DAVIE — Ryan Tannehill is the man for the Dolphins, but finding a dependable backup is imperative for the team this spring considering his injury history. And coach Adam Gase is insistent that he has the right guy already in camp.
That means Miami will be choosing from among Brock Osweiler, David Fales and Bryce Petty. Each of them has struggled over the past few years, but the Dolphins have a host of quarterback gurus working with them and have seen progress.
Petty, the Jets’ fourth-round pick in 2015, is an unknown after playing just 10 games over three years in New York. Miami picked him up on a waiver claim this offseason.
“Bryce is a guy that is extremely talented,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He’s got talent. We’ve got to coach him hard and get that stuff out of him. He’s got some things in his footwork and those things. We’re working really hard to get consistent and create more accuracy for him.
“Every Monday when he’s off and every Friday when he’s off and on the weekends, he needs to keep working on his drops and the consistency in his footwork, because if he gets that part of it all right, he has enough talent in his upper body to play.”
Petty is the newcomer. Osweiler and Fales have both worked with this coaching staff before. Fales was in Chicago with Loggains and overlapped there with Gase as well, and Osweiler played under Gase and quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree in Denver.
Osweiler was serviceable for the Broncos in 2014, but has been a wreck ever since. Still, there’s a lot the Dolphins like about his mental makeup.
“What Brock has is unbelievable command of the offense,” Loggains said. “He was in it (in Denver). He got to learn from (Peyton Manning), and when you watch his huddle etiquette, his line of scrimmage procedure etiquette, he does an outstanding job there.”
Fales is widely thought to be the front runner for the No. 2 job and had it temporarily last year thanks to injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Moore (plus Tannehill, obviously).
He was with the team all offseason last year and got cut on the final day of the preseason. After a couple months of going unsigned, Gase brought him back when Cutler broke his ribs.
In his one extended opportunity, Fales completed 29 of 42 passes for 265 yards and had one touchdown and one interception in the season finale against the Bills.
“David has been consistent,” Loggains said. “He’s played within the system. David is a guy that if you say, ‘Hey, this is a progression, but this is an alert. If you get it versus quarters, you can take it,’ he’s taking it. He’s going to be aggressive in the timing of plays.
“He does have the advantage of being here last year and understanding those things. He’s playing at the highest level I have ever seen him play. It’s a credit to him, because he’s done a lot of stuff in the summer, in the offseason with the strength training stuff. He’s worked really hard to get stronger and be a more accurate passer with more power.”
DAVIE — Football practice is never more of a chore than in May, when teams hold voluntary-but-not-really sessions to run through plays they won’t actually use for months. It’s already sweltering in South Florida, and Dolphins players who endure these two-hour practices know it’ll be even worse when they hit training camp.
Except for a brief stretch of good health last offseason, he’s been on the sideline for a year and a half. He figured missing games would be the worst part, but watching practice from afar hit him harder. That’s believable considering how enthusiastic he looked this morning, smiling constantly as he directed the offense with poise.
“It’s been a lot of work to get back and put a helmet on again and step on the grass again,” he said in his first public comments since tearing his ACL last August. “I can remember sitting in the cafeteria looking through the glass like a little kid that’s not allowed to go outside and play. I just feel blessed to go out and compete and play and do what I love.”
Watching him run and drop back and go through play-action motions without a hitch —without a knee brace, too — brought back a memory of a much different day in Davie last training camp.
The sight of Tannehill’s knee buckling brought practice to silent halt. Teammates and coaches broke out in a cold sweat. The season shattered before it even began.
Being back this week has been the opposite. Practice has never been drudgery to Tannehill, but he’s enjoying it more than ever. His enthusiasm ripples through the team, and no one needs to tell you how refreshing that must be after a season of Jay Cutler.
“He’s had a really good energy level,” coach Adam Gase said. “When you’re away for a year and you get your opportunity to get back out there, you’ve missed it. Now you have a chance to start over again and get back going with your guys. There’s that excitement. It’s great to have him back out there.”
Tannehill’s return has energized the Dolphins, and surely there will be some sneering at the Dolphins for putting all their hope in a quarterback who’s been around six years without producing any definitive evidence that he’s above average.
But he deserves this chance. It might very well be his last chance, but give him this.
