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Dolphins head coach Adam Gase deep dives the team

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Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase spent a lot of time answering questions on Monday, giving a breakdown of exactly where he sees the team heading into their last preseason game. It was a deep look into how Gase sees the 2018 version of the Dolphins, and how he is viewing some of the answers to the biggest questions fans have about the team.

There was a lot to come out of yesterday’s press conference, so this morning, we will break it down by topic, and see what Gase has to say about the 2018 Dolphins.

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Miami’s starting quarterback is locked with Ryan Tannehill returning from injury this year. However, the backup position has been an open competition between David Fales and Brock Osweiler, with neither player looking like they are going to lock down the position for themselves. Fales has been strong in practice, but neither quarterback has been sharp this preseason. Gase was asked if the second-string quarterback is currently on the roster, simply replying, “Yes.”

He then was asked to explain what has impressed from either quarterback and made him confident that they can fill in for Tannehill if need be, stating, “Because I’ve called games for both of them.”

“Sure. We’ll keep as many as we can,” Gase replied when asked about the possibility of keeping three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster this year. “We’ll figure all that out when the time comes. We’ve still got another game. I want to see those guys go out there and execute what we’re asking them to do, compete and then we’ll figure that out the next week. I just want to respect the guys that are playing in this game that are fighting for jobs. I don’t want to get ahead of myself on that.”

Could Thursday night’s preseason finale be a winner-take-all type of battle between Fales and Osweiler? Gase explained, “I don’t know if I’m looking at it like that. We haven’t even really said, ‘This is how many we’re keeping.’ If we keep three, then those two guys keep battling it out for however long we go. If we make a decision and we say we’re going to keep two, then does it really matter if it was this game that was winner take all? We’re going to look at all the information and we’re going to keep talking through this. I just want those guys to focus on what they’re trying to do right now, which is get ready for Atlanta and we’ll figure all that out next week.”

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Running backs

The Dolphins head into the regular season with a strong trio of running backs, headed by Kenyan Drake with Frank Gore and rookie Kalen Ballage all expected to see playing time. Against the Ravens, Drake had a 30-yard run as well as a 36-yard reception. Asked how the receiving potential Drake has developed could factor into game planning and how defenses play Miami, Gase explained, “It’s difficult for the defense because, especially when you have a tight end and a running back that are threats outside, now the defense, if they want to play any kind of man coverage, they have to decide who they want to put on those players. There’s going to be a linebacker on one and a safety on the other. Drake on a linebacker, I like that matchup. If they want to put a linebacker on (Mike) Gesicki, I like that matchup. It just puts the defense in a bind and you start seeing less Cover 1 because they don’t want to get that matchup. Now you get a lot of zone which is softer coverage, which makes it better for our receivers.”

Gase is a pass-first offensive mind, but he has also realized that, with running backs like Jay Ajayi in 2016 and 2017 and Drake in late 2017 and this upcoming season, he has to ensure the team does not shy away from the run. How many touches will Drake have per game this season? “I have an idea but I think every game is going to be different,” Gase said. “It really comes down to the amount of plays in a game. In the past, the last two years, we haven’t had the amount of plays we need. You’d love to get in that 70-75 plays per game (range) as a unit. If that happens, then you’re looking at hopefully anywhere from 15-20 carries and 6-8 targets. But that’s if you’re on the high end of plays per game. If you’re lower plays per game then you are looking at less attempts. That’s why, for us, it’s all about third-down conversions. Maybe first down, second down, first down. (That) keeps us on the field (and gives us) longer drives. That’s going to give us opportunities to get the ball in his hands more and now him and Frank (Gore) can kind of work that thing together.”

As for Gore, the talk prior to the Ravens game was that the veteran, who sat out the first two preseason games, wanted to get on the field. He did make his debut, but only touched the ball twice, one carry for a two-yard loss and one reception for one yard. Miami has been very cautious with Gore this year, looking to have the 14-year veteran fresh for the regular season. Gase was asked about Gore’s use during the game, and if the running back said anything to him about the brief cameo appearance. Gase laughed as he replied, “I heard about it during the game that he wasn’t real happy. When we went three-and-out, I’m kind of going ‘You got a catch, so does this count? He has a carry and a catch. Can I get him out of the game?’ He wanted to go back in there. We had him go back in there and then (Run Game Coordinator/Running Backs) Eric (Studesville) is like ‘I took him out,’ which was smart. Really, our goal was to get him a carry. If he got a catch, we were going to be excited about that, then we wanted him out of the game. He’s had enough hits over his career. I’m pretty sure everybody in this room has seen enough football from him to know; but he’s such a competitor. I even heard him say after the game, he was talking to somebody and he was like, ‘I didn’t even play. I didn’t even play.’ He loves being out there. That’s what all of us love about him is the guy loves football. Everything about it from practice to games to meetings, how engaged he is, the amount of time he’s here. It’s awesome to see.”

