The Miami Dolphins completed their first week of Organized Team Activities on Thursday, holding their third day of the OTAs and the first opened to the media. It was the first chance this year for fans to get a look - via media observations - of the newest edition of the Dolphins as they work to install brand new offensive and defensive schemes under new head coach Adam Gase, as well an incorporate the team's rookies and free agent additions.
With the limited opportunity for the media to get a look at the Dolphins, there were a multitude of interest areas for observation. How was the offense adjusting to the new system? How are the coaches using first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil? Is Jay Ajayi ready to be the starting running back? How would Byron Maxwell and the rest of the cornerbacks fit into the defense? Where is Cameron Wake in his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon? One day of practice observation would not give complete answers to all of the questions still surrounding the 2016 version of the Dolphins, but it was a start to the summer-long build up to the regular season.
Laremy Tunsil and the offensive line
The Dolphins unexpectedly found Tunsil still on the board when the 13th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft arrived. Tunsil, largely considered the first-overall pick prior to trades from quarterback needy teams into the top two spots, fell after a video of him smoking from a bong attached to a gas mask appeared on social media just minutes before the start of the first round. As teams backed away, including two teams that selected other tackles ahead of Tunsil, the Dolphins found themselves in a position to have traded back five spots from their original eighth overall position, and still land a top talent. Many fans went into the Draft expecting Miami to take a cornerback with their first pick if running back Ezekiel Elliott was not available, but the Dolphins - who needed offensive line help, and pre-Draft speculation did indicate the coaching staff was strongly considering an offensive lineman with the 13th overall pick - could not allow Tunsil to continue to fall.
The only problem with the selection of Tunsil was a good problem for Miami - too many top tier tackles. The Dolphins already had Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and a solid developing young right tackle in Ja'Wuan James. Adding a third tackle did not appear to answer the immediate need at guard for Miami. After the selection, reports indicated the Dolphins would be looking to move Tunsil from tackle to guard to begin his career, allowing him to develop at the NFL level next to Albert, with the ultimate idea that he serves as the heir apparent at left tackle for whenever Albert retires.
As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly wrote, the Dolphins appear to be doing just that. Kelly explained, "Tunsil spent all of this week's organized team activities working on the left side of the offensive line, and it appears that Miami's coaches will have him lock in at left guard during offseason work."
"I do feel like he’s getting a little better grasp of what we’re doing offensively," Gase said of Tunsil's development following Thursday's practice. "Every day is a learning experience for him. It’s brand new to him.”
South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Chris Perkins described the most common first team offensive line as Albert playing left tackle, Thomas at left guard, Pouncey at center, Billy Turner playing right guard, and James at right tackle.
Alain Poupart from Dolphins.com added Tunsil "took snaps at both left guard and left tackle." The offensive line as a whole saw lot of movement on Thursday, with Kelly reporting changes including Jamil Douglas working as Mike Pouncey's backup at center along with snaps at left guard and Dallas Thomas moving from the left guard role he played last year to right tackle as Ja'Wuan James' backup.
“We’re moving a lot of guys around on that front, as far as the offensive line goes," explained Gase about all the movement of the linemen. "We’re really just looking for movement skills. This is such a tough time for both the offensive line and the defensive line, because with no pads on, it almost feels a little unrealistic for them. Things are happening really fast. Defensive linemen can get through some of those creases a little quicker with no pads."
Jakeem Grant getting noticed
The Dolphins added Texas Tech wide receiver Jakeem Grant in the sixth round in April's Draft, selecting a player who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day (which upset him after reportedly running in the 4.1-second range previously). However, at 5-foot-6, Grant does not fit the typical wide receiver build for the NFL, and it cause him to fall. During Thursday's OTAs, he was quickly noticed and not just for his size.
Athlon Sports and Palm Beach Post reporter Antwan Staley described Grant as "a speed little receiver," while the Palm Beach Post's Andrew Abramson looked forward to seeing what Grant can do with the ball in his hands, adding a picture:
Dolphins 5-6 rookie WR Jakeem Grant. Can't wait to see that guy in action pic.twitter.com/e6MwtS6pkc— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) May 26, 2016
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, after practice, spoke about Grant, saying "A fun guy that you’re going to see is Jakeem. He’s small, but we call him ‘Mighty Mouse.’ He’s making plays all over the field. He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever seen. He has that low center of gravity. He’s able to be really, really shifty coming in and out of his cuts. He makes a lot of plays so far.”
“He’s very fast," second-year receiver DeVante Parker added about Grant. "I heard he ran like a 4.1-something (40-yard dash). That’s tremendous. He’s good, and he’s going to get better.”
Defensive line looking to dominate
Last year, after the Miami Dolphins added defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a defensive line that already included Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon on the ends, the team and fans expected dominance from the front four. It did not materialize as a slow start from the defense, injuries, and coaching all led to a disappointment on the season. In 2016, with a reload at defensive end, the team again expects dominance along the defensive line.
Miami lost Vernon to the New York Giants in free agency, then added veterans Mario Williams, Andre Branch, and Jason Jones to provide a new threat and depth. Wake, who is coming back from an Achilles tear that ended his 2015 season only halfway into the schedule, should be ready for training camp, with Gase telling reporters after practice, "It’s probably us holding him back more than him saying, ‘I can’t do something.’ I think we’re just being cautious and want to make sure that he’s as close to 100 percent as possible when we hit training camp.”
"Even without Wake," Miami Herald reporter Adam Beasley said after the practice, "the defensive line was absolutely menacing today...This is going to be a pretty good defensive front, which is what it is going to need to be because there are a lot of question marks in the back end."
Suh, who has been conducting his normal offseason training program in Oregon rather than working with the team in the conditioning phases of the offseason program, was present for the OTAs. “We definitely feel his presence when he’s here," linebacker Jelani Jenkins said of Suh. "We have all the confidence in the world that, Game 1, he’s going to be ready to go, whatever he does. There’s no mal-intent. We’re excited when he’s here. When he’s not here, we know he’s doing his thing.”
Jenkins continued, "I think the Pro Bowl d-line that we have; they’re going to cause some destruction. I think just all over the field, guys are just hungry...I think they’re doing (well). They’re doing pretty (well). They’re playing fast. There’s not a lot that we can do now with(out) pads on, but they’re obviously ready to go.”
Cornerback questions could continue into training camp
The Dolphins enter training camp with several questions still surrounding the cornerbacks. Will Byron Maxwell, for whom Miami traded this offseason, be able to put a disappointing stint with the Philadelphia Eagles behind him? Who will step up to earn the starting position opposite Maxwell? What about the nickel corner? Will the team have enough depth?
The day saw the Dolphins using Maxwell and second-year cornerback Tony Lippett, who spent last year transitioning from a college wide receiver to an NFL corner, as the starters. Rookie second-round pick Xavien Howard could battle with Lippett for the starters role eventually, but in the first media look at the defense, it was Lippett who took the first-team snaps.
Maxwell and Parker battled for much of the day, with both of them getting the best of the other at times, a battle spotlighted by ESPN's James Walker. Maxwell did impress at one point when covering wide receiver Kenny Stills deep down the field, keeping up with the speedy wide out according to Kelly.
“He has done a good job," Gase said of his early impressions of Maxwell. "He has challenged the wideouts. I know, offensively, he makes our guys better, because they know they’re going to get a tough matchup every time that they go out there. He hasn’t disappointed me one bit. He has been out there. He has challenged the ball. He has done a great job of getting his hands on balls, and it makes it tough on not only the receivers, but the quarterback, because that window is tight. When he’s covering a guy, it’s going to be a tight throw.”