He’s earned it by gutting out the misery of rehabbing an injured left knee only to see it give out on him before ever playing a game.
And more importantly, he’s worth it.
One of the big reasons Gase earned your trust in his first year coaching the Dolphins was his work with Tannehill, a relationship that thrived quickly. By the back half of their first season, at a point when they were still acclimating to each other, that version of Tannehill was good enough to make Miami a winner.
Maybe you dismiss Gase’s reputation as a quarterback whisperer because he had the benefit of coaching Peyton Manning or because of last year’s debacle with Cutler, but don’t deny Tannehill’s progress under his watch.
In his last eight games, he completed 69.1 percent of his throws, averaged 215 yards per game and had 13 touchdowns with five interceptions. That comes out to a 100.1 passer rating, a number that would’ve been top-six in the NFL last season.
He looked good. He felt even better.
“I was finally starting to play really good football,” Tannehill said. “A few weeks before that, I finally got over the hump of learning the offense and really just feeling good about knowing what Adam wants and going out and executing it. It was tough to go down.”
He launched into the 2017 offseason fluent in the offense, and new coordinator Dowell Loggains said after watching that tape he’s convinced Tannehill can be a star. He understands every aspect of the offense, enabling him to steer teammates into the right spots and make the right decisions.
And the way Tannehill approached his time on Injured Reserve helped ensure that last season wouldn’t be a total loss. He was a mainstay at practice and in meetings. Standing next to Gase during games last season, listening to every call, gave him an even clearer vision of what this offense is intended to do.
“Now there’s no question,” Tannehill said. “We’re still ironing out little things here and there, but most of the time I know exactly what he wants when a play comes in … I’d never choose to be in that situation, but I think I learned a lot that’s going to help me the rest of my career.”
Tannehill doesn’t say that lightly, and his potential shouldn’t be taken lightly either. The six-seasons-and-don’t-know-what-they-have joke is too simplistic. There’s a lot to work with here now that he’s healthy and cohesive with Gase and everybody, including an understandably frustrated fanbase, has an interest in finding out what he can be.
INDIANAPOLIS—The NFL Combine is really about prospects convincing the horde of team representatives that they’re worthy of being picked, but the Dolphins have been making a strong impression on the players as well.
That’s especially true when it comes to the quarterbacks, an area coach Adam Gase considers his specialty. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got Dan Marino walking around the Indiana Convention Center as part of Miami’s scouting delegation as well.
While Marino has a significant role within the team, including heavy day-to-day involvement with the staff during the season, any quarterback the Dolphins draft will be working most closely with Gase. That sounds good to many of them. The backwards hat, the overflowing confidence and simply being 39 years old make for a persona that’s going over well with this year’s class.
“I get along very well with him,” said Wyoming’s Josh Allen, a likely top-10 pick who has met with Miami several times. “He’s a younger guy and he’s got a really good personality. He’s a super positive guy. I’m meeting with him tonight, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Allen, Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma, Sam Darnold of Southern California and UCLA’s Josh Rosen are the consensus top four quarterbacks in the draft. Gase made a special trip to the Senior Bowl to watch Mayfield, Allen and a few other quarterbacks, but Rosen and Darnold said they haven’t formally met with the Dolphins yet.
Mayfield might be the closest to Gase in terms of personality. His defiant personality might turn some teams off, but it’s more likely to endear him to Gase.
“I think we related a lot, mindset-wise on offense,” Mayfield said. “He’s a smart guy. There’s a reason he’s a young coach and he’s that successful.”
Gase’s reputation goes beyond his last two seasons with the Dolphins and the fact that Ryan Tannehill put up some career numbers in his one year playing for him. He also guided Jay Cutler to one of his better seasons in 2015 with Chicago and worked with Peyton Manning for three seasons in Denver.
Quarterback wasn’t a pressing need for the Dolphins last year, so it’s unlikely they took a hard look at any of the top prospects. They ended up not drafting anyone at the position.
This year is different. Even with Tannehill expected to be back to full strength from knee surgery well in time for the start of training camp, Miami needs to secure a reliable backup to avoid the situation it had last summer. When Gase didn’t feel totally comfortable going into the season with Matt Moore as the starter, the team shelled out $10 million for Cutler that ultimately proved to be poorly spent money.
