DAVIE — Like most sports rivalries, the tension between Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain and former Patriots slot receiver Danny Amendola was rooted in begrudging respect.
McCain said Amendola was his second-most hated player in the league (Tom Brady holds the top spot) and the two got into an altercation last season that pushed McCain to the point of taking a swing at him and getting ejected. But now that Amendola is with Miami, he and McCain have formed a bond.
“We’re good,” Amendola said after today’s Organized Team Activity practice. “We’re good. We’re brothers.”
He also said that there was no heart-to-heart or anything like that once he arrived and didn’t feel like they needed to discuss what happened last November.
The interesting thing about McCain and Amendola being teammates is that they’ll actually go against each other much more than when they were opponents. They should be matched up often throughout OTAs, the preseason and in practice during the year.
“I have a lot of respect for Bobby,” Amendola said. “He’s a great player. He and I are cut from the same cloth. We’re some dogs out there. We like to compete. It brings the best out of both of us out there in practice. He’s getting me better. I’m competing my tail off against him and I know he’s a great player.”
DAVIE — Apparently, there’s hope for that United States-North Korea summit after all.
If anyone doubted there could be peace within a Dolphins locker room holding both Bobby McCain and Danny Amendola, those concerns were put to rest when McCain gave his former arch rival his strongest endorsement yet as his newest bestest buddy.
“He’s not as bad as I thought he was,” McCain joked Tuesday.
DAVIE — New Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson is coming into his own as a 25-year-old in the NFL, but he’s still eager to be mentored.
After four seasons in Kansas City, Wilson signed with Miami as a free agent and joined a wide receiver corps headed by sixth-year veteran Kenny Stills. Shortly after picking up Wilson, the Dolphins agreed to a deal with two-time Super Bowl champion Danny Amendola.
Miami coach Adam Gase is counting on Stills and Amendola to keep that group on track, and it sounds like that plan is already working.
“Kenny does a great job of letting us know what coach is looking for,” said Wilson, who was the oldest receiver on the Chiefs last year. “He’s been around it and had a lot of success here. He’s a great leader and Danny, he’s coming over and has played a ton of football. To have him on our side and to pick his brain and see how he works, it’s a great thing for us.”
Wilson said stills understands every aspect of the offense and has helped him as he’s studied the new playbook. Like Stills, Wilson is expected to know every receiver route on every play because the Dolphins can use him inside and outside.
The combination of Amendola and Stills at this position is ideal for how the Dolphins want to shape their roster.
Not only has Amendola played nine years, he spent five of them with New England. That almost automatically gives him credibility within an organization that aspires to catch the Patriots. Stills, meanwhile, is immensely talented, fully versed in Gase’s offense and is the example coaches often point to for young players.
Wilson, from Port St. Lucie, made the Chiefs’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and progressed to the point where he earned a three-year, $24 million contract from the Dolphins. He had career highs in catches (42), yards (554) and touchdowns (three) last season. The team is also exploring whether he can be an option as a punt returner.
DAVIE — Jarvis Landry was Ryan Tannehill’s most popular target over the last few years, and seeing him go to Cleveland in the offseason couldn’t have been fun for the quarterback.
In four years with the Dolphins, all but last season being with Tannehill, Landry piled up 4,038 yards and 22 touchdowns on 400 catches. No player in NFL history has caught that many passes in his first four seasons, and Landry was always Tannehill’s emergency option.
From 2014 through ’16, he was targeted a team-high 409 times, and last year’s quarterbacks threw 161 of their 602 attempts (27 percent) his way.
“Losing Jarvis is tough,” Tannehill said today. “He’s a heck of a competitor. He’s one of the most competitive guys on the football field. He loves the game. He loves playing. He loves competing. He loves winning. I think everyone saw that.
“Obviously he’s not the easiest guy to replace and he’s tough to replace, but I’m really excited about the guys that we brought in. I think we’ve brought in veteran guys, guys that have played at high levels, guys that have played for championships and can really help us.”
While the Dolphins still have Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, they’ve replaced Landry with the duo of up-and-comer Albert Wilson and veteran Danny Amendola. They combined to go for 103 receptions, 1,213 yards and five touchdowns last year with Kansas City and New England, respectively.