The team has started training camp with Bobby McCain as the nickel cornerback, a role that excites the second-year player. “(I’ve been) inside with the first group," he explained. "I’ve gotten corner reps as well. It’s a great opportunity. It’s just competition. Iron sharpens iron and I’m trying to do what I can for the team. (I’m trying to) do my best, whether it’s slot corner, safety, special teams…Whatever it may be, I’m going to do my best.”
McCain also spoke about the changes to the secondary from last year, with new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph now designing the scheme. “We’re going to play a lot of coverages and a whole lot of schemes so just knowing the defense and playing within the defense. (I’ve learned) just making sure your techniques are on point, regardless of what it is. Whatever defense is called, (we) just (are) making sure that you are physical. But at times, you don’t have to be (physical and) at times you need to be. That’s what I take from him.”
Ryan Tannehill being given more freedom
One of the biggest questions that surrounded the Dolphins all of last season was the seeming inability of quarterback Ryan Tannehill to audible. It seemed as if the team repeatedly lined up and ran whatever play former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor called, even if it was clear the play was designed to go straight into the strength of the defense. Tannehill would, occasionally, try to check the play from a run-to-a-pass or a pass-to-a-run, but typically, it was run whatever Lazor called, and just deal with the consequences.
This year, with Gase now calling the offense, things will be different. "In this offense," Gase explained," you’re not really locked in on what the play call is. For him to have the ability to know what to get to – that kind of flexibility – being able to do that as a quarterback is very valuable.”
“I’m still the same quarterback," Tannehill replied when asked after practice about how the freedom to audible and adjust the offense will reflect in how he plays as a quarterback. "Obviously, having that freedom to get the offense in a good play…We do a lot of things differently now. Being able to be on the line of scrimmage (and) adjust – whether its protections, routes, a whole new play…There’s a lot of freedom in what we do. I think that’s going to make us always on the attack. We’re not going to have to sit on our heels and feel like the defense is coming after us, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. We can put pressure on the defense by getting in a good play and always keeping the heat on the defense.”
Tannehill also discussed the differences between the team's new offense and how it differs from the Lazor offense. “We’re going to have tempo in this offense, as well. With (former Offensive Coordinator) Bill’s (Lazor) offense, we wanted to create tempo, and we were kind of locked in. What he called is what we ran. With this offense, we’re going to mix things up. We’re going to move quickly at times, snap the ball quickly. At other times, we’re going to get up to the line quickly and take our time. At other times we’re going to huddle and be like a standard offense. Just the variability and the versatility that this offense has and the different things that we can do to create the drives that we want to create down the field.”
Absences headlined by Reshad Jones
OTAs are a voluntary period in the offseason training program, so there are always players who are not present. The only mandatory events are the veteran minicamp, which Miami will hold next month, and then the actual start to training camp in July. There were several players not at the OTA workouts this week:
- Reshad Jones, safety - Jones has been skipping all of the team's offseason program, including the conditioning and position drills leading up to the OTAs. He is unhappy about his contract, looking to get an extension prior to the start of the season. Jones is entering the second-to-last season on his current deal, but wants to get a new contract that pays him as one of the top safeties in the league (currently, he ranks seventh in terms of average salary per year (just over $7 million a year)). Speculation has Jones holding out into the start of training camp over the contract, though Miami can start fining him for
- Spencer Paysinger, linebacker -
Lol yeah man. Wedding weekend https://t.co/xXnmkQUqIo— Spencer Paysinger (@PYSNGR) May 26, 2016
- Thomas Duarte, tight end - Miami's seventh-round draft pick is not allowed, under NFL rules, to workout with the team. The league mandates that rookies cannot join their team, other than during the rookie minicamp, until the academic term in which they were drafted is complete. For schools that use the quarters system, like UCLA, that typically means the term lasts until sometime in June. For UCLA this year, the quarter officially ends on June 10.
- Injury rehab work: Cameron Wake, defensive end; Leonte Carroo, wide receiver; Jermon Bushrod, offensive line; Marqueis Gray, tight end; Jason Jones, defensive end; Damien Williams, running back; A.J. Cruz, wide receiver.