A high draft pick this year could develop into Tannehill’s backup and eventually his replacement. He has three years left on his current contract, which is just the right amount of time for the Dolphins to get a handle on the ability of someone they might pick up in this year’s draft.
Gase has typically been part-coach, part-buddy with his quarterbacks, a relationship dynamic that make sense considering he’s not drastically older than the players. Manning is actually two years older than him, and Cutler is close enough in age that they could’ve gone to school together.
“He’s a younger guy for sure, which is always fun,” said Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, who is projected to be a second- or third-round pick. “You naturally have more of a connection to someone like that.”
Western Kentucky’s Mike White, perhaps a mid-round pick, knows of Gase mostly through former teammate Brandon Doughty. He also happens to be a Dolphins fan from growing up in Broward County.
The Dolphins drafted Doughty out of WKU in the seventh round two years ago, and even though he’s been stuck on the practice squad the entire time, he’s had nothing but good things to relay to White about Gase.
“You can tell he’s a quarterback guy,” White said. “If I ever got the chance to play for him and learn under him, it would be an unbelievable experience—just being able to pick his brain more than anything because you can tell he’s a very knowledgeable guy.”
Lamar Jackson, a Boynton Beach High School product who won the 2016 Heisman Trophy at Louisville, is another option for the Dolphins in one of the early rounds. He painted Gase as “real cool… a laidback, chill guy.”
It’s a safe bet that no one ever used those words to describe his predecessor.
DAVIE—Few offices have the extreme competition and moment-by-moment high stakes of the NFL, and it shouldn’t be surprising if conversations on the sideline don’t look quite like those that take place in an accounting firm.
With video of each confrontation readily available to go viral—another big difference from most workplaces—and coach-player relationships always under the media microscope, these arguments often become something bigger to the public than what the participants think it is.
No blow-up in the league drew as much attention as Tom Brady unloading on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Seattle’s Doug Baldwin got heated enough to shove offensive line coach Tom Cable during an argument two months ago, and Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry got into it with Adam Gase late in Sunday’s loss at Kansas City.
Gase has no aversion to confrontation, which is part of what makes him suited for this profession. After 15 years coaching in the NFL, he sees those sideline exchanges as a normal—healthy, even—part of this environment.
“That (stuff) happens all the time and it’s overblown big-time,” he said before practice today. “(Stuff) like that happens, and unless the TV cameras catch it, nobody notices. Competitive guys, there’s a fire there.
“Whether it’s players or coaches, both sides are trying not to cross a line to attack somebody, but yeah, there’s going to be some discussion and argument. Guys get fired up. It’s the real pros that can move past it and get to the next thing.”
Brady and Baldwin publicly apologized for their incidents, but it seemed like more than anything their intention was to calm down a publicity storm. Both gave the impression that those involved were already carrying on with business as usual.
For Gase and Landry, their shouting match in the Chiefs game didn’t even rise to the level that either thought that was necessary. Gase described himself, Landry and former running back Jay Ajayi as “hotheads” earlier this year and said that was only the second time they’ve had that kind of interaction since Gase took the job almost two years ago.
As for moving forward in their relationship, which has been positive for both sides throughout their time together, Gase said they gave “each other a little hard time” about the disagreement and that was it.
“To me, it’s never a big deal,” said Gase, who recalled many similar interactions when he coached Peyton Manning and remains close friends with him. “It’s no different than when two coaches get in an argument. That’s football. That’s what happens. When you’re playing a sport that’s as aggressive and violent as this and you talk about energy levels being high and you’re competing and it’s a do-or-die situation, man, every little thing is magnified.
“Everybody wants to win. Everybody’s trying so hard to win that when things go wrong, sometimes it just gets a little vocal.”
DAVIE—Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas knows Dolphins coach Adam Gase as well as any player in the league. He still refers to him as “Goose,” and will be ecstatic to see him prior to Sunday’s game at Hard Rock Stadium.
Both have fallen on hard times since their run in Denver ended in 2014. Thomas’ Broncos are 3-8, having lost seven in a row, and Miami (4-7) comes in on a five-game losing streak. Thomas knows it’s been stressful year for his buddy.
