The slower the Dolphins were on offense last year, the better they played.
That wasn’t the plan, of course.
Adam Gase arrived in town wanting to run the no-huddle, up-tempo offense that made him famous in Denver.
Problem was, his new players couldn’t execute the way Peyton Manning and friends could. The Dolphins went three-and-out far too often last year, exposing their defense to an unfair number of snaps.
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As a result, they lost four of their first five games.
They then hit the brakes like a kid with a learner’s permit on the highway, and only started winning when they went back to a huddle.
“I don't think we knew as an offense all the details of what we needed to do to make it happen quickly,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said after minicamp Tuesday. “We were able to do it, but we weren't doing it quickly. And if you can't do it quickly, you might as well huddle and everyone get some time to think about exactly what they have to do. The whole part of no-huddle is to keep pressure on the defense and you're allowing defensive linemen to sub in and sub out and not keeping that heat on them, you might as well huddle. I think that's kind of the crossroads we hit last year.”
Year 2 should be different, though. Or at least that’s the hope in Davie. This is the year to “Zero In,” as Gase has famously preached. To learn your assignment so well that you react, not think. To turn five-yard plays into 50-yard touchdowns.
Tannehill said goal No. 1 for the offense this offseason is to “stay on the field longer; I think we didn't have enough plays as an offense.” The Dolphins ranked 25th in third-down conversions in 2016 (36.7 percent) and had the second-fewest first downs in all of football (278).
So the Dolphins might want to go fast, but they need to earn that right, Gase cautioned Tuesday.
“It doesn't do any good if we go three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out and we keep putting the defense out there and we're not moving the ball on offense and they're constantly on the field,” Gase said. “If we're lopsided play-wise where there's 40 defensive plays and there's 15 offensive plays. You get in the fourth quarter and get back in the game, now all of the sudden your defense is dead tired and it's hard for them to stop anybody.”
Gase added: “That's where we put ourselves in some bad situations last year where the defense played so well for so long and then when you need them help finish that game off because we finally got back in the game, they burned it all trying to keep us in the game. That's where we need to do a better job of keeping those two sides of the ball more balanced as far as the play number goes. If we can do that, then you have the opportunity to be able to kind of keep that higher tempo of speed on offense.”
The only way to play fast in a game is to effectively play fast in practice. And that’s been the mandate this spring. Tuesday was a lot of hurry-up, no huddle, but with mixed success. Tannehill said he’s seen marked improvement from even the first week of OTAs, less than a month ago. But there were some miscues Tuesday, as both he and Matt Moore threw bad interceptions.
“We're always going to start fast,” Gase said of the Dolphins’ 2017 philosophy. “It's easier to hit the brakes than to speed up. ... There's not a lot of standing around. That's what you want. Today was a good deal for me just to stand back and watch and seeing how fast some of the calls were coming in and how fast those guys were getting lined up and ready to play. The calls were coming out and they were ready to go.”