DAVIE — The Dolphins held their first fully padded practice of training camp this morning, but it didn’t go completely as planned.
About a half-hour into their work, the team was forced to shift into the practice bubble because of lightning in the area. It was still a productive day, however, with by far the most contact the Dolphins have had this month.
Here are some updates from coach Adam Gase after practice:
— Gase was frustrated that the team had to move practice indoors because “the more time we spend outside, the better.” It also limited the amount of live contact the Dolphins had today because they prefer not to do that on turf.
— Second-year receiver Isaiah Ford has been working in the slot and progressing well after missing all of last season with an injury.
— Miami’s defensive line has been overwhelming in the first week of training camp. Gase said, “those guys just bring it,” and they’ve been causing problems for the offensive line. Gase is really impressed with new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.
— Gase has enjoyed watching slot receiver Danny Amendola and slot corner Bobby McCain go at it so far. He said those two are making each other better every day and there’s been no dropoff in their intensity.
— Gase reiterated that he doesn’t see newcomer Albert Wilson as a slot receiver. He can play slot, but Gase thinks of him firstly as an outside player because of his speed.
— Regarding his recent appearances in the wide receiver drills, Gase said, “Every once in a while I just try to get involved somewhere. It’s fun for me.”
DAVIE — The Dolphins are step closer to being ready for the upcoming season after putting on shoulder pads for this morning’s training camp practice.
There were minimal injury issues, which continues a good run for Miami. Backup offensive lineman Jake Brendel remains out with a calf injury, and receiver Isaiah Ford was out after sustaining an unspecified injury Friday.
Here are some post-practice updates from coach Adam Gase:
— Cornerback Torry McTyer worked with the first-team defense today, which is part of a slight shift in Gase’s thinking about the depth chart. He wants position coaches to bump guys up quickly when they show they deserve it, rather than “wait around” and make them continue to work for it over multiple practices.
— Rookie running back Kalen Ballage is off to a good start. “We’re trying to get him as many reps as we can so he can see as many things as possible,” Gase said. “We’re trying to get him to a point where he can play as fast as possible.” Gase said his grasp of the offense has been solid so far.
— Ryan Tannehill needs to work on his sliding technique. He’s used to sliding on his surgically repaired left knee, which the Dolphins don’t want. Gase said it would be problematic for him to land on the brace if he was trying to get down.
— The redesigned offensive line struggled somewhat today. “We have work to do,” Gase said.
— On the o-line, the team is scaling back left guard Josh Sitton’s workload to about four of every six plays, leaving an opening for Ted Larsen to get first-string reps.
— Linebacker Chase Allen has had two interceptions in camp. Regarding his chances at a starting job, Gase said he’s trying to keep the linebacker units together so they can build continuity. They’re sticking with Raekwon McMillan, Kiko Alonso and Stephone Anthony for now.
There’s been very little questioning of Jordan Phillips’ talent, but his actual performance has been up and down since the Dolphins drafted him in the second round in 2015. They expected more from a player selected No. 52 overall, but it’s been difficult to predict what he’ll give them throughout his career.
Phillips has been open about some of his struggles at times, vowing to change, and it appears as though he’s going into this season ready to back that up. He’s in shape as the Dolphins begin training camp and he’s got his biggest opportunity yet now that Ndamukong Suh is gone.
“So far, through two days, he’s done a good job,” coach Adam Gase said. “When you’re a bigger guy like he is, the way that we’re running the football, it’s one thing to do it in the spring, but now that the temperature is slightly up, when you’re a big guy like that and you’re running as much as he is, it’s fatiguing but he’s doing a good job of embracing it because it’s gonna help him get in really good shape.
He’s listed at 6-foot-6, 341 pounds, but those weights aren’t updated regularly and he looked slimmer than usual when he arrived for training camp this week.
The Dolphins felt good about where Phillips was near the end of the preseason last year, battling back up the depth chart after falling behind fifth-round pick Davon Godchaux.
Health was an issue, however, and Phillips missed three games after getting hurt in the season opener. He ended up starting 11 games and posted 16 tackles, including two sacks. Pro Football Focus rated him the No. 71 defensive tackle in the league.