“For sure,” he said. “They was 4-2, playing good ball and came off last year 10 wins his first year there—he’s so disappointed now. It’s a frustration level for everybody. And as a head coach, if you ain’t successful in this league, (expletive), you never know what’s going to happen. I’m sure he’s just trying to finish out strong.”
Thomas and Gase didn’t experience a ton of misery together in Denver, where they went 50-30 and made it to the Super Bowl in 2014 (the Broncos lost to Seattle that year, then beat Carolina for the title the following season). They did have a rough start, though, going 4-12 in Thomas’ rookie year.
“The one thing I always mess with him about, because I know him like a book, is when some (expletive) isn’t going his way, he’s gonna be made like everybody else, but he’ll be made in a different way,” Thomas said. “I felt like I was the only one that could put a smile on his face when he was in those moods.”
Kyle Orton was the quarterback that season, and Denver improved to 8-8 the following year with Tim Tebow, but neither was a particularly great passing offense. Thomas didn’t emerge as a Pro Bowl player until the arrival of Peyton Manning. He also credited Gase, his receivers coach in 2014, for teaching him the finer points of the position and said to this day he is “like family.”
“I was coming out of college raw,” Thomas said. “I didn’t run many routes. I was a little banged up. But he was able to help me adapt.”
From 2012 through ‘16, Thomas averaged 1,374 yards, 98.4 catches and 9.2 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl annually. He’s in range of his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season this year.
Without Williams, the only place Foerster’s offense went was downhill. The Dolphins went 4-12 in a season Foerster called a “disaster.” Head coach Dave Wannstedt didn’t survive the year, leading to the arrival of Nick Saban, who didn’t retain Foerster.
Monday, Foerster, 55, was on the outs from Davie once again, abruptly resigning as offensive line coach after video surfaced that showed him snorting three lines of white powder.
Even for a franchise that has endured its share of bizarre situations (Bullygate? Lawrence Timmons going AWOL? The Laremy Tunsil video?), Foerster’s departure registers on the scale of strange turns.
“Chris is going to do a great job for the Dolphins,” was one endorsement issued when Foerster was named offensive coordinator by Wannstedt over two men on staff who had coordinator experience: Marc Trestman and Jerry Sullivan.
The man who predicted great things for Foerster: Peyton Manning.
“When he was here in Indianapolis, I appreciated his input in our offense, and I know our tight ends — Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark — did as well,” Manning said. “He brings knowledge and passion to the game and will be a true asset in Miami.”
Instead, it wasn’t long before Dolphins players, including quarterback A.J. Feeley, were complaining that the offense seemed rudderless. Williams eventually said he walked away in part because he wasn’t happy the way Foerster planned to use him and the fact Trestman hadn’t been given the role.
How much of it could be pinned on Foerster was subjective.
“When you lose your best player on the offensive side of the ball, that’s huge,” Foerster said after being promptly hired by the Baltimore Ravens as offensive line coach and assistant head coach. “These aren’t excuses. We had chances to win games. We were playing with practice-squad runners.”
Foerster went on to say there was “no comparison” to the talent he would have to work with in Baltimore, calling it a “physical, hard-nosed group of offensive linemen.”
Foerster’s boss with the Ravens was Brian Billick, who once called him one of the finest coaches he ever worked with. But the Ravens went 6-10 their first season together, followed by 13-3 (and a first-round playoff exit) and 5-11.
In discussing Foerster’s resignation Monday, Dolphins coach Adam Gase expressed disappointment of losing a hard worker who would show up at the facility at 4 a.m.
But Foerster has had his critics over the years beyond Feeley and Williams. He coached in Tampa Bay for six seasons — working with current Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen part of the time — and coaching an offensive lineman named Ian Beckles, who became a radio host. Beckles once called Foerster the worst coach he ever had, although Beckles conceded he had personal issues with Foerster.
Less controversial is the concept that Foerster was seemingly born to be a coach. His mother, Lucinda, once recalled for The Miami Herald how her son used to arrange trading cards on the living room floor as if they were players in formation. At about age 6.
He’d probably been inspired a year prior, watching his beloved Green Bay Packers win the historic “Ice Bowl,” the 1967 NFL Championship Game against Dallas.
“We went out and played football in a driving snow because we were so fired up,” Foerster told The St. Petersburg Times in 2000. “That’s the way it was. I loved football and I really loved Packer football.”