Tannehill referred to that receiver group as “stacked” and said he’s confident in the weapons around him.
Miami also has running back Kenyan Drake looking like he’s poised for a breakout season and some potential sparks in the draft class. Mike Gesicki, a second-rounder out of Penn State, presents the best threat the offense has had at tight end in years, and running back Kalen Ballage was electric in college.
Of the receivers, Tannehill’s gotten extensive work with Amendola this year. They did some passing workouts away from the facility in March, and Tannehill found that he lived up to his reputation as a worker.
“That’s the first thing that impressed me is just how hard he works day in and day out,” he said. “He’ll just keep going, keep going, keep going and he’ll never question, look tired or anything. He just keeps going. He’s been a lot of fun to play with so far and we just have to keep building that relationship and get fully on the same page.”
DAVIE—The Dolphins got quarterback Ryan Tannehill back on the field Tuesday for his first practice since last summer’s season-ending knee injury, and he was out there again this morning working in the first open session of Organized Team Activities.
Of note, Tannehill is working without a knee brace. He practiced all spring and summer with the brace last year and might go back to it again, but is running without it for now.
He returns as Miami’s unquestioned starter, and beyond getting reacclimated to running the offense, he’s familiarizing himself with a remodeled group of skill players.
Kenyan Drake has taken over as the top running back since Tannehill’s injury, and the team added new receivers in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. Those two replace his most favored target, Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins also have two rookie tight ends, Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe.
On top of all that, this will be Tannehill’s first season without center Mike Pouncey. Daniel Kilgore replaced him in a cost-cutting move, and the Dolphins also added left guard Josh Sitton.
As far as his movement and throws, Tannehill looked the same as ever. He planted strongly on his left leg for throws and worked through all the dropbacks and play-action motions fluidly. His short passes have been accurate over the middle and to both sidelines.
When the team shifted into 11-on-11 drills, Tannehill hit DeVante Parker in stride down the right sideline and put a deep ball on target for Drake in that area as well, but he couldn’t reach it.
Most of Tannehill’s throws were accurate in 11-on-11 work, even with a crowded pocket, and the offense constantly had the defense scrambling in coverage.
DAVIE — The Dolphins never clearly stated how they divided up punt returns between Jarvis Landry and Jakeem Grant, but they appeared to lean toward Landry when they were backed up and Grant when there might be more room to run.
Grant is still here, but Landry’s departure to Cleveland means the team needs a new return man for punts that look like they’re going to be in high-traffic situations.
Veteran receiver Danny Amendola, who often returned punts for New England, seems like the most likely man to replace Landry in that role. Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said today he’s consider Amendola, receiver Albert Wilson and rookie running back Kalen Ballage on punt returns in addition to Grant.
“We’ve added a couple of guys onto the roster that have had return experience,” Rizzi said. “We all know Amendola did it with New England. Albert Wilson is a guy that did it in Kansas City. He just got buried behind a couple of really good returners, but he’s got returner experience.
“Then Kalen Ballage was a kick returner at Arizona State. He’s a big body that can run really well. He had some really productive kick returns. We’ve kind of added a couple of pieces there, as well.”
Rizzi said all four players will get reps as punt returners over the next several months. The Dolphins begin four weeks of offseason practices May 22 and start training camp in late July. There’s plenty of time to nail it down before the season opener.
Amendola returned 27 punts last year for an average of 8.6 yards, including a long of 40 yards. Between his time with the Patriots and Rams, he has returned 174 punts and 152 kicks.
Wilson has no punt returns on his record and returned three kicks in four years with the Chiefs, but he did work on return teams in practice.
Ballage, a fourth-round pick, was a running back and kick returner at Arizona State. In four seasons he returned 48 kickoffs for an average of 22.1 yards per return.
Last season, Grant was used on 36 of 51 punts. He returned 25 for 190 yards and called for a fair catch on 11. Landry handled the other 15, fair catching three and returning the other 12 for 81 yards.
Over the last two seasons, Grant was on the field for 59 punts compared to 46 by Landry.
DAVIE — Adam Gase probably wouldn’t call this the roster of his dreams, but the 2018 version of the Dolphins looks like the one he’s been wanting since he took the job two years ago.
