The Miami Dolphins are hoping that Adam Gase can mold the team into a playoff contender. The road to get there is not a matter of one big leap, but rather, a series of small steps.
With the regular season upon us, and the first wave of Adam Gase’s changes in place, it is time to take a look at how the rookie head coach hopes to piece together all the parts of his plan to produce a winning season in Miami. In order to do this, we will take a look at various aspects of the Dolphins attack and attempt to gauge how those different facets will blend into a single offensive philosophy.
As such, what follows is a compilation of observations based on the changes Gase has implemented, as well as trends in his coaching history. Additionally, some sections include 2016 projections for individual players based on the manner in which Gase structured his offenses while serving as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears.
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Coaching, Game Plans and Play Calling
Miami’s offensive success will depend, in great measure, on Gase’s dynamic play calling. So don’t be surprised to see reverses and misdirection plays become an integral part of the Dolphins’ regular game plans, particularly with playmakers such as Jakeem Grant and Jarvis Landry on the roster.
Speaking of game plans, Miami will actually have some this season. Even more astonishing for those accustomed to the Joe Philbin approach, those plans will change from one game to the next depending on the particular strengths and weakness of a given opponent.
The Dolphins ranked near the bottom of the league in time of possession during the 2015 season. Expect them to finish in the middle of the pack or higher this year thanks to the “No Huddle” offense. Time of possession will be crucial, not just in tiring out opposing defenses, but in preventing rival QBs from getting into a rhythm.
The use of two tight end sets will become commonplace as the season wears on, particularly if Jordan Cameron can eliminate his “Hands of Stone” issue. These sets should not only help bolster the run, but confuse defenses as well. Gase has previously employed a staggering variety of plays from these formations. That said, he has had better tight end units in both Denver and Chicago.
One of the hallmarks of Gase’s offensive attack is the unmatched variety of screens he uses, targeting running backs, receivers and tight ends alike. That will come as a merciful break from the ineffective and woefully predictable sideline bubble screen that Philbin ran into the ground. Here we see how Gase added play action to just such a screen while he was the OC in Denver. That misdirection holds the defense just long enough to ensure the play’s success.
Gase will insist on a balanced attack designed to keep defenses guessing. As such, don’t expect to see the 2016 Dolphins abandon the run unless they are behind by more than a touchdown deep into the fourth quarter.
Allowing Tannehill the freedom to audible should prove monumental, not only for the young QB’s development, but as a way of extending drives and controlling time of possession. Furthermore, it should help cut down on negative plays by allowing the offense to shift out of bad situations.
Thanks to the rapport Adam Gase has built with the locker room, the Dolphins should be able to avoid the litany of distractions that have dogged the team in recent years. The absence of bullying scandals, nightclub arrests and spousal Twitter rants would certainly make for a more focused team. Furthermore, the decisive manner in which he is handling the current issues with Jay Ajayi speak to his leadership qualities.
The fact that Gase does not shy away from calling players out publicly (DeVante Parker) or punishing them for poor attitudes (Ajayi), bodes well for his ability to challenge his players to improve, while at the same time, maintaining control of the team.
Gase has gone a long way towards building confidence among his players, and his willingness to defend them against the media all but ensures their loyalty. At the same time, he has handed them a level of ownership over their roles that was unheard of during Philbin’s reign.
Expect the Dolphins to run a Swiss Army Knife style offense. Gase has packed the team with versatile weapons that he can substitute in and out to exploit just about any situation by creating mismatches.
Look for the team to improve in all facets as the year rolls on. The current coaching staff is big on player development and pushing individuals to get better. While this should be a no-brainer, the fact that we didn’t see much of this during the Philbin era makes it worth mentioning.
Under Don Shula, the Dolphins led the league in fewest penalties almost on a yearly basis. While we won’t see that repeated under Gase due to his aggressive style of attack, there should be a decrease in the number of costly penalties.
Gase’s Goal: In short, Gase has taken it upon himself to build up his players, and through the application of innovative play calling and offensive schemes, create mismatches put them in the best position to win.
Given Gase’s propensity for building the offense around his players’ strengths, expect to see Ryan Tannehill rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the run much more often in 2016.
Thanks to the freedom Tannehill has been given to use the read option, he may well run the ball more times by the eighth game of 2016 than he has in any full season thus far in his career.
Tannehill should blossom into a much better all-around QB so long as his protection holds up. His numbers probably won’t be off the charts, but he may well get better in just about every aspect of the game. Expect overall efficiency to be his most noticeable improvement.
The freedom to audible out of bad situations will likely prove instrumental to Tannehill’s growth, help prevent sacks, and go a long way towards extending drives and giving the defense additional rest on the sidelines.
Tannehill has also been given a role in game planning, including the right to veto some plays he isn’t comfortable running against particular defenses. This should give him a far greater comfort level heading into each encounter.