He was described as an overachieving walk-on center at Colorado State in the 1980s, even retaining his starting role one season with a broken wrist.
His workaholic nature was such that when he first joined the Dolphins’ staff, he spent months without a mattress in his new home, saying he didn’t have time to shop for a bed.
At one point in his career, Foerster enjoyed a run of eight playoff appearances over an 11-year span. As recently as January, Gase and the Dolphins rejected overtures from Los Angeles Rams, who had requested permission to interview Foerster for a coaching position.
In the end, Foerster’s second go-round with the Dolphins didn’t end any more happily than his first.
“It’s great to be back,” Foerster said upon returning last year. “I don’t want to talk about last time. It wasn’t a great stop, but it was a great experience for me from that standpoint. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to coordinate in a real catastrophic year. It was awful.
“All the hurricanes hit the state. I was in this building more when the power was off than when it was on during that year. It was crazy with the hurricanes.”
When Jay Cutler arrived in South Florida, groggy from an early flight, he did so as a hero. Days earlier, the Dolphins’ season was thrown into crisis when Ryan Tannehill reinjured his knee, but now there was hope. More than hope, really. In some circles, there was belief that Miami had actually upgraded at quarterback.
That theory burgeoned as Cutler showed off his rocket right arm in practices and looked good in brief preseason appearances and played well in the season opener. That was the high point thus far: A 24-for-33, 230-yard performance that included one touchdown pass and was barely enough to get past the Chargers, who remain winless to this day.
Less than one month later, Cutler goes into today’s home game against the Titans under heavy questioning. But is he really any different than he’s ever been? Would there be this kind of letdown if he hadn’t been perceived as a star riding in to take the Dolphins farther than Tannehill ever could?
Try recasting it another way. Forget that Miami coach Adam Gase, who knows Cutler as well as anyone, decided in March he preferred to stay with Matt Moore as his backup quarterback than even broach the subject with Cutler. If the Dolphins had tried to rehabilitate Cutler, a 34-year-old coming off a bad season and drawing minimal interest in free agency, as Tannehill’s backup there would be much more measured expectations.
If both players were healthy, it’s hard to imagine Cutler threatening Tannehill’s job. As much history as Gase has with Cutler, he’d rather have a healthy Tannehill.
The Jets seemed to have their pick of Cutler or 38-year-old Josh McCown and went with McCown. Right now, McCown’s got a higher completion percentage, more yardage, and more touchdowns. He’s doing that with skill players that are clearly a tier below Miami’s.
The fact is Cutler’s never actually been a star. He made one Pro Bowl, which was all the way back in his final year with Denver. He was on one playoff team in the 11 seasons prior to joining Miami and has a career record of 69-73. The only year in which he topped a 90 passer rating was in 2015 with Gase in his ear. He posted a 92.3 that season, a shade below Tannehill’s 2014 and ’16 marks.
Getting past Cutler’s elite arm strength, the fact that he was the best quarterback in his draft class and his fame as a meme, he’s just a guy. The same could be said of Tannehill, but at least he had the upside of being 29 and possibly just hitting his prime.
One reason Cutler so easily shrugs off the last two games, when he combined to go 46 of 72 with 384 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, is because he’s had those before. He’s had a passer rating under 80 in about 40 percent of his career starts. Last week’s pathetic passing total of 164 yards? He’s had 24 games that were quieter.
Cutler’s eventually going to have a day where he puts up 300-something yards and a few touchdowns. He might even have a few of those. He’ll probably follow with some stinkers. It’s always been a wild ride for any franchise that ties itself to him, and now it’s the Miami Dolphins’ turn.
And, by the way, that’s fine.
It’s time to accept that this isn’t a disappointment. This is who he is—and he’s a 34-year-old version of whatever he used to be. As Gase pointed out this week, it’s harder to compensate for some of his glitches at this age than it was at 25. Don’t play yourself by thinking this is comparable to the Vikings picking up Brett Favre at the end or the Broncos bringing in Peyton Manning. He’s closer in stature to Trent Green or Chad Pennington.
Cutler was still the right pick at the time and he’s still the right pick going forward. He’s not a bad option when the starter goes down in August, and right now there’s no worthwhile move to make with him—not that Gase would even consider it. So get used to Cutler and, for your own sake, be realistic about him.
