How can Dolphins be sure Danny Amendola, Frank Gore have something left?

Danny Amendola is charged with being a reliable slot receiver in his 10th season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

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.

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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.

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Frank Gore will be 35, but here’s why Miami Dolphins don’t really care

Ex-Hurricane Frank Gore, then with the Indianapolis Colts, runs against the Dolphins. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(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.)

RB Frank Gore

Height, weight: 5-9, 212

College: Miami

Age: Will be 35 at the start of the season

Experience: Entering 14th season, first with the Dolphins

Acquired: As a free agent from Indianapolis

Contract: Due to earn $1.1 million this season

Pro Football Focus rank: 17th out of 58

In 2017

Stats: Rushing — 961 yards, 3.7 average, 3 TDs. Receiving — 29 catches, 245 yards, 1 TD

Notable moments: Carried 36 times for 130 yards at Buffalo. It was the most carries ever by a running back 34 or older

Straight talk: With Damien Williams leaving and Kenyan Drake still arriving in terms of the big stage, the Dolphins made a wise move in bringing Frank Gore back to Miami.

Gore will be 35 this season, but it was predictable that coach Adam Gase warned against getting too caught up in that, of course.

“It’s irrelevant,” Gase said. “He’s a different dude.”

Don’t believe it? Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star, in a column criticizing the Colts for letting Gore walk, revealed that in that game in Buffalo in which Gore had 130 yards, he broke a thumb. The Colts suggested season-ending surgery to insert a pin.

“I’m a football player,” Gore said. “I’m playing.”

Indianapolis’ next game was a Thursday nighter against the Broncos, so four days later, Gore was at it again, accounting for 67 yards from scrimmage. It’s that kind of drive that has allowed him to play 112 consecutive games, most by any active running back.

By keeping in terrific shape, Gore has managed 12 straight seasons with at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage. The only backs with more carries than his 3,226 are Emmitt Smith (all-time leader at 4,409), Walter Payton, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis. None has a better per-carry average than Gore’s 4.4.

With his stocky build and powerful legs, Gore has been an effective inside runner. He tied for 10th in the league last year with 49 carries for first downs, so perhaps third-and-1 will cease to be an automatic passing play. Not to mention that when Ryan Tannehill does throw with Gore in the game, not only can Gore catch, he’s exceptional at pass protection. 

Gase and Gore were together in 2008, when Gase served as an offensive assistant on the 49ers.

“It’s been 10 years since we were together,” Gase said. “I mean it seems like forever. The guy looks exactly the same.”

Prospects for 2018

While the Dolphins are counting on Drake to be the featured back, Gore isn’t being brought in strictly as an aging mentor to the young guy.

“We’ll figure it out,” Gase said of the workload. “This is no different than what we were kind of doing with Damien and Kenyan last year. I mean it’s a long season. We got caught in a couple of situations last year where Kenyan was the only guy we had and he had to take the majority of the carries. Really, that’s not what we want over a 16-game season. That’s going to be tough. We’ll make sure that we spread this thing out well. We’ll use both of those guys the right way.”


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Miami Dolphins rookie RB Kalen Ballage leveling out after tough start to OTAs

Dolphins fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage has high potential to be an explosive playmaker. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Even in the lower stakes of offseason practices, it’s a bad feeling to line up for a play and not be entirely certain where you’re supposed to go. It’s especially unnerving when you’re in the process of trying to prove you belong in the NFL.

Dolphins rookie Kalen Ballage battled that early in Organized Team Activities when Adam Gase hit the accelerator and had the offense running quicker than he’d seen before. He struggled to keep everything straight as Miami called play after play, and it illuminated how much work he still needs to do.

“I’m from a no-huddle offense at Arizona State, so I’ve been in the no-huddle stuff, but going really fast and not knowing all the plays is completely different,” he said after practice today. “There was a few times where my mind was running 100 miles an hour trying to figure things out.

“It’s not that I don’t know, but am I 100 percent sure? You kind of have an idea of what you’re supposed to be doing, but maybe you aren’t fully sure about it. Just being consistent and knowing what I’ve got so I can be very decisive and play fast.”