Phillips did not reach a deal for an extension this offseason and will likely hit unrestricted free agency in the spring. He’ll play for about $1.4 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract.
He appears to be healthy again going into this season, which is spurring optimism within the Dolphins. They’ve been working Phillips and newcomer Akeem Spence as the starting defensive tackles the last two days, with Godchaux pushing for a spot as well.
“Athletically, he does some things that you just don’t see many people be able to do,” Gase said. “For a guy that size, the way he moves — his athleticism is really off the charts.”
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 — Journeyman quarterback David Fales has gone into every season believing he had a chance to make a team’s roster, but he’s never been as well set up for it as he is now.
This is his third year with Dolphins coach Adam Gase and he’s been part of the team without much interruption since early in 2017. Unlike last year, when Matt Moore was clearly entrenched as Miami’s backup quarterback, the job is completely open.
“Throughout my five years, it’s definitely the best situation I’ve been in going into an offseason and training camp,” Fales said. “I’m just excited to get more of an opportunity in practice. That’s the big difference going into this one: more opportunity for me.”
Fales and Brock Osweiler worked with the second and third teams during today’s opening practice. Gase will almost certainly choose one of them as the No. 2 quarterback after saying firmly he wouldn’t be putting out any calls to veteran free agents like he did with Jay Cutler a year ago.
Bryce Petty is also in camp, but is clearly behind Osweiler and Fales. Gase hasn’t declared a clear leader for the job, but his comments throughout the last seven months have hinted toward Fales being the favorite.
The Dolphins cut him at the end of last preseason in favor of going with Cutler, Moore and practice squad signee Brandon Doughty. Fales was not eligible for the practice squad.
Miami brought him back in October when Cutler went down with broken ribs, and he remained on the roster the rest of the season as the second- or third-string quarterback. While Gase typically prefers to keep two quarterbacks on the active roster, he said in March he is considering carrying three this year.
Fales appeared in two games for the Dolphins last year and got extended playing time in the finale against Buffalo. He completed 29 of 43 passes for 265 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
At 28, not only have many of the external factors lined up for him to finally get his big break as an NFL backup, he’s also in excellent shape.
“I’ve been doing Pilates,” he said. “I’m stronger. I think it’s my third year in the offense. I played a significant amount in a game last year, so that’s confidence. Everything’s kinda coming together. Pilates is huge. Game-changer. It gave me core strength, mobility in my hips and shoulders. That’s been a big change for me this year.”
“It’s my third year in basically the same system from Chicago to last year to here, and you get more familiar with the receivers. For the most part, we’ve got a lot of the same guys. It’s familiarity all around and being able to play fast.”
DAVIE — The simplest and most ideal solution Kenny Stills is offering amid the NFL’s national anthem policy debate is to get rid of it altogether.
The league and the NFLPA are discussing revisions to the rules the owners enacted in March, and the mandate for players to stand or stay out of sight is on hold for now. The two Dolphins players who have demonstrated in the past, Stills and defensive end Robert Quinn, are waiting for that resolution until they decide how they’ll handle the anthem this season.
“I’ll just say one thing: It’s called freedom of speech,” Quinn said when asked what should happen. “Simple as that. It’s freedom of speech.”
Stills agreed, saying, “Obviously I’d like to see there be no policy at all, and the guys have a choice to go out there and do what they want to, and we can support each other and the decisions we want to make.”
This was the first time Quinn and Stills have spoken to the media since the Dolphins drew national attention last week when an Associated Press report indicated they submitted documents listing suspension as a possible penalty to for violating the anthem rules.
The team later said it hasn’t made a decision on the policy yet, and the NFL and the union are continuing to discuss a potential resolution. Dolphins coach Adam Gase said he’s waiting until something comes down from the league, but can’t envision a player being suspended over the national anthem.
The impasse didn’t stop Cowboys owner Jerry Jones from declaring that his players will be required to stand for the anthem and won’t have the option of remaining out of sight.
“I wouldn’t expect anything different,” Stills said of Jones.
Quinn and Stills said there hasn’t been much dialogue with management about the issue and their attention is centered on preparing for the upcoming season. The Dolphins opened training camp today and play their first preseason game Aug. 9 at home against Tampa Bay.
