Miami Dolphins

Fins’ Gase has cracked the code on offense

Some coaches try to fit players to their scheme. Adam Gase believes, particularly with a team with incumbent starters at most every position, in crafting his scheme to fit their skills.
Some coaches try to fit players to their scheme. Adam Gase believes, particularly with a team with incumbent starters at most every position, in crafting his scheme to fit their skills. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Here's a fun Adam Gase story:

It was an hour or so before the Broncos’ 2013 playoff game against the Chargers, and Denver's first-year offensive coordinator was in the home locker room, shredding his game plan.

Mother Nature made two weeks worth of work all but obsolete. Wind speeds neared 30 mph, and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's arm wasn't as strong as it once was.

So Gase, just before the biggest game of his young coaching career, went line-by-line, crossing out all the plays he knew wouldn't work in a minor wind storm.

“I'm sure he was bothered by it,” Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “He wanted to go at their heads.”

Instead, he went right at the Chargers' gut. Gase scrapped an air assault for a ground invasion. The Broncos ran the ball 34 times that afternoon, winning the time of possession battle by more than 10 minutes. More importantly, they won the game.

Three years later, Gase faces his toughest assignment yet: fix a Dolphins offense that hasn’t been dominant since Dan Marino retired.

The last two men who tried — Tony Sparano and Joe Philbin — now coach offensive lines in Minnesota and Indianapolis.

Gase, who will call plays for the Dolphins in his first season as a head coach, is determined to succeed where they failed. And if he does, it will be because the lessons from that blustery day in Denver traveled with him to sunny South Florida.

Some coaches try to fit players to their scheme. That's misguided, Gase believes, particularly with a team with incumbent starters at most every position. He crafts his scheme to fit their skills.

At this point, what Gase wants out of his offense is ground long covered.

But how he goes about doing it? That hasn’t been — until now.

Gase lifted the curtain for the Miami Herald recently, describing in detail how he condenses hundreds of man hours into a game-day cheat sheet, the play card he uses as a decoder for opposing defenses.

“His message is he's always going to fight to put us in the right place,” said Dolphins offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, who spent 2015 with Gase in Chicago. “He's always going to fight to put us in the right situation, no matter what the defense is doing.”

Like every coach, Gase’s work on the offensive plan begins on Monday afternoon, shortly after he debriefs his players on the previous day’s game.

There’s an enormous amount of ground to cover in a very short amount of time, so Gase outsources much to his staff.

For example, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen might handle third downs. Offensive line coaches Chris Foerster and Jeremiah Washburn will study the run game with quality control coach Chris Kuper.

Gase often will focus on the first- and second-down pass game with Shawn Jefferson and Ben Johnson, who coach the Dolphins wide receivers. And he has a comfort level with assistants Bo Hardegree and Shane Day. They worked with him in the past.

After a marathon film session scouting the next week’s opponent, the coaches will all share notes. And a theme for the coming week begins to take shape.

“When you break it up the way we do, it takes a lot of pressure off me as a play-caller,” Gase said. “We're putting it together. For me, I kind of like that follow up. If I like something I can add it. If I don't like something I can take it out.”

Gase continued: “Nobody's feelings get hurt. If I get 10 suggestions and use four of them, think about how much that's taking off my plate.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill will visit with Gase early in the week and brainstorm. That’s a shift from Tannehill’s time with Philbin, who didn’t regularly ask for his quarterback’s help.

“He'll have a plan of what he wants to attack, and he's made it clear that if I have any input or insight on things I saw on tape, then he's more than willing to hear it and put it in the game plan if it fits,” Tannehill added.

The same goes for Dennis Lock and Tom Pasquali, who make up the Dolphins’ analytics department. Gase has always relied on numbers-based analysis — it’s a big reason he will use a short and intermediate passing attack this year — but he has never had this robust of a staff before.

Still, Gase knows the best way to figure out what plays will be successful is by trying them out against his own scout team.

“In practice, he wanted to work,” Thomas said. “We'd get into a set against our defense, we'd run [a play] a few times and if he didn't think it would work, he’d take it out.”

On Sundays, Gase will script out the first dozen or so plays, but that’s also not set in stone. If an opposing defense breaks out a surprise or two early, he’ll scrap the script and move quickly onto Plan B.

That flexibility has served his players well. Thomas caught 92 passes for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013, the year Denver broke or tied NFL season records in touchdowns (76), first downs (293) and games with 50 or more points (3).

Manning’s 55 passing touchdowns were the most ever. Five Broncos players scored 10 or more touchdowns, also an NFL record.

Credit has gone largely to Manning, who directed the Broncos offense at the line of scrimmage. But Thomas believes that narrative sells his old coach short. Gase’s impact on the team was huge in his first year, he added.

“My one regret is we didn't really enjoy 2013 as much as we should,” Gase said. “We were such perfectionists. All of us. We'd be in the locker room with [Manning] and go, man, what happened on this possession?”

The obsessiveness paid off. Gase said his best game as a play-caller didn’t come until Year 2 in Denver.

In Week 12 of the 2014 season, the Broncos rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to win by scoring touchdowns on five of six possessions. Gase found success on the ground, calling 35 running plays that gained 201 yards.

Denver was almost perfect in the second half.

The Broncos’ opponent that day?

The Miami Dolphins.

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