase said recently.
Gore is one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. But he seems to understand he’s likely to have a reduced role on this team.
“Whatever my teammates want me (to do) and whatever my coaches want me to do,” Gore said. “We have a great young back in ‘K.D.’ (Kenyan Drake), who I think has special talent. He can run and catch the ball. I’m just going to come in here every day, especially during training camp, and just try to be me and compete. Whatever my coaches want me to do, I’ll do.”
Gore could easily call it a career and merit Hall of Fame consideration. But he’s still playing because he wants to.
“Especially at my position getting hits. If I didn’t love it and I didn’t work hard, I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said.
Gore has played on turf for Indianapolis Colts home games the last three years, and feels playing on the grass surface at Hard Rock Field will also be a big boost.
“I like grass,” Gore said. “Turf is tough on your body and it’ll have you swollen. Playing on turf, I wouldn’t get my body back until that Friday. But when I’m playing on grass, I’m good after the game. I’m happy that I’m on grass.”
Gore said he would publicly reveal his training secrets for longevity only after he’s done. Though he’d share them with his teammates. He added that he doesn’t feel 35.
“I still feel good,” Gore said. “I think about it sometimes. I think about how blessed I am to still be playing a game that I love since I was a kid. I always hear it every year: ‘When you turn this age, you can’t do it anymore.’ Especially with what it took me to get here, to play in this league, with the injuries that I had, and still to be blessed to play this game and have pretty good years, I think that’s a blessing.”
But Day has also been encouraged by Gesicki’s potential as a blocker.
“He doesn’t have any bad habits,” Day said. “He’s kind of new to blocking and he’s really willing to do it. It’s been really good so far.”
Asked about Gesicki, Day went out of his way to include fourth-rounder Durham Smythe in his reply.
“Both of the rookie guys, we’re really impressed with just how hard they work,” Day said.
Smythe is living up to his reputation as a skilled blocker.
“He’s a physical guy, he’s going to hit you,” Day said. “It’s the same stuff that we saw at Notre Dame. He’s a real physical tight end and he’s got a good blocking style.”
Smythe has said he would like to emulate former Dolphins and Notre Dame tight end Anthony Fasano.
Day shared that he and Smythe FaceTimed with Fasano before the draft.
“It’s really good to have a role model like Fasano,” Day said.
Day said Smythe is showing promise a receiver.
“He didn’t get targets a lot at Notre Dame, but we saw the hands on tape,” Day said. “Everybody saw that. We felt like in our offense with our situation he’d have a chance to be a very productive player and he’s working to do everything that we ask and everything we thought he’d do.”
DAVIE — Danny Amendola may toss a helmet or cuss himself loudly during a May practice, but don’t be alarmed.
For Amendola, it’s just part of the process.
“I’ve always been that kid, really,” Amendola said Thursday.
Miami’s newest slot receiver demands a lot of himself. And when he makes a mistake, look out.
“It’s the mentality you bring to the field every day,” Amendola said. “You want to bring an atmosphere that is conducive to winning. Practice at a championship level. Whether that’s an individual drill or the open of practice. You want to be perfect. You want to practice with great fundamentals. That’s what it’s about.”
Amendola and veteran Kenny Stills are setting a positive tone for the younger receivers in the room.
“Whatever I can do to help, on the field, or off the field, I’m always willing to help out my teammates,” Amendola said.
But why get so revved up about a practice — we’re talkin’ about, well, you know.
“Just try to bring intensity to practice in every drill,” he said. “Practice at a high level. I feel like if you practice at a high level in OTA’s and in camp and bring that into the season, then it correlates to how you play on the field on Sunday.”
Amendola has been impressed by the overall team speed on offense, including Jakeem Grant, Kenny Stills, Kenyan Drake and Albert Wilson.
“They are fast,” Amendola said. “Whoever crosses the line first. Jakeem is fast dude for sure. We’ve got a bunch of guys that can fly.”
Amendola ran a 4.58 in college, which is quick, but not as fast as the others.
“That was a long time ago,” Amendola said. “I’m faster now than I was in college.”
Amendola also knows what coaches often say — running fast doesn’t matter if you don’t know where to run.
“You have to know how to play football,” he said. “Football is not track. You see guys that aren’t necessarily the fastest guys on paper. But good football players. And that’s it. Every guy is different. Preparation goes into your routes. And knowing where to go, and when to go, your steps, and depending on the coverage and how smart you are, and where to be at the right time. A lot goes into being a good football player. And that can make up for a lack of speed or you know, track speed or whatever.”
“We both have the same almost type of personality where it’s laid back, not really too flashy type of deal,” Drake said. “I feel like we definitely feed off each other and I can see how he’s been the way he is for so many years, with just the way he puts his head down and works. I think that’s something I definitely want to mold into my game just because obviously of his longevity.”
No running back in the NFL had more rushing yards than Drake over the last five weeks, an impressive statistic he downplays because Todd Gurley of the Rams rested one week.
But Drake is a willing sponge for all the knowledge that he knows Gore can provide.