The Dolphins, who took Ballage in the fourth round two months ago, hope he’ll be a quick learner. He’s got the combination of a bruising 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame, great speed and the versatility to hurt a defense as a runner or receiver and aspires to reach the level of dual-threat stars like Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson.

If he’s ready to contribute right away he’ll be a significant weapon for Gase as he tries to revamp the offense. He’s settled in since those first few days, working on memorizing plays with fellow rookie running back Buddy Howell of Florida Atlantic, and has looked more comfortable in the offense this week.

“He’s progressing quickly,” Gase said. “He’s consistently been one of those guys that’s trying to find a way to get extra (work) and spend time with other players, just trying to really nail down the offense.

“We’re trying to do as many things as possible in the spring to get him used to things, because once you hit training camp you don’t have a ton of time to spend on one specific thing. A lot of things are going to be flying at him once we hit training camp.”

Ballage believes he was underutilized at Arizona State, where he still managed to run for 669 yards and six touchdowns last season. Over three years as a regular part of the Sun Devils’ offense, he totaled 1,858 yards rushing, 620 yards receiving and 25 total touchdowns.

The upside is he did all of that without taking much of a beating physically because he had only 450 carries in his college career.

As he tries to master the playbook before next month’s training camp, Ballage has been learning from future Hall of Famer Frank Gore and third-year running back Kenyan Drake. Both have gone out of their way to help him acclimate. Gore and Ballage hang out and scour film of other running backs around the league to pick up new moves.

All the on-field reps and off-field study sessions are helping make things run more smoothly for Ballage, who prides himself on being reliable.

“I’m not a guy that makes a lot of mental errors,” he said. “There’s gonna be stuff here and there because I’m learning a new playbook and it’s a lot of information to learn, but I’m just trying to be the most consistent football player I can be right now.”

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Miami Dolphins believe they could have three RBs who can play all three downs

Dolphins running back coach Eric Studesville and Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake speak to the media during Dolphins OTAs. (Miami Herald)

DAVIE — The Dolphins are entering the home stretch of their offseason workouts, days away from R&R, but already, a common thread is emanating from the training facility that could have a major impact on what we see this fall.

Kenyan Drake will be the featured back, veteran Frank Gore is the No. 2 man and behind them is Kalen Ballage, a fourth-round pick out of Arizona State. No news flash there. But put your ear to the ground and you’ll recognize a theme developing that can be labeled this way:

Three backs, three downs.

More and more, Dolphins coaches have been pointing out that all three of these guys can run, catch and block. While it would be unrealistic to think the Dolphins will roll their backs the way they’ll roll defensive linemen, it’s a huge benefit to Adam Gase, who likes versatile backs, to know he won’t be tipping his hand by putting any particular back in on any given down.

“You really like a guy that can play on all three downs,” new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.

Assuming all three stay healthy, there can be no doubt Drake will get the majority of the carries, but do not assume that just because Gore is 35 and did little in OTAs, the equipment guys won’t need to wash his No. 21 jersey on Sunday evenings. Hardly. Gore ran for 961 yards before a talent-challenged offensive line in Indy last year, had 245 receiving yards and is two years removed from a 1,025-yard rushing season.

Frank Gore had 1,206 yards from scrimmage for Indianapolis last season. (Sam Riche/TNS)

“Frank Gore set the standard of what backs do in (pass) protection,” coach Frank Reich said as the Colts were preparing to part ways with him. “I remember hearing stories when I’d be coaching for other teams that Frank Gore could run the protection meetings, that he could make the protection calls for the quarterback.”

A pretty valuable guy to have around if your QB has been on the shelf since the Obama administration, wouldn’t you say? The Colts somehow overlooked that, but don’t think the Dolphins will make the same mistake when it comes to keeping Ryan Tannehill healthy.

“He shall be missed,” tweeted one guy on the Colts who’s feeling the loss of Gore: QB Andrew Luck.

Ballage has room for growth in this department. All rookies do. At 6-feet-3 and 230 pounds, he’s the tallest and heaviest back on the team. So the tools are there.

