Armando Salguero

How the Miami Dolphins create and manage depth chart intrigue

The reason coach Adam Gase decided Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore are listed as co-starters on the Miami Dolphins first depth chart of 2018 — separating the two running backs with an “or” between them — and causing some speculation about the looming selection of a starter?

“Just to be an [expletive],” Gase said Monday as reporters chuckled.

Now we know.

The response suggests the Dolphins don’t really care which player starts this season. It suggests the Dolphins don’t put a lot of thought in the depth chart.

And when Drake and Gore said all the right things about the issue Monday it made the topic seem moot.

“I don’t really care, honestly,” Drake said. “I want to go out there and win games. I’m sure [Gore] doesn’t care. I don’t care. I don’t think anybody really cares about where they are on the depth chart before preseason even starts.”

Said Gore: “With me, whatever my coaches want me to do this year, I’m going to do it. If they want me to start the game off, I’m going to start it off and give them 110 [percent]. If they want me to come in behind Drake or Kalen [Ballage], I’m going to do that and give my teammates 110 percent. Whatever my coaches want me to do, I’m going to be ready.”

But here’s the thing: What seems like a trivial exercise that throws names on first-, second-, or third- teams with no particular rhyme or reason is approached way more thoughtfully than that.

There’s motivation to be weighed. Entitlement is considered. The Dolphins coaching staff publicly talks as if they don’t think about this stuff.

Privately, there is ample consideration that goes into what depth chart is presented and how practice repetitions are awarded.

The obvious example is the running back position.

Gore, who is 35 years old, is never going to campaign for the starting job. He knows that might not be good for the team. It might cause a teammate to feel disrespected. And, ultimately, it might make him look bad if he makes his pitch and still doesn’t get the job.

But Gore is a prideful man who is on a 96-game start streak. He has started every game since 2012. And although he is saying all the right things about Drake and showing himself to be a team player, he wants to start.

Drake, meanwhile, spent all his time at the University of Alabama in a backup role. And he spent most of his first two NFL seasons in a backup role. So Drake is unlikely to complain bitterly if he doesn’t start -- as long as he gets an ample opportunity to contribute.

That opportunity, by the way, is the plan.

“Both are going to play,” Gase said. “Maybe they’ll be on the field at the same time. I don’t know. I’m not worried about it. It’s not something that I’m losing sleep over.”

Gase is not losing sleep because he has a plan -- one he is definitely not sharing at this time.

Two years ago when the Dolphins drafted Laremy Tunsil in the first round, the coaching staff knew on draft night the offensive lineman would be a starter the first game of the regular season. And you know where Tunsil opened training camp on the depth chart?


Coaches didn’t want Tunsil to feel entitled. They didn’t want to put undue pressure on him. They also wanted to let him settle in slowly, although not too slowly.

So the Dolphins managed the situation and the depth chart.

And that seems to continue now, particularly with the team’s tight end position.

Second-round pick Mike Gesicki is listed fifth on the depth chart at tight end. Fourth-round pick Durham Smythe is listed sixth on the depth chart, which is interesting because the Dolphins have six tight ends on the roster.

But both are making the team, barring injuries, and the Dolphins want both to factor immediately.

That was obvious when the team returned Monday to start its third week of training camp and the first play of practice in the team period included both Gesicki and Smythe working with the starters.

The Dolphins, you see, need both rookies to be good and be that fairly quickly. But MarQueis Gray is listed as the team’s starter on the depth chart.

“I think we’re trying make sure we get the guys that don’t know, or that are new, as many reps as possible, whether that be a rookie or a free agent that we’ve brought in,” Gase said. “At the same time, we’re trying to give guys opportunities to win jobs or compete for jobs. It’s a fine line. The tight end position is a good one to look at.”

As Gase explains it, Smythe will spend time working with third-teamers in practice but then coaches will throw him in with the first-team offense against the starting defense.

“...We know he needs to get used to going against Cam (Wake) and Robert (Quinn) and William (Hayes) and (Andre) Branch,” Gase said. “We need him to understand it’s going to be a little bit different when you start going against some of these guys.”

But the tough work comes still comes in increments. Smythe hasn’t been fully weaned off reps against third-team competition.

“You don’t want him to just have six plays [on first-team] where it’s a hard lesson to learn,” Gase said. “You want him to have success. You want him to kind of work his way up to that point. It’s tough to manage sometimes because it’s not always going to be perfect, but you’re just trying to do the best job you can to make sure that everybody is kind of getting their shot.”

Sounds like the coaching staff, you know, thought about this stuff.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero
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