“He works out like he’s a first-year, second-year guy,” Drake said. “Comes in with that same attitude. I feel like if I could have just half the success that he’s had. That would be a win in my book. Because he’s definitely the epitome of longevity in this league.”
Drake said players need to listen to coaches because they’ve earned their roles. He added that players also listen directly to other players who have earned their respect.
“Obviously, seeing somebody that you grown up watching since you’re whatever old, it’s kind of like, when you get into the same room as him at the same time, it’s like you’re kind of like caught up in yourself,” Drake said. “But when they come to your team, you’re like, ‘This is Frank Gore, who has done this and has done that,’ you see he’s a regular guy. Then he goes out and puts the work in and he’s diligent with everything he does.”
Drake laughed about the idea that when Gore came into the NFL, he was in the fifth or sixth grade.
“He obviously looks at me and he wants to compete with me too, because we’re on the same team but he’s like, ‘You’re young, man. You run around fast. I can’t keep up with you,'” Drake said. “He’s 35, but he goes out there and he’s right behind me if anything. Obviously, he’s not as fast as me, but at the end of the day, he does what he does. I’m like, ‘You’re 35. I don’t even know if I’ll have that drive or that will to keep up with some 24-year-old. It’s cool just to see it for myself.”
Drake does believe he can sustain his late-season success over a long period, and be one of the top rushers in the league.
“Yeah,” Drake said. “I feel like with the people I have around me. And how coach Gase and everybody calls the game on offense. With the receivers, the o-line revitalized. I feel like the sky is the limit. Me and the rest of my guys we’re going to take it one day at a time and when that comes that comes. But we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
Drake has taken significant steps in the area of maturity since entering the NFL in 2016, according to his coaches.
“I mean honestly it’s just about growing up,” he said. “Everybody has to take that step to be the man that they want to be. Obviously I’m nowhere where I want to be as a man and as a football player. I feel the sky is the limit for me.”
And all involved think Gore’s presence is only going to help Drake be even better.
“It’s interesting to see how long he’s really been the back he is,” Drake said. “And you know just to have him on this team is going to help not only the running backs. But everybody on this team. If you could see if you take the right steps. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player, especially at this position. To have this type of wear and tear. But he does it right every day. I feel like he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
DAVIE — Kalen Ballage is the tallest player in the Miami Dolphins’ running back room and he’s also the heaviest.
Ballage is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and he’s also really, really fast. It’s hard to understand how Ballage lasted until the fourth round of the last NFL Draft, but he did, and you can count running back Kenyan Drake among those happy he did.
“He’s a freak,” Drake said Tuesday. “(Ballage) runs so smooth that it doesn’t really seem like he’s running fast. For him to be as tall. Obviously, me being a long, tall back, I always had trouble running behind my pads. He always seems to have a natural bend, a natural ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Drake knows it’s very early in camp, as only four practices are complete.
“Obviously we don’t have pads on, so blocking is a different story with pads on,” Drake said. “He definitely seems to be a three-tool type of player and I’m just looking to see his development.”
Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains does believe Ballage will be able to protect.
“When he walks through the door, that’s what they’re supposed to look like,” Loggains said. “He’s big, he’s put together and he’s a really smart kid. We’re excited about trying to tap him out and make sure his head is hitting the ceiling. He’s got size, he’s got height, weight, speed. Doing those things, we’ve got to figure out what he does well and find out quickly with that stuff.”
The Dolphins acquired Ballage with a pick acquired from Philadelphia for Jay Ajayi. Coach Adam Gase believes the additions of free agent Frank Gore and Ballage creates an opportunity for increased competition and results.
“He’s a big man that runs fast and can catch the ball well,” Gase said. “He really has all of the things that you’re looking for in an all-around back. It’ll be fun to see how he progresses and how things go … how quick he learns everything and how he fits in with the group.”
DAVIE — Ndamukong Suh didn’t just play well as a Miami Dolphin. He played an incredible number of snaps.
Suh played 84 percent of snaps for the Dolphins last season, unheard of for a defensive tackle. With Suh cut for salary reasons and off to the Los Angeles Rams, somebody is going to have to play a lot more.
“I don’t think snap count has an effect with anything,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said on Thursday. “I played 30 to 40 snaps last year, as well.”
As a rookie, Davon Godchaux was second among Miami defensive tackles with 48 percent of snaps. Phillips was third with 38 percent. And Vincent Taylor was fourth with 18 percent.
Phillips is sensitive to criticism. Since his arrival from Oklahoma in the 2015 NFL Draft, he’s faced questions about if he can even live up to his second-round draft status and if he can perform at a high level with increased snaps. Before last season, Phillips openly discussed how he had discovered some tricks to stay more motivated snap-to-snap.
Does Phillips expect more snaps in 2018?
“I couldn’t tell you,” Phillips said. “I mean if that’s the message you guys got, then roll with it I guess.”
Phillips’ tackle total decreased from 23 to 16 last season. He showed a few flashes of greatness but also inconsistency.
“I mean my production wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” he said. “The good games I played, I still did really well. So, I’ve got to keep it moving forward.”
Phillips and Godchaux figure to rotate with free agent addition Akeem Spence and Taylor, with William Hayes also taking some snaps on the interior.