“He’s a guy that shouldn’t have a lot of limitations,” Loggains said.

Ballage’s background backs that up. In addition to running back, he grew up playing quarterback, receiver, safety and linebacker.

Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“I did everything,” Ballage said. “I am a running back, but I consider myself a football player. I feel like I’m somebody that can do everything pretty well.”

He added, “I don’t think they would’ve picked me if I didn’t fit that mold” of an Adam Gase running back.

The Dolphins in recent seasons have wrestled with run-pass balance but should achieve it in 2018. Not all passing plays are created equal, though, because Gase can treat short tosses as extended handoffs, which is where this trio’s skillset also comes in.

Gore caught 29 passes for 245 yards last year and in his career has had as many as 485 receiving yards in a season. Drake caught 32 for 239 yards and two scores last year. In 2017, Ballage had odd totals of 20 catches for 91 yards, just a 4.6 average, but in 2016 he caught 44 passes for 469 and a 10.7 average.

“Drake is a guy that can play all three downs,” Loggains said. “I think Kalen fits that vision as well. He can catch the football. He can be a weapon out of the backfield, but he’s also big enough in pass pro. Where he needs to grow is the NFL game and nickel protections and learning that stuff, because that’s obviously the biggest transition in the NFL is going in there and you’ve got odd defenses and you’ve got spinners and floaters and trap blitzes and all of those things. He’s got to master that stuff.”

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How Frank Gore is already influencing Miami Dolphins’ Kenyan Drake

Miami Dolphins running back Frank Gore at training camp. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Kenyan Drake has only known Frank Gore for a few months now, but he’s already learned the most important thing.

“He’s definitely one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known,” Drake said Tuesday.

[RELATED: Our exclusive photo gallery from Dolphins OTAs]

Gore is 35 years old. And Drake is 24 years old.

“We both have the same almost type of personality where it’s laid back, not really too flashy type of deal,” Drake said. “I feel like we definitely feed off each other and I can see how he’s been the way he is for so many years, with just the way he puts his head down and works. I think that’s something I definitely want to mold into my game just because obviously of his longevity.”

No running back in the NFL had more rushing yards than Drake over the last five weeks, an impressive statistic he downplays because Todd Gurley of the Rams rested one week.

But Drake is a willing sponge for all the knowledge that he knows Gore can provide.

“He works out like he’s a first-year, second-year guy,” Drake said. “Comes in with that same attitude. I feel like if I could have just half the success that he’s had. That would be a win in my book. Because he’s definitely the epitome of longevity in this league.”

Drake said players need to listen to coaches because they’ve earned their roles. He added that players also listen directly to other players who have earned their respect.

“Obviously, seeing somebody that you grown up watching since you’re whatever old, it’s kind of like, when you get into the same room as him at the same time, it’s like you’re kind of like caught up in yourself,” Drake said. “But when they come to your team, you’re like, ‘This is Frank Gore, who has done this and has done that,’ you see he’s a regular guy. Then he goes out and puts the work in and he’s diligent with everything he does.”

Drake laughed about the idea that when Gore came into the NFL, he was in the fifth or sixth grade.

“He obviously looks at me and he wants to compete with me too, because we’re on the same team but he’s like, ‘You’re young, man. You run around fast. I can’t keep up with you,'” Drake said. “He’s 35, but he goes out there and he’s right behind me if anything. Obviously, he’s not as fast as me, but at the end of the day, he does what he does. I’m like, ‘You’re 35. I don’t even know if I’ll have that drive or that will to keep up with some 24-year-old. It’s cool just to see it for myself.”

Drake does believe he can sustain his late-season success over a long period, and be one of the top rushers in the league.

“Yeah,” Drake said. “I feel like with the people I have around me. And how coach Gase and everybody calls the game on offense. With the receivers, the o-line revitalized. I feel like the sky is the limit. Me and the rest of my guys we’re going to take it one day at a time and when that comes that comes. But we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

Drake has taken significant steps in the area of maturity since entering the NFL in 2016, according to his coaches.