Stills has worked frequently with owner Stephen Ross in social justice efforts and appears to have had a good relationship with him during his four years playing for the Dolphins. He hasn’t spoken much with Ross about the national anthem issue since last season.
Quinn, who came in on a trade with the Rams this offseason, said he’s never discussed it with Ross.
“No one brought it up,” Quinn said. “Until we have a discussion, that’s just where it is right now. If the topic comes up, then it comes up. But right now, I’ll hold my opinion to myself and try to do my best to make this football team better.”
While Stills kneeled the last two seasons, Quinn raised a fist during the anthem last year. The NFL’s no-kneeling policy did not specifically address an action like Quinn’s, though it could be covered under the requirement to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”
“If anybody knew actual rules in the NFL, good luck suspending somebody,” he said. “It takes about 5,000 things before anybody can get suspended by a club.”
He added, “I’m just telling you, other incidents that have happened in the past, it’s harder to suspend guys than what anybody realizes.”
Protests during the anthem have been an issue since 2016, Gase’s first year as head coach of the Dolphins. Since then, the team’s response has been all over the place. There was a stretch last season in which players were required to stay in the locker room if they weren’t going to stand, but that policy was pulled back.
It’s been a similarly turbulent ride for the NFL, which believed it finally solved the problem by laying down rules in March that required players to stand or stay off the field. It put that policy on hold after the NFLPA filed a grievance this month, and the league and players union agreed to continue trying to find a solution that suits both sides.
That takes the issue out of Gase’s hands for the moment. He doesn’t have to answer questions about a policy that currently isn’t in place.
“I just kinda wait and see what we’re told by the NFL and NFLPA, what’s going on as far as their conversations go,” he said. “I wait until we actually start games. It seems like things change a lot.”
The Dolphins have two key players who have demonstrated in the past. Wide receiver Kenny Stills kneeled during the anthem the last two seasons, and new defensive end Robert Quinn raised a first last year while with the Rams.
Neither player has indicated their plans for the upcoming season, but both spoke today in favor of players having the freedom to express themselves.
— The Dolphins remain upbeat about Ryan Tannehill’s recovery from the knee injury that wiped out his 2017 season, but there’s still some concern about eventually shifting into live contact situations. The team also wants to work with him on his sliding technique as a preventative measure.
— Gase declined to get into the national anthem policy debate, but couldn’t envision a player actually being suspended.
— Veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola looks “exactly like the guy we played against last year,” Gase said.
— The team will begin using shoulder pads at practice Saturday and be in full pads Sunday or Monday. That’s especially important when it comes to the rookies. Gase wants to see if they play like they did in college.
— It was in the low 90s for this morning’s work, and Gase thought it was possibly the hottest practice he’s had since he got here.
As much as Dolphins coach Adam Gase loves his roster, he’s repeatedly painted it as a work in progress. There’s still plenty to figure out personnel-wise, and that process kicks into high gear when training camp opens Thursday morning.
As Gase approaches the start of a critical third season with Miami, here are five problems he has to solve over the next few weeks:
1. They need a backup quarterback. It’s fine for the Dolphins to be optimistic about Ryan Tannehill’s knee, and there appears to be good cause for that, but they know better than to assume he’ll make it through all 16 games. They actually came out and said that in January, which made it perplexing that they did not secure a proven backup in the offseason. Gase says he’s supremely confidence in David Fales and/or Brock Osweiler as the backup — he seems to favor Fales — but both of them come with question marks.
2. Their linebacker corps must improve. As a former linebackers coach, defensive coordinator Matt Burke must have been exasperated by how underwhelming the Dolphins were at that position last year. They’ve got a good start with Raekwon McMillan in the middle and Kiko Alonso on the outside, assuming they stay healthy, but there’s no certainty beyond those two. Stephone Anthony’s had an up-and-down career, Mike Hull and Chase Allen haven’t proven themselves as NFL starters, and it might take a while for draft picks Jerome Baker and Quentin Poling to materialize into contributors.
