ORLANDO—Two key positions the Dolphins haven’t addressed this offseason are tight end and linebacker. With the majority of free agency wrapped up, at least until more players get cut, those figure to priorities in next month’s NFL Draft.
At tight end, for now, Miami looks like it’ll proceed with A.J. Derby as the leader to win the starting job. He has four career starts and appears to be ahead of MarQueis Gray and Thomas Duarte as the team moves toward the upcoming season.
“We’ll kind of see what we can do developing him,” coach Adam Gase said this week. “I think he’s one of those guys that has a great feel in the slot and that one-on-one spot versus a safety or linebacker. We’ll see how it plays out.”
The Dolphins are also recruiting 12-year veteran Anthony Fasano, who hasn’t decided if he wants to keep playing.
Derby, 26, was a waiver pickup from Denver last season and caught two passes for 11 yards in two games with the Dolphins. He supposedly had an injured shoulder when the Broncos decided to let him go, but said he was ready to play in a game when he arrived in South Florida.
The Patriots made him a sixth-round pick in 2015, then traded him to the Broncos the following season. In 21 career games, he has 37 receptions, 404 yards and two touchdowns. Almost all of that production came in Denver.
Gase believes Derby has yet to get a full opportunity to see how good he can be, and it looks like he’ll get that chance this season.
“I’m really interested to see what we can do with him,” Gase said. “Seeing him go out the first day and he’s running around and he’s fine and I could tell the quarterbacks really liked working with him. Anytime you get a guy that has been a former quarterback, he seems to have a great feel for where to be, where to fit in, kind of what that guy is thinking.”
Early in his time at Penn State, Mike Gesicki’s role at tight end was in jeopardy because he was having a bad time with drops. That wasn’t promising for his future at the school or his chances of one day turning pro.
But Gesicki didn’t let that derail him. He dove deep into the problem with his mind bent on burying it. He spent hours doing tennis ball drills, caught around 300 balls each day at practice and reached a point where he was confident his hands would never be a liability again.
“It was three years ago, but it seems like forever now,” he said. “I just did whatever was in my power… My last two seasons were much better. It’s very rewarding to see the hard work pay off.”
Over his junior and senior years, Gesicki became one of the most surehanded targets in Penn State’s offense and totaled 105 catches, 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns to turn himself into one of the best tight end prospects in this year’s NFL Draft class. He is widely considered to be a top-five player at his position.
Naturally, that interests a team like the Dolphins, who haven’t had an impactful tight end in years. Their most productive player at that spot last season was Julius Thomas with 41 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns. The year before it was Dion Sims at 26, 256 and four.
With Thomas not expected back and there being limited choices in free agency, it’s time for Miami to draft a tight end and develop him into a weapon. It’s one of the main things that’s been missing from this offense during Adam Gase’s two years as head coach.
Gesicki, 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, is a good possibility. The Dolphins would likely have a shot at him in the second round with the 42nd pick and got started on their evaluation process by sitting down with him at last month’s Senior Bowl.
Gesicki described the meeting as in-depth and efficient, with team representatives getting straight to the point about what kind of player he is. He fielded questions about what plays he’d call on certain downs and distances and what defenses he’d expect to face in some situations.
“They were putting me to the test a little bit,” he said. “I’m getting to know them and they’re getting to know me.
“Ryan Tannehill’s a great quarterback. He’s proved that. And with their receivers, they have a lot of talent. If you add one guy here and one guy there that can make a difference, it’d be awesome.”
With the hands issue in the past, Gesicki’s goal leading up to the draft is to show teams he’s a capable blocker.
“Some people question my ability to do so,” he said. “I have a great desire to do it, I’m strong enough to do it and I’m big enough to do it.”
The Dolphins have never taken a tight end in the first round—second-rounder Jim Mandich at No. 29 in 1970 was the closest—and aren’t likely to do so this year. They have the No. 11 pick overall, which appears to be a reach for even the best tight ends in this year’s class.
South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are thought to be the top-five tight ends, too, but it’s possible none of them will be first-round picks. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has Andrews as the first one off the board at No. 29, and colleague Todd McShay likes Goedert going first at No. 31.
The consensus among draft gurus is that this is a year stocked with good tight ends, not great ones.
