The name Chuck Klingbeil might not mean much to younger fans today, but the former nose tackle has a secure place in Dolphins lore for an improbable starring role in Don Shula’s 300th career victory, in 1991.
Klingbeil, who spent his entire five-year NFL career with the Dolphins ending in 1995, has died of unknown causes. He was 52.
Longtime fans will recall Klingbeil as the hero of a 16-13 victory over Green Bay on Sept. 22, 1991, when he fell on a fumble by quarterback Don Majkowski in the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that eventually gave the Dolphins license to give Shula his first (and only?) Gatorade bath in celebration of his milestone.
“What were the odds of all that, of me scoring? A million to one?” Klingbeil asked after the game, although he evidently thought his odds were no worse than even. Before the game, for no apparent reason, he told fellow nose tackle Brian Sochia he was going to score a touchdown.
“I was just joking around,” Klingbeil said. “But I did say it. That’s weird, isn’t it?”
Long before anyone heard of Cameron Wake, Klingbeil was a star plucked by the Dolphins out of the Canadian Football League. The season prior, he helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup by earning MVP honors in the championship game.
Klingbeil went on to start 65 of the 78 games he played for Miami, making 242 tackles and recording 7.5 sacks.
Injuries pressed him into duty against the Packers on an afternoon so hot and humid that the weather helped gift the Dolphins a win.
The strange sequence was set up by a 54-yard punt by Reggie Roby that went out of bounds on the Green Bay 2. With no one near him, Majkowski cocked his arm back to pass.
“But the ball didn’t go back with him,” Klingbeil said. “It stayed right where it started. When his hand moved, the ball just hit the ground, like a great big Christmas present.”
Majkowski was so sweaty, “The ball just slipped out of my hand,” he said.
Klingbeil cradled it like a baby as officials’ arms shot straight upward. Scared he’d be penalized, Klingbeil didn’t dare spike the ball.
The play kick-started the sluggish Dolphins and Dan Marino, who had heard boos earlier. A 40-yard pass from Marino to Mark Duper set up the winning 31-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich.
Although Klingbeil’s time in Miami eventually ended because of a shoulder injury, he remained a powerlifter who could squat 700 pounds. His hopes of a comeback ended when he was rushed to the ER one night and diagnosed with a hole torn in his esophagus. He became an assistant coach at Michigan Tech.
Even on the day of his career highlight, Klingbeil could sense he’d accomplished something with a lasting impact.
“Being Coach Shula’s 300th win, that makes it even sweeter,” Klingbeil said. “It’s exciting to be a part of history.”
Gesicki’s four-year deal is worth approximately $6.6 million.
Gesicki, from Penn State, was acquired to give Ryan Tannehill the downfield threat at tight end the Dolphins have lacked. He caught 129 passes for 1,481 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons as the Nittany Lions’ starting tight end and is a physical presence for secondaries at 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds.
“He’s aggressive to the ball and he can make plays,” coach Adam Gase said. “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.”
Gesicki said he and fellow rookie Durham Smythe, who were hotel roommates during the offseason program, spent many nights quizzing each other about the playbook. He said his primary concern was having coaches and teammates think of him as a player who “knows his role, his assignment and I want him on the field. I want him to make a play for us.”
DAVIE — Cameron Wake is used to being asked the same questions about how he has stunningly maintained his physique at age 36 and given the Dolphins two straight double-digit sack seasons this late in his career.
He gets it everywhere. Young players in Miami’s locker room want to know how they can get there. He’s the most recognizable Dolphins player in public. The media is always curious.
But the one question he’s tired of is when people want to know whether he ever takes a cheat day. Not only is that an indulgence he doesn’t take part in, he’s past the point of even wanting it.
“It’s a lifestyle,” he said this week. “I’ve decided many years ago that this is going to be my life if I want to be successful. To me, every week off that I’m taking is a week that some other guy is not, or a week that I’m stepping back or a sack that I’m going to miss or a play that I’m not going to get. It all comes down to what it’s worth.
“If I told a rookie, ‘Listen, if you never drink a drink of alcohol throughout your entire career, you’ll have 15 more sacks for the years you’re playing. Is that worth it to you?’ Some guys say yes; some guys say no. ‘Never have fried food for your 10 years and you’ll make X more money.’ Some guys say yes, some guys say no.
“To me, even if it’s one sack, one play, it’s worth it. Because 10 years from now when I’m not playing, I can have all the cheeseburgers, all the beaches, all the everything, because I put the time in now to put myself in a position that I can have all those things. But if you try to do it the other way around, you won’t be in that position to even enjoy the stuff that you’re working towards… It’s 24/7. It’s just a lifestyle. It’s my life and it won’t change until I stop playing.”
