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 — It’s another rough morning for practice as the Dolphins hit the field for Day 2 of training camp. Adam Gase called Thursday’s session possibly the hottest he’s endured since taking the job, and today figures to be just as bad with the temperature already in the mid-80s at 8:30 a.m.
The best thing Miami has going for it in this year’s camp is that the roster starts fully healthy and fully in attendance. There were no absences on the first day, and the team remains mostly intact for today’s practice as well. The only player sitting is backup offensive lineman Jake Brendel, who has a minor calf injury.
This is the second and final practice with no pads. The Dolphins will go to upper-body pads Saturday and be in full gear Sunday or Monday. Here are some notes from today’s work:
— Ryan Tannehill started 11-on-11 drills with some sharp short- and mid-range throws to Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola. Amendola has been a favorite target of his dating back to Organized Team Activities.
— Brock Osweiler, David Fales and Bryce Petty each took snaps with the second unit. Fales had a nice completion to Isaiah Ford in the middle of the field. Rookie linebacker Quentin Poling picked off Petty.
— The first-string offense had a significant snafu on its second possession with a botched snap between Daniel Kilgore and Tannehill.
— Osweiler hit Francis Owusu on a deep ball down the left side for about 40 yards.
— Osweiler connected on another long pass to Isaiah Ford, but Ford was hurt on the play and left practice with a trainer.
— After a strong day Thursday, Fales threw an interception near the end of this morning’s practice.
— Frank Gore, 35, showed he still has very good speed on a few plays, including a long run late in practice.
— Charles Harris beat Laremy Tunsil for what likely would’ve been a sack.
— It’s non-contact and no pads, but Tannehill looked good on a scramble of 10-15 yards to the left during 11-on-11 work.
— Jordan Phillips and Akeem Spence opened up as the starting defensive tackles, with Davon Godchaux playing second-string.
— The Dolphins have 11 receivers on the roster and will carry five or six active when they cut from 90 to 53 at the end of the preseason. The certainties are Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson. Beyond that, they have seven players (including returnees Jakeem Grant, Leonte Carroo, Rashawn Scott and Ford) vying for one or two spots.
DAVIE — Adam Gase believes the Dolphins have an ideal mix of skill players in the passing game this year and the right quarterbacks to make the most of that group. After about four months of formal and informal workouts together, that element of the offense looked sharp on the first day of training camp.
The passing attack starts with Ryan Tannehill’s return, and regardless of whether he can get back to the way he played in 2016, he’ll automatically be an upgrade over Jay Cutler. Tannehill has tested his surgically repaired left knee as much as possible, saying he took it beyond what was necessary to be cleared for football, and practiced most of the offseason without a brace on it.
He was in a brace this morning and is certain to wear one on game days. Now that Miami is in camp, he has no choice but to get himself reacclimated to playing with it even as the team works without pads the first two days.
His most proven weapon is Kenny Stills, who continues improve as he hits what should be the prime of his career. At 26, he’s already a six-year veteran and put up 100 catches, 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
The rest of the crew is somewhat unknown, though Gase’s confidence runs counter to the outside perception. He sees a dynamic, multi-faceted playmaker in new acquisition Albert Wilson and a technician with plenty left in the tank in former Patriot Danny Amendola. Tannehill hit Amendola over the middle a few times in 11-on-11 work.
They’re still hopeful that DeVante Parker will finally find his breakthrough, but they’re not depending on it as much as they did last year. It’s almost thought of as a bonus if he’s able to give them more than he did in 2017.
The three starting receivers at this point figure to be Stills, Parker and Amendola, plus the Dolphins have second-round pick Mike Gesicki at tight end.
Then there’s Kenyan Drake, who has a chance to be the most productive offensive player. Everything is lining up for him to have a big year, and Gase is enthusiastic about settling in with exactly his type of running back. Drake shined when he got the chance late last year, but has yet to do it over an extended period. He showed his speed — he’s faster than Jay Ajayi, though not as much of a bruiser — on several outside runs and short passes today.
Behind Tannehill, the Dolphins gave Brock Osweiler and David Fales snaps with the second team, though it still seems Fales is at least a slight favorite to win the backup job. Osweiler threw an interception early in those drills on a ball that bounced out of Jakeem Grant’s hands.
Gase declined to name either player as the leader for the job at the end of Organized Team Activities last month, but his comments going back to January have indicated a strong belief in Fales. New York Jets castoff Bryce Petty is also in camp.
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.