That said, Miami would be more than happy with a good one. The only tight ends currently expected to be on the roster for the upcoming season are A.J. Derby (37 career receptions), MarQueis Gray (27) and Thomas Duarte (none). The team also must decide whether it wants to bring back 33-year-old Anthony Fasano, who hasn’t said whether he intends to keep playing.
Those circumstances make it clear the Dolphins need to prioritize tight end in the draft, and Gesicki’s already got their attention.
DAVIE — From the moment the Dolphins set foot in California, having fled Hurricane Irma, their mantra has been one of no excuses.
Adam Gase made it clear that he wouldn’t tolerate players feeling sorry for themselves, whether it was from being displaced for a week, not having a legitimate bye week, the loss of quarterback Ryan Tannehill or any of the other unpredictable issues that could have been a crutch.
Now that the season is over, at least one Dolphin is finally willing to admit that while all the adversity can’t excuse a 6-10 season, it does go a certain distance in explaining it.
“It was an experience,” tight end Anthony Fasano said. “Disappointing. I think everyone had higher expectations for how things played out and you can look at so many different factors for what played a part in that.”
What was the major factor?
“Distractions, I would say, from a broad view,” Fasano said. “We couldn’t handle some distractions and overcome some adversities.”
“Yeah, that’s part of the list.”
“Yeah. A quarterback change, a coaching change with the O-line position. There’s a lot of things.”
Fasano was referring to offensive line coach Chris Foerster abruptly resigning after a video surfaced online of him snorting a white powder. That rivaled linebacker Lawrence Timmons going AWOL in California for most bizarre tales of this season.
Fasano just completed his 12th NFL season. None of the prior 11 compares on the weird scale.
“No, definitely not,” Fasano said. “That’s why one word for this season is an experience.”
With the season ending with three consecutive losses, four fewer victories than last season and no playoff berth, it’s easy to forget two of the positives: The Dolphins beat both Super Bowl teams from last season.
“That’s part of the frustration,” Fasano said. “We have the talent and at times we played like an elite team but we couldn’t consistently play at that level in all three phases of the game. I think that’s pretty much the reason why we’re 6-10.”
DAVIE — Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano, who will turn 34 in April, is undecided if he will return for a 13th season in the NFL, saying how he feels physically will enter into his decision.
Ultimately, however, the decision could be made for him.
Fasano said he has suffered concussions in his career and said one factor in his decision will be a diagnosis into the potential risks of extending his career.
“I think it would go into my evaluation of how I feel physically,” Fasano said Monday. “And if anything was lingering, I would get it checked out and just make sure I have all the facts and information about myself before I make that decision.”
Fasano estimated he has had “something like” five, six or seven concussions but couldn’t say how many were of the more serious nature.
“Who knows what’s serious and not serious? Minor?” he said.
The Dolphins have been through this before. They lost tight end Jordan Cameron last year because of repeated concussions and increasing awareness of the CTE issue in football.
Although coaches haven’t given Fasano an indication of whether they’d welcome him back, they were pleasantly surprised by his performance after rejoining the team as a free agent. An effective blocking tight end, Fasano saw more action as the year went on, playing in all 16 games and starting six. He also caught 11 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown and could be a valuable asset if the team parts with disappointing veteran Julius Thomas.
“I’m going to take some time, adjust, rest, reflect,” Fasano said. “I’ll be around and in communication with the coaches, so we’ll see how it plays out.”
BUFFALO, N.Y.—There aren’t many places where 30 is considered old, but that’s absolutely the case in the NFL. Teams treat the number like an expiration date for running backs, and it’s a badge of honor for anyone else at the collision-heavy positions to keep going past that age.
Players can race around and take the hits when they’re young, but it takes meticulous work to make it in this arena once their hairline starts to retreat. The Dolphins have 10 active players who are 30 and up, and almost all of them will have a significant role as the team tries to keep its playoff hopes alive at Buffalo on Sunday.
“Chill out, bro,” Lawrence Timmons admonished. “I don’t think it’s that old. I try to do a lot of extra stuff to stay out there, but don’t say 30 like it’s like that.”
Timmons, 31, wouldn’t even be in the prime of his career yet in most professions, but he was getting hit with “How much do you have left?” questions when the Dolphins signed him. He’ll be asked some version of that the rest of his playing days.
This is his 11th season, which means he’s probably played around 10,000 snaps at linebacker and withstood the impact of more than 1,000 tackles—not to mention whatever he’s endured in practices. He’s still good enough to start every game for the Dolphins, who play him over backups who range from 24 to 26.
