Here’s a scoop from the inside: players use Google.
They read what’s written about them, both in print and (more and more) on social media.
They care about their rating in the Madden NFL video-game series; left tackle Branden Albert griped Tuesday that he only earned an 87 out of 100 in the latest version.
And they take their place on the NFL’s annual top 100 list seriously.
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At least Jarvis Landry does.
The wide receiver keeps a game-day picture of himself hanging in his locker with a big “97?” written in red.
Because he was 98th on the NFL’s 2016 ranking. Kaleb Thornhill, the club’s player engagement director, printed out the photo, knowing that Landry would see his relatively low ranking as a slight, and use it as fuel.
If Landry has his way, he’ll move up 97 slots on the 2017 list.
But that might take the greatest receiving season in Dolphins history.
And it certainly will take a lot more touchdown passes than the four he caught in 2015.
The Dolphins’ red-zone offense in general hasn’t been good for years. They ranked 20th in 2015 at 53.5 percent — which actually was an improvement from 2014, when they were 21st with 51.5.
Coach Adam Gase is determined to change that. He schedules red-zone drills almost every practice, and did so again Tuesday.
The repetition might be working. The Dolphins have scored on four of their seven trips inside the 20 this preseason, and the starters are 2 for 3.
“It’s something we have to constantly, constantly work on,” Landry said. “The red zone is about timing. You know it’s going to be small windows. You know it’s going to be contact catches. It’s something that we work on. Adam does a great job of drawing some things up that frees us up a little bit.”
And they have a quarterback who played better than anyone else in the second week of the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus.
Ryan Tannehill threw five touchdown passes against the Cowboys; unfortunately only two were caught.
“Tannehill had a near-perfect outing in his first preseason action, scoring a pair of touchdowns, completing a fantastic pass on a corner route, and not earning a single negative-graded play against the Cowboys,” Pro Football Focus wrote.
The quarterback’s teammates would agree.
“Tannehill just fires away,” right guard Jermon Bushrod said. “He fired away on those two red-zone touchdowns last week.”
With Bushrod and Laremy Tunsil in the starting lineup, the pass protection was much improved. Tannehill was sacked just once in 21 drop-backs.
The improved blocking gave Tannehill time to survey the field, even in cramped goal-line situations.
“We can fight to really do our jobs and give him a few seconds, two, three seconds to get that ball off to check at least his first or second read,” Bushrod said.
Miami should finally have an advantage in X’s and O’s too. The Dolphins’ red-zone calls were confounding at times under Joe Philbin; Gase was the offensive coordinator for the most prolific offense in NFL history, the 2013 Broncos.
Even more encouraging: Gase has had success with his offense wherever he’s gone.
But it’s not an easy system to pick up. One veteran offensive player called it the “most complex” offense he has ever seen, but praised the job Gase does of teaching so that his team can pick it up quickly.
The product on the field would support that. The Dolphins’ starting offense was completely out of sorts in its intrasquad scrimmage and preseason opener, but was much improved against the Cowboys.
“I think we did OK,” Landry said. “I think you look at that game, there were a couple of guys on their team throwing up while we were driving. It’ll be interesting to see for four quarters if those D-lines can hold up against our tempo and the way we want to move the ball down the field.”