Miami had just finished unloading Mike Pouncey, Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry, as well as their massive salaries, and didn’t make any flashy signings to replace them. Still, particularly on offense, this group of personnel was closest to what Gase envisioned when he took the job in January 2016.
He’s had a while, including the last four weeks of offseason practices, to reevaluate whether he was right about that and he’s now more confident than ever. Watching Ryan Tannehill work behind a remodeled offensive line with several new skill players confirmed for Gase that his offense is on track for a big comeback this season.
“I think so,” he said. “I see a lot of the guys doing things the way we need them done. I like the way that we’re handling the mental game of it as well. Things are moving fast. We’re reacting very quickly.
“Really, it’s going to come down to how we handle training camp when it starts to get hot (and) the preseason games. You’re always going to have an injury. Who’s going to step up and fill those voids? We’ve still got a long ways to go. The season is a long ways away. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and we’ll just keep grinding.”
Tannehill is the biggest difference, taking command and making plays that were simply beyond the capacity of Jay Cutler and Matt Moore. Nothing makes Gase more confident than that.
While those outside the building have always had doubts about Tannehill, who has yet to produce an above-average season since being picked No. 8 overall in 2012, Gase has been unwavering in his belief that this is a winning quarterback.
He immediately bought into Tannehill’s ability as a dual-threat playmaker and thought all he needed was to be emboldened by a coach who pushed him into being more of a leader. He appears to have adopted some of Gase’s personality, and his past year and a half on the sideline made him fully fluent in Gase’s system as well.
Watching him operate that offense over the last four weeks heightened Gase’s optimism about the upcoming season.
“He’s gotten better,” he said of Tannehill. “We’ve been working (on) a lot of pocket movement things and getting him comfortable in that aspect. It doesn’t seem like he’s really changed much as far as worrying about bodies around him. He’s out there playing. He’s throwing the ball well. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time with these skill guys in the offseason.”
Almost everyone Tannehill will be throwing to is new to him. Among the main pass-catchers, only receivers Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker were playing a significant role in the offense when Tannehill went down in 2016.
He worked frequently with Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola, A.J. Derby and rookie tight end Mike Gesicki in player-run passing sessions this offseason.
“I feel right now that we legitimately have two groups of receivers that can play at a high level for us,” Tannehill said. “So if we want to sub somebody out and keep fresh legs in there, or if someone goes down, I don’t feel like there’s really going to be much of a drop off.”
Amendola and Wilson were both as good in Organized Team Activities as Gase anticipated, and Gesicki was a breath of fresh air at a position that’s hurt Miami for a long time. That said, there’s no certainty they’ll be able to perform like that against live defenses.
Is Wilson prepared to be used all over the field? Is Amendola going to be another overpriced, past-his-prime signing like Julius Thomas, Lawrence Timmons and Mario Williams? Are there ever any certainties when it comes to rookies?
Kenyan Drake has to prove himself as a versatile, every-down running back, something hasn’t done as a collegian or pro. Even if Drake thrives in that role, the Dolphins still need something out of 35-year-old Frank Gore or fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage (preferably both of them).
On the o-line, San Francisco castoff Daniel Kilgore takes over for Pouncey, Jesse Davis is a new starter at right guard and Laremy Tunsil looks to rebound from a frustrating season in which he was beaten or blocked the wrong man too many times.
And that’s just the offense.
With more than a month between now and training camp, and another month-plus until the season begins, Gase isn’t fretting over any of those things. For now, he likes what he sees.
“We’re gelling pretty good,” he said. “They like to practice against each other, they like playing together. You can tell there’s a lot of energy out there. I think that’s really one of the things that’s going to be improvement for us. We kind of lost that a little bit last year. This year we’re looking like we’re headed in the right direction.”
DAVIE — The way everything has lined up for quarterback David Fales this offseason, it’ll be a surprise if anyone else claims the Dolphins’ backup quarterback job.
It’s a pivotal career opportunity for Fales after bouncing around the last four years. Miami coach Adam Gase is adamant that he’s going to pick from among Fales, Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty rather than call a free agent veteran like he did with Jay Cutler a year ago.
Part of the reason he’s been so confident about moving forward with this group is what he’s seen from Fales over the past several months.
“I think after that last game, I was feeling good,” Gase said Thursday, referring to Fales’ passable performance in the season finale against Buffalo.
When he brought in offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who coached Fales in Chicago, he confirmed what Gase thought. Fales looked like a much more polished quarterback than he’d been earlier in his career and appeared ready to be Ryan Tannehill’s backup.