Don’t be surprised to see Tannehill throwing downfield on a regular basis. The addition of DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills helped him blossom as a deep ball passer, particularly in late 2015. If Parker can stay healthy and Stills’ reemergence continues, the Dolphins should have a formidable long game. Of course, Gase’s play calling will help place them in advantageous positions where they will be better able to exploit this trend.
The mobility drill Gase instituted during training camp was designed to improve Tannehill’s pocket awareness, and it seemed to have worked during the preseason. Therefore, expect to see fewer negative plays from Tannehill (sacks, fumbles, interceptions).
Gase’s Goal: Gase was hired to elevate Tannehill’s game to elite status. He is doing this through the following steps:
Bolstering the young QB’s confidence by building an offense tailored to his strengths, namely his mobility and ability to throw on the run.
Giving him ownership of the offense by granting him free reign to audible at the line, a greater voice in game planning, and the power to veto plays.
Providing him with a more dynamic offensive scheme.
Surrounding him with the kind of playmakers than can execute that plan.
Setting the tone for the rest of the team by treating his QB with the kind of respect needed to assume a leadership role.
Tannehill’s Career Statistics and 2016 Projection
The Offensive Line
The Dolphins will, in all probability, relinquish fewer sacks this season due to a combination of factors.
The offensive line is much improved by the addition of Laremy Tunsil and Jermon Bushrod.
The addition of more rollouts will not allow defensive linemen to determine a fixed point of attack, taking away their ability to settle into a groove.
Dallas Thomas will not be starting.
Improved pocket presence on the part of Tannehill.
A multitude of plays designed to get the ball out of Tannehill’s hand much quicker.
Thanks to Gase’s insistence on versatility, the Dolphins are better prepared for injuries along the offensive line than they have been in years. Injuries will come, but Miami now has several linemen capable of playing multiple positions.
The strengthening program Gase instituted for his offensive linemen will begin to pay ever greater dividends, particularly in the running game as the season moves along and the line gels as a unit.
Laremy Tunsil is far better at getting to the second level than either Dallas Thomas or Billy Turner. Thus, Dolphins backs may find more running room on the inside.
The Dolphins have four natural tackles (Branden Albert, Ja’Wan James, Tunsil and Bushrod) on the starting line, which is terrific for pass protection. Expect the running game to improve as Tunsil and Bushrod acclimate to playing guard.
With four first rounders and three Pro Bowlers, this line should be much improved, but they will need to upgrade their run blocking and stay healthy in order to become elite.
Gase’s Goal: To make the unit stronger and more versatile in order to adapt to whatever adversities the game throws their way.
The Passing Game
As previously mentioned, Gase likes to spread defenses by using his deep threats, as he did with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in Denver. In fact, it is one of the main attributes of his offensive philosophy. As a result, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills should see plenty of long passes coming their way.
Expect to see Jarvis Landry’s targets go way down this year, yet, overall, he will prove to be a more dangerous and effective receiver. Gase is not a fan of predictability.
What Gase does like to do is spread the ball around. As such, expect to see targets distributed much more evenly this season.
While Gase has publicly said that Jakeem Grant still has a lot to learn about the offense, expect him to be used on a regular basis. The reason for this is that Grant provides one of the things Gase covets most…..a speed mismatch every single time he steps on the field.
Kenny Stills’ understanding of Gase’s offensive scheme and his improved chemistry with Tannehill should lead to a big season for the former Saint, who is entering a contract year.
DeVante Parker’s health issues should improve following the public scolding he received from Gase for his lax conditioning regiment away from the field. Parker is the most physically gifted receiver on the Dolphins roster; therefore, the coaching staff will keep the pressure on him until the youngster falls into line. If Parker can manage to get out of his own way, he will be a superstar in this league.
By stretching defenses with deep passes, Gase will open up the flats and middle of the field, giving playmakers like Landry, Grant and Leonte Carroo room to run after the catch, as occurred here with Julius Thomas in Denver for a 15 yard gain.
Despite what we have seen in preseason, expect the tight ends to take on a greater role in the passing game. This is not something Gase is going to give up on easily.
Gase’s Goal: To stack the team with elite deep threats and possession receivers alike so as to attack defenses across every part of the field in order to create and exploit mismatches.
2016 Receiving Projections
The Running Game
Considering the late breaking news that Jay Ajayi was not permitted to travel with the team to Seattle for the season opener, it became necessary to add some additional notes and perspective here before proceeding with the general points, particularly considering that this incident is a major setback for both the Dolphins and Ajayi’s career.
According to reports coming out of Miami, Gase left Ajayi behind due to his unprofessional reaction to Arian Foster being named the starting back. The truth is, Ajayi has no one to blame but himself for Foster’s ascension, as was made clear in a report by Mike Garafalo on NFL.com.
“But along the way, according to a team source and another person informed of Ajayi’s status with the team, Ajayi didn’t respond to the challenge Foster’s arrival presented. The Dolphins’ coaches wanted to see Ajayi dig in, work hard and force the team to keep him in the top spot while Foster — who signed in July — complemented him. Instead, they saw Ajayi sulk and struggle through a subpar preseason,” reported Garafalo.
Over a month ago, in Step 3 of my series, Adam Gase’s 12 Steps to Rehabilitating the Dolphins, I indicated Gase’s intentions to use Foster as a complimentary back, given his age and injury history. Nevertheless, dropped passes, a crucial fumble, and worse still, a poor attitude during preseason cost Ajayi the starting job.
Even so, many still expected the younger RB to eventually win back the #1 spot, interpreting his demotion as a character building decision. This interpretation of events was at least partially due to the fact that, while neither Ajayi nor Foster were impressive during the preseason, as a runner, Ajayi easily outdistanced the seasoned veteran, finishing the preseason with 18 carries for 49 yards, or 2.7 yards per run. In contrast, Foster managed a meager 5 yards on 7 carries, which translates into a paltry 0.7 yards per carry. Be that as it may, for reasons that are now obvious, Foster’s professionalism won out.
Unlike Laremy Tunsil, who showed maturity and grasped that Gase was actually helping him by forcing him to earn his spot among the starters, Ajayi has responded to his coach’s challenge in the worst way possible. Not only did he under-performing on the field, but he failed the character test as well. Now, only time will tell if he can regroup and make amends to his coaches and teammates, or if he will even get the chance to do so.
With the uncertainty surrounding Ajayi’s future, the Dolphins find themselves in a very precarious situation. To put it simply, their backfield is comprised of injury prone veterans, unproven youngsters, and an immature could-have-been who may well be on his way out.
Expect to see Kenyan Drake take on a larger role in the wake of Ajayi’s attitude adjustment. He is far and away the most explosive back on the Dolphins’ roster, and it wouldn’t come as a total shock if he becomes Miami’s most successful weapon out of the backfield by season’s end.
Despite winning the starting job, Arian Foster will be used primarily as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Given his injury history, when he does run, it should rarely be between the tackles.
While Foster is the most talented and complete back on the Dolphins’ roster, he is also the oldest and most brittle. Regardless of how the Dolphins try to protect Foster, given his recent slew of injuries, his chances of making it through the season unhurt are minute. Dolphins’ fans will no doubt recall the non-contact injury Foster suffered against Miami last season.
Ajayi’s future with the team is now in tremendous peril. Coaches do not leave healthy players behind unless they are seriously displeased.
If the Dolphins do part ways with Ajayi, look for them to seek outside help at the running back position rather than settle for what they currently have in house. Ronnie Hillman was recently released by Denver, and as it happens, played under Gase from 2012 to 2014.
Don’t be surprised to see Jakeem Grant used as a running back as well, particularly running towards the left side of the line. With his size, he won’t have much trouble disappearing behind giants like Albert and Tunsil, and his ability to cut back against the grain makes him extraordinarily dangerous once he gets to the outside.
The Dolphins’ running game should get better as games roll on and defenses tire before the relentless assault of the “No Huddle” offense.
The Dolphins will use a “Hybrid” running back-by-committee scheme in the “No Huddle” offense. This means they will do their best to keep one back in the game on each drive. If all goes as planned, a different back will come in with each new drive.
While the “Hybrid” running back-by-committee approach is primarily intended to serve as a way of keeping defenses from settling into a groove, it will also serve to rest and protect Miami’s fragile stable of backs. While their injury histories aren’t as serious as Foster’s, Drake, Ajayi and Isaiah Pead have all missed significant time.
If Drake’s role on opening day against Seattle is both significant and successful, he could seriously upend the running back situation in general, and more specifically, Ajayi’s roster spot.
Even if Ajayi remains with the team, it will likely take some time before he wins back Gase’s trust.
Gase’s Goal: In the absence of a single dominant workhorse, to keep defenses of balance with a stable of versatile backs who can run, catch and protect the quarterback in equal measure.
2016 Running Back Projections
The Finished Product
So what should emerge when all these individual factors and possibilities come together? Simply put, the Dolphins will attempt to tire out opposing defenses early in games by using an unpredictable passing attack and the “No Huddle” offense. Then, in the second half, they will look to finish off their weary rivals with a persistent, if not spectacular, running game designed to eat up the clock.
If the plan comes together as Gase envisions, the Dolphins could compete for a playoff berth this season, but they are almost surely lacking the necessary personnel in key positions to become instantaneous contenders. That said,if Gase can accomplish the primary job he was brought in to do….help Ryan Tannehill achieve elite quarterback status…..anything is possible.
To that end, if the men in aqua and orange can somehow pull off the upset in Seattle, then, travel to New England and defeat a Tom Brady-less Patriots’ squad, who is to say they can’t build on that momentum and make their first serious charge of the 21st century?