OXNARD, Calif.—It’s the beginning of practice, a time when the Dolphins do individual position drills to help players get warmed up, and DeVante Parker’s hands already sting.
Parker and his fellow receivers are running out routes on a cool, clear California afternoon, and one after another they return to the back of the line grumbling about the fastballs being fired at them. Kenny Stills smirks. Jarvis Landry laughs as he catches another one. Same thing every day. Parker’s particularly annoyed because he has to reach down to his knees for one.
The man launching passes at the center of this exercise is not Jay Cutler. It’s not a practice squad quarterback or a 20-something arm the Dolphins hired to replicate a pro’s throws. These sidearm rockets are coming from 61-year-old grandpa Clyde Christensen, who also happens to be the offensive coordinator, and this might very well be his favorite part of the job.
It’s also the least favorite part of Parker’s.
“I think he eased up a little bit today, but yesterday he was throwing 100 miles per hour,” Parker complained. “If you were two yards away and he’s throwing it 200 miles per hour, you’d be hurting too.”
The legend of Clyde the Cannon grows. Next it’ll be 300.
It’s the least surprising thing in the world to Christensen that Parker would say that, too.
“Oh yeah,” Christensen said, predicting it hours before Parker spoke. “DeVante loves to whine. And I remind him that I’m 75 years old. I hardly think I’m throwing it too hard for him. But he does love to whine that you’re too close and you’re throwing it too hard.”
That’s the fulcrum of this ongoing argument between Christensen and his receivers. It’s not that they can’t handle his velocity, it’s that he unleashes it from such close proximity that his fingertips might graze their facemask on the follow-through.
Landry contended that anyone can hit that speed at five yards out (it’s probably a seven-yard throw, to be fair). Dolphins coach Adam Gase said he’s got a stronger arm than Ryan Tannehill or Matt Moore at that distance.
“He drills them from probably two yards away,” Jakeem Grant said, rolling his eyes. “I’m pretty sure we’ll never be two yards from the quarterback. I guess we know if we ever run a drag or a really shallow route, we’ll be ready for it because Clyde drills the ball from two yards away.”
Besides Christensen’s go-to defense that he’s old, he claims this is a necessary technique. And he’s so respected as a guru after 39 years in coaching—he’s got a Super Bowl ring and he was Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator, among other credits—that the receivers have at least a hint of trepidation when questioning him.
Some of the alleged bad balls he throws at them are ones they’ll see in a game, where pass plays don’t always go perfectly. If Parker saves one just before it hits the grass against the Chargers on Sunday, Christensen will surely point out the merit of preparing for that instance.
That said, he dismisses the many gripes about his accuracy. When asked how much they ride him for his throws being off, Christensen replied flatly, “I’m not off.” Oh? “I make it business,” he said. “I don’t have time to be off.”
Stills actually backed him up on that.
“He’s still got it,” he said. “He has his days, but he’s on the majority of the time. If I think back through training camp, he probably had one or two off days.”
Reports on Christensen’s consistency depend on who you ask.
The first word out of Grant’s mouth to describe his passes was “unpredictable.” When he is imprecise, the receivers immediately harp on him for committing a “critical error,” which is them redirecting his favorite term for their mistakes.
The receivers have a board in their meeting room to chart critical errors from each day’s practice and they’ve tried repeatedly to put Christensen’s name up there.
“Those guys tease me because they say my specialty is the low ball, but we try to move the ball around,” he said. “Maybe my specialty is the low ball, but that’s by necessity because I’m close to the ground and the release point’s dropped down low.
“But I do think one of the really important things for receivers is getting them good balls—not left-handed or lollypops or end-over-end. So all kidding aside, I do think there’s value in it. It’s really, really important that you have somebody who can give them a ball that’s game-like.”
No one disputes that. What they dispute is whether Christensen is the right guy to do it.
He looks the part of a prototypical sitcom dad more so than a quarterback. He’s short and round, wears a visor every day and he’s always smiling. Ask him a quick question and he’ll invariably answer with a funny story—a good one, too. On appearance alone, Christensen is qualified to coach a t-ball team or man the grill at a church picnic.