It’s not insulting to point out that he’s high-mileage; it’s a compliment.
“That’s true,” he said, slowly coming around.
He paused for a moment.
“Right,” he said. “It’s a blessing. Thanks for saying that.”
There’s an inherent respect among those who make it this long. There’s a look of recognition when Cameron Wake or Jermon Bushrod sees another guy in their age group still getting it done. It’s a club.
They know the secrets, like Wake’s aversion to pizza or Timmons double-layering all his clothes for practice to help him sweat off some weight.
They use terms like “pre-hab,” a favorite of 33-year-old tight end Anthony Fasano. They still get treatment on injuries they sustained years ago. Therapeutic massages are a must, usually every other day. Most are rigid in their weekly routines.
“The young guys need to pay attention to what they’re doing,” said Bushrod, an 11th-year pro who delayed retirement to play at 33 this season. “You don’t get to play 10-plus years in this league if you’re not doing something right on a daily basis.”
Of being an elder on the team, he said, “I embrace it. I think it’s something every player should want to get to. It’s a beast to get back out there every week and get through practice, but you do it and that’s something I’m proud to hang my hat on.”
Hear that, Timmons? You chill out, bro.
According to Pro Football Reference, 84 percent of the players who have appeared in an NFL game this year are under 30. There are 41 players in the NFL this season who are old enough to run for president. Sift out the kickers, punters and quarterbacks, and that number drops to 20 men playing the more grueling positions.
The gold standard among that group is a sculpted, 6-foot-2, 236-pound man who looks like he could be a new Avengers character. That would be Wake, and he knows better than anyone what it takes to survive in a league full of players a decade or more younger than him.
For Wake, there are countless small decisions that keep him in this shape. He’s on top of everything he eats, for starters, and the overall maintenance of his body started years ago.
“I’ve obviously been around the league long enough to see guys who (are) treating today like it won’t affect them 10 years in the future,” he said. “If you’re eating a bunch of (garbage) and you’re partying and you’re staying up late and all of those things, that might be fun now, but there’s nothing free.
“In Year 6, when you feel like a bag of dog crap—when you probably could have been OK and played a few more years—maybe that was based on those early years where you didn’t really do what you were supposed to. This locker room, for the most part, guys have taken notice of some of the older guys who we have who do things to continue to play.”
Mentioning pizza—hot, cheesy, delicious, grease-soaked, carbohydrate-filled, sweet, beautiful pizza—around Wake is sure to prompt a lecture.
“It’s a very simple risk-reward or cost-benefit,” Wake said. “The pizza is great for 10 minutes, then you finish eating the pizza. Once it gets in your body, you feel like crap for two days. Ten minutes for two days, what kind of return on investment is that? Now if I give you a salad, it tastes like ‘crap’–I think salads taste great—for 10 minutes, but you feel great for two days.”
Anyone who’s in their 30s knows that wasn’t true for them in college. A 20-year-old can guzzle or devour just about anything and wake up the next morning for the best day of their life.
Athletes can, too, at that age. It’s no surprise to walk into a locker room in any sport and see the younger players chomping wings and fries. That won’t work for “the grandpas and uncles,” as Bushrod affectionately calls his crew.
Not only has Wake preserved himself well enough to still be fearsome at almost 36, he powered through the rehab on a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2015 to come back with 11.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl selection last season. He’s got eight sacks this year. That’s more than just good genetics.
“It’s super impressive,” Fasano said. “Because he’s super old.”
In his own corner of the Dolphins’ locker room, Wake sits kitty corner from defensive end Charles Harris. He’s the first-round pick Miami chose with the thought that he’d eventually replace Wake, and at 22 he’s young enough that he could’ve worn Wake’s jersey to class in middle school.
Wake didn’t flinch when the Dolphins drafted Harris. He didn’t take it as a threat. He’s built to outlast anybody, no matter how fresh their legs.
Heck, he even said he’d be happy to help mentor him. The best thing for Harris—and the organization—would be for him to immediately start implementing what he sees from Wake. He says he’s learned a lot from him already.
That’s where old guys provide added value. They’re still good enough to be major factors on the field right now, plus they offer a roadmap for the Dolphins’ promising batch of young talent.
