2018 Free Agents: Miami Dolphins special teams captain Michael Thomas to NY Giants

Safety Michael Thomas is headed to New York. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

Miami Dolphins special teams captain Michael Thomas has agreed to a 2-year deal with the New York Giants, according to a league source.

Thomas, 29, made his mark with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent from Stanford in 2013.

One of the most memorable moments of Thomas’ Dolphins career was an interception of Tom Brady to seal a victory in his rookie season. Thomas became a starter at safety in 2015, but really made his mark as one of the best special teams players in the league.

Thomas is also one of the NFL leaders in the movement to protest social injustice. Thomas, Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas were three of the players who kneeled during some national anthems last season.

Thomas has devoted countless hours in his community. Some of the organizations that Thomas has worked closely with are the Boys & Girls Club, the Dreambuilders Foundation and Food for the Hungry.

Thomas has been one of the NFL’s leaders in special teams tackles, with 10, 14, 19 and 11 over the past four seasons. The Dolphins will need several players, including recently re-signed Walt Aikens, to help fill a leadership void.

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Jason Taylor: Charles Harris is a future Miami Dolphins Pro Bowler

Jason Taylor is keen on Charles Harris. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

ORLANDO — Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame defensive end Jason Taylor has worked closely with Charles Harris.

In fact, Harris considers Taylor a mentor. And the Dolphins defensive end, who just completed his rookie season, should know that Taylor believes in his potential.

As in, really, really believes.

“There’s a lot in there,” Taylor said after Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “That light bulb is going to go off at some point in this league. And it’s different for everybody. Some guys have to find their way through and feel their way through. And he’s going to get it. And when it goes off, he’s going to be up here in Orlando, or wherever they hold the game. He’s going to be up here, too.”

Taylor was a six-time Pro Bowler but didn’t make the game until his fourth NFL season.

Taylor had 5, 9 and 2.5 sacks in each of his first three seasons, before exploding with 14.5 in 2000.

Harris was frustrated to record only 2 sacks as a rookie, but the organization has not soured on him.

“(Harris) spent a lot of time with Jason Taylor early in the year and Jason kind of told him, ‘I had (five) sacks my first year,’” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said at the Senior Bowl. “He told him, ‘As the year goes on, your body gets used to the long season.’ To kind of figure it out. And he played really well in those last three or four weeks of the season. So we’re excited about his future. The guy loves football. He doesn’t say much. The guy just comes in and is a grinder. And so we’re very excited for him in the future.”

Taylor was a the Pro Bowl, and around the AFC squad all week, as a legendary captain.

“That’s what happens when you get old, they start to call you a legend,” Taylor joked. “No, it’s all part of this thing. This whole NFL experience. And being one of those 310 guys (in the Hall of Fame). You know, to me, it goes in one ear and out the other. I really don’t’ look at myself like that. But I appreciate that people do.”

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5 Miami Dolphins Snap Conclusions from shocking defeat of Patriots

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh puts pressure on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at Hard Rock Stadium on Monday night. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

There were so many Miami Dolphins stars on Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

We give props in this order: 1) Adam Gase 2) Xavien Howard 3) Kenyan Drake 4) Jarvis Landry 5) Matt Burke 6) Jay Cutler 7) Jordan Phillips 8) Reshad Jones.

Everything Gase and Burke tried worked, including how they split up the playing time against the Patriots:

  1. Kenyan Drake (66 snaps, 90 percent). In the last two weeks, Le’Veon Bell is the only running back in the NFL with more snaps, as Drake has 119. This is stunning, considering many viewed Drake as a change-of-pace back. It’s hard to know if Drake has the durability to survive this type of workload for an extended period. But if and when Damien Williams returns, Drake should get a bit more rest. Still, it’s going to be hard to take Drake off the field, as coach Adam Gase likes to say.
  2. Ndamukong Suh (61 snaps, 100 percent). Gase also likes to say Suh is the kind of guy who will give you a certain look if you suggest he come off the field. What if I told you Suh DID NOT come off the field against the Patriots, as in, for one single play? Talk about earning your pay check on a Monday Night. Jordan Phillips (54 percent) and Davon Godchaux (46 percent) were able to stay fresh and make impact plays in large part because Suh allowed them to divide their reps. Suh had 3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits and 1 pass defended. Monster. But we all knew that.
  3. Jakeem Grant (9 snaps, 12 percent). It seemed like Grant was out there more. And what a night it would have been if Grant had not dropped a sure touchdown pass. Stills, Grant caught a clutch 25-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler for a key 20-10 lead in the third quarter. He also caught two passes for 24 yards and showed that it might be worth using some more of those four wide receiver sets. Grant, of course, adds a unique speed dimension to Adam Gase’s offense. Gase even used Grant at running back.
  4. Lawrence Timmons (50 snaps, 82 percent). After declining Timmons’ recent playing time, defensive coordinator Matt Burke went with the old war horse in this game, and Timmons responded. Timmons had several memorable big hits and looked a bit more like the player we saw early in the season. Timmons did not address it this week, but one wonders if he was inspired in any way but watching his former Steelers teammate, linebacker Ryan Shazier, go down with a spine injury. Timmons was fourth on the Dolphins with five tackles. Stephone Anthony took only nine reps in this game.
  5. DeVante Parker (61 snaps, 84 percent). Parker was on the sideline for 12 snaps, which is telling. Is Gase losing his patience with Parker’s drops and failure to tap into his worldly potential? Parker did have a critical fourth-down catch. Parker caught 4 of his 6 targets, though only for 40 yards. Parker is ranked 60th out of 116 wide receivers, according to Pro Football Focus, which obviously is a huge disappointment. Is there enough time left for Parker to show Miami they shouldn’t consider trading him this offseason?

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Miami Dolphins’ Charles Harris brings attention to MS Foundation for his mother

DAVIE — Charles Harris studied biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri and majored in health science.

Harris did not know he would be a first-round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins. But he knew he wanted to help people, and was considering a career as an occupational or physical therapist.

In particular, Harris was inspired by his mother, Deborah Clark, who has been battling multiple sclerosis since 1997.

“I knew there wasn’t a cure for MS,” Harris said Thursday. “So I just kind of felt like if I did occupational therapy, it’s all about adaptation and helping people adapt to their lifestyles. I’ve always thought I could help create something, or develop something, develop some type of tool to help my Mom adjust, just make her life better and better.”

Harris’ mother is surely proud that Harris cares about her, and others, to the extent that he chose the “Multiple Sclerosis Foundation” as his charity of choice for participation in this weekend’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological condition that affects the central nervous system. Among the common symptoms are fatigue, altered sensations, difficulty with balance, tremors, depression and memory loss.

In the case of Harris’ mother, Deborah Clark uses a wheelchair and has very limited travel. Despite that, Clark insisted on working with the condition for many years.

“She taught me about work ethic and persevering through adversity,” Harris said. “I hope to help in some way with donations through foundations and by bringing attention to MS to help find a cure.”

Representatives from the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation visited Harris at Dolphins’ camp on Thursday to express their appreciation for his efforts.

Anyone who would like to make a donation to the organization can visit the website for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

Many Dolphins have had special cleats made for Sunday’s game against the Broncos, in order to help bring attention and awareness to their charitable cause. Harris likes his cleats so much, he may wear them in warm-ups and not the game.

“I have the shoe in my locker,” Harris said. “I love them. I actually like them so much that I might not play in them. I’m thinking of giving them to my mother as a Christmas present instead of playing in them and getting them all dirty. So I’ll probably make a second pair if I can. If not, so be it. I’ll wear my old cleats and give her the cleats for Christmas.”

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Can Miami Dolphins’ Kenyan Drake be a complete, lead NFL running back?

Jay Cutler hands off to Kenyan Drake of the Miami Dolphins during a game against the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium last Sunday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE — Kenyan Drake was having dinner with Jay Ajayi in South Florida the other night (no, that’s not a typo, Ajayi has an Eagles bye and was back in town to take care of some business).

