Miami Dolphins assistant head coach Darren Rizzi walks over to head coach Adam Gase during this practice and, having noticed a bit of a commotion on the field’s sideline, shares from his 15 years of experience as an NFL coach.
“I could be wrong,” Rizzi says to Gase, “but whenever I see [club senior vice president] Jason Jenkins, [director of football communications] Matt Taylor, and [director of team security] Drew Brooks walk on the field and start talking to [executive vice president of football operations] Mike Tannenbaum and Mike is on the phone and talking to them at the same time, something’s going on.”
Gase, agreeing with his assistant, decides he would like to know what’s happening so he walks over to the group, breaking away from a practice that is 20 minutes or so from being complete.
And when Gase hears the group is confirming that defensive lineman Leon Orr was arrested in Collier County on drug charges the day before and didn’t volunteer to tell the team, he understands the reason for all the activity.
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The group discussion goes on for a minute or so before everyone is agreed it was indeed their player who was arrested — the same player who is practicing with his teammates less than 30 yards away.
That’s when Tannenbaum and Gase break away and decide Orr’s fate.
Tannenbaum asks the head coach if he’d like to cut Orr. He would.
Gase confirms Tannenbaum is in agreement.
So they summon a staff assistant who walks over to Orr with 10 minutes left in the practice and that staffer escorts Orr off the field and to general manager Chris Grier’s office. That’s where Orr is told he’s been cut from the Dolphins.
That’s how a player got cut, basically on the field, by the Dolphins last week.
And what does this say?
“I just look at this, for me and our front office, as it was nice that we were all on the same page as fast as we were,” Gase says in a private moment days later. “We’ve got five games left in the season and we have a lot of people that have invested a lot of time and effort — whether it’s coaches, players, staff members — to where if this isn’t your main priority, then maybe this isn’t the right place for you.
“Our focus needs to be on what do we need to do to win this week. If your focus is somewhere else or there’s something else that interests you, we’d rather you just move on.”
In the days following Orr’s unceremonious departure there is only limited conversation about him in the locker room. The players know what happened. Many know how it happened.
And they shrug because they are the survivors. They are the ones who have so far understood that this coaching staff and front office doesn’t suffer foolishness well.
Guys play poorly? They get benched. Ask Mario Williams. Ask Byron Maxwell.
It’s nothing personal. It is simply for the good of the team, no matter that a player’s status or salary might suggest he’s immune from the repercussions.
Guys sulk about getting benched and then play poorly when they get a new chance?
They get cut, too. That’s what happened weeks ago to Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas.
Thomas, a starter much of the past two seasons, was never a good player. His best games were ones where he failed only on a limited basis. But when he lost his starting job at the start of this season, he was upset. And teammates knew it.
Turner was similarly unhappy he was benched.
And when both those players performed poorly in the Oct. 9 game against Tennessee, with Turner’s play suffering significantly at the end of the game because he didn’t seem to be playing hard anymore, the Dolphins cut them.
Caught in that whirlwind also was practice-squad player Douglas, who had been sulking around the locker room for weeks because he wasn’t on the active roster after being drafted in the fourth round in 2015.
All of them were unhappy. All of them were either not playing well or not practicing well enough to even play. All of them were cut in one day.
“I think some of that was built up to that moment,” Gase says. “There were some situations that kind of came up that isn’t seen outside our building. At some point you just feel like it’s time to move on. I think I hit that threshold after that Tennessee game. I felt like that was the right thing for us at that time.”
Gase said last week he isn’t sending messages when the team makes these moves. But messages are definitely received. Players have privately confessed they understand mistakes on or off the field and a poor attitude have consequences.
“We benefited for a little bit because for a time it opened a few guys’ eyes as far as them understanding, ‘We’re here for one purpose,’ ” Gase says. “Sometimes it’s not about talent. It’s more about trying to find guys that want to play together, that want to do it right, that want to, day in and day out, have the right attitude and make sure everybody is in it together.
“There are no fractures anywhere in the building now. There cannot be any kind of controversy about, ‘Why am I not starting?’ or “Why am I not active?’ It’s about us saying, ‘Here’s your role,’ and guys excelling at their role. Everybody can’t be a starter. Sometimes guys need to understand that. You have to serve a role on this team and you have to accept that role. If they don’t accept that role, it’s only going to hurt us. But if guys accept their role and try excelling and try to get better … that makes us a better team.”
That begs the question whether Gase uses fear as a motivator to exact results. Not at all, Gase argues, cringing at the mere mention of that word.
“I don’t know if fear is ever a good word to use,” he says. “I think you want players to respect what you’re trying to do because of what’s good for the organization and what’s good for our team.
“You want to be around as many guys as possible that want the same thing as you do. I just look at guys that have been here from the past — the Cam Wakes, Mike Pouncey, Reshad Jones — and I think of those guys when these decisions are made.
“We owe those guys that have put so much on the line in the past to do the little things and make us the best team we possibly can. Those guys can’t do it by themselves. They have to have other guys that do things right as well.”
Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero