DAVIE — The Dolphins have brought in a handful of longtime veterans over the past two years who proved to be way too far past their prime. Mario Williams was a useless signing in 2016, Arian Foster wasn’t much better, and last year’s additions of Julius Thomas and Lawrence Timmons were duds.
None of those players signed with another team after leaving Miami.
The Dolphins signed two players who certainly fall into the older demographic in slot receiver Danny Amendola and running back Frank Gore. The upcoming season will be Amendola’s 10th and Gore’s 14th. Both are coming off of productive 2017 seasons, but Gore is 35, and Amendola turns 33 in November.
They looked good during Organized Team Activities and minicamp, and the Dolphins have penciled both in for significant roles this season. Amendola is expected to be the starting slot receiver, and Gore will likely work behind Kenyan Drake.
After several months of workouts and offseason practices, as well as today’s training camp opener, coach Adam Gase is confident these additions won’t be reminiscent of Miami’s recent veteran busts.
“In the spring, you know where a guy really is in his career,” Gase said after practice. “Right now, Danny looks like the same guy that we played against (in New England). For us, any of our older players, they don’t look any different than what we thought we were getting when we brought them here.
“Frank is the one guy that every time I watch him, you just shake your head when you see him make some of these cuts and the acceleration through the hole. The guy is ageless.”
Gore is a total anomaly at running back, where few players remain highly productive once they reach 30. He rushed for 2,953 yards with the Colts over the last three seasons, including 961 in 2017. Amendola bounced back from a quiet 2016 season with 61 catches for 659 yards and two touchdowns last year.
DAVIE — Adam Gase believes the Dolphins have an ideal mix of skill players in the passing game this year and the right quarterbacks to make the most of that group. After about four months of formal and informal workouts together, that element of the offense looked sharp on the first day of training camp.
The passing attack starts with Ryan Tannehill’s return, and regardless of whether he can get back to the way he played in 2016, he’ll automatically be an upgrade over Jay Cutler. Tannehill has tested his surgically repaired left knee as much as possible, saying he took it beyond what was necessary to be cleared for football, and practiced most of the offseason without a brace on it.
He was in a brace this morning and is certain to wear one on game days. Now that Miami is in camp, he has no choice but to get himself reacclimated to playing with it even as the team works without pads the first two days.
His most proven weapon is Kenny Stills, who continues improve as he hits what should be the prime of his career. At 26, he’s already a six-year veteran and put up 100 catches, 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
The rest of the crew is somewhat unknown, though Gase’s confidence runs counter to the outside perception. He sees a dynamic, multi-faceted playmaker in new acquisition Albert Wilson and a technician with plenty left in the tank in former Patriot Danny Amendola. Tannehill hit Amendola over the middle a few times in 11-on-11 work.
They’re still hopeful that DeVante Parker will finally find his breakthrough, but they’re not depending on it as much as they did last year. It’s almost thought of as a bonus if he’s able to give them more than he did in 2017.
The three starting receivers at this point figure to be Stills, Parker and Amendola, plus the Dolphins have second-round pick Mike Gesicki at tight end.
Then there’s Kenyan Drake, who has a chance to be the most productive offensive player. Everything is lining up for him to have a big year, and Gase is enthusiastic about settling in with exactly his type of running back. Drake shined when he got the chance late last year, but has yet to do it over an extended period. He showed his speed — he’s faster than Jay Ajayi, though not as much of a bruiser — on several outside runs and short passes today.
Behind Tannehill, the Dolphins gave Brock Osweiler and David Fales snaps with the second team, though it still seems Fales is at least a slight favorite to win the backup job. Osweiler threw an interception early in those drills on a ball that bounced out of Jakeem Grant’s hands.
Gase declined to name either player as the leader for the job at the end of Organized Team Activities last month, but his comments going back to January have indicated a strong belief in Fales. New York Jets castoff Bryce Petty is also in camp.
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 Dolphins couldn’t stand Danny Amendola until they finally signed him.
He was a pest for years in New England, causing problems for Miami as a slot receiver and as a return man on special teams. Cornerback Bobby McCain, who got ejected for fighting Amendola last season, said he was his second-most hated player in the NFL (nobody will knock Tom Brady out of the top spot) prior to him joining the Dolphins this offseason.
Walt Aikens had a few clashes with Amendola, too. Most of those took place on special teams, where Aikens has been one of Miami’s best cover men.
“It wasn’t as personal as Bobby and Danny,” a grinning Aikens said after today’s Organized Team Activities practice. “Me and Amendola had some words every few punts or (kick returns).
“We actually ran into each other; it was like three years back. I think it was in New England. He tried to block me, and I made my presence be known. I like to joke with him about that one.”
Unfortunately, nothing turns up on YouTube when searching their names together, but it sounds like Aikens must have leveled him.
That’s all in the past now, of course, and Aikens has come to enjoy Amendola just like McCain has. He also likes the idea of what he can do for the Dolphins’ offense.
“He’s a good dude,” Aikens said. “He’s a nice asset to this team – a hard worker, goes out. You’re going to get the same person every day. Ultimately, he’s going to make this defense better being that he came from a system that can score and (had a) high-powered offense. He’s here now. We’re going to see what he’s got.”
In nine games against the Dolphins over the last five years, Amendola caught 31 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. At 32 years old, he’s coming off a season of 61 receptions, 659 yards and two touchdowns for the Patriots.
The Dolphins may have caught a break Thursday amid reports that New England receiver Julian Edelman is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs — a penalty that would keep him out of the Patriots’ Sept. 30 home game against Miami.
Edelman, 32, missed the 2017 season because of an ACL injury. He also would miss games against the Texans, Jaguars and Lions.
The penalty is being appealed.
In 12 games against Miami, Edelman has victimized the Dolphins more than any other NFL team, recording 731 receiving yards. He also has 55 catches against Miami (most of any team other than the Jets) and five touchdown passes (tied for the most).
The Patriots, of course, still have tight end Rob Gronkowski, who skipped voluntary workouts and is eyeing a new contract, but targets for Tom Brady are wearing thin.
Among the losses this offseason is Danny Amendola, who caught 61 passes for 659 yards in 2017 but was signed by the Dolphins.
Brandin Cooks, who had 1,082 receiving yards, was traded to the Rams.
Running back Dion Lewis, who caught 32 passes for 214 yards, signed with the Titans.
The Patriots still have former Dolphin Chris Hogan, who had 439 yards and five TDs last year, and running back James White, who accounted for 429 receiving yards and three TDs.
Edelman’s absence could benefit former Miami Hurricane Braxton Berrios, selected by New England in the sixth round, 210th overall.
The Patriots also have Malcolm Mitchell, a fourth-rounder who missed last season with a knee injury and also missed some voluntary workouts this summer.
Newcomers also include Jordan Matthews, who had 282 yards for the Bills last year, and Cordarrelle Patterson, the ex-Vikings first-round pick held to 309 yards for the Raiders in 2017.
DAVIE — Jakeem Grant didn’t blink when the Dolphins went out and signed two expensive slot receivers to replace Jarvis Landry, rather than move him into that vacancy. Honestly, he probably saw it coming a mile away.
Grant has been trying to prove himself as more than merely return specialist since coming to Miami as a sixth-round pick in 2016, and it hasn’t been easy. Just getting the opportunities has been a struggle, and it’ll be no different now that he’s fighting for snaps against up-and-coming talent Albert Wilson and former Patriots mainstay Danny Amendola.
“Whenever we did that, I was happy, actually,” Grant said after today’s practice. “I’m a guy that like to compete.”
“When they brought in Albert and I saw him for the first time, I was like that’s a guy that’s almost the same height as me. So I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve got to compete.’ That just added fuel to my fire, not just because those guys came in, but because I want to get out there and show (Adam Gase) that I have the big-play ability and I am a receiver.”
Even with the addition of 5-foot-9 Wilson, Grant remains the shortest player on the team at 5-foot-7.
That isn’t necessarily what’s held him back, though. The biggest hurdle for Grant has been establishing himself as a reliable pass catcher — the same issue that looms for him on punt returner.
Last year, finally, there were signs that he could add an electric element to the offense. His breakout performance came in the memorable Monday night win over New England, when he had two catches for 42 yards and a touchdown.
The score was a 25-yard grab against former Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler. Grant also let a would-be 55-yard touchdown slip through his fingers in the fourth quarter.
He followed two weeks later with four catches, 107 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs a week later and had 26 yards on three receptions in the season finale. It was enough to show the Dolphins that he’s worth real consideration for a role in the offense.
“The potential that he has as a playmaker, I think he has done a really good job continuing to grow that way,” Miami offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “You keep expanding his route tree. He’s short in stature, but he does not think he’s short. He does not play short. He plays like a big person. He’s had a really good camp so far.”
Grant’s been running more deep routes than anybody else in camp, according to Gase, but that’s something the Dolphins did last spring as well. Whether Grant can actually turn that into a bigger role hinges on how dependable his hands are and how he stacks up against two players with a lot more on their résumés.
“I look to perfect everything,” Grant said. “In previous years, I didn’t have it all down. Now that my head is all the way in the playbook, I feel a lot smoother and I feel a lot of confidence.
“This is going into my third year. I’ve got to make the most of it. I’m just improving all the way around. Hands, route-running, being able to get in and out of breaks and just becoming a threat and being available so the coaches can put me in the game knowing I can make that big play.”
DAVIE — Dolphins coach Adam Gase has said a few times that this roster is built the way he wants it, particularly when it comes to receivers, and he’s brimming with confidence about how the passing game will look this season.
With Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker staying on as starters, plus the addition of Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, the receiver room has undergone significant change. The team is also intent on using running back Kenyan Drake as a pass-catching threat and has a potentially dynamic tight end in second-rounder Mike Gesicki.
Those are six quality options without mentioning the threat of Jakeem Grant, rookie running back Kalen Ballage and tight end A.J. Derby.
“I feel right now that we legitimately have two groups of receivers that can play at a high level for us,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said today. “So if we want to sub somebody out and keep fresh legs in there, or if someone goes down — whatever the case may be — I don’t feel like there’s really going to be much of a drop off (in) production or ability with the group that we have.
“We have a really deep room right now. They work really hard. You see them every day out there grinding. Nobody’s complaining. They’re trying to get better each and every day and that’s what we want.”
Last year, with Miami enduring trouble at quarterback and on the line of scrimmage, plus Parker struggling, Jarvis Landry was by far the most targeted receiver. Almost 27 percent of the Dolphins’ pass attempts went his way, and the trio of him, Stills and Parker accounted for 60.1 percent.
The distribution should be a little more widespread this season. Gase believes he has more maneuverability, too, and has been enjoying the chance to move Wilson all over the place in offseason practices.
He’s a multi-talented threat. Stills has versatility. Amendola is one of the most trusted slot receivers in the league. Drake is the fastest running back Miami’s had in a while. Gesicki is the highest-drafted tight end on this team since the 1970s. Parker, the No. 14 overall selection in 2015, likely still hasn’t peaked.
“If we stay healthy,” Gase said, “we should have a lot of guys that can make plays.”
The other benefit to Gase is that he believes he’s reshaped the receiver corps into a group that won’t be derailed by ego. If no one has a great year statistically, but most of them have a good year, he doesn’t see that being a problem.
That takes some pressure off Tannehill, too.
“They’re not complaining,” Tannehill said. “They’re not griping about not getting the ball.
“But when you do have talented guys, you want to get them the football. I think it’s a balancing act… trying to get guys involved, finding them rhythms in the game and help them be productive.”
DAVIE — The initial thrill of getting back on the practice field has faded for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and while there’s still a heightened appreciation after missing a year and a half, he’s settled into a businesslike routine.
That’s good for Miami.
As the team gets into its third week of offseason practices, Tannehill has fully reestablished himself as the director of the offense and one of the leaders who sets the tone for how the Dolphins approach each day’s work.
“It just feels normal,” coach Adam Gase said. “It feels like we’re just back to where we were. It didn’t take us long to get going again.”
This normal isn’t quite the same as the old normal, though. There hasn’t been a drastic change with Tannehill, but he’s a bit more grown up and emboldened than earlier in his career.
His impact has been evident in Organized Team Activities and minicamp, where he’s been actively helping make sure players know the offense and has made himself known to the defense with big plays and some occasional trash talk.
He also seems lighter, maybe happier, than he has in the past, and a big part of that is the unwavering support he’s gotten from Gase. Throughout their two-plus years together, Gase has defended him at every turn and reiterated that he’s the right guy to lead the Dolphins.
Tannehill has taken those words seriously and at 29 seems to be growing into the coach-on-the-field Gase is asking him to be.
More than anything, that starts with his own performance.
It’s hard to lead when you’re not playing well, but that’s not an issue for Tannehill right now. All the work he put in to keep himself as connected to the team as possible while he wasn’t playing appears to be paying off. He was in team meetings, at practice and on the sideline all last season, and that’s produced the effect Gase had hoped.
“It’s just — You can tell he has got a total grip of the offense,” Gase said. “Everything just moves smoother. That’s just experience, whether it’s this offense or football in general. He’s been in the league a little bit. When the defense throws something different at him, he has a way to solve the problem faster than what he probably did three or four years ago.”
One of Tannehill’s main responsibilities at this point in the year is to build rapport with new players in the offense, and he’s been working on that for about three months with Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson and others.
That’s more necessary with a younger player like Wilson than it is with Amendola. In Wilson’s case, he’s a 25-year-old adjusting to new offense and terminology after four years with Kansas City, and the Dolphins are working him in a wide variety of ways this offseason.
“I took (Wilson) off the site and just threw and got to learn his body language and coached him up on what I’m expecting on certain routes,” Tannehill said today. “Over time, you develop that chemistry and get comfortable and see his indicators: ‘OK, when I see his hips lean this way, I can let it go to that spot.’ That just takes reps.
“Right now he’s getting more comfortable in the offense, knowing exactly where to line up. We do a lot of the formations with moving guys around, and it’s tough on those guys. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of things to learn. They’re doing a good job now, especially Albert, of moving around and being in the right spot.”
Miami’s array of skill players has undergone a substantial remodeling since Tannehill’s last game, which was December 2016.