“We’ve got some young players in there with Jordan (Phillips) and Davon (Godchaux) that we’re expecting to make leaps from,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase believes first-year defensive line coach Kris Kocurek will have a positive impact.
“He’s going to get those guys better,” Gase said. “That’s all he has ever done in his career. He has taken guys that sometimes when you watch some of his past film, some of those guys that you’re not really sure who they are, but they’re playing hard, they’re getting to the ball, they’re harassing the quarterback. He gets guys better.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips had his best season in 2017. Phillips was graded 43.3 as a rookie, then 74.9 and 75.5 in the next two seasons. But Phillips was PFF’s 74th-rated interior defender, and he was graded particularly harshly against the run last year.
With Suh gone, Phillips needs to be right more often in his run-stop gap responsibilities.
“It’s hard to replace a man like Suh, but we don’t have an option to do it,” Phillips said. “It needs to get done, so we’re going to do what it takes to get (it done).”
Phillips is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Miami can only hope that provides extra motivation.
“I can’t speak for everybody else,” Phillips said. “I know what I’m intending to do this year. That’s all I’m focused on. Be the best player I can be.”
DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins had a lot of needs entering this offseason, and safety didn’t really seem to be a high priority.
But Dolphins Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones didn’t look at it that way at all. What was Jones’ reaction when he saw the club was drafting a safety in the first round?
“It’s about time,” Jones said.
Jones has played with some decent safeties in his NFL career. And T.J. McDonald, who signed a big deal with the club prior to last season, is a big man and a big hitter.
But first-rounder Minkah Fitzpatrick is of a different mold. Fitzpatrick was a versatile, game-changing, play-making machine at Alabama.
As a member of the Crimson Tide, Fitzpatrick had nine interceptions — and returned four of them for touchdowns. Fitzpatrick also returned a punt for a touchdown.
“He’s been making plays, getting his hands on balls early,” Jones said of the first week of Dolphins organized team activities. “I think it was a good pickup. I think he will definitely help us.”
The Dolphins had only nine interceptions last season, 28th in the NFL. Miami forced only 15 total turnovers, 29th in the NFL.
Jones said tightening up coverage, increasing sacks and better communication should lead to more turnovers in 2018. The Dolphins also hope to confuse opponents with multiple looks, including three safeties who can move around the field.
“I think we all are versatile safeties,” Jones said. “I can play strong safety, free safety. I guess it gives us an extra element of coverage. We have two strong defensive ends right now that are going to get after the quarterback. I know with Minkah on the field and all three of us on the field, that gives us that extra lock down coverage.”
In Fitzpatrick, coach Adam Gase says he sees a young player committed to learning quickly.
“I know he’s trying to immerse himself in this stuff,” Gase said. “He’ll do anything he’s asked to do. No matter what group he’s running with, he’s trying to put himself in position to make plays and make sure that he’s doing his job.”
Veteran Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard believes the addition of Fitzpatrick will pay dividends.
“I saw him make a lot of plays at Alabama,” Howard said. “I was watching him when I was in the league. Just seeing him out there making plays, I know he’s a play maker.”
Jones has told Fitzpatrick simply to be himself and do what he does well.
“Continue to do what you’ve done to this point,” Jones said. “Continue to be Minkah. I think he’ll be fine.”
DAVIE — Raekwon McMillan was lost for the season with a knee injury sustained covering a punt on the first preseason play of his NFL career. One snap. And it was over.
“When I was on the ground I was sitting there like, ‘Wow,'” McMillan said Wednesday. “I had never been hurt. I jumped right back up and tried to run but it didn’t feel right. It was crazy. First time touching the field, period. And I was hurt.”
McMillan is ready to reclaim his spot as Miami’s starting middle linebacker.
“It feels good to be standing up again, in front of y’all,” McMillan said. “My knee feels good. I’m out there with no limitations, running around.”
McMillan said he has gotten advice about returning from a knee injury from teammates Frank Gore and Ryan Tannehill, with whom he rehabilitated.
“We got our surgery on the same exact day,” McMillan said. “We started rehab the same exact day. From day one, it was competition.”
McMillan is only 22 years old and has never played a linebacker snap in the NFL. But he is being counted on to make a big impact on the Dolphins’ defense. And to call all the plays.
“When they come to me as the middle linebacker I have to have the right answer,” McMillan said of his teammates. “It’s about knowing what to do. Leader isn’t just a title you get because you are the middle linebacker.”
McMillan said he’s not even thinking about his knee injury at this point.
“The hardest part is just getting back,” he said. “Baby steps. It was one step today and two steps the next day. It was hard at first. But then I kind of sucked it up and told myself I could let this year be a waste or prepare myself for next year.”
McMillan feels his injury happened for a reason. And that he has a better grasp on the defense than he would have had last season.
“I was still a rookie last year,” he said. “I was still being thrown into the water. Thrown into the fire. But I felt I could have done big things last year… I’m the Mike. I’m the guy in the middle. I’m the quarterback of the defense. And I’m trying to be a leader out there.”