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Jay Ajayi concussion raises questions of live hitting for Dolphins

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NFL: Miami Dolphins-Training Camp Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins held their first full-contact practice of training camp on Monday, wanting to make sure the team is working on tackling after last year was marred by missed tackles throughout the season. Normally, seeing a team actually hitting early in training camp is a good thing for fans and analysts, giving everyone a better feel of exactly what the team has on defense and along the line of scrimmage. On Monday, however, it opened up an ability to second guess head coach Adam Gase’s decision to have live hitting when Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi left practice with a concussion.

“You’re not going to win either way,” Gase said of the media questioning the need to have live hitting versus the need to protect players. “If we don’t go live, you guys write that we don’t work on tackling. If we do go live and somebody gets hurt, then you say we shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to be wrong either way. We feel like that’s best for our football team. We needed to go live and tackle and it’s football.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, probably since last spring,” Gase continued. “I think a lot of it had to do with just we made a lot of missed tackles last year. It probably took us a while to really get going in the run game and pass protection, kind of that sense of urgency to have. (I was) just talking to the coaches and seeing how we could set it up to where we could get great work in there. When you talk to some of your veteran players and you can’t even finish the sentence and they’re saying ‘Absolutely,’ that’s when you know it’s a good thing. We didn’t do it last year. I think we were just trying to feel everything out. A lot of times when we talked about going live, we’d get pushed in the indoor and that wasn’t ideal for us. This was the right time for us.”

The irony of questioning the live hitting is that the injury to Ajayi did not come during a live hitting period. Safety T.J. McDonald, who hit Ajayi leading to the injury, said after Monday’s practice, “Yes, we had a couple periods – a couple live periods – that wasn’t live, though. I was just trying to thud him up and do my job. It’s always good to have contact and it is football, so it’s going to happen.”

The Dolphins going live, with full tackling to the ground, is not something that should be second guessed. They are playing football, and that requires tackling to the ground. Last year, the Dolphins really did appear to struggle, especially early in the season, with tackling, and it appears the coaches are looking for a way to make sure that does not happen this year. The injury to a star like Ajayi will always lead to someone saying the team should have done something differently, but second guessing because of the injury does not mean the team was wrong in what they were doing.

Football requires tackling. The Dolphins did not tackle well to start the 2016 season. In 2017, the coaches do not want to repeat that slow start, so they are doing the only thing they can do - practice tackling. Injuries happen in training camp - during live-hitting periods and, as in this case, non-live-hitting periods - and they can have major impacts on a team. In this case, Ajayi is now going through the concussion protocol, but that does not mean the Dolphins did anything wrong.

Hopefully, Ajayi is able to full recover from the concussion and there are no after-effects this season, or in his life. There should not really be any second guessing of the coaches’ decision to have a live hitting day in training camp.