They have 18 players on the active roster who are 25 or younger, plus four other rookies on Injured Reserve. What they pick up from players like Wake will go a long way toward making Miami’s future as bright as it hopes to be.
“I speak to the rookies every year and I tell them the hardest thing won’t be your opponent; it will be you,” Wake said. “We’re all big, we’re all fast, we’re strong… Either you want to be great or you want to be just a guy.
“The guys that play video games, that have got all of the numbers and all of the promoters on South Beach, they’ve got pizza on speed dial–They play for two or three years and nobody ever hears from them. If you want to be great, you eat a salad with no dressing.”
DAVIE — The Dolphins say they will help former offensive line coach Chris Foerster get whatever help he needs.
Turning to tight end Anthony Fasano might be a prudent start for Foerster.
Fasano helped start Next Chapter, an addiction and trauma treatment center in Delray Beach. While he isn’t a therapist, instead focusing on the business aspects of the operation during the offseason, Fasano has had a close-up view of how difficult kicking drug addiction can be. He was inspired to open the center in 2015 after seeing a relative fight to kick drugs years ago.
Despite Fasano’s experience with the issue, his reaction to seeing the viral video of Foerster snorting a white powder was similar to many on the team.
“Just kind of shocked,” Fasano said. “I had a good experience with him and I wish him the best and speedy recovery and we’re here to support him however we can.”
Foerster resigned Monday, saying he took “full responsibility” for his actions.
“My sole focus is on getting the help that I need with the support of my family and medical professionals,” Foerster said in his statement.
It’s not known if the substance in the video was cocaine or a prescribed drug, or if Foerster fits the clinical definition of an addict. But in the video, Foerster does refer to having gotten high before.
Beating addiction is a challenge for anyone, Fasano said.
“Just from the numbers, I know it’s tough,” Fasano said. “With the amount of relapses that go on, even after rehab, it’s a lot.”
Fasano said he could not speculate on Foerster’s future in part because he does not have enough information, but also because each case is unique.
Fasano doubted addiction is more prevalent in the NFL than in general.
“I would say we’re probably even an outlier where we have less than the general population because of the care — we need to take care of ourselves, and our bodies are our jobs,” Fasano said. “I would say less, but there’s normal civilians all in this locker room, too, and we’re subject to the same childhood and life pressures as everybody.”
OXNARD, Calif. — Normally when football players and coaches talk about dog days, they mean the middle of training camp, when the only issue with the weather is the heat.
But last week were dog days for the Dolphins. When a team makes a quick decision to pack up operations and move to the opposite coast for a week, it carries real-life complications that could make anybody growl.
Namely: What do the many dog owners among players and coaches do with their four-legged friends when the entire family bolts town?
Darren Rizzi, the Dolphins’ associate head coach and special teams coordinator, called it “a lot of things you don’t think about” if you’re on the outside looking in.
Rizzi owns two West Highland terriers and was among those securing a boarding facility with the clock winding down.
Tight end Anthony Fasano owns a great Dane and a cane corso, each of whom weighs almost as much as a kicker.
“Like a lot of guys, I have big dogs and it’s tough to find housing,” Fasano said.
The dogs are at a vet in Coral Springs that the Dolphins helped find. Fasano had begun sweating for reasons that had nothing to do with any loss of power. He was calling more audibles than Jay Cutler.
“We worked through probably Plan A, B, C, D and E at that point,” Fasano said. “But we were able to figure it out. I appreciate the Dolphins for what they did.”
Running back Kenyan Drake traded his dog — in a manner of speaking — to Georgia. The pup is staying with his mom there until he returns.
Meanwhile, kicker Cody Parkey, a baseball fan, has a lab mix named Marlin, who handled the storm better than some pooches.
“It wasn’t so bad,” Parkey said. “We could open the door and let him out real quick, so we didn’t have any issues.”
Center Jake Brendel has a German shepherd pointer who bolted for Nashville — with Brendel’s girlfriend, that is. The car ride, which normally takes about 13 hours, required 18, but that was OK.
“He’s a bird dog, you know, so they’re looking at everything out the window constantly,” Brendel said.
What might not be OK with some of Brendel’s teammates is the name he chose for his dog.
“Jet,” he said.
Rizzi, chuckling at how his dogs became a topic of conversation, happily reported his dogs “are alive and well and doing great in South Florida.
“It was much more important to my children — I’m not going to lie to you. My kids were ready to bring them with them.”
