With the start of training camp about a month away, NFL teams are just looking to avoid injuries at this point of the year. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, Wednesday’s minicamp practice included an injury.
Amid everybody wondering which of the Dolphins’ three tackles will move to guard, somebody asked Laremy Tunsil when was the last time he played anything other than tackle.
Answer: His most recent game. Tunsil, the Dolphins’ No. 1 pick, pointed out that he “caught that touchdown pass” while lined up at tight end for Ole Miss in their Sugar Bowl blowout of Oklahoma State. Officially, it went down as a 2-yard lateral, but the point is, Tunsil sounds eager to play anywhere, anytime.
“If they put me at quarterback, I’m going to do a seven-step drop-back and throw the pass,” Tunsil said. “If they put me at tight end, I’m going to catch the ball.”
Minutes later, coach Adam Gase was asked about Tunsil lobbying to be the next Gronk. His answer drew more laughs.
“That started about 10 minutes after we drafted him,” Gase said.
Joking aside, you combine Gase’s reputation as an offensive innovator with the type of players the Dolphins drafted and what do you have?
A lot of moving parts.
“You guys have seen coach Gase enough to know that he’s aggressive,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen told reporters. “He likes sticking guys in different positions and giving them different stuff to do and getting into some non-conventional matchups in non-conventional places.”
Christensen was referring to Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant, who are expected to help the receiving corps but also the return game, among other things.
“Who knows what he’ll come out of the thing with as you watch these guys?” Christensen said of his boss. “But I know one thing: You watch his mind tick and I could see it on draft day. He’s going, ‘We could do this and this and this.’ We’re still trying to head for first base here, but that’s how his mind works. It’ll be a fun thing, because they’re versatile guys.”
Just as Tunsil embraces the “wherever they put me” philosophy, so have Carroo, Grant and running back Kenyan Drake. Among the Dolphins’ top five picks, Xavien Howard is virtually chiseled in at press corner, which, given the Dolphins’ dire need at cornerback, is no knock on Howard. Besides, he too has extensive special teams experience.
Drake is typical of the group, saying “of course” he wants to line up here, there and everywhere to throw off defenses. Lined up wide, covering kicks, returning kicks — it’s all fair game.
“I don’t necessarily have to be in the backfield to make a play,” he said.
Carroo knows he can’t study just one assignment per play under Gase.
“He’s an offensive genius,” Carroo said. “He creates a lot of mismatches for a lot of defenses. I feel like, with this offensive system, it allows playmakers to make plays. He’s going to move guys in different spots. That’s why our wide receivers coach (Shawn Jefferson) is big on making sure that we learn the whole concept instead of guys just learning individual routes or what they do.”
“In the olden days — when I first came in the league — you had your first and second back and on third (down), in ran a third receiver, out ran the fullback, in ran your receiving tight end,” Christensen said. “But when you’re no-huddle, part of the advantage of this thing is that we want to be able to keep the same bunch on the field. So they have to be versatile guys. You can’t have a single dimension.”
Gase also is mindful of the fact he can dress only 46 on game days. When Mike Pouncey was injured last season, the Dolphins were caught without a backup center, forcing rookie Jamil Douglas into the role, with predictable results.
“We’re going to need a guy who can back up all the spots and contribute on special teams,” Gase said. “I don’t want a guy sitting next to me the entire game just being a spectator.”
Laremy Tunsil wasn’t drafted in the first round to spectate. He’ll be at guard or tackle most of the time, but don’t be surprised if you see him popping up as a monster-sized blocking back, or springing a tackle-eligible reception on somebody.
Cornerback Xavien Howard: Super competitive. No, check that. Ultra competitive. Alpha.
Grier said receiver/return man Jakeem Grant is an alpha, leaving us to sort out how a guy who’s 5-feet-5 3/4 qualifies for that label within the NFL world.
Oh, and with third-rounder Kenyan Drake, Grier made sure to point out he makes tackles. Yes, a running back who makes tackles. At least it’s on special teams.