“I mean honestly it’s just about growing up,” he said. “Everybody has to take that step to be the man that they want to be. Obviously I’m nowhere where I want to be as a man and as a football player. I feel the sky is the limit for me.”

And all involved think Gore’s presence is only going to help Drake be even better.

“It’s interesting to see how long he’s really been the back he is,” Drake said. “And you know just to have him on this team is going to help not only the running backs. But everybody on this team. If you could see if you take the right steps. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player, especially at this position. To have this type of wear and tear. But he does it right every day. I feel like he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

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Dolphins go into 2018 with the roster Adam Gase wanted all along

Adam Gase has the roster he wants, but is it a winner? (AP)

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.”

[Photos: Miami Dolphins rookies report to minicamp]

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.”

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

Dolphins see limitless role for refined version of RB Kenyan Drake

Drake can do it all, but will he? (AP)

DAVIE — Adam Gase has always envisioned Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake as a player who could be an overwhelming threat in his offense if he could get his act together. Now that he has, apparently, it’s time for him to live up to that.

Drake, in his third year, is taking over as Miami’s primary running back with an eye on making his name as one of the most versatile and dangerous skill players in the NFL. Based on the progression Gase has seen, that’s a realistic aspiration.

“I think we just have a guy that’s really looking to bust out,” he said today.

Gase has never spoken this confidently about Drake. He’s been far more measured in his words until now.

Why the change? Drake’s changed. He’s no longer an easily distracted rookie with a slipshod approach to practice. The mental side has caught up to the ever-impressive physical repertoire, according to Gase, and that’s a huge gain for a Dolphins team that needs some fireworks offensively.

“I think he’s matured a lot, whether it be (with) the playbook or just him personally,” Gase said. “When you’re in this league, after you get through that first year, in the second year sometimes there’s a little bit of a feeling out process. You’re trying to figure out who you are.

“You’re starting to get older and you really realize this is a job and it’s different than college. I see a different guy in the way he prepares (and) knowing the situation he’s coming into this year. It’s been a good process to watch his maturity level on and off the field.”

Drake spent most of his first year and a half stuck on the bench behind Jay Ajayi, then shifted into a shared backfield with Damien Williams. That was short-lived because Williams suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, setting up Drake with a precious opportunity to finish the year as the man.

He seized his chance post-Ajayi and put together a promising second half of the season. He opened with 260 total yards and two touchdowns in four games in the part-time role with Williams, then erupted for a league-high 444 yards rushing, 150 yards receiving and two touchdowns as a solo act over the final five games.

The next phase is for Drake to become a more consistent runner, something Gase thinks will be aided by the arrival of 14th-year veteran Frank Gore, and to emerge in the passing game.

Running backs — not just here but everywhere — always talk about developing into pass-catchers, but it often doesn’t happen. Ajayi was all about it last offseason, then caught 14 balls in seven games. A dozen backs caught at least 50 passes last year, led by Le’Veon Bell at 85, and the Dolphins haven’t seen one produce like that since Ricky Williams’ 50 catches in 2003.

So what determines whether all the talk about being a receiver materializes into anything meaningful?

“Well, I mean, you want to be able to catch the ball,” Gase said sarcastically. “That’s a good start for it.”

That is crucial, but pretty much any skill player who steps on the field is decent at catching a football that hits him in the hands.

“It depends,” Gase continued. “Some guys make a living just catching checkdowns and being able to get yards after the catch, some guys you’re able to flex out and get one-on-one matchups.

“I think we’ve got a guy that can do multiple things. You could put him in the slot if you wanted to. You can use him in empty, you can use him from the backfield. You just can create a lot of different matchups. He has a really good feel for a lot of different types of routes, which there’s a lot of value there, because now linebackers, when they cover him, they’re not really sure what he’s going to do. He’s not tied into one thing or two things.”

There’s little question Drake has the ability to do everything Gase described, and now that he’s taking things more seriously, it’s time to amaze.

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Miami Dolphins’ next big star in 2018: Running back Kenyan Drake

Kenyan Drake could be a 2,000-yard weapon this season. (Getty Images)

The bad news for the Dolphins is they’ve lost a lot of stars over the past year.