Jarvis Landry, Jay Ajayi and whoever played tight end that season are gone. Kenyan Drake played sparingly that year, and now he’s expected to be the featured running back. Amendola and Wilson are new, along with Frank Gore and rookie Kalen Ballage, and the Dolphins drafted two tight ends in Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe.
Some of those guys don’t need Tannehill to worry about them, but the younger ones will benefit from someone other than the coaches yelling at them. With his leadership fully backed by Gase, Tannehill’s voice rings loudly.
“I try to be patient,” Tannehill said. “Sometimes I might be a little short-tempered on expecting guys to do what they’re supposed to do. I hold guys accountable and I think that’s the way we’re gonna win here is by everyone being accountable, myself included.
“You can’t look past it. If a guy makes a mistake once, you might let it go. If he makes it again, that’s when I have a problem. If we’ve already that mistake, it should be corrected.”
That sounds a little different and a little better.
Each time we see Tannehill, he looks increasingly ready to meet expectations that have never been higher. The Dolphins are banking on his return to be a season-changer for them this year, and that idea seems less crazy by the day.
DAVIE — One thing Adam Gase and the Dolphins love about their reconstructed group of skill players is how pliable it is. The offense can move pieces wherever it wants them, opening up limitless creativity for Gase, and it’s likely no player embodies that more than new receiver Albert Wilson.
Wilson became a prime target for Miami in free agency primarily for his speed, and he’s expected to get a more prominent role in the offense than he ever had in Kansas City. He’s been all over the place during Organized Team Activities.
“He’s really done a nice job the past two weeks,” receivers coach Ben Johnson. “It’s really triggered us to say he’s not limited in the slot, he’s not limited outside. He can line up in the backfield. He can do so many different things for us. His versatility is really, really showing up.”
There were times last season when Gase felt somewhat constrained by having to keep DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry on the field without a ton of flexibility, but he seems intent on opening things up more this season. Stills can play inside or outside, running back Kenyan Drake can line up at receiver, he’s got a very promising tight end threat in Mike Gesicki and wide-ranging versatility with Wilson.
The most common way he’s likely to be used is on short passes, like bubble screens, that present opportunities for big yards after the catch. That won’t be it, though. At 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, Wilson is a shade on the small side, but he showed great athleticism down the field last year with the Chiefs.
“When we looked at Albert on film, we were intrigued, obviously with the speed,” Johnson said. “We were intrigued with the run-after-catch ability. I think all of that has been there. It’s been impressive to me to see him come in, pick up this system and learn these fundamentals (when) he wasn’t really doing the same thing in Kansas City.”
He posted career highs in Kansas City with 42 receptions, 554 yards (13.2 per catch) and three touchdowns. That tracked with the steady progress he’s made since breaking into the league as an undrafted free agent from Georgia State in 2014. He was a multi-talented threat there, too, after playing quarterback at Port St. Lucie High School.
Wilson has eight rushes in his career, and the Dolphins seem particularly drawn to that untapped part of his game.
“When you have the kind of athletic ability he does, the speed he does, the playmaking ability, you just try to find ways to get the ball in his hands and let him do his thing,” Gase said.
The Dolphins needed a slot receiver once they traded Landry to the Browns and they opted to replace him with Wilson and Danny Amendola. Landry would’ve cost about $16 million this season, and Wilson came in at half that price.
Miami picked him up on a three-year, $24 million deal with $14.5 million guaranteed. The team can get out of the contract after the 2019 season for a small dead cap hit of $1.3 million.
DAVIE — There’s always been an allure for the Dolphins when it comes to Jakeem Grant’s speed, and that’s kept him from becoming solely a kick and punt return specialist.
That finally started materializing into a weapon for the offense in the final month of last season, and even though the team signed two slot receivers in Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, Grant still has a shot at being a regular part of the passing game.
“We had some nice packages for him at the end of last year, and it certainly helped us out offensively to get the ball moving and explosive plays,” wide receivers coach Ben Johnson said this week. “He’s the same guy. He’s just trying to get better every single day right now. I think we’ll continue to include him going into next season as well.”
The biggest thing working against Grant is that he’s 5-foot-7, but he’s overcome his height disadvantage throughout his football career. He had 90 catches for 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns his senior year at Texas Tech and has been dangerous for the Dolphins at times as well. He is in the conversation for fastest man on the team.
His breakout game with Miami was in last season’s memorable Monday night win over the Patriots. Grant had two catches for 42 yards including a huge touchdown and nearly hauled in another long reception but couldn’t hang on to the ball. Hands have been an issue for him at times, but he’s improved over the last two years.
Grant followed the New England Game with four catches for 107 yards and a touchdown two weeks later at Kansas City.
New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains mentioned Grant a few times in a press conference last month and indicated he’s examining the best way he can factor into the offense.