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Wide receivers

Miami has five receivers who appear locked on the roster: DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, and Jakeem Grant. Behind them, there are several players who are fighting for a roster spot: Isaiah Ford, Leonte Carroo, Francis Owusu, Rashawn Scott, and Drew Morgan. Have any of those latter five stood out enough to warrant a sixth wide receiver spot? “This last game, once we hit that second half, we didn’t have a whole bunch of guys on offense, especially, play real well. Right now, if we’re going to be doing anything with guys competing for whatever spot it would be … Everything is wide open right now.”

That was not exactly a ringing endorsement for the position group. Carroo, for whom Miami traded up in the third-round of the 2016 Draft to select, has struggled since joining the team. He has been buried on a depth chart where he was expected to be a contributor, and he just has never been able to put together a strong enough case to warrant the playing time. “I think, really, for him, a lot of times it’s just been the consistency,” Gase of Carroo’s career thus far. “When he has opportunities, take advantage of it. When you end up starting a game, which has happened a few times in the last couple of years, how are you going to impact the game? It might not be catching the ball. It might be blocking. It might be doing your job right to where you spring somebody else free. Just the little tiny details of being a complete wide receiver.

“Sometimes when you are a younger player, it doesn’t always go as smooth as you want it to go,” the coach continued. “It’s not college to where you can make an impact right away. Not everybody gets to do that. Some of the injuries, the minor – getting banged up sometimes – have hurt him in critical situations to where he’s competing for a job and he has a little setback on an injury. That’s tough for him because he knows every rep for him matters. Every time he has a chance to play a game, it matters. Missing a game … I can’t sit here and go, ‘Well, it’s his fault.’ It’s just kind of luck of the draw sometimes. It’s ‘are you available for a game?’ That’s one of the key things in the league: are you available?”

Carroo is currently dealing with a groin issue that forced him to miss the Ravens game. Gase looked at the wide receiver when asked if the team was hoping to get any of their injured players back this week for practice and possibly the final preseason game. “I’m not sure about (who could be coming back). I’m hoping that we get Carroo back. The way that everybody was talking going into the last game is that we thought we would (get him back), but until we can kind of get going and see how he feels, I really won’t know. Probably (Tuesday) I’ll have a better idea.”

The Dolphins are also without Parker, who has a broken middle finger. Parker has also struggled with injuries throughout his career, keeping the 2015 first-round pick from reaching the high potential he is believed to have. Asked if Parker would be ready for Week 1 of the regular season, Gase replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t even gotten that far. I’ll worry about that when that’s that week. I mean he’s getting better. He still can’t catch a ball.”

Gase also said he had no update on Grant, who was concussed during the game against Baltimore.

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Tight Ends

The Dolphins came into the season with two incumbents on the roster at tight end, MarQueis Gray and A.J. Derby, as well as two drafted rookies, Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe. They also brought back practice squad tight end Thomas Duarte and claimed veteran Gavin Escobar off waivers. Initially, the team listed Gray and Derby as the top two on the depth chart, but Gesicki quickly surpassed them to assume the starting role. Gray is believed to be in the second position, giving Miami a solid two-tight-end formation, while Smythe has been quiet but should assume a role as a blocking tight end. Derby has been hampered by a foot injury, returning to the Dolphins in time for the Ravens game.

Gase discussed Derby’s situation, telling the media, “He’s been good. He’s had good practices, which that was really the number one thing I was looking for. We got caught in a little bit more probably 11 personnel than really we anticipated going into this last game. So, he didn’t get as many snaps as we really wanted; but I have a really good comfort level of where he’s at right now.”

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Offensive line

The Dolphins entered the year with a set starting offensive line, an unusual situation for the club compared to the last few years. Laremy Tunsil returns as the team’s left tackle, while free agent addition Josh Sitton will man the left guard spot; Daniel Kilgore, for whom the team traded this offseason, will replace Mike Pouncey at center, while Jesse Davis will lock into a position at right guard, and Ja’Wuan James comes back as the right tackle. “Yes, I just look at the fact that their quarterback doesn’t get touched a whole bunch,” Gase said of how the offensive line is coming together as a unit. “He’s back there and he has an opportunity to go through a progression and you don’t see free runners going through a whole bunch. I do think there has been growth since we’ve started. I really think the left side – between Josh and Laremy – there’s a real great comfort level there. I think we had a couple ups and downs early in training camp with Jesse and Ja’Wuan. I think that’s getting better. I think those two guys are doing a good job of working through any kind of issues they’ve had with whether it be pressures or stunts and things like that to where they’re getting on the same page and those guys are working well. I think Dan is doing a good job of running the show up there. I like where that group is. I feel comfortable with those guys. I feel like they do a great job in the run game. I really do think that’s going to be something that’s going to be a strength of ours this year. When we get in third down, there’s not going to be any hesitation by me to say, ‘If it’s those five guys and they have to protect and we have to hold onto the ball, we’re going to be alright.’”

