Miami Dolphins’ new cast of skill players starts strong in training camp

Ryan Tannehill is back as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

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.

[RELATED: Exclusive photos from opening day of Dolphins 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.

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Will changing dynamics of Miami Dolphins receivers be a jolt for DeVante Parker’s career?

DeVante Parker has yet to live up to his draft slot. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

(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 2018.)

WR DeVante Parker

Height, weight: 6-3, 216

College: Louisville

Age: 25

Experience: Fourth NFL season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: First-round pick in 2015

Contract: In fourth year of rookie contract, due to earn $3.4 million. Dolphins have picked up his fifth-year option.

Pro Football Focus rank: 53rd out of 116

In 2017

Stats: Started 12 of 13 games played; had 57 receptions for 670 yards (11.8 average) and one TD

Notable moments: Caught eight passes for 76 yards and only TD of the season at the Jets. … Caught six passes for 89 yards at Bills.

Straight talk: “It was not where I wanted to be. It’s as simple as that.”

That was Parker’s summation of his first three NFL seasons, blunt talk that matches what fans are thinking.

Had Parker been a third-round pick, his career totals of 139 catches, 1,909 yards and eight touchdowns would be viewed in an entirely different light. (Seattle’s Tyler Lockett, a third-rounder, has 1,816 yards and nine TDs.) Parker’s problems are that he carries the burden of being a 14th overall pick who has started only half of his team’s games, has only three 100-yard performances, has never scored more than one touchdown in a game and has never topped 750 yards in a season.

As the Dolphins once again are hoping this year will be the year for Parker, it’s worth pointing out that as they attempted to upgrade their receiving corps in 2015, having just parted with Mike Wallace, they actually did about as well as they could in the draft.

Six receivers were taken in the first round that year. Amari Cooper clearly was the best of them — he has been to two Pro Bowls, has 2,903 yards and 18 TDs — but he was snatched by the Raiders with the fourth overall pick.

Parker has been the best of the rest. Consider:

Kevin White, Bears (No. 7 overall): Limited to five career games because of injuries. Chicago declined to pick up his fifth-year option.

Parker (No. 14): 139 receptions, 1,909 yards, eight TDs.

Nelson Agholor, Eagles (No. 20): Close to Parker with 121 catches, 1,416 yards, 11 TDs.

Breshad Perriman, Ravens (No. 26): 43 catches, 576 yards, three TDs.

Phillip Dorsett, Colts/currently with Patriots (No. 29): 63 catches, 947 yards, three TDs.

Will this year be the “gigantic” year the Dolphins expected of Parker last year? Nobody is buying that until they see it. For now, it’s hard to tell if there are signs of change. Fellow receiver Jakeem Grant said Parker’s preparation this offseason is “way different” than last year.

“I think he definitely wants to go out there and prove to people he’s better than what people think he is. He’s not just a guy that continually gets hurt or whatever. … He’s going to be great. Without doubt, he’s going to be one of the top receivers in this league.”

For the most part, though, the Dolphins have attempted to tone down such rhetoric, with receivers coach Ben Johnson saying rather than making “these giant claims,” he’s taking the “one day at a time” approach.

When Parker was asked if he changed anything to cut back on nagging injuries, he curiously replied, “Right now I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing that’s been working.”

Has it been working? You decide. As for the Dolphins in 2018 …

“I don’t think there is any question what anybody feels he can do,” coach Adam Gase said. “I don’t even think it’s a potential thing. I think it’s a health thing.”

Prospects for 2018

The Dolphins protected themselves by picking up the fifth-year option on Parker’s contract. It’s worth $9.5 million but if Parker flops, Miami has the option of cutting him.

“To me, it’s been a different guy this offseason,” Johnson said. “He understands the urgency and how important this year is.”

It’s possible new life will be breathed into Parker’s career with the changing dynamics of the receiving corps. QB Ryan Tannehill is back. Jarvis Landry is not. In short, it’s highly unlikely any receiver on this team will have triple-digit catches like Landry did.

Instead, look for the Dolphins to spread the ball around among Parker, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson and rookie TE Mike Gesicki. Then, it’ll become a matter of how much Parker makes himself available to make the big plays the Dolphins have long expected of him.

