The ball is on the 5-yard line. The Miami Dolphins offense is seemingly on the verge of a touchdown. And amid the chaos of players scrambling to get the next play and get lined up, a moment of stillness passes before center Mike Pouncey snaps the football to quarterback Ryan Tannehill and activity explodes all over again.
Now Tannehill has the football and is searching for a receiver to get in the end zone and get open so he can deliver the scoring pass.
One thousand one.
One thousand two.
One thousand three.
And Tannehill still has the ball in his hands.
One thousand four.
Tannehill eventually forces a throw that is caught by Kenny Stills along the end line. It looks like a touchdown. But the truth is this play is a failure.
The quarterback held the ball too long, either because Jarvis Landry didn’t get open right away or he took too long to see Stills, or throwing to the tight end didn’t cross his mind.
The ball that was stuck in Tannehill’s hands for nearly four seconds needed to be thrown in less than three. The sooner the better.
This and similar scenes repeated multiple times during the Dolphins’ hot training camp days of late July and August. For much of those days, a Miami offense that is supposed to roar like a Corvette was doing a lot of wheezing and coughing like a jalopy.
“I think [it is about] knowledge, and all of a sudden there’s too much thinking,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “We’ve given them a lot to think about it, and it slows folks down. We look like a team that’s thinking and making sure we’re trying to do the right thing.”
Sometimes Tannehill held the ball longer than he probably should. Sometimes receivers weren’t getting open as quickly as they should. Sometimes the offensive line wasn’t coming together as quickly as it could.
In that red zone, where tight ends are a mismatch nightmare and catch touchdowns at a rate higher than most other positions, Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims weren’t beating their mismatches as quickly as expected. Sometimes they weren’t winning at all.
So the red zone offense was not efficient. The blitz pickups were poor. Nothing was really, truly synched up like it should be.
And rather than cringe at the sound of all this and the ominous possibilities it foretells, you should probably just accept that this is how it’s going to be for a while.
This is how it’s going to be while players and coaches mold and sculpt and adjust what has been a successful offense elsewhere into their own.
That’s right. … The 2016 Dolphins offense is going to take a minute to get going, folks.
It is almost certainly not going to sing in four-part harmony the first time coach Adam Gase gives his unit voice in the Seattle regular-season opener.
The offense is a work in progress, and because the players are mostly young and new to each other and the coach, and his scheme, getting all that to look as if everyone has been together for years is close to impossible.
“When this thing is said and done, when we head to Seattle, we’re going to play a team at their place that’s been together since 2010 and they’ve established their culture and we’re playing catch-up,” Gase said after one training camp practice. “I mean, really our first two games are like that. So we want every day. Every day we can get and it’s a chance for us to get better, we need that day.”
(This is the part of the column where I talk you off a ledge because you now think this Dolphins’ season will be a total waste while the offense finds cohesion.)
Gase almost certainly does not share my opinion that his offense will take a long time to function like a well-oiled machine. He has not said it publicly, but privately he has promised his players, assistants and others within the organization that his unit will be quite good.
He promises privately this offense is going to be right.
The first-time head coach, it should be noted, is not a first-time offensive coordinator. Only 38 years old, Gase has been something of an offensive prodigy since that day a decade ago when Mike Martz started helping him learn the same concepts that helped the Rams ‘Greatest Show on Turf” offense of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
And so Gase is certain — certain! — some things about this offense will be true:
He is certain the Dolphins will protect the quarterback.
He is certain the Dolphins will do things these players excel at rather than expecting them to execute things they’re not able to do because, well, that’s the scheme.
By the way, anyone familiar with recent Dolphins history is aware Tannehill has been sacked 184 times during his career, more than any quarterback in the league since 2012.
Gase promises that will stop, and one way is the Dolphins are going to throw the football quickly. A lot.
The NFL is mostly a fast pitch-and-catch league now. Last year, for example, 74.7 percent of Tom Brady’s passes were thrown 10 yards or less downfield. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw 37 percent of his attempts 1 yard or less downfield.
The idea is to get the football out of the quarterback’s hands and to playmakers as quickly as possible. The idea is to keep the quarterback from getting hit so often.
(Feel better now?)
It should not surprise if the Miami offense takes a month or two to find its groove. The surprise would be if this unit can go from infancy to full-blown maturity by the start of the season.
I don’t see that happening. What I see when I look at this Dolphins offense is the 1981 Washington Redskins.
That, like these latter day Dolphins, was a franchise with a great history and storied tradition. It was awesome. But like the Dolphins, that franchise had fallen on hard times when they hired this hot shot offensive coordinator.
Enter Joe Gibbs.
Gibbs installed an innovative offense that summer of 1981. And early in the fall that offense stunk.
The Redskins started 0-5.
But the thing eventually started to click. Suddenly the Counter-Gap became a thing. Suddenly the Fun Bunch started enjoying their more frequent trips to the end zone. Suddenly John Riggins got rolling behind a massive offensive line.
Gibbs, calling the plays, hit a groove.
And the Redskins were 8-3 over the final 11 games to salvage an 8-8 season.
That offense was dominant the next few years.
I’m not predicting that is exactly what will happen with Gase and this Dolphins offense. I’m saying even an offense with the potential to be record-setting, as the Redskins of yesteryear were, can tart slow and needs time to build.
Give this Dolphins offense the courtesy of that time.