In 2016, Adam Gase and the rest of the then new Miami Dolphins coaching staff took control of a downtrodden franchise and understood that they had a long road ahead of them. To start their journey of building the “New Miami,” Gase took his first step by constructing a foundation to build upon. Now that foundation in complete. The stage is set. The 2017 offseason is in full swing, and it’s time to move forward. So what is this offseason really all about? What is being done to move the franchise forward, and how?
The start of OTAs and incoming minicamps have finally shed light on this topic. By observing practices, listening to interviews, and putting information together, we’re finally getting a more clear picture of Gase’s plan for the Dolphins, as well as the steps that he’s taking to execute that plan. While I can’t say that we have Gase’s exact formula or personal schedule for the coming months, we can definitely see some emerging trends.
Ensuring that no player feels too comfortable with their status on the roster is one recurring theme that has continued from last year to this offseason. In Week 1 of the 2016 season, Jay Ajayi was left at home, lighting a fire in him that led to his breakout year. Just a few weeks later, starting offensive guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner were released due to poor play. With these moves, Gase exemplified that no one is “safe” and that everyone needs to perform if they want to be a Dolphin, no matter their current position on the team. As Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald put it “there is no entitlement allowed here.”
Gase has emphasized that point during OTAs by having every rookie wear a helmet void of any Miami Dolphins logo. “This is a prove-it league,” Gase explained. “It doesn’t matter what round you were drafted. If you were drafted nobody really cares. If you can play, you’ll be out there.”
By forcing every rookie to earn their logo, Gase is making them earn their right to be a Dolphin. Being drafted doesn’t earn a rookie that right, playing at a high level does. Even someone as highly touted and praised as first round draft pick Charles Harris needs to work for the honor of wearing the famous aqua and orange on his helmet.
It’s little details like this that really shape the team and its culture, and it’s little details that the Dolphins are focusing on in order to build off of last year’s success. In fact, the phrase “zero in” is Miami’s mantra of choice for the 2017 season. Ryan Tannehill expanded on the meaning of the phrase in a recent interview, saying “last year was kind of a starting point for us, but we left so much out there, so many details that we didn’t ‘zero in’ on… That’s kind of our theme right now heading into the offseason is focusing on the little things… That will pay big dividends in the grand scheme of things.”
Miami’s desire to keep many of its key cogs from 2016 will certainly help in this endeavor. Retaining players like Kiko Alonso, Andre Branch, Kenny Stills, Jermon Bushrod, and Michael Thomas will aid in allowing the team to “zero in” on little details. Instead of having to teach a playbook and instill a culture in an entirely new crew of players, Gase and the coaching staff will have the help of returning veterans. Guys like Branch and Stills will be able to expedite the process of helping newcomers such as Lawrence Timmons, Nate Allen, and the current crop of rookies learn what it is to be a Miami Dolphin. Taking less time helping the new guys adjust will give Gase more time to iron out the kinks and solve last year’s problems with all of the returning players.
And that’s exactly what Gase wants. That’s what he needs in order to help this team take that next step and become a perennial powerhouse in this league. He needs to cement the culture that he’s created, a culture that forces everyone to earn what they get, no matter their name, draft status, or spot on the depth chart. He needs to ensure that the small details (tackling, penalties, and miscommunication) that derailed Miami’s last season in the first round of the playoffs are worked on, and that they are perfected. That’s what this offseason is all about, and that’s what will hopefully lead to a successful 2017.