Armando Salguero

Amid terrible start, Dolphins have made subtle rather than sweeping changes on offense

The Dolphins would like to get running back Kenyan Drake opportunities in space to take advantage of his speed.
The Dolphins would like to get running back Kenyan Drake opportunities in space to take advantage of his speed.

After the Miami Dolphins offense laid an egg against the New York Jets two weeks ago, coach Adam Gase kinda, sorta suggested he was considering lineup changes.

And, of course, there were no offensive lineup changes against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Part of that is because the Dolphins have no up-and-coming youngsters on offense pushing to break into the starting lineup.

Until Ted Larsen is healthy and comes off the short-term IR in another month or so, the offensive line looks like it’s going to stay status quo barring injury.

The starting receiver set of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker are set and Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant are not going to force any of the top three to the bench.

Gase also dismissed the idea of benching quarterback Jay Cutler after the New Orleans game.

And you know Jay Ajayi remains the team’s best running back.

Meanwhile, Gase put a lot of personnel capital into vouching for tight end Julius Thomas, who hasn’t really turned into a consistent difference-maker yet. And Anthony Fasano is still mostly in his expected role as a blocking tight end.

So big lineup changes looming? Hard to fathom.

The old “We lost so they’re going to cut somebody” threat that seemed to genuinely shock the locker room late last October doesn’t really exist now because these players -- this lineup -- was the one Gase wanted and rode last year. And it seems he’s going to continue riding it for the near future because, as he said, “it’s not time to panic.”

But that doesn’t mean the Dolphins didn’t make some adjustments to other elements of the offense last Sunday.

(Without much success).

Nobody seemed to notice but the no-huddle went out the window.

It was part of the offense the first two games. It was supposed to be part of the attack this year with a veteran quarterback and veteran lineup that knows what to do.

But it was the first casualty when coaches realized players who are supposed to know what to do -- not just in carrying out their assignments but in doing intricate things such as placing hands in exactly the right spot for offensive linemen, or cutting off routes at just the right place for receivers, or placing the ball maybe inside instead of outside for the QB -- weren’t doing what they were coached.

And so Gase, the team’s play-calller and architect of the offense, decided he’d do the same thing he did last year. He let the team huddle before every play so that guys could compose themselves. Maybe taking a huddle break would help players think about what they wanted to do a bit better.

Gase tried to make it easier for players.

By the way, this is something of a surrender because it tells me players in the second year of this offense have failed to progress to the point where they can run the offense beyond its most rudimentary levels.

Last year, Gase went so far as to cut out options on routes for receivers so they didn’t have to make decisions on the field and could instead play faster. I imagine those options remain out because these guys haven’t shown they’re ready to get past arithmetic and onto algebra.

Another adjustment Gase tried on Sunday was to actually try to involve Kenyan Drake more in the offense.

I like that idea. Not that it has worked yet, because it hasn’t. But I like the idea in principle.

The idea is that Ajayi cannot get 28 carries a game as he did the first game. He also shouldn’t be getting 23 carries per two games as he has the past two weeks.

The Dolphins should be giving Ajayi the ball about 18-23 times a game. That feels like a really good goal.

And that window would leave maybe 8-12 carries for somebody else.

It would be nice if Drake and Damien Williams could fill out those carries and touches. But they didn’t the first two games.

That changed a bit this last game.

Drake got only one carry but he participated in nine offensive plays and caught two passes.

The vision?

I think it’s to get Drake, who runs a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, a handful of chances to make a big play in space. Get him the ball on a toss and see if he can get outside. Throw him a screen and see if he can make someone miss.

Use him a bit like the Saints are using Alvin Kamara.

So why hasn’t this happened more often? Well, the Dolphins have plays they’d like Drake to run but he was too often improvising when the play didn’t unfold exactly as drawn up. And sometimes that improvising worked. And sometimes it didn’t.

The point is the team is having a hard time using one of its weapons and high draft picks from 2016. It’s also having a hard time figuring out the sweet spot for using Ajayi. It’s also having a hard time staying on the field -- which is another reason the no-huddle was abandoned.

(Staying out there longer by huddling, takes more time off the clock so you’re resting the defense a tiny bit more even though the offense isn’t moving).

My expectation is Gase will change something again this week for Tennessee.

Maybe he’ll revamp the lineup! Probably not.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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