Adam Gase began his coaching career two decades ago working for Dean Pees as an undergrad assistant at Michigan State. Gase, now the Dolphins head coach and offensive architect, started out learning about defense from Pees those early years. And judging by the last couple of times Gase’s teams have played against Pees, now a longtime NFL defensive coordinator, the older man is still schooling the younger.
Consider that last season Gase and his Miami Dolphins traveled to Baltimore and Pees, as the Ravens defensive boss, came away with a 40-0 victory.
The previous season , with his Dolphins riding a six-game winning streak and the hottest running back in the league, Gase went to Baltimore and took it on the chin. The Ravens won that one 38-6.
So Gase’s offense has scored one touchdown, that in the fourth-quarter of an already decided game, against his former teacher.
Gase is aware. And although he has mentioned Pees only once in passing the past week, he wants redemption. He gets that chance Sunday because Pees, now the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, visits Hard Rock Stadium to play Gase’s Dolphins.
And here’s the thing: Something’s brewing with these Dolphins. Something’s going on that just might be interesting to behold with their offense.
Gase and his players believe they’re about to embark on some next level offensivery or whatever.
The Dolphins’ offense has been borderline abysmal the last two years — averaging 22.9 points per game in 2016 even amid a playoff run, and dipping to 18.1 points per game last year.
And Gase has promised confidants he’s “not going to be 32nd again this year,” which shows you his mind-set because last year the team actually finished 28th not 32nd — although to Gase finishing 28th feels as empty as being last.
So why do the Dolphins think this season can be different?
Why is this team that has been so unimpressive on offense for two years be so borderline arrogant about what is about to happen in 2018?
The Dolphins believe they’re going to have a very good offensive line.
The Dolphins believe their offense will put multiple explosive playmakers on the field at the same time, making it hard on defensive coordinators such as Pees to match up.
The Dolphins believe quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in his third season of understanding the scheme, is about to play his best football.
So the multiple playmakers part first:
The Dolphins are itching to unveil speedy Albert Wilson. This season he’s going to catch the football. He’s going to run the football. Anything an offensive player might do with the football, he’s going to do it. Anything.
The Dolphins are eager to see running back Kenyan Drake get his chance to be something, because many, including himself, think he’s going to be dynamic. Just ask him.
“Yeah, of course,” Drake says of being dynamic. “I’ve felt the type of personality I’ve had is I can go out there and on any given down or situation, I can make a play. I can demand that type of attention...”
The Dolphins love the fact Danny Amendola, in the slot, is going to do what he’s supposed to do, be where he’s supposed to be, run hard on every play and pick up first downs to extend drives.
The Dolphins held back running back Frank Gore all preseason. He carried the ball once. But they believe Gore and Drake could be the best 1-2 combination in the AFC East. Oh, yes, and the team plans to do something unorthodox with Gore, too.
[Pregame update: The Dolphins will introduce Gore with the starters. Indeed, they consider him a starter. So depending on what package the team opens the game with, Gore could be in at the start of the game. The Dolphins see this as mere pregame trappings because both Gore and Drake will get a lot of work throughout the season. Also, there will be times Gore and Drake are in the game together -- as in at the same time -- against Tennessee.]
The Dolphins, in short, believe their offense will be multifaceted and harder to defend than in the past.
“I feel like that’s the beauty of having the weapons we have,” Drake says. “It’s a shame we have only one ball to spread around to all the playmakers we have on the field. Good luck to the defensive coordinators that have to face us this year because as we get rolling, the playmakers on this side of the field are going to make plays, regardless. You might be able to stop one person, another person may not be having a great game, but we have plenty of playmakers to step up when somebody may be down.”
None of that can happen without a good foundation. And the foundation for Gase’s offense is going to be the offensive line.
Publicly, the Dolphins are upbeat about the unit. They don’t mind telling you that it is already pretty good at doing certain things.
“I think it’s a group that right now, their strength is in pass [protection],” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “It helps going against our defense because they play the Wide 9 and they’re going to rush the passer and they run all of these stunts and games and [defensive Line Coach Kris] Kocurek has them going crazy and playing hard.
“Right now, I think that’s the strength of it. We need to become balanced and be a good run football team as well and be able to run and rely on those guys because that should be a strength for us.”
So now you want to know what the Dolphins think of that line privately?
They think left tackle Laremy Tunsil is about to have a monster year and finally live up to the billing he had when he arrived as the first-round draft pick in 2016.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete,” Gase says. “He could probably play a skill position if we asked him to.”
They think new center Daniel Kilgore has already picked up the leadership mantle left vacant by the departure of Mike Pouncey. And because he practices every day, he has raised his game to a level as good if not better than Pouncey. Pouncey, by the way, was the Dolphins’ best center dating back a couple of decades, so this is no small compliment.
The Dolphins think right tackle Ja’Wuan James has been more consistent with this group than he has been the previous two years. They think right guard Jesse Davis is improving and is very good in his run blocking.
And they think the anchor of the group is left guard Josh Sitton because he has helped raise Tunsil’s game, he is an outstanding pass blocker, he has a mean streak on the field and he’s demanding of the entire group off the field.
An example of Sitton’s demanding nature: He does not practice every day because the Dolphins want to keep him fresh. But Sitton has told Tunsil that even on the days he’s not practicing, he’s going to watch the practice tape and expect the left tackle to be as good or better as when he’s playing next to him. And Tunsil, accepting the challenge, has not fallen off.
None of this is going to set fire to any scoreboards if Tannehill doesn’t play well. But the Dolphins are certain that’s about to happen. I wrote “certain.” Gase is certain Tannehill will be good.
Why, I ask?
“Just the reps and the experience,” Gase says. “I know he said he missed last year but we went through the whole spring. We had a good amount of training camp practices. He’s stayed so engaged throughout that whole year, which is hard to do when you know you’re not going to play.
“He really took last year and used it to his advantage and taking a step back and being able to watch everything, listen to everything and kind of see how guys react to certain things. And then also just listening constantly when we’re talking about plays, concepts, progressions and why we’re doing things, he was able to really take it all in. Now it’s processing faster for him.”