So clearly, Grier, football operations poobah Mike Tannenbaum and coach Adam Gase are doorbuster shoppers at Alphas R Us.
The dictionary defines an alpha as “being the most dominant, powerful or assertive person in a particular group.” Technically, that leaves room for only one at the top of the chain on a 53-man roster, but no matter. Maybe Grier’s idea of organized team activities this summer will be Over-The-Top-Rope Alpha Battle Royals.
Here is the thing, though: Grier has been in the organization for 16 years, endured that 6-10 season last year with everybody else, and his cure for what ails is an industrial-strength dose of alpha.
Meaning Grier & Co. analyzed the situation and evidently diagnosed alpha deficiency.
Were the Dolphins too nice?
Once you get past Ndamukong Suh and the departed Olivier Vernon, you have to think yes. The Dolphins talked a physical game, but when was the last time they walked off the field and you felt they smash-mouthed their way to victory? Sorry, but toughening up the dolphin in the logo — he’s no longer so cute and cuddly — doesn’t count.
A football alpha is, by definition, a leader. In the past, there was no question where the leadership was coming from. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas ran the show, and without Chad Pennington, nobody would remember the last time this team was in the playoffs.
But the common thinking amid the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin affair was it never would have escalated had a responsible adult such as J.T. been in the locker room. (Even though Gase is new, given his relationship with the players, it’s inconceivable he would have been blindsided by the controversy the way the previous regime was.)
Interestingly, center Mike Pouncey was implicated in that affair, but he had an emotional awakening when the Dolphins gave him a five-year, $45 million contract extension last year, thanking the club for putting up with “stupid” things he’d done.
“You’re just going to see a better leader,” Pouncey said. “ I’m going to be the same football player. Just a better leader on and off the football field.”
Pouncey has delivered. Just listen to first-round pick Laremy Tunsil: “I’ve been talking to Mike Pouncey a lot about film work and how to work and field stuff. (He is) somebody to look up to, somebody that can show me how to lead the way.”
Pouncey can do that in the offensive linemen’s meeting room. Now, the Dolphins are committed to making sure every other room has someone who thinks the front seat belongs to him.
“When you say ‘alpha,’ it’s those guys that love football,” Grier said after the draft. “They’re mentally and physically tough, they’re not afraid of challenges, they love to compete. It was stuff that we talked about a lot through the process and you guys have been around coach Gase — he definitely has that mentality.
“We’ve tried to change the roster with the guys we’ve added, especially on the pro side too through free agency. We’ve been aggressively looking for players like that. I think that’s the only way you can win.”
Before he could set NFL records or win Super Bowls, before he could even say he’d played one full NFL game, Peyton Manning had to stand on the opposite sideline for his pro debut and watch how a legend operates.
And he watched as Dan Marino hit Lamar Thomas on a 16-yard skinny post on third-and-11.
“It was the damnedest throw I’d ever seen,” Manning said Monday as he began his retirement speech from the NFL after 18 years.
Manning and the Indianapolis Colts lost that game to the Dolphins 24-15, a day that history remembers for Manning’s first NFL interception (by cornerback Terrell Buckley) and first NFL touchdown pass (6 yards to Marvin Harrison).
No, that didn’t launch a rivalry to parallel Manning’s legendary battles with Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But Manning, the Dolphins and Miami did share huge moments in the Hall of Fame quarterback’s career, and it was no surprise that Manning began his retirement speech with memories of his debut against the Dolphins and Marino, whom he called “after my dad, my favorite player.”
Miami is where Manning won his first Super Bowl, beating the Chicago Bears, and it’s now the home of new Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who coached Manning for three seasons with the Denver Broncos.
“I have such respect for the way Peyton worked, the way he prepared and his unmatched competitiveness,” Gase said. “After all the records, the MVPs, the Pro Bowls, he still worked like it was his first day in the league.
“Whether we were in training camp or OTAs, he truly enjoyed being out there with the guys, going against the defense and competing. The grind of it, the way we worked together for those three years, was really special and something I’ll always remember. I’m happy for him and congratulate him on his amazing career.”