The good news is that the stage is wide open for a new one to step in, especially on offense.

Running back Kenyan Drake is a good bet to be next.

Miami drafted Drake in the third round, No. 73 overall, in Adam Gase’s first offseason as coach and everything is aligned for him to have a breakout year. He will be the team’s primary running back this season and he’s the most versatile threat the offense has.

The Dolphins drafted Drake to be kind of dual-purpose back Gase insists upon for his offense, but he didn’t get the chance to hold that role full-time until they traded Jay Ajayi last October and lost Damien Williams to a season-ending shoulder injury the next month.

Once they were down to just him, Drake closed the season with ferocity and showed how high his ceiling is.

Over the final five games, he rushed for a league-best 444 yards at an average of 4.9 per carry. He also chipped in 150 yards on 17 catches. That’s more than he produced over his first 27 games as a pro and it projects to roughly 2,000 all-purpose yards over the course of a full season if he can keep it up.

The Dolphins could use it, certainly, after saying goodbye to receiver Jarvis Landry (4,157 total yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons) and having an offensive lineup full of question marks.

Kenny Stills has been very good, but can he tip the 1,000-yard mark and be a true No. 1 receiver? DeVante Parker was supposed to be a star, but hasn’t come close yet. Albert Wilson has potential, but it’s still just potential for now. Tight end is the ultimate grab bag — a position in which recent second-round pick Mike Gesicki is the favorite over a few mostly unrecognizable names.

Drake’s nothing more than potential at this point, too, but the combination of his speed and Gase’s approach looks like it’ll be explosive.

One of Gase’s favorite players was longtime Bears running back Matt Forte, whom he coached in 2015. Forte had six seasons of 50-plus catches, including a team-best 102 for 808 yards the year before Gase arrived in Chicago.

Drake has that kind of ability, but the question has been whether his work ethic and mental makeup could match someone like Forte’s. There have been times in the last two years when Gase wasn’t sure.

“I want to possibly hurt Drake every once in a while, but he’s my guy,” Gase said after Drake’s rookie year. “He does so many good things but he always does one thing — whether it be on or off the field — that will test me every once in a while.”

It was one of those joking-but-kinda-not-joking comments. The truth is it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Drake with Miami and there have been legitimate doubts about whether he’d get it right.

Gase noticed a different approach from him, though, once he was the only option. Whether it was the realization that the team was counting entirely on him at running back or personal opportunism, something clicked for Drake in the second half of last season. Gase didn’t have to yell nearly as much and he believed he was witnessing a professional blossoming on the practice field.

Part of his desire to sign 14th-year veteran Frank Gore this offseason was to make sure that change was permanent. Gore isn’t entirely a symbolic signing, not after rushing for 961 yards last season, but his biggest contribution to the franchise might ultimately be his influence on Drake.

“I think he’s a great guy for us to have in that locker room and that running back room,” Gase said. “I think he’s a great guy for Drake to see work day in and day out.”

That’s putting it carefully. The expectation of Drake is that he will treat Gore like a mentor and glean everything he possibly can from how he handles his business. On the flipside, there were huge concerns internally — fair or not — that Ajayi was nudging him in an undesirable direction.

The Dolphins want to merge Drake’s incredible talent with Gore’s undeniable approach. That’s the perfect mix.

If that’s what they get, Drake is poised for a big season. With Miami searching for firepower on offense, a breakthrough by him will be just as good as any free agent acquisition could have been.

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

[Takeaways from the Yahoo! Sports scouting series on the Dolphins]

[Parkland-Douglas football team makes Miami Dolphins draft announcements]

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

2018 NFL Draft: Fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage is Dolphins’ most exciting pick

The Dolphins have two young running backs now that they’ve pickedd up Kalen Ballage to pair with Kenyan Drake. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — This is the most exciting pick the Miami Dolphins have made in this year’s NFL Draft, and it’s unusual to say that about a fourth-round pick.

An offense that’s been dangerously low on electricity got a big jolt of it by choosing Arizona State running back with the No. 131 overall selection. He’s a thicker back at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds and he’s still got enough speed to clock a blazing 4.35 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.

