Barry Jackson

Dolphins executives opine on Ajayi, defensive approach and more

ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Dolphins nuggets on Thursday night/Friday morning:

• Jay Ajayi was a revelation for the Dolphins, finishing fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and seventh in yards per carry.

But team officials said this week that they do not see a finished product, by any means.

“I think he has just scratched the surface of what he can be,” GM Chris Grier said. “I think he’ll become more patient at times and stuff. I think part of it too is the offensive line. Guys have to stay healthy. He’s adjusting to different guys in (the game) each week, a couple weeks here and stuff. With Jay, the one thing is he wants to be good; he wants to be great.

“He’s young, and he knows his things he can improve on. We’re excited for his future. Again, it’s (up to) us to make sure we keep surrounding (him with) good players and keep upgrading the offensive line so that we can make sure he becomes a factor for years to come.”

Then Grier mentioned something that the NFC champion Falcons have and the Dolphins did not – something that could allow Ajayi to repeat or even surpass his 2016 success.

“I think it’s important; look at Atlanta,” Grier said. “Everyone is talking about how the Falcons … I think they didn’t have an offensive lineman miss a game all year. They stayed together all year. It just shows you that if you can keep those five guys on the field together, especially our offensive line – I forget the record when they’re all on the field together – they’re like 8-1 or something, 9-1 or something like that over the last couple years.

“Again for us, it’s important that we can keep those guys together. But at the end of the day, we know that they may not all be here and we just have to make sure that whoever the next five guys are next season that we do our best to keep them on the field together.”

Mike Pouncey missed 11 games, Branden Albert four and Laremy Tunsil two.

Found it interesting that the Dolphins declined to answer directly this week when asked by a reporter in Mobile, Ala., whether Tunsil will remain at guard or move to tackle.

The Dolphins, publicly and privately, have repeatedly said how much they value Albert. But they weren’t ready to say this week, unequovically, that Albert will be back at tackle and Tunsil at guard. That makes anybody wonder whether Albert might be approached about a contract restructure. We’ll see.

• Former defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s wide nine defensive approach didn’t exactly pay dividends, with Miami finishing 29th in total defense and 30th in run defense.

But the Dolphins said this week they’re committed to that system, with Matt Burke replacing Joseph, who left to become head coach of the Denver Broncos.

Why so?

“We don’t want to change a whole lot,” GM Chris Grier said. “We’re trying to do where there will be continuity. That’s the one good thing organizations like the Patriots and stuff that have won, is that you’re not always changing every time someone leaves. We’re trying to have it where if a guy leaves, we can keep going and we can keep building. There are a lot of things the defense did well and there were things that can be improved on, but I think that will come as we keep adding positions and building the people that fit the scheme of what we’re looking for.”

More importantly, the Dolphins acknowledged team speed must be upgraded on defense.

“The defensive end is, if you’re going to play the Wide 9, obviously that’s one of the key components of the defense,” Grier said. “With us, we’re always going to be looking at it. Last year we addressed it with some veteran players. We’re going to have to find some players there.”

And what about linebacker?

“I think the big thing for us is finding guys that are instinctive, guys that are tough guys, but also have the ability to play in space,” Grier said. “I think the one thing we talked about with Adam as well is improving team speed on defense. The way the game is played now, it’s a little more in the passing and space, but you also still have those guys, in the run game, that can hold up inside and make plays, are instinctive, can beat blocks and find plays. For us, again it’s finding guys that are productive – a good history of production, smart, intelligent and can run a little bit.”

• This Dolphins regime is hesitant to add players who don’t fit their size prototypes.

“We believe in prototypes,” Grier said. “Mike (Tannenbaum) and I both started with Coach (Bill) Parcells. That was my upbringing with him and (Patriots Head) Coach (