Gase was encouraged enough by what he’d seen and what Loggains thought that he didn’t think it was necessary for the Dolphins to make any bold moves with quarterbacks in the recent free agency period.
“We felt like (keeping Fales) was a good first step for us and really we wanted to see how everything played out, because between free agency and the draft, you just never know how things are going to shake out,” Gase said. “By adding Brock and then Bryce, I think it’s been a good competition.
“That’s really what we’re going to be doing going into training camp. We’re just going to let those guys compete and see who wins out.”
As solid as Fales was last year and as well he’s performed in offseason practices, Gase isn’t installing him as the backup after the end of Organized Team Activities. He plans to keep the position battle open well into August.
“Right now I don’t even want to go in that direction yet because I don’t have a great answer for it,” Gase said. “I want to see guys play in preseason games. I want to see kind of how training camp goes. That’s a lot of time there and there’s a lot of football to be played. I want those guys all competing. I’m hoping those guys all have the same mentality that they’re the guy to beat.”
DAVIE — The Dolphins still have ample time to sort out their quarterback situation, but it continues to look like David Fales is the man to beat for job of being Ryan Tannehill’s backup.
Fales, who was with the team last offseason and the back half of the regular season, is getting significant snaps with the second-string offense, with Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty behind him.
“We’re just going to keep, really, just pushing those guys and keep opening up the offense to do as many things as possible,” coach Adam Gase said this week. “They’re trying to get used to the guys that they’re practicing with. I know even for David it’s a different group than he was last year.”
Fales took third-string reps last offseason behind Tannehill and Matt Moore, but Gase said he’s spent more time second unit this year. He’s had a lot of plays with Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant, both of whom are borderline starters.
“Those guys are really good receivers and they challenge those DBs.,” Gase said. “It’s been good for both David and Brock and Bryce to get to work with a lot of the guys they’re working with right now.”
Fales, Osweiler and Petty have not been available to the media this offseason.
Tannehill is the clear starter and takes the majority of his reps with DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola.
Gase is out to back up his claim that he has a dependable No. 2 quarterback on the roster and won’t need to call a veteran free agent if Tannehill gets hurt again. Fales and Petty have limited playing experience, and Osweiler hasn’t been viable since 2015.
The advantage for Fales and Osweiler is their experience with Gase prior to this year. That’s especially true for Fales after playing in the offense last season and impressing Gase with extended playing time in the season finale. Dating back to January, Gase has repeatedly indicated Fales is a strong candidate to be Tannehill’s backup.
“Last year we felt really good about how David was coming along,” Gase said three months ago. “Letting him move on (to another team) was not going to be an option for us.”
Gase also said at that time he would “probably” keep three quarterbacks on the active roster in 2018, compared to two each of the past two seasons, though that was factoring in the possibility that the Dolphins would draft one. It’s unclear whether he still intends to go that route, and he doesn’t have to decide until the cut from 90 to 53 players at the end of the preseason.
DAVIE — There isn’t a ton the Dolphins can accomplish right now because of the nature of offseason workouts, most of which are technically voluntary, but reestablishing Ryan Tannehill as their quarterback and leader has been a meaningful accomplishment.
Tannehill stayed in the shadows over the past year, recovering from a knee injury that’s kept him out since December 2016, and his absence hit the team hard. Now that he’s healthy again, he’s reasserted himself as the dominant voice in the offense’s huddle.
“You see that he jumped right back in there and guys were rallying around him and ready to go,” coach Adam Gase said. “He’s got good rapport with those skill guys. Those guys are around each other a lot in the offseason when we’re not. Those guys seem to be pretty close and they’re working well together and I know those guys are pushing each other.”
The last time Tannehill took a snap, Jarvis Landry was the team’s top receiver. He’s in Cleveland. Jay Ajayi was in his backfield. Now he’s a Super Bowl champion with the Eagles, and little-used rookie Kenyan Drake is all grown up and ready to take over that spot.
Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson are new additions, as are tight ends Mike Gesicki, A.J. Derby and Durham Smythe. Veteran running back Frank Gore is in the huddle.
None of those players have ever appeared in a game with Tannehill, but the chemistry is coming quickly. That’s particularly important as the Dolphins look to wear defenses down with a no-huddle offense.
“Every day, he’s going to get a little bit better because it’s seeing more looks,” Gase said. “The defense does a good job of mixing things up. (Defensive coordinator Matt Burke) is doing a good job of really getting those guys a lot of different looks, so I think whether we’re going up-tempo or we’re huddling, he’s gaining a lot of knowledge and getting a lot of experience, even more than what he already had.”