***

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Dolphins coach Adam Gase more confident than ever that he’s got a winning roster

Kenny Stills and the Dolphins’ offense are looking to snap back from a low-scoring 2017 season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Dolphins coach Adam Gase emerged from free agency defiant amid widespread criticism of the team’s offseason and claimed he had a winning roster.

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.

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

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.”

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Everyone, including Miami Dolphins’ DeVante Parker, is a critic of Parker’s

Dolphins coach Adam Gase interacts with DeVante Parker during OTAs. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — For anyone, it would constitute a decent shot delivered via social media. For a man of as few words as DeVante Parker, it was a shot heard ’round South Florida.

When former Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers was asked on the Five Reasons Sports Network podcast to rank current receivers on the team, he listed Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson and Parker, in that order.

“Nobody cares about his opinion,” wrote Parker, who has a bit of history with Chambers.

It was somewhat understandable in the sense that when it comes to DeVante Parker — especially in summertime — there always are more opinions floating around than there are receptions for the man himself.

The consensus, of course, is that Parker’s potential and Parker’s production are acres apart. The funny thing is that Wednesday, another voice chimed in to agree.

Asked how he’d describe his play over his first three years in the NFL, Parker said, “It was not where I wanted to be. It’s as simple as that.”

Parker caught 57 passes for 670 yards and one touchdown last season. In his career, he has yet to have a year with more than 60 catches, 750 yards or four touchdowns. His per-season averages: 46 catches, 636 yards.

But if it’s June, it must be time for someone to say this year finally will be the year everybody sees the real DeVante Parker. Last year, it was offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen predicting a “gigantic” 2017. Wednesday, it was fellow receiver Jakeem Grant.

“His approach this year is way different than it was last year,” Grant said. “I think he definitely wants to go out there and prove to people he’s better than what people think he is. He’s not just a guy that continually gets hurt or whatever. … He’s going to be great. Without doubt, he’s going to be one of the top receivers in this league.”

Alongside Julio Jones and Antonio Brown? Grant also said he calls Parker “a beast.” At 6-feet-3 and 212 pounds, Parker should be just that, especially in the red zone. Instead, he has dealt with ailments such as hamstring and ankle problems that seem more prevalent than they really are.

Believe it or not, Parker has missed only five games in his career. But the injuries have limited him to 24 of a possible 48 starts — hardly what you’d expect of a first-round draft pick. As they’ve shortened his Sunday afternoons, they’ve restricted him to just three 100-yard games, none in 2017.

“Stay healthy,” he said of his top priority for 2018.

If you’re wondering if Parker believes he has changed anything in his offseason approach to curtail nagging injuries, think again.

“Right now I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing that’s been working,” Parker said.

Ironically, Grant’s boast came just a week after receivers coach Ben Johnson said the team was working to tone down expectations for Parker.

“The biggest thing for him is we were making these giant claims about him last year,” Johnson said. “Right now, it’s one day at a time.”

Outside of that jab at Chambers on Twitter, Parker seems content to just tune into those around him.

“You’ve just got to not worry about what anyone says outside the building,” Parker said. “They know what’s really going on on the inside.”

Parker said he’d like to get 1,000 yards this season and “a few touchdowns.”

Although he stopped short of claiming Chambers should have ranked him the best receiver on the team, Parker added, “I’m with Jakeem every day, so he sees me working, knows what I’m doing.”

The Dolphins showed faith in Parker in April when they picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. It’s worth $9.5 million, but it’s guaranteed only if he gets injured. Otherwise, Parker could be thrust in a position of having to prove he’s worth $9.5 million next year.

The ideal way to avoid sweating that out: have a gigantic year.

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Miami Dolphins believe they’re rich with passing targets

The Dolphins are counting on Kenny Stills to be a homerun threat, but they have other weapons. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

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.”

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Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

Miami Dolphins scale back ‘giant claims’ about WR DeVante Parker

The Dolphins aren’t saying as much about DeVante Parker this offseason. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — It’s not that the Dolphins are lowering their expectations of wide receiver DeVante Parker, but they don’t want to heap pressure on him by telling everyone how great he’ll be.

