Dolphins coach Adam Gase is excited because this is Year Two, and everything should be better in Year Two.
Gase doesn’t need to teach his assistants his offensive system in Year Two. The first practice of Year Two will be a refresher course for a significant number of Dolphins players instead of a new learning experience. The team culture that Gase, executive vice president of football operation Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier built all of last year is mostly established in Year Two.
Players know their surroundings. Know each other. Know coaches.
And coaches know the players — so defenisve end Cameron Wake won’t be sitting on the bench.
Combine all this familiarity and knowledge that borders on being innate and the Dolphins should find themselves ahead of 2016 when they start 2017.
Right, Coach Gase?
“I think it gives us a better chance to, like you said, start off in a better fashion,” Gase said Tuesday morning. “[Starting off] 1-4 is not ideal. It makes it very difficult. It just helps the continuity. It helps our guys work on more of the fine details of everything instead of trying to figure out, ‘Where do I go?’
“So that’s going to be something that I’m very excited to see in the spring, to see how far we’ve come over one season. You’re really going to find out if you really are truly who you think you are because guys are going to try to get better or they’re going to be content where they are. I don’t see the guys that we have on our roster being the kind of guys that are going to be complacent. I don’t feel that, and I don’t see that. I’m really excited to see what happens when we get going.”
If the Dolphins are right this time, this is where re-signing players such as wide receiver Kenny Stills, safety Reshad Jones, linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive end Andre Branch should help. This is where trading for tight end Julius Thomas, who played his most productive seasons under Gase in Denver, pays off. This is where we see a jump from quarterback Ryan Tannehill in an offense that he knows rather than is learning.
And I’ll get to the details of all that.
But — yes, there’s always the possibility of a but — none of this is certain.
And although Gase and the Dolphins present what they believe is going to happen, which is always a sunny, positive, glass-half-full view of things, I also have to share there are no guarantees.
It is good to be hopeful but also to be aware that sometimes things don’t exactly work out in Year Two.
That’s why Nick Saban’s team was 9-7 his first year. And 6-10 his second year.
And Tony Sparano’s team was 11-5 his first year. And 7-9 his second year.
And Dave Wannstedt’s teams didn’t improve after his first year. The opposite actually happened.
Joe Philbin’s team improved by one game in Year Two. But under Philbin and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s scheme, Tannehill was good in 2014 and regressed his second year in that very offense when everyone was expecting a leap.
That doesn’t mean that’s what is coming at these Dolphins. That doesn’t mean the fire the Dolphins are going to train on the NFL in 2017 is going to backfire.
But the history is the history. (Gase hates when I cite history because he says it doesn’t apply to him or his team.)
Assuming the 2017 Dolphins are not like the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2013-15 Dolphins, it is fair to believe improvement is coming. It is fair because the Dolphins will start from a much stronger position.
Consider right guard Jermon Bushrod, for example. At the beginning of last season, he had never played a snap of right guard in his life. He was a career left tackle.
“We’re looking to get better from last year because he’s coming in knowing what to do,” Gase said. “We can actually treat him like a veteran player. He had to take a lot of reps last year. For a guy that was 32 years old, he was averaging about three or four less reps a day than [Laremy] Tunsil, who is 10 years younger.
“He was taking a lot of reps. This year, hopefully, the fact that he’s played that position is going to help us because now we’ll be able to get him to the game to where he’ll be able to take less reps during the week and know what to do mentally.”
He was injured at precisely the worst time because the day Tannehill partially tore his ACL something came together in his mind. Gase said “the game slowed down” for Tannehill that day. And, obviously, Tannehill didn’t play again, but that suggests great possibilities for 2017.
“When you walk in on Day One and you already know almost everything you’re going to talk about, it makes a big difference,” Gase said. “And then you go out and play, things should slow down for you.”
Alonso has talked about 2017 being his first NFL season in which he’s in the same defensive scheme for a second year in a row. Cornerback Byron Maxwell, who figured out how to play in Miami defense late last season, might pick up where he left off. The defensive ends will know they have to stop the run as well as chase the quarterback — something they shockingly didn’t realize early last year.
And then there’s the other reason why Year Two is so exciting for the Dolphins: They play in a division with the New England Patriots, who have had the same quarterback and coach, same system and culture, since before today’s high school seniors were in kindergarten.
Competing against that with a new team trying to find its identity is a disadvantage.
Competing against the Patriots with a team in Year Two should be better.