And it’s not like Drake needs to pick Ajayi’s brain about how to handle 28 carries in Dolphins game (as Ajayi did in the opener). Because that’s not really the game plan.

But anyway, Dolphins running back Damien Williams hasn’t been feeling very well this week. And so it seems natural to consider that Drake might be dealt a career-high in touches on Monday Night Football against the Panthers.

And it seems natural to wonder if Ajayi had any words of encouragement or advice.

“He’s going to encourage us and support us and we’re going to do the same for him,” Drake said, sitting at his locker in Davie on Saturday. “So it wasn’t anything specific. (Ajayi) didn’t really give any type of motivation or advice on how to do it. He understands that it’s our time to do it. And he expects nothing less.”

Our time to do it, as in Drake, Williams and maybe even Senorise Perry, who could get a few carries on Monday night.

Even though Ajayi was Miami’s team MVP in 2016, it was Drake who led the Dolphins, with 5.4 yards per carry. Even though the departed Ajayi has 465 of the Dolphins’ 621 rushing yards his season, it’s Drake who now leads the club with 4.9 yards per carry.

Drake has matured since his rookie season. He was a bit humbled and has hunkered down in his off-field studies. He’s also embraced his role, including when it was almost exclusively special teams.

But Drake, like all special athletes, has an innate self-confidence. And so he pushes back on the notion he can’t be more than a shifty, speedy, change-of-pace back.

Can Drake, a third-rounder out of Alabama, be a lead back? Can he be a complete inside-outside back?

“I feel like I am that, regardless,” Drake said. “So the perception of other people, is me doing it. So it’s just going out there and playing the game I know how to play. People can say what they want to say, I’m just going to play my best football.”

Drake had a 42-yard run against the Raiders (twice as long as any of Ajayi’s 138 attempts for Miami this season) but also demonstrated his wares on a tough inside run, breaking tackles and showing he’s stronger than it may appear.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen declares Drake is “NFL tested.” Christensen cites the fearlessness Drake has shown on kickoff returns and the toughness he’s shown as a gunner on kickoff coverage.

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Christensen notes that as Drake’s workload increases, he’ll face some of the challenges Ajayi did last season.

“To get hit and get tattooed like they tattoo you in this league for week after week after week after week,” Christensen said. “It’s a violent position, practicing when you’re sore… You have to learn how to function when everything is not right.”

Drake will need to prove he can stay healthy, prove he can be trusted to protect the football (an untimely fumble against the Raiders was a key moment in Miami’s loss) and prove he can be a consistent blocker. Miami coach Adam Gase says Drake, who he called out last season, has stepped up his preparations.

“I think he has got our confidence,” Gase said.  A majority of the things he did this last game is what we’re looking for. I’d like for him to hold onto the ball. We’ve just got to keep improving on all of the things he has never seen before, whether it be third down stuff, a lot of the different looks and coverages when we release him on routes. He’s going to be learning through the rest of the season. I think he has just got to stay on the track he’s on right now.”

Gase says it’s one thing to know what to do and another to react to what the defense does. Monday night is an extraordinary challenge, with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis patrolling the defense at Bank of America Stadium.

“They’re veterans,” Drake said. “Very savvy defenders. Kuechly is like a brainiac. He pretty much controls the entire defense. And pretty much tells everybody what to do and how to do it and when to do it. And then he’ll also dissect the plays that the offense is running. It’s about making his second guess himself. At the end of the day, though, if he knows it we don’t really care if he knows it. We have to play our scheme.”

It will be fascinating to see how Gase attacks the Panthers number one-ranked defense. It would seem Gase would want to get the ball downfield to DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills and hit Jarvis Landry and Kenyan Drake on shorter routes.

But how much time will Jay Cutler have with new starters at left guard (Ted Larsen) and right tackle (Jesse Davis)? With Ajayi gone, and Drake and Williams in a more prominent role, one thing Gase can do is be a bit more unpredictable.

Drake feels he’s ready to handle the increased responsibility.

