The highlight of Dolphins OTAs came during the final voluntary practice of 2017.
During an 11-on-11 drill Thursday, DeVante Parker shook free of tight coverage by Byron Maxwell and reeled in a diving, one-handed touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill.
And then Parker, maybe the quietest player on the team, found his voice. He immediately got in Maxwell’s face and began jawing demonstratively. Spurred by the spontaneous display of emotion, Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins offense rushed over to join in the trash talking.
“I really don’t know what he said,” said Dolphins tight end MarQueis Gray, who was blocking on the far end of the field when Parker made the grab. “I know he got in his face a little bit. They were having fun. Anytime you go against the defense, it’s going to be competitive. I pretty sure that’s what they were talking about.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
There were three encouraging signs for the Dolphins in that play alone:
1. Parker continues to show that the light has finally come on for him in Year 3.
2. While an introvert by nature, Parker is becoming more vocal on the field and off.
And 3. The Dolphins’ offense continues to take on the personality of its leader, Adam Gase.
For years, that side of the ball was about as compelling as shredded wheat. It was dull, both in execution and in temperament. Perhaps that was a reflection of Miami’s previous two coaches, Tony Sparano and Joe Philbin.
Gase, meanwhile, is no shrinking violet. He wants his team to play with an edge.
A swagger, if you will.
And after a breakthrough 2016, the Dolphins might just have swag.
“Just going off on the winning streak, that’s what got us into having that swagger going throughout the whole season,” Gray said. “And then with the addition of the new guys also. We’re just having a lot more fun and playing loose, and that swagger is playing a big part of our success so far.”
The offense was impressive all day Thursday, an hopeful sign as the Dolphins look to build off last year’s growth. The Dolphins ranked fifth league-wide in explosive plays (runs of over 10 yards and passes of over 25) last year, and averaged a big play once every 10.2 snaps, the second-best rate in the NFL.
Those game-breakers masked other deficiencies on offense, most notably Miami’s dreadful third-down conversion rate (36.7 percent, eighth-worst in football).
And they also served a second purpose: They made the Dolphins exciting to watch.
Star receiver Jarvis Landry has always played on emotion. And if Thursday was a leading indicator, a good number of his teammates will follow Landry and Gase’s lead this year.
“We want guys to be who they are,” Gase said recently. “We don’t have a ton of rules. Guys know what the structure of our program is and it’s not hard to follow. If you go out there and treat every day like game day and go out to practice, get better and play fast and be on time, it’s not real hard. Our guys have embraced it, and I love how the veterans (are) holding guys accountable. That’s really the biggest thing, because it’s easy for guys to get loose and you fall off a little bit and get complacent with what you’re doing. You think you’ve accomplished something and when you have veterans that make guys realize, ‘We’re starting over and nobody cares what you did last year,’ when you got that mentality, it gives you a chance.”