There’s been a change in tone among Miami’s coaches this year when it comes to Parker, who is coming off an underwhelming 2017 season and has yet to live up to being picked 14th overall three years ago. In an effort to keep him zeroed in on his daily work, they’re done telling everyone that the breakout season is right around the corner.

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs]

“The biggest thing for him is we were making these giant claims about him last year; Right now, it’s one day at a time,” wide receivers coach Ben Johnson said after today’s practice. “It’s a one-day-at-a-time mentality. We’re just trying to improve from yesterday. That’s all it is. We’ll keep stacking good days on top of each other and that’s how we’re going to keep improving.”

Parker had a career-best 57 catches last year, and his yardage (670) and touchdowns (one) declined from the previous season. He played 13 games, some of them while battling injuries.

Health has been a recurring issue for him, mostly with his ankle and back. He’s started 24 games in three seasons.

While his production hasn’t been what the Dolphins needed, the coaching staff is adamant that it’s due to a lack of effort. For the past two years, Adam Gase and others have repeatedly credited Parker for taking a serious approach to training and doing everything he can to be in good shape.

“I don’t know if there’s been many guys that’ve spent more time in the building than him, whether it’s getting his health right, in the training room, in the weight room (and) even watching film,” Johnson said. “To me, it’s been a different guy this offseason. He understands the urgency and how important this year is.”

Last spring, the coaches couldn’t say enough about how good Parker looked as he tore up the secondary in Organized Team Activities. He kept that going in training camp and the beginning of the season, and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen predicted he would have “a great, big year — a gigantic year for us.”

Parker started with 18 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown in the first three games, but trailed off after hurting his ankle against the Titans in early October. He had back-to-back games of one catch for five yards late in the year and was involved in a few interceptions that he could have prevented.

Johnson said he didn’t break down much 2017 film with Parker this offseason, preferring to bury that year, but one point of emphasis he pulled from the second half of his season is that Parker needs to learn how to still be a factor even when he’s not fully healthy.

“It’s going to be game in and game out, but he has to perform,” Johnson said. “We’re going to get nicked up. That’s just the nature of the beast. For him, it’s just the understanding, ‘Hey, I’ve got to live with that and I still got to perform regardless.’”

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Can new Miami Dolphins OC Dowell Loggains make WR DeVante Parker a star?

DeVante Parker has yet to live up to his draft slot. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins are still waiting for a breakout season from former first-round pick DeVante Parker, and his coaches and teammates are always quick to defend him by pointing out how much injuries have held him back.

While there’s not much Parker can do about getting hurt, and there’s good reason to believe that’s his biggest problem, there are some things he can do better on the field. New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is enamored by his talent and envisions him being an explosive threat this year, but he has a few aspects he wants to work on with him.

“Just consistency, just the fundamentals here and there that he hadn’t gotten to really master because he’s been limited,” Loggains said today. “It’s been impressive to see him fight through some of the stuff that he’s overcome — being banged up, being hurt and doing those things. Once he gets healthy and plays consistent with Ryan (Tannehill), I think that his production will go up and be the player we think he can be.”

This is a crucial year for Parker’s future with the organization. The Dolphins already exercised their $9.4 million option on him for the 2019 season, the last year of his rookie deal, but that can be rescinded as long as he’s not injured. He’ll have to prove he’s worth a raise that nearly triples what he’s going to make this year and possibly show he merits a long-term investment.

Miami took him No. 14 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, and his rookie season was mostly a struggle. Parker played better in Year 2, his first with Adam Gase, and had 56 catches for 744 yards and four touchdowns.

After an overwhelming offseason and preseason, the already high expectations were heightened even more. However, the Dolphins lost Tannehill to a season-ending knee injury in training camp and Parker battled health issues of his own throughout the year.

His numbers dropped — 57 receptions, 670 yards and one touchdown — and he was the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. There were only five games in which he managed more than five catches.

What Loggains loves, though, are the things he does that are hard to coach. Parker’s natural ability, plus some finer points of the position that he’s mastered, were evident when he sat down to study his film.