He’s a quarterback at heart, though. He was an all-American passer at Fresno City Junior College in 1975 before transferring to play his final two years at North Carolina. Some of the receivers wouldn’t minding getting their hands on footage of those days—especially Grant, who said he’s seen high school quarterbacks with better form.
The Dolphins could find someone else to throw during drills and they have other ex-QBs on staff. Christensen knows that, but he’d never allow it. He assumed this responsibility in part because he got bored during that part of practice last season, his first with Miami after 14 with the Colts. He’d normally be with the quarterbacks, but got the sense last year he was redundant over there.
Furthermore, his arm still feels good. He usually throws upward of 80 passes in a practice and rarely ices his shoulder or feels sore in the morning.
“We’ve got about four quarterback whisperers here, so I just moved over to the receivers,” he said, taking a playful jab at Gase. “I was miserable not having anything to do during individuals and I’ve really enjoyed the skills part of this thing, whether it be quarterbacks or receivers.
“It’s fun. They’ve let me throw and get included in the thing, and I do think it’s a way to keep the tempo up. And I can put the ball where I want to put it to give them the look we want to give them. I think those guys have responded and worked. I do think it’s been good.”
Good for everyone. As much as the receivers chide him, it’s rooted in affection. When the Dolphins talk about their team being a family, Christensen is one of the first people that comes to mind.
He’s constantly upbeat, spending this past week exhorting the team to view its choppy start to the season as a positive in the long run. It’s rare to find a coach as warm and endearing as him, and the banter during drills reinforces the bond he has with the players. If they were honest, they’d admit they want Christensen throwing to them just as much as he does.
“One hundred percent,” Stills said. “He’s always itching to be involved and be part of what we’re doing. He’s not just your typical coordinator that’s standing in the back calling plays. I admire him for that. He’s young at heart. And he helps us out a lot. His football knowledge and the people he’s been around in this game and what he brings to the table for us on and off the field—you can’t help but love the guy.”
With the arrival of summer, parents are mulling over scores of summer camp options for their kids. Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry has summer camp on his mind, too, but in a different way.
Come Saturday, Landry will drive to a high school in Southwest Broward for a two-day football camp bearing his name for kids ages 6 to 15. Perhaps, if you’re an avid football fan, that might not sound unusual. Notices of pro players putting on camps pop up on occasion.
Look closer. Landry’s camp is in conjunction with ProCamps, a Cincinnati-based management and marketing firm that puts on about 200 — yes, 200 — camps per year.
Look closer still. While camps such as Landry’s involve little or no cost, others are big business. How big? Try $8,000. That’s the cost for kids to attend an intense, five-week camp at the respected IMG Academy in Bradenton. Clearly for those parents, the term “giving back” has nothing to do with a charitable endeavor for the community, but rather what they hope will be a return on their hefty investment in the form of a college scholarship — if not an NFL contract.
Now take the case of Dak Prescott, who enjoyed a stellar rookie season as Cowboys quarterback, which he’s following with — of course — a camp in Dallas. And Mississippi. And Louisiana.
For one player alone to pull off a hat trick of camps says a great deal about supply and demand. In Boston, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s ProCamp drew 700 kids. Talk about one-upmanship: Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s, in Scottsdale, drew 820.
They’re everywhere. Football camps are popping up on bases for kids of military personnel. Last year, then-Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron helped conduct a camp in the shadows of the pyramids in Cairo via the nonprofit American Football Without Barriers.
With such an array of venues, cost factors and agendas, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement on the value of football camps.
“Sometimes they can be good, sometimes not as good,” said Steve Walsh, the former University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys quarterback who coached at Cardinal Newman and for two years was football director at IMG. “It depends on the athlete and depends on if he wants to give kids a good experience.”
Landry said that’s his sole objective.
“Everything goes back to my childhood,” said Landry, who grew up in Convent, La. “We didn’t have pro camps. We didn’t have (sponsor) Citi having these camps in my community. To have an opportunity to do that for these kids who are growing and who make up the community, really — to go out there and have fun with them and teach them the game, it means everything.”
Landry’s camp, at Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High in Southwest Ranches, charges $149 and runs about 3 1/2 hours each day. Attendees are promised “tips and hands-on instruction,” an autograph, team photo with Landry and camp T-shirt.