Wake talked extensively this week after his final day of Organized Team Activities, and it was the first time he had spoken with the media since December.
A lot has changed around him since then, most notably the departure of Ndamukong Suh and the arrival of Robert Quinn, but Wake’s the same. He’s still incredibly fit, still set on being one of the league’s most feared pass rushers and looks poised for another big year.
Two seasons ago, coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, Wake was shifted into a reduced role of coming in exclusively on passing downs. He quickly proved he was capable of much more, and coach Adam Gase restored him to full-time work. That paid off with 11.5 sacks, then Wake followed with another 10.5 last year.
There’s no reason to expect a drop off this season.
“I feel as good as I’ve ever felt,” Wake said. “As you get closer and closer to tapping out that battle with Father Time, I think you have to do whatever you can as far as the wisdom of the game. You maybe can’t physically work as hard, but you can definitely work smarter.
“There are more things I know now that I didn’t know when I was 25 years old, when I was out there running around with whatever God gave me. To be able to be as physically able as possible at 36, and still have that wisdom to put those two things together, I think you can still be successful. With a little bit of sacrifice, if it’s worth it, then I think the fruits of your labor will come to bear.”
That approach has served him well over his 10-year NFL career. Wake is a five-time Pro Bowl selection (all-pro in 2012) despite going undrafted and not making it into the league until he was 27. He is second in Dolphins history with 92 career sacks and could crack the NFL’s top 30 all-time by the end of this year.
If that’s somehow not convincing enough, consider that the upcoming season will push his career earnings to nearly $53 million.
As Wake alluded, a big part of the equation is preserving what he has left physically as much as he can. That’s why he’s so careful about what he eats and how he lives year-round.
He was asked specifically whether he calculates in the offseason whether one beer today might cost him a sack during the season, for example, and while he said beer isn’t a draw for him, he used it to illustrate his point.
“I said in 2005 that I’m not going to have beer, because it will make the days that come where it’s third-and-10 and (the opponent is) hurting or he’s tired or he didn’t recover — I know I have a step ahead of him no matter what it is. It could be one millisecond,” Wake said. “Even if it’s 10 years (of clean diet) for that one millisecond, that’s worth it for me… Beer is not going to change. Beer is going to taste the same in 10 years as it tastes tomorrow, yesterday. And that sack won’t. That opportunity won’t be there 10 years from now. So, I can get it now. I’ll have the beer later.”
He added, “Take it from me that whatever is pulling you on the outside of football — I don’t care if it’s the South Florida sun, fishing, golfing, girls, party — whatever that thing is, sacrifice now and put everything you can into this game, and it’ll reward you tenfold. A lot of guys who listen, you’ll hear their name someday. Some guys you won’t.”
“This is not exclusive to me or to football or to anything — What is it worth to you?” Wake said. “Is one more sack worth five years of a clean diet? Some people are like, ‘That’s crazy. I love cheeseburgers.’ Some people would say, ‘Yes, I’ll do anything I can to have one more sack.’
“Like I said before, cheeseburgers aren’t going anywhere. Video games, women, partying — All of that stuff will be there, trust me. But you’re only going to have one Monday Night Football game. You’ll never get it again.
“I’ve had guys — veterans, rookies, people who work 9 to 5 — all come to me like, ‘You’re crazy.’ But I’ve also have people who’ve said, ‘You know what? I’m going to do whatever I can to make myself better.’ It’s a universal thing for anybody. What is it worth to you? Are you willing to pay the cost? Some are. Some aren’t.”
Wake had a unique answer when asked what motivates him to stay so disciplined. “Freedom is my ultimate goal,” he said. For him, the reward for everything he’s sacrificing while he’s in the NFL is the luxury of doing whatever he wants when he’s done.
Wake intends to walk away from this — not anytime soon, it seems — in position to live however he pleases. That will make it all worth it.
“Probably no different than most of the guys in here, whether it’s the newspaper business or football, you want to have freedom,” he said. “I want to say in 10 years I will be able to do whatever I want. If it’s skiing all year round in the Swiss Alps, I sacrificed so that I could do that. Or if it’s teaching boys and girls how to pass rush, I can make that choice.
“But like I said earlier, if I’ve been drinking beers for the last 10 years, I might have to go do something for the next 40 years. I couldn’t go skiing and drink beer all day and sit on the beach, whatever it may be. To me, freedom is happiness and that’s what my direction is.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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 — 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.”
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.