“The one thing that’s really impressive about DeVante is for a (tall) guy, he can get in and out of breaks,” Loggains said. “To run those comebacks and be able to drop his hips, a lot of long-cut guys struggle with that. DeVante has the ability to do that.

“I had the advantage of seeing some of the OTAs and training camp cut-ups that we go through and the first cut-up I turned on was Day 1 of training camp and he’s playing above the rim and catching a red-area touchdown. We’ve got to make sure that we max out his potential because it’s there.”

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Five new ideas from Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains

Dowell Loggains is here to save the day. (The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins’ offense has been one of the worst in the NFL the last two years, which is maddening for coach Adam Gase since that’s his specialty.

After two choppy seasons and a significant reworking of the roster, he’s looking for a breakthrough this year. As part of that effort, he opted to bring in former colleague Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator to help get this right.

[Photos: Miami Dolphins rookies report to minicamp]

Loggains spoke to the media this morning for the first time since Gase hired him in January, and here are five notes about what he intends to do here:

1. His job is to coach Monday through Saturday.
Loggains was a curious hire because he’s got experience as an offensive coordinator, yet he comes into a situation where Gase calls the plays. He’s fine with that. Loggains sees his role as a deputy who helps Gase through “the process of getting to game day.” He said they have a common offensive philosophy and a great working relationship.

“Just the process of game day and getting through game day and going through the game-planning process,” he said, describing his role. “Help clean up and get to game day with some of those things and obviously helping the quarterback room as much as I can.”

2. He wants to run no-huddle, uptempo offense.
Gase has talked about it since he arrived here, but Loggains is determined to finally get this team running a fast-paced offense that includes some no-huddle. Ryan Tannehill’s return is essential to that plan, but it also helps that Loggains believes he has fast, smart, well-conditioned skill players like Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake.

3. He likes the player leadership on offense.
The Dolphins already had Stills as a perfect example of how they want players to approach practice and they’ve kept Tannehill completely involved in everything they do despite him being out the last year-plus with a knee injury. They also brought in Danny Amendola, a 10th-year veteran, and Loggains has already noticed younger receivers trying to mimic some of the small things he does.

4. He sees a wealth of speed, which is exciting.
Not only has the Dolphins’ offense struggled, it’s been uninteresting. Loggains doesn’t see why that should be the case this year with weapons like DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, Kalen Ballage, Stills, Drake and Wilson. “The thing that showed up was speed,” he said of his initial assessment of the skill players. He also thinks he has a quarterback in Tannehill who is capable of maximizing those pieces.

“When I walked in … the thing that got me excited was the skill guys,” Loggains said. “All of a sudden you’ve got these skill guys that can run. They all have different traits and different qualities. I think they’re a fast group that, as their knowledge of the offense grows and going back to no huddle, they’ll play faster. Knowledge builds confidence, confidence allows you to play fast.”

5. New left guard Josh Sitton is running the offensive line.
Loggains coached Sitton for two years in Chicago and loves him. “He’s surly, he speaks his mind and he’s really intelligent,” he said. “You guys are going to have a lot of fun with him.” He’s the new leader of the line, replacing Mike Pouncey. Loggains is energized by seeing talented young linemen like Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James learning from him already in the short time he’s been here.

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WR Kenny Stills is Miami Dolphins’ ‘homerun’ threat for 2018 season

Stills is the most accomplished receiver on the Dolphins’ roster. (AP)

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.”

[Miami Dolphins’ 2018 salary cap spending shows their priorities]

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Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

Miami Dolphins’ allocation of salary cap space shows plan for 2018

Kenny Stills needs to be worth his contract this season . (Andres Leiva/The Post)

The most exasperating misfortune the architect of a football roster can experience is not getting his money’s worth. The Dolphins are painfully familiar with that frustration.

They’ve poured a ton of resources — money and draft picks — into both sides of the line of scrimmage the last few years, and the results have been underwhelming. The power trio of Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and Adam Gase has tried, but there’s been little payoff for the effort.