Check back later for a closer look at the memories of Peyton Manning and the Dolphins.
The decision among the Dolphins’ braintrust was unanimous. Safer choices — guys with head-coaching experience — had applied, but in the end, Miami was bringing in an offensive-minded wiz who was going to call the plays and lead this team out of mediocrity.
“Was he the safe choice?” the owner said. “No. A little more risky? Yeah. Could this thing blow up on us? Maybe. But we said we’re going for the gold.”
The owner was Wayne Huizenga, not Stephen Ross. The hire was Cam Cameron, not Adam Gase. The year was 2008.
The point: It doesn’t matter what ownership says today. That includes Ross giving a speech on Monday and appearing to start the clock on when Gase must reach the playoffs to save the job he just got.
Sources jumped in and said, no, Ross actually was referring to the NFL climate in general and that he loves his new man, whose contract, by the way, is for five years, not just four. They pointed to another comment Ross made, suggesting Gase could be the next Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells — “you know, really great head coach.”
Gase is 37. You know, a really young head coach. Fact is, nobody knows if he’s the next Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells or Cam Cameron, who, of course, was fired 50 weeks after Huizenga’s grand pronouncement, possibly relating to the fact he’d registered precisely one win and 15 losses over that span.
The only thing Ross could say today that would truly resonate would be to demand Gase makes the playoffs this season or he’s gone. Of course, he’d never say that.
So what if Ross pointed out that coaches have three years in this league? So what if he said Gase has three years? You could say the timing of such a thing was odd. You can say it’s unwise and unfair.
You can’t say it’s a revelation.
So much can change in just one year that what Ross can say in 2016 pertaining to 2019 is moot.
Let’s get through September and October first, shall we?
It’s no secret where Don Shula’s loyalties lie on Super Bowl Sunday, since he has a son, Mike, coaching the Panthers.
But don’t think for a minute that everyone connected with the Dolphins feels that way. Fact is, the Broncos will have plenty of support, and not just because they’re from the AFC.
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen coached Peyton Manning when both were with the Indianapolis Colts. Given the bond Christensen often develops with his players, it’s no surprise he keeps in touch with Manning and texted him congratulations after winning the AFC Championship Game. Not only that, new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is close to Broncos coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Joseph likely would be coaching the Broncos on Sunday if not for the Cincinnati Bengals blocking him from jumping to Denver a year ago.
First, Christensen, who says he “couldn’t be more excited” to see his former pupil back in the big game. Surely to earn points with Dolphins fans is what gives Christensen extra pleasure about the whole scenario.
“One thing I do share with this city is a lack of affection for New England through the years,” Christensen says.
Manning, of course, knocked off the Patriots to get to the Super Bowl.
Christensen says having seen first-hand what Manning endured — comebacks, surgeries, etc. — to get here “makes it even more special. You see him run out of that tunnel at the Super Bowl just knowing what he did to get there and for a decade and a half, watching how the guy approaches the game is pretty darn special to see him. Now we just have to see him finish this thing.”
Head coach Adam Gase is a former offensive coordinator with the Broncos, so Christensen says he and Gase have “had a lot fun talking football and sharing Manning stories, et cetera, Manning experiences.”
Manning has dropped strong hints that Sunday might be his “last rodeo.”
“I’m not buying it,” Christensen says. “I know how much he loves doing what he does. He sometimes forgets and still gives me projects and forgets that he has a coach there. I still get a glimpse of how much this guy enjoys football like he does, enjoys the quarterback position like he does and I wouldn’t count on him bowing out too early.”
Joseph admitted that seeing the Broncos make it this far was a bit personal.
“At first, disappointing,” he says. “But you know (I’m) obviously happy for Wade and happy for Gary. I mean they’re friends. They’re friends of mine. So (I’m) happy for those guys but it was a tough year last year, being blocked from that job, knowing that Gary was going to be the head coach and that team having great players on defense. As a first-time coordinator you want an experienced head coach, obviously, and have good players on defense. So that was a hard one to swallow last year.”