The Dolphins put a cap on their 2017 training camp Tuesday with a short, soft walk-through practice in their air-conditioned indoor facility, and coach Adam Gase called it something of a break after three hard days of work. But the truth is it felt like something different.
It felt like a white flag of surrender being raised.
It felt like the Dolphins, battered and beaten during this training camp from hell, simply didn’t want anything else horrible to happen that might help crash the regular season before it begins. It felt like a team under attack needing a break from live fire.
It definitely wasn’t a break from horrible news.
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That’s what this Dolphins training camp has been about — one announcement after another of potential season-defining, season-derailing news.
The latest disastrous revelation came after the walk-through when Gase said backup cornerback Tony Lippett tore his Achilles tendon and will be out for the remainder of the season.
And although on its own this injury is not one to ruin a season, it joins what has become a plague that has befallen the Dolphins.
How else to describe it when starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill sustained a knee injury and is out for the year? And starting middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan susatined a knee injury and is out for the year? And McMillan is the second draft pick, joining Isaiah Ford, to need knee surgery?
How else to gauge this summer’s litany of woe when starting running Jay Ajayi got a concussion in a non-contact drill, missed two weeks of practice and came back just in time to see backup running back Kenyan Drake sustain a concussion because one defensive teammate pushed another into him and effectively knocked Drake out?
And did I mention the Dolphins lost starting left guard Ted Larsen for at least half the season because, get this, in the same practice that Tannehill blew out his knee, Larsen tore his right bicep and is headed to the injured reserve list?
“It hasn’t been easy,” Gase said Tuesday.
Gase, you should know, is a very upbeat person. He’s an optimist about his football team.
He looked at the tape of last season’s playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 30-12 blowout, and believed his team was three key plays from winning the game. Gase is such a confident man he once told me his offense could move the football with a tree stump playing quarterback or “with you at quarterback,” he said to me, obviously not realizing he has a better chance with that tree stump.
“It’s just an unpredictable factor of the game,” Gase said of his team’s injury plague. “A lot of the injuries that we’re having are things you can’t control. We haven’t had a ton of soft-tissue injuries, which is the biggest thing you’re preparing for. A lot of our injuries have been ACLs, biceps, things that are part of football. It’s the worst part of it.
“But there’s nothing that you really can do to [prevent] that. You do everything you can physically in the weight room and try to prepare yourself and try to schedule practice right and not fatigue your guys to the point where their bodies are breaking down. Again, training camp is meant to be hard. It’s meant to harden you up. It’s meant to get you in condition. You’re not going to prevent everything.”
No one is really to blame for this run of bad luck. But that doesn’t change the facts.
And the facts are the Dolphins are coming out of training camp weaker than when it began. This is not a better team today than it was when camp began July 27. The opposite is true.
This team has a starting quarterback in Jay Cutler who needs to play in the preseason — he will start Thursday — to find some chemistry with his receivers. You know how coaches brag about their quarterbacks working with receivers on their own during the spring?
Tannehill did that. The Patriots’ Tom Brady did that. Cutler was prepping for a broadcast career at the time.
So Cutler and his receivers are trying to catch up to where Tannehill was and Brady is now.
The Dolphins starting offensive line, by the way, is a mess and also needs time to fix what’s wrong. Larsen is gone for a long time, so the left-guard spot is open. But that’s only one of many factors hurting that unit.
The Dolphins line has zero chemistry right now. None. And that’s because center Mike Pouncey hasn’t practiced much as the coaching staff is wisely saving him for the regular season. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James hasn’t practiced lately with a shoulder injury. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil missed a week of practice while he was out of town attending to a family matter.
So a unit that must make it’s living on cohesion hasn’t been on the field together at all during training camp.
It could be argued this is a bunch of small cuts rather than major slices to an artery.
Maybe. But how many pin pricks can any team take before it starts bleeding out?