Last year, for example, Miami was one of four teams (all of them bad) that were top-10 spenders on the defensive line and bottom-10 in sacks. The Dolphins spent 21 percent of their salary cap space on the defensive line, according to Spotrac, and that was the fifth-largest chunk in the league. When that doesn’t work out, it’s usually crippling.

As the Dolphins look to balance out their spending, a process that will take more than a year because of dead-cap ramifications from cutting players like Ndamukong Suh, there are signs that their philosophy is shifting.

The main positions on which they’re spending big this season are defensive end and wide receiver, with mid-range commitments at defensive tackle, safety and on the offensive line. The groups that ought to be under the most scrutiny are the receivers and defensive ends.

Those figures don’t take into account signing the eight new draft picks, who will come in on relatively cheap contracts. They’re also adjusted to count Robert Quinn as a defensive end, rather than a linebacker like Spotrac has him.

Miami’s receivers are set to eat up $28.2 million in salary cap space, which is the second-highest in the league this year and the most the organization has spent at the position since 2014. It’s about 16 percent of the total payroll.

Kenny Stills, rightfully, is the most expensive man in the room at a cap hit of $9.8 million. He’s the best receiver on the roster and he’s in the middle of what looks like one of Tannenbaum’s smartest moves as vice president.

The Dolphins got him from New Orleans for Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick in the 2015 offseason and he’s turned in two highly productive years as a deep threat in addition to being a valuable leader. They re-signed him to a deal that was cheap last year and pays an average of $9.4 million over the upcoming three seasons.

They’re counting on him to lead a group that features DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. This is the last cheap year for Parker, who has a cap hit of $3.5 million and an upcoming team option for $9.4 million in 2019. Miami exercised Parker’s option, but can revoke it next spring unless he’s injured.

On the offensive line, Miami is near the middle at 19th in the NFL after shedding Mike Pouncey and giving right tackle Ja’Wuan James a massive raise by exercising an option on him. The total number stays level, though, because left tackle Laremy Tunsil is still on his rookie deal and guards Ted Larsen and Jesse Davis have small cap numbers this season.

The team is near the bottom of the league in spending at quarterback, running back and tight end. Miami restructured with Ryan Tannehill to save space this season, and the other two positions are chock full of players who are young and cheap, but promising.

The Dolphins currently have the second-most expensive defensive line in Spotrac’s calculations, but that figure will drop when Suh comes off the books in June. Instead of a $26.1 million cap hit for 2018, they incur a $22.2 million cap hit that can be spread over the next two years.

Once that happens, Miami should be around 10th at defensive tackle and third in total defensive line spending.

The reason the d-line expense remains high is because the Dolphins have loaded up on pass rushers and are on target to have the biggest salary cap number at the position. Quinn ($11.4 million cap hit) and Andre Branch ($10 million) are the two most costly players on the entire team this year. Ultimately, the line is likely to take up around 30 percent of the total cap space.

Quinn came over from the Rams in exchange for a fourth-round pick, and the Dolphins love the idea of pairing him with Cameron Wake as edge rushers. They also have Branch trying to work back from an injury-wrecked season and 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris, plus veteran William Hayes playing end and tackle.

Wake and Quinn are both former all-pros and enjoyed a run as elite defensive ends.

Quinn, who turns 28 this month, racked up 40 sacks over the 2012-14 seasons, but managed just 17.5 the last three years. He said he was “suffocating” with Los Angeles and feels rejuvenated now that he’s with the Dolphins. If that plays out on the field, Miami will be glad it has him under contract for 2019 at $12.9 million.

Wake, 36, will count $9.6 million against the salary cap this year and is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season. Despite his age and a ruptured Achilles injury in 2015, he’s had 22 sacks over the last two years.

The Dolphins hope their arsenal of pass rushers will make life easier for a linebacker corps that ranks 27th in cap dollars and a cornerback crew that ranks 30th.

Just as expensive doesn’t always equal good, cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The best teams in the league have players exceeding their rookie deals, and the Dolphins need that to happen with Tunsil, Parker, running back Kenyan Drake, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and this year’s draftees.

If that happens and their heftiest expenses prove to be money well spent, the Dolphins have a chance to be one of the league’s biggest surprises this season.

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