Palm Beach Post staff writer Jason Lieser contributed to this story.
So last Thursday, employees of the center relocated 16 patients to a cabin on the Georgia-Tennessee line.
“We had to bus them all the way up there,” Fasano said. “Thursday, they left and they didn’t get there until late Friday night, a 26-hour drive. It was tough, so I’m really appreciative of those employees and the clients that we have there of being patient and accepting the situation.”
“Accepting” might be an understatement.
“All my reports say they’ve been great,” Fasano said. “They did whitewater rafting. They did zip-lining.”
Fasano said the two homes suffered no major damage but did lose power. The plan is to return late this week.
(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2017.)
TE Anthony Fasano
Height, weight: 6-4, 255
College: Notre Dame
Age: 33 as of April 20
Experience: Entering 12th NFL season
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in March
Contract: Signed for one year, $2.75 million
Pro Football Focus rank: 15th of 63 overall, first in run blocking and fourth in pass protection
Stats: 16 games, nine starts, eight receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns for Tennessee
Straight talk: Much has changed since Fasano first joined the Dolphins as a 24-year-old via a trade with Dallas.
The most significant part: Fasano is now seen as a blocking tight end, as evidenced by both his No. 1 ranking by PFF and his mere eight receptions last season.
The interesting twist is that Fasano enjoyed some of the best receiving seasons of his career in Miami. He had a career-high 528 yards in 2010, caught a total of 14 touchdown passes from 2010-12 and had a career-best 41 catches in 2012 as he developed a reputation as a sure-handed target.
The Dolphins brought Fasano back into the fold as they were acquiring Julius Thomas from Jacksonville. With Dion Sims having departed for Chicago, that leaves much of the tight end blocking duties to Fasano and MarQueis Gray.
Possibly finishing his career with the Dolphins sounded somewhat natural for Fasano. He continued to live in South Florida while playing for the Chiefs and Titans and says, “I never had ill feelings when I left. I always followed and rooted for them and the guys that I knew on the team.”
Fasano says of his objective: “I’m searching for a playoff run and an opportunity to win the Super Bowl. That’s where I’m at in my career. I’m going into my 12th year and I’m not really concerned about stats or this, that and the other thing. I just want to make a playoff run and get a chance to win a Super Bowl ring.”
Prospects for 2017
Although blocking for RB Jay Ajayi will be Fasano’s chief responsibility, it would not be wise for opponents to discount Fasano as a possible target. For one thing, coach Adam Gase loves mismatches. Second, Fasano still can burn teams — witness his 5-yard touchdown reception from Marcus Mariota that beat the Saints in overtime two seasons ago. So it should not shock anyone if Fasano’s receiving total, even at age 33, inches upward.
Last year, the Dolphins got minimal receiving production from the tight end position once they lost Jordan Cameron early in the year. Cameron was shaky enough for Plan A after underachieving the season before, and there wasn’t much depth behind him. The end result was Dion Sims leading the position with 256 yards and four touchdowns on 26 catches.
Miami is one Julius Thomas injury away from being in a similar spot.
While the team isn’t paying Thomas a ton, it’s banking on him being a big factor in the passing game all year. He’s coming off an injury-hampered run in Jacksonville in which he totaled 736 yards, 76 catches and nine touchdowns in two years. The Dolphins are hoping he’ll get back to what he was in Denver before that, when he was considered one of the best tight ends in the league.
Behind him, though, there are question marks. If Thomas can’t make it through a full season, the next man in line is likely 33-year-old Anthony Fasano.
He spent 2008 through ’12 with the Dolphins, tying the franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end with seven in ’08, before playing for the Chiefs and Titans the past four years. With Tennessee last season, he had eight catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Fasano hasn’t caught more than 26 passes in a season since leaving Miami. He’s known more for his blocking than his receiving ability at this point.
This is where drafting a tight end would’ve helped the Dolphins, who spent five of their first six picks on defense and wrapped up with a wide receiver in the seventh round. They did not sign any undrafted tight ends, either.
After Fasano, Miami has MarQueis Gray, Thomas Duarte and Chris Pantale. Gray is by far the most experienced of the three. He’s got 26 catches for 318 yards in 45 career games over four years with the Browns, Bills, Vikings and Dolphins. Pantale and Duarte have never started a game or caught a pass.