Much of the Dolphins’ draft to this point had been about filling crucial needs, which is important, but Ballage is the first pick that brings the thrill of posing a big-play threat at all times.

“I don’t believe there’s 130 guys better than me, and definitely not 11 other running backs,” Ballage said.

This is a guy who once scored eight touchdowns in a game against Texas Tech, and anybody who can do that is worth the attention. Last year, as a senior, he put up 669 yards at a rate of 4.3 per carry and scored six touchdowns.

Ballage also possesses the pass-catching ability Adam Gase covets as he tries to assemble Miami’s backfield of the future. Kenyan Drake will be the primary back this year and has put together convincing evidence that he can do damage as a runner and receiver, and Gase’s imagination will run wild with ways to use him and Ballage together.

As a nice bonus, he’s already well-versed in special teams and could be a big factor for Miami in the return game.

Take a look at the skill players Miami has now, and the offseason departure of Jarvis Landry hurts a little bit less.

The Dolphins have exceptional speed at receiver in Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, plus the potential that always comes with DeVante Parker if he can get it together as well as a steady veteran in Danny Amendola.

They’ve got two new tight ends, one with the athleticism and leaping ability of an NBA wing player and one who made his name as a gritty blocker. The former, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, could provide Miami with the red-zone target it’s been badly missing the last two years.

And the backfield now has dynamic speedsters in Drake and Ballage, both of whom will learn from one of the all-time greats in soon-to-be-35-year-old Frank Gore.

“Frank Gore is one of the best running backs ever,” Ballage said. “It’s cool to be able to learn from him.”

That’s a perfect attitude for Ballage, who admitted he’s raw and could use some guidance. He endured plenty of turnover on the Arizona State coaching staff during his time there and comes to Davie ready to be molded by Gase’s staff.

He also comes in with low mileage after getting just 450 carries in four years with the Sun Devils. That’s part of why Ballage thinks he got overlooked and drifted all the way to the late fourth round, but he won’t be short on opportunity when he joins the Dolphins.

In Gase’s economy, being a big-play threat is worth more than anything, and finding one this late in the draft is great work by Chris Grier and the Dolphins.

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2018 NFL free agents: Latest on Dolphins’ possible pursuit of C.J. Anderson

C.J. Anderson is a free agent who could fit the Dolphins. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—It’s an open secret that the Dolphins like former Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. It’s really not a secret at all, actually, since they tried to sign him two years ago.

Anderson, who played for Adam Gase in Denver in 2013 and ’14, agreed to an offer sheet with Miami as a restricted free agent, but the Broncos matched the four-year, $18 million deal and kept him.

Given his history with Gase, who was offensive coordinator when he made the Pro Bowl in 2014, he’s an obvious candidate for the Dolphins.

“We’ll certainly see what happens once we get after the draft with any free agents, and we’ll see where we are,” vice president Mike Tannenbaum said. “We’ve got to get through the draft here first. That’s the next opportunity and then we’ll look at other things once we get through that.”

Miami currently has Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore in line as its top two running backs. Drake is expected to be the starter and primary back, which is a landmark opportunity for him heading into his third season. Gore averaged nearly 1,000 yards per season the last three years, but turns 35 next month.

The other two running backs on the roster, Senorise Perry and Brandon Radcliff, have minimal experience. Perry has eight career carries, and Radcliff has never appeared in an NFL game.

Miami has the fifth-cheapest running back room in the league at just under $3.7 million in salary cap, according to Spotrac.

Whether the Dolphins pursue Anderson depends on the draft and his market value. If they select someone like Derrius Guice next week, there probably isn’t room on the roster for Anderson, nor enough of a role to entice him. Miami is also extremely tight on cap space until some of Ndamukong Suh’s money comes off the books in June.

Anderson isn’t at a point where he’s likely to take much of a discount just to reunite with Gase. He’s 27 years old and coming off a season in which he rushed for a career-high 1,007 yards to go with three touchdowns, plus 224 yards receiving. He’s made an estimated $10.7 million over his first five years.

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