“I’m very confident,” Drake said. “I’ve prepared myself day in and day out, not just from a practice standpoint, and knowing my plays, but from a physical standpoint. Taking care of my body. I have to be a professional on and off the field and that includes taking care of my body. Understanding my responsibilities and taking advantage of them. If it’s 10 carries or special teams, I’m prepared to be the best player I can be.”

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3 Concerning position groups for Miami Dolphins vs. Tennessee Titans today

Jay Cutler needs help, but he needs to help himself, too. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

The Dolphins open their season at home on Sunday, one month after it was supposed to happen.

But that’s all water under the London Bridge.

The Dolphins need a bounce back against the Titans, a team that trounced them last year.

Here are some position groups that must perform well in order for the Fins to pull off the upset:

Offensive Line

Tennessee’s defensive line is legit. They are physical. Pass-rushing linebacker Brian Orakpo against left tackle Laremy Tunsil is a matchup to watch. One year ago, Orakpo embarrassed left tackle Billy Turner, who was promptly cut within days. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey against Miami guards Anthony Steen and Jermon Bushrod is not a favorable matchup, on paper. Last year, coach Adam Gase came away from a loss to the Titans saying Ryan Tannehill didn’t have a chance. Last year, tackle Ja’Wuan James was beaten by Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan. Here’s hoping Tunsil took his pregame shower Saturday night.

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is supposed to make his debut on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Maualuga is ready to help slow down Tennessee’s running attack, led by DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The Titans humiliated Miami on the ground last season, but this has looked like a different defense against the run. William Hayes and Lawrence Timmons should have positive impacts. Reshad Jones had his best game of the season last year. Kiko Alonso is due to create a turnover. Tennessee has a big, powerful, talented offensive line. When Miami’s linebackers have their defining moments against those Big Uglies on Sunday, they must be ready to win.

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Quarterback

It turns out Jay Cutler has performed really well throughout his career against the Titans. They’re based in Nashville, where Cutler lives. Cutler, of course, was a star at Vanderbilt, also based in Nashville. Cutler needs to make good decisions under pressure on Sunday. Cutler needs to get rid of the ball quicker and not put himself in a position to take a huge loss on a sack or fumble. Cutler must be more accurate. Cutler must get his feet in better position. Cutler must avoid appearing skittish. Cutler must trust his receivers. He has very, very talented receivers, but you wouldn’t know if the last two weeks. Cutler must use his feet for a good cause. Move in and around the pocket to avoid pressure. Make an unscheduled play when things break down. Just be better, man.

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Jay Ajayi says his role is to be a Miami Dolphins leader

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi runs over Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Zach Brown at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Before the first game of last season, Jay Ajayi was told he wasn’t going to dress for the season-opener and the running back reacted so poorly first-year coach Adam Gase left him home.

As Ajayi begins his second season under Gase, everything has changed.

Not only has Ajayi proven himself as a player, but his approach to his role has completely changed.

“To be a leader on this team,” Ajayi said of his role.

Ryan Tannehill’s personality is emerging as stronger as he hits the stride of his career.

Jarvis Landry is the emotional heartbeat of Miami’s offense.

And Mike Pouncey, when healthy, is its soul.

But Ajayi mentioning leaderships several times during an on-field interview Friday at training camp is interesting.

For as hard as Ajayi has worked to improve his pass catching — “I’m striving to be that all-around back,” he says — he’s also worked on improving his approach to each day.

Ajayi’s plan now includes being a great teammate. And, as he says, a leader.

“I’m in a different space mentally now,” Ajayi said. “I know my role. I’m comfortable with what I know.”

Not only is Ajayi trying to refine his game (to recap, last season he was both lightning-quick and a mauler) but he also has committed to bringing positive energy to work each day.

One year later, everything is completely different.

“It was an opportunity, just waiting,” Ajayi said. “And when it came, it was about making the plays. Keeping my head down and just doing what I need to do. For me, it was running hard and having great blocking and just working. This year, knowing what I was able to do it’s about taking the next step, just pushing myself.”

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Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill NFL’s 2nd-best deep ball thrower (via Deep Ball Project)

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill rolls out to throw a 53-yard pass to tight end MarQueis Gray against the Steelers. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 61 percent of passes that were in the air for longer than 20 yards, which was second in the NFL in 2016, according to the Deep Ball Project.

