Jay Cutler crossed an important threshold Thursday night:
He looked the part.
Even though his offensive line was at half-strength (and barely half-helpful), Cutler seemed in command in his Dolphins debut.
He knew where to put the ball, and often did so effectively.
And he did it well enough for Dolphins coach Adam Gase to, however briefly, run the offense the way he’s always wanted to run:
Cutler was on the field for 12 offensive plays, including those negated by penalty.
The Dolphins went no-huddle for seven of those of snaps.
Now, you can quibble with the results (the Dolphins managed just two first downs in Cutler’s two drives), but they had 50 yards of offense erased by penalties committed by Sam Young. And Young will only be on the field for the opener on Sept. 10 if something goes drastically wrong.
“I thought he was good his first time out,” Gase said of Cutler late Thursday night. “He looks like we really weren’t apart for a year. I thought his tempo was really good. I think we have to get used to that a little bit, the rest of the guys, because he’s ready to go a little sooner than everybody else. That’s going to take a minute.”
Officially, Cutler completed 3 of 6 passes for 24 yards, but his best throw was one that didn’t show up on the stat sheet. He hooked up with DeVante Parker for 31 yards, but Young’s holding infraction wiped it away.
Still, Cutler never had a chance to establish a rhythm, as Gase — who told his starters to be ready to go a full half — pulled him after just two ragged series.
“Once you got enough pocket movement and we kept getting in those third-and-longs, we had that screen where he got hit pretty good and I was like, ‘Well, he’s experienced everything so…’ I didn’t want to overdo it,” Gase said.
The third preseason game — next Thursday in Philadelphia — is probably the only time we’ll see Cutler go against live tackling for an extended period of time before the opener.
Expect the Dolphins to play fast again then. They need to know if it’ll work in a real game. Gase tried to go up-tempo early last year, but went back to huddling after it became clear it wasn’t working.
Gase said he’s “got a pretty good feel of how to call plays for” Cutler, and that the two men — separated in age by just five years — have an honest dialogue about what works and what doesn’t.
“You have to immerse yourself as best you can, be around these guys constantly, ask a lot of questions, see what they like, what they dislike,” Cutler said, referring to Miami’s skill-position players. “It takes a little bit of time, but I think with this group they make it a little easier, because it is a younger team, but they’re really good guys that want to win, and they’re good football players.”
Gase added: “I feel really good with where we’re at right now. This next week will be really good for us because going against another team and playing that third preseason game. We’ll just keep trying to improve and get in that game flow. I liked what I saw tonight. I’m ready to get this going next week.”
▪ The Dolphins’ special teams were a mess Thursday, allowing a blocked punt, fumbling a kickoff, muffing a punt and committing a slew of penalties. Gase called the punt block — a play in which the Dolphins had just 10 players on the field — “a disaster.”
▪ Sam Young started at right tackle, but it didn’t go well. He was called for holding penalties on back-to-back snaps. When asked if he’s concerned about Young, Gase responded: “I don’t worry about Sam.”
▪ Jay Ajayi officially had minus-2 yards on 2 carries in his preseason debut, but that stat line didn’t do him justice. He broke a number of tackles on both a catch and a long run that a penalty negated. Ajayi, who sat out two weeks with a concussion, was also popped after he stepped out of bounds, but when asked about the illegal hit, just shrugged. “It’s football,” he said.