Miami’s second-string offensive line struggled against Baltimore, allowing three sacks of Osweiler. Gase took a look at their struggles, saying, “I mean, we didn’t block them. We didn’t do a good job of executing some of our protections, which snowballs real fast, because the quarterback had no chance. It was a little disappointing because that group has been at least good enough with knowing who we are going to and what we are doing. We just really tightened up a little bit. It was disappointing to see.”

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Defensive line

The Dolphins utilized their first-round pick in 2017 on Charles Harris, as well as signing Andre Branch to a contract extension last year, giving them two key defensive ends to pair with Pro Bowl player Cameron Wake. That appeared to be the main three players the team would have in 2018 until suddenly the Los Angeles Rams agreed to trade Robert Quinn to the Dolphins for a 2018 fourth-round pick and a trade of sixth-round picks.

“It was just one of those things where they were making some changes with that defensive roster with Robert and (Alec) Ogletree getting traded,” Gase said when asked if Quinn was on his radar this offseason or if he was surprised by his availability. “I think we were just surprised. It was an opportunity for us and the good thing was (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike (Tannenbaum) and (General Manager) Chris (Grier) didn’t hesitate.”

Quinn has recorded three sacks in the last two preseason games, and it would have been four sacks if a penalty did not negate one against the Baltimore Ravens this past week. “He’s been in there almost every snap with that first group,” Gase said of Quinn’s production so far this summer. “I know this, I’m really glad that we made that trade. Ever since he’s been here, he’s just been so consistent with everything he’s done. He practices the way he plays in games, like there’s no change. He’s harassing the quarterback all of the time. I’ve personally faced him quite a bit between Denver and Chicago and he was a nightmare to deal with. Just being on the same side as him, it’s a good feeling because you know it’s just a matter of time where he’s going to make a play. He’s disruptive. It’s just consistent. You just feel … When you are playing quarterback, you can feel him coming all of the time.”

As for the defensive tackles, Gase started talking about defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, who had a strong game against the Ravens including a blocked field goal, a pass defensed, and half a sack. “As soon as you put pads on, [Taylor] seems to show up,” Gase stated. “He’s the kind of guy that he’s an old-school football player. He does a great job. When it gets physical, I think he enjoys that. He’s got a knack for getting his hands on kicks. There’s a lot of value in that. To me, that’s a turnover for you, because you’re getting great field position, you’re preventing points. That’s something that can help us.”

The Dolphins also added veteran defensive lineman Kendall Langford this summer, returning the team’s 2008 third-round pick to South Florida. Gase was asked if adding Langford had anything to do with question marks around Taylor’s ability to compete. He responded, “It wasn’t really having anything to do with that. We’re always trying to add depth and competition. When we worked all those guys out, he was our best guy that was at that workout. I think his history here and what people feel about him in the building and the confidence guys had for him to be able to come in and just jump right in and really compete, that was something that I think is hard to find at that point in camp.”

Another defensive tackle the Dolphins are hoping can become a key contributor if not reclaim his starting role, is Jordan Phillips. After missing time due to a shoulder injury, Phillips was back at work against the Ravens, tallying two tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, and a quarterback hit. Gase said of Phillips’ play, “I think he made some impact plays. There were a couple things that we need to clean up. After we watched that, a couple things on special teams he was involved in, we’d like to actually do a little better. I do think that it was good to see him in the right spot and be able to … On one of the sacks, just by him doing his job, he ends up getting a sack. It’s not really meant for him. That’s good to see because all the little details, that matters. When you work as a unit up there with the linebackers, that’s when you have success. When we’ve got those guys really humming is when they’re all trying to do their job and they’re all on the same page.”

Miami is deep along the defensive line, both on the edge and in the interior. Gase was asked if the team could look to keep extra defensive linemen this year, rather than let some talented players walk away in the 53-man roster limit’s numbers game. “We’ll figure that out here after this game is over, but it seems like it’s worked out that way in the past,” the coach explained. “But we’ll just kind of see how everthing shakes out.”