“I don’t see it as a money-making thing,” Landry said. “I see it as an opportunity to be with these kids and an opportunity to show them a way.”
Landry was surprised to hear the $8,000 IMG figure. “A different ballgame,” he said.
Thomas’ camp is free, which is how it’s supposed to be, according to Telvin Smith, a linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Smith took to Instagram to blast peers who charge. “Y’all suckers,” Smith wrote, adding that anyone charging a kid is proving he lacks the “humble gratitude” that landed him in the NFL.
Jeff Dellenbach, the former Dolphins offensive lineman who coaches at Saint John Paul II Academy in Boca Raton, said he has talked to campers who have had positive experiences, including one player who attended the famed Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La.
“He got to spend a lot of time with Peyton himself,” Dellenbach said. “Peyton took him to the side and worked specifically with him. That was huge.”
One camper at Marshawn Lynch’s camp had face time, but whether he enjoyed it is debatable. A clip posted on social media shows the ex-Seahawks running back going Beast Mode on the boy, flattening him.
In 2010, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch tracked an 11-year-old player named Alonzo Booth, whose single mother criticized an event in Pensacola run by South Carolina-based Offense-Defense Football Camps and costing $760. She estimated investing $5,000 the previous year in her son — a familiar gamble by parents who see athletics as their child’s best hope to college. At least in Alonzo’s case, he became a decorated high school running back who recently signed with Eastern Kentucky.
“They’re great to get to know people, but not a top priority,” Alonzo’s mother, Latonia said of camps in general. “If I could go back, I would have taken him to some of the camps — maybe one a year — but I certainly would not have taken him to all of these camps. Really, it’s just spending money.”
The Manning camp, in its 22nd year, comes with a warning: “Although celebrities attend the MPA, this is not a celebrity camp. The Manning Passing Academy prides itself on being a ‘working’ football camp.” Translation: No autographs. No posing for photos.
As for the most obvious question: “Archie, Cooper, Peyton and Eli are the first to arrive and the last to leave,” camp literature says. Participants have included current NFL quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota and Andrew Luck.
The cost for the four-day camp ranges from $525 to $725, depending on whether participants stay overnight. Talk about no-frills: You must bring laundry detergent and coins for the washing machines.
There is no clearing house for all these camps and therefore no definitive answer as to how many exist today compared to the past. But Landry’s firm, ProCamps, which might be the largest in terms of sheer volume, didn’t exist until 1998. Although it originally concentrated on core sports football, basketball and baseball, the response was such it branched out into soccer, lacrosse and hockey. Sales manager Hallie Kantor said her firm handles all the particulars in advance so that athletes “show up and have a good time with the kids.
“Multiple parents will call after a camp and tell us even though there were 500 kids at camp, it didn’t really feel like that,” Kantor said. “We separate kids into groups of about 10 or so by age group. We’ll have local high school and college coaches help us and the athlete will go around to each group, so he’ll definitely have face time with them.”
Landry: “They kind of push out the advertising and things like that, and we show up and we make the best of it and fill these kids’ lives for these two days with joy.”
A rival company is Sports International Football Camps, which listed 59 events this spring and summer, including camps featuring Michael Irvin and Pierre Garcon, well-known NFL figures from South Florida whose events cost $689.97 to $769.97.
On the other end of the spectrum, NFL Foundation offers grants from $1,000 to $4,000 to past and present pro players to conduct free, non-contact football camps. Last year, the Dolphins’ Thomas and Mike Pouncey and ex-Dolphin Channing Crowder hosted three of the more than 300 camps conducted via this program.
Dellenbach said he used to do clinics through the Dolphins when he played, a practice the organization continues today. Dellenbach now is a director of Select Football Camp, costing $400 and devoted to “higher-academic kids,” he said, who might have eyes on Ivy or Patriot League universities. Dellenbach said last year’s camp in West Palm Beach attracted more than 50 universities and 300 students.
“When they see Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn, they understand that if they have a 2.0, probably this is not the camp I should be going to,” Dellenbach said.
Landry just hopes that this weekend, all of his campers get as much out of it as he does.
“I wish I had the opportunity for somebody to come back and do it for me,” Landry said.
DAVIE—Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen is to averse to watching Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill lower his shoulder on a run that he joked — maybe it was a joke — that his kidneys hurt when he sees it.