3. Kenyan Drake has to establish himself as a top weapon. The Dolphins’ collection of skill players has a lot of good talent, but is there a great one among them? Drake’s speed and versatility, combined with Gase’s inventiveness, gives him a chance to stand out. When he took over as pretty much the only healthy running back available late last season, he closed the year with a league-best 444 yards (4.9 per carry) over the final five games. He also caught 17 passes for 150 yards during that span. But the jump from there to becoming a premier weapon is a big one, and it’ll take more than just physical ability.
4. There’s a big vacancy at kicker. Kicker and punter are positions that fans (and teams, for that matter) sometimes take for granted, and that could hurt the Dolphins this season. They regret losing Cody Parkey in free agency and now move forward with seventh-rounder Jason Sanders competing against undrafted local product Greg Joseph. Neither seems to have an edge after their first three months in the organization, so training camp decide it.
5. Defensive end has to be an absolute strength.
The Dolphins’ salary cap ledger makes one thing undeniably clear: They value pass rushers above all else. It’s fine to spend big at that position, but they have to get results there. Robert Quinn and Andre Branch are the two biggest salary cap hits on the roster this year, combining for $21.4 million, and Cameron Wake is fifth at $9.6 million. Those three are eating up about 17 percent of Miami’s total spending, according to Spotrac. With a first line of Quinn and Wake followed by a second wave of Branch and Charles Harris, Miami needs to be in the top 10 in sacks this year.
(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.)
OT Laremy Tunsil
Height, weight: 6-5, 318
College: Ole Miss
Age: Will be 24 this season
Experience: Third season, all with Dolphins
Acquired: First-round pick in 2016
Contract: In third year of his four-year, $12.4 million rookie deal
Pro Football Focus rank: 47th out of 81
Stats: Started 15 games
Straight talk: Long after last season ended, coach Adam Gase was still counting up all the curveballs thrown the Dolphins’ way.
You can include Tunsil’s first season at left tackle among them.
The Dolphins thought they had a steal when Tunsil fell to them in the 2016 draft, and if they thought they could just plug him in at his natural position, left tackle, after a rookie season at guard, both the team and the player learned that wasn’t the case.
L.T. the LT still has some growing to do.
“There’s probably a lot of us sitting here that thought it would be an easy transition for him,” Gase said.
One of them isn’t Tunsil.
“I never assumed it was going to be easy,” Tunsil said. “Playing left tackle at the highest level of football, I never thought it would be easy.”
It wasn’t until the offseason workouts were ending that Tunsil truly opened up on his performance in 2017.
“It was a bad taste — a horrible taste,” he said. ” … I knew I could have been better. Now I’m here, a new season, a new person. Let’s get it.”
As last season wore on, Gase said he saw “a different side” of Tunsil, one in which he developed a better sense of professionalism. Tunsil knew things had to change to cut down on sacks allowed and penalties, including avoidable pre-snap infractions.
“At times I think he would tell you that he’s felt like a rookie and he’s played like a rookie,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said in December.
Tunsil didn’t offer a dissenting opinion. Asked what he took from his 2017 performance, he said, “It was a bad taste — a horrible taste.”
Even in the memorable Monday night win over the Patriots, things weren’t as they needed to be. Gase described Tunsil’s inconsistent play as “four good, one bad,” which won’t cut it going against elite pass rushers.
Despite an affable personality, there were stretches last year in which Tunsil kept to himself, declining interview requests in what could be seen as a sign of frustration. One exception was in early December, when he was asked how he could better deal with speed off the edge.
“Continue to get better with my practice habits and just work,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Prospects for 2018
The Dolphins remain optimistic Tunsil will be the player they expected him to be when he was drafted, so there’s a good chance he’ll be Miami’s left tackle for years to come. Improvement must come immediately, because he’ll be the main bodyguard for Ryan Tannehill and Tannehill’s surgically repaired knee.
One positive development this offseason was the acquisition of former Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton from the Bears and Packers, who should give Tunsil a Branden Albert-like veteran who can offer advice and support.
“That was something that I brought up myself,” Sitton said, referring to when he was negotiating to sign with the Dolphins. “I’ve always been that type of player, to give my knowledge or whatever to anybody that is younger than me, and especially going into Year 11 now, I’ve learned a lot, a lot thing. I think it’s your duty as an older guy to bring those young guys along with you.”
Tunsil says he’s ready to go.
“A new season, a new person,” he said. “Let’s get it.”