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“No,” Gase answered when asked if the third starting linebacker position was an open competition after seeing Chase Allen subbed into the game and playing with the first team. The Dolphins had elevated rookie Jerome Baker to the starting group in Preseason Week 2. “Baker’s our starter until we say otherwise.”

He continued speaking about Allen’s play with the first team, explaining, “We’re always going to be moving guys in. We’ve got him playing a couple different positions, so we’re just trying to make sure that he’s settled in at multiple spots. Defensive guys are always doing a good job putting of pressure on the guy that might be starting a game and making sure everybody … If something happens in a real game, guys have to be ready to step in and play with a different group of guys that they might not practice with all the time. We want to do that more on offense to where all of a sudden you throw a backup quarterback in there and Ryan (Tannehill) gets pulled out and those guys have to be ready to go and there can’t be a huge change. Same thing (with the offensive line). Sometimes you start bumping lineman in there that were maybe on the second team to the first team and just mix that line up so the quarterback has to get used to, ‘How does this work out?’ And then those guys have to understand the intensity can’t change. We can’t have a huge drop off. That’s just not an option. Sometimes we do things like that just to make sure that guys are used to playing with each other and there’s a sense of urgency about a guy that fills in.”

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Miami’s cornerbacks are another area of concern for the team, who have been shuffling players at the second starting position over the past few weeks. It appears the team is settling on Bobby McCain, who was playing as the nickel cornerback covering slot receivers, on the outside opposite Xavien Howard, with first-round rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick playing in the slot. Asked about his comfort with McCain on the outside, Gase answered, “I think we all feel really good about it because we know Bobby … If Bobby ever makes a mistake, that’s it. You’re not going to see that same mistake again. He is a very quick learner and he’s a competitor. A lot of times at that position, who are the guys that will compete for 60 minutes and who are the guys that can forget about the bad thing that happened to you? If you play corner in this league, you will get beat. At some point, you’re going to get beat. The best ones can recover. They go out the next one, jump right into a guy’s face and says, ‘Try to do it again.’ That’s what we want.”

Gase was also asked about his comfort levels with Cordrea Tankersley and Tony Lippett, both of whom were expected to battle for the starting role McCain has been forced to fill. “I think we just are always going to be looking for that consistency,” Gase answered. “Right now with Tony, I just want to give him as many reps as we possibly can between tomorrow’s practice and that game and have him turn it loose and keep playing the way we want him to play, the way we’ve seen him play in the past. I know that injury is one of the worst kinds of injuries you can have for that position because it’s going to affect change of direction, speed, just confidence sometimes. Last game kind of getting him going a little bit and hopefully we can give him a lot more reps this game. And both those guys just let them go out there and play. My biggest thing is going to be let’s let those guys press and get their hands on receivers and see where we’re at.”

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Miami drafted a kicker and signed an undrafted free agent kicker this year, opening the door to a position battle as the replacement for Cody Parkey, who signed with the Chicago Bears as a free agent. Jason Sanders and Greg Joseph have appeared to be fairly even in the battle for the spot on the roster, and Gase seems to agree. “They’re doing good and yes,” Gase said of the battle and if he was confident in one of the two players being his openind day kicker. “Yes,” he added when asked again if he was fine with one of the two being his kicker.

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“Big Play” team

After having players like Drake, Quinn, Howard, Taylor, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, and Amendola all make key plays for the team, Gase spoke what he defines as a “big play.” “Well, you can look at it yardage-wise,” he explained. “I know a lot of teams probably look at it as 10 yards on a run play, 20 yards on a pass play is an explosive play. Danny (Amendola)’s play is probably a good example of you have third-and-10 and he catches the ball under the sticks, makes a guy miss and scores a touchdown. Really, to me, sometimes you are looking at what’s a field-position-changing type play and what sustains a drive. I think a lot of those times when you have those third-and-longer situations and you steal one, that’s a big play because the defense is expecting it. If it’s third-and-7-plus, percentages say they should win. If you get conversions on those down and distances, those are the types of plays that swing the game.”

He was then asked if he though the Dolphins were a “big play” team, to which he responded, “I think we can be. When we do things the right way and we execute the right way, we get rid of the ball, hand the ball off and block things well, I think there’s opportunities there.”

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Dolphins at Falcons Preseason Week 4

The fourth preseason game is one that usually features very few, if any, of the starting players for a team. Maybe the first unit will go out for the first possession each way, but that is about it as teams look to protect their starters from injury, as well as get one last look at the bubble players for the 53-man roster. Asked about his philosophy of the starters playing in this year’s preseason finale, Gase said, “There probably will be some guys that play and some guys that we end up sitting. I think everybody has a different situation. I don’t know if we’re going to look at it as ‘This group’s not playing.’ I think every guy is going to be treated different.”