Tannehill also completed 64 percent of passes that were in the air longer than 16 yards, fourth in the NFL.

Here is more from the Deep Ball Project:

The progression of Ryan Tannehill has been wonderful to watch for those who look deeper. In the last two seasons, his deep ball has become one of the league’s best, so it should be no surprise he’s become a downfield master under Adam Gase.

With better defined routes, Tannehill’s accuracy soared. His overall accuracy of 64.1% was 4th in 2016, and his accuracy on throws of 20+ was 61.0%, The 2nd highest (only behind Derek Carr). 

Despite suffering from some receiver drops, Tannehill’s accuracy and placement were astonishingly good. We’re talking throws that rival the ones Aaron Rodgers makes on a daily basis!

Ryan Tannehill is a really good quarterback, and though his deep passing lacks quantity, it easily makes up for it in quality. Dolphins fans should be highly pleased with the results their quarterback is producing, and in 2016 his downfield passing was one of the year’s absolute best.

According to research by Jonathan Kinsley of Brick Wall Blitz, Tannehill is one of seven NFL quarterbacks to receive an A+ or A score for deep-ball passing ability. The others are: Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Derek Carr and Cam Newton.

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Tannehill had nine touchdowns in the air for 16 yards or more. Tannehill also connected for a touchdown on 17 percent of his deep pass attempts, which led the NFL by a substantial margin.

Yet, amazingly, some ignoramuses still think Tannehill can’t throw an accurate deep ball.

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LeSean McCoy says Kiko Alonso is a ‘BUM’ on Dolphins’ Instagram page

LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills is upended while running with the ball by Kiko Alonso of the Miami Dolphins last season. This is the photo Alonso posted on his Instagram page, causing McCoy to fire back in his comments section. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy took exception to a photo Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso posted on Instagram and criticized Alonso and his new contract in Alonso’s comments section.

Alonso posted a photo in which it appears he has just hit McCoy and sent the running back into the air and upside down.

On Alonso’s Instagram page, elbravo_47, McCoy, using the screen name shadymccoy, posted:

boy ya dad wish u was as good as me… n ya new contract garbage lol my 2011 money …

take me off ya page u BUM

As of Monday morning, Alonso’s photo had more than 4,000 likes. And there were also more than 700 comments, many by fans taking one side or the other.

In March of 2015, Alonso was traded from the Bills to the Eagles in exchange for McCoy. The trade was unpopular with some Eagles fans and Alonso struggled with injuries in Philadelphia.

But Alonso rebounded with Miami last season, racking up 115 tackles and landing a new four-year contract.

Instead of playing 2016 for a one-year restricted free-agent tender of $3.91 million, Alonso secured a new 4-year deal worth a total of $28.9 million, which includes $18.5 million guaranteed and more than $26 million over the final three years.

In May of 2012, McCoy agreed to a 5-year, $45 million with the Eagles.

Ironically, McCoy also had a resurgence in 2016 after a setback in 2015, his first season in Buffalo. McCoy ran for 1,267 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry.

In 2015, McCoy ran for only 895 yards while averaging 4.4 yards.

 

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Miami Dolphins re-sign veteran guard Jermon Bushrod

Miami Dolphins tackle Jermon Bushrod (74) gives his daughter a kiss after practice at Dolphins training camp in Davie, Florida on August 6, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The Miami Dolphins have re-signed veteran guard Jermon Bushrod.

Bushrod is a former Pro Bowl tackle who made a transition to right guard last season. At the age of 33, Bushrod may be making another transition to left guard next season.

Bushrod is steady presence in the locker room and for younger linemen like Laremy Tunsil, who is going to take over at left tackle next season.

Bushrod, 6-feet-5, 320 pounds, started all 16 regular-season games for Miami. Of course it’s still possible Miami could sign or draft another guard to compete with Bushrod for a starting spot.

After the season Bushrod implied that he would retire if not given another opportunity to play for Miami. This offseason, Miami also signed former Bears guard Ted Larsen.

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