For better or worse, and he absolutely believes it’s for the better, this is the group Gase wants. The team has unloaded players he found problematic in terms of attitude, inconsistency or disproportionate salary cap numbers, and he senses a change in the environment that he thinks will translate to on-field results.
“When I look at it — You kind of look at how does that group get along for that year?” he said. “How do they work together? Do they push each other? Are they all pulling in the same direction? Are guys going to quit on you? Are they going to push forward when things get hard?
“I feel like the way that we’re assembled right now and the way that our personnel department has put that locker room together, I like our makeup right now.”
Clearly some of the answers Gase was getting to those questions over the last two seasons were unsatisfactory. Among other issues, he’s expressed that he thinks some players basically quit on him late last season when the Dolphins were scrapping for a playoff berth.
While the roster overhaul certainly had financial factors and helps the team smooth out its salary cap situation for 2019 and beyond, there’s no thought from Gase that this is a throwaway year. The Dolphins might very well end up picking high in the draft next spring, but that’s not their intention.
The biggest names gone are Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and franchise mainstay Mike Pouncey. Those three are now with the Browns, Rams and Chargers, respectively, and their collective 2018 cap hit is $35.8 million.
Gase has been raving about his new wide receiver room in particular. Kenny Stills, possibly his favorite player on the entire team, is the leader of that group. It also includes newly added 10th-year veteran Danny Amendola, who at 32 is the oldest, most experienced receiver the team has had during Gase’s run with Miami.
“I think when you’ve got a guy that’s been in a lot of big games, has won a lot of games, made plays in big games and the professionalism, you just see it,” Gase said. “The way he walks around, there’s just something about him that guys kind of gravitate to.
“I think between him and Kenny… those guys lead that group and have an effect on the other guys in the locker room in a positive way. That’s a big thing for us.”
The Dolphins did something similar at running back by bringing on Frank Gore, who will be a mentor to Kenyan Drake and rookie Kalen Ballage.
Overall, they almost certainly haven’t had a 1-to-1 replacement of the talent that’s exited, and that’s what will make this year so interesting.
While many point to the departures and call this offseason a net loss for the Dolphins, Gase is defiantly saying the opposite. He’s either going to crash and burn with a roster full of guys that are good in the locker room but just OK on the field, which could put his future in jeopardy, or he’ll look brilliant as he proves everyone wrong.
“I think we wanted to create the roster of what was the right fit for this locker room and for this team,” he said. “Sometimes you get put in a position where you have to make a decision, whether it be free agency or you feel like you’re in a situation where a number might be too high for you — or where you’ve got an opportunity to have a player that makes less money but you feel like the talent isn’t that big of a swing.
“That’s where we’re at right now. We like the makeup of our roster. I like our players. I like where our locker room is right now. I like watching these guys work. I’m excited to see these guys compete in OTAs and get this thing going in training camp and then see how we grow as the year goes on.”
DAVIE — Adam Gase won’t say it and he doesn’t have to. Everyone knows Kenny Stills is the Dolphins’ best receiver.
As the team progresses toward the upcoming season without Jarvis Landry and without certainty of what DeVante Parker will become, Stills is the offense’s best chance when it comes to big plays. And, fresh off his 26th birthday, it’s very possible he’s still on the rise as a player.
“I never get into the whole No. 1 receiver thing,” Gase said this afternoon. “I’m all for guys getting open and catching the ball and creating explosive plays and getting first downs.
“Do I think he’s the leader of that room? Yes. He’s one of those guys that guys look up to. They watch what he does and they watch how he goes about his business and they follow his lead. When he speaks in that room and tells guys what he thinks, and he’s very open and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, I think guys respect him and respect what he says.”
Stills and Gase have proven to be a perfect match with Miami, and as Gase designs his offense for 2018, Stills will factor into it prominently. He’s already made a habit of using him inside and outside — Gase believes Stills has been one of the best players out of the slot in the entire league the last two seasons — and has more impetus than ever to feature him.
After two seasons of not fitting in with the Saints and a rough first year here under the previous staff, everything clicked for Stills in 2016. In his first encounter with Gase, he expressed that all he cared about from that point forward was doing everything the right way. That’s a great thing for a new coach to hear.
That conversation stuck with Gase, who has described Stills as indispensable throughout his time coaching the Dolphins. When Stills was an unrestricted free agent last spring, Gase didn’t hesitate to openly campaign for the team to re-sign him.
By every account, Stills has been the ideal player. He’s been highly productive on the field, a steadying influence on a very young receiver corps, a model worker in the weight room and in practice and won the team’s community service award two years in a row.
He’s done all of that on an extremely reasonable contract, making him arguably the single best personnel move vice president Mike Tannenbaum has made. The Dolphins got him for a third-round pick and injured linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, then locked up what should be his prime seasons on a four-year deal worth $32 million through 2020.
In his first season with Gase, Stills had a respectable 42 catches for 726 yards (that averaged out to 17.3 per reception, third-best in the league that year) and a team-high nine touchdowns. Equally important, his playing time leaped from 58 percent of the snaps in 2015 to 84 percent.
Stills followed up by catching 58 balls for 847 yards and six touchdowns last year, which couldn’t have been easy considering Miami’s quarterback woes.
There’s good reason to think he might exceed that production this season, and Gase said he sees “plenty of room for improvement” in Stills’ game.
Landry leaves a void of 161 targets, and while some of that will be filled in by Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, Stills is the most trustworthy receiver on this roster. And if Ryan Tannehill proves better than last year’s combination of Jay Cutler and Matt Moore, which shouldn’t be hard, there’s a big opportunity here.
“He’s a guy that creates explosive plays and he gets us touchdowns,” Gase said. “We hit the homerun when we throw the ball to him.”
The Dolphins shook up their roster in a big way this offseason, and that creates some work for their equipment people. With Organized Team Activities coming up in two weeks, the team announced new uniform numbers for its newcomers.
When the team officially takes the field for the first time May 22, a few returning players will do so with different uniforms. Most notably, left tackle Laremy Tunsil is switching from No. 67 to 78 so new center Daniel Kilgore can keep 67. Punter Matt Haack will wear No. 2 instead of 16, and receiver Isaiah ford will go from No. 15 to 84.
Tunsil wore 78 at Ole Miss, and it is Richmond Webb’s former number. Webb, who is in the Dolphins’ Ring of Honor but does not have his number retired, was a seven-time Pro Bowl pick while playing for Miami from 1990 through 2000.
Among the big-name arrivals in free agency, receiver Albert Wilson moves from his usual No. 12 to 15 (made possible by Ford’s change), receiver Danny Amendola will wear the No. 80 as he did in New England and running back Frank Gore will have No. 21.
Defensive end Robert Quinn will hang on to No. 94, and recently acquired defensive tackle Akeem Spence will take Ndamukong Suh’s old No. 93.
Offensive guard Josh Sitton has worn No. 71 throughout his decade in the league and will hang on to it this season. Tight end Gavin Escobar will go with No. 89 for now.
The two new quarterbacks, Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty, will also make their Dolphins debuts this month. Osweiler will wear No. 8, and the team has not specified a number for Petty yet. David Fales has No. .9, which Petty wore for the Jets.
So, when McCain met with the media Friday during the annual Dolphins Cancer Challenge golf tournament at Turnberry Isle, naturally a question came up — delivered with a smirk — on whether he had met Amendola with perhaps cooler heads prevailing.
“I have, I have,” said McCain, who was ejected for throwing a punch even though replays showed it was more of a forearm. “Me and Danny, we chalked it up.”
“We chalked it up.”
(More of a smirk.)
“Yeah, we chalked it up.”
That’s McCain’s way of saying they’re giving peace a chance.
“We’re teammates, man,” McCain said. “We’ve got one goal in mind, that’s a championship. We’re happy to have him on Sundays — Sunday, Monday, Thursday, whatever day it is, we’re happy to have him on our sideline. We’re going to compete.”
That they are. Remember, McCain is a cornerback who should play an important role this season, and Amendola is being brought in along with Albert Wilson to fill a void at receiver left by Jarvis Landry.
So McCain and Amendola will see plenty of each other in Davie, on the practice field.
“They made practice really, really fun now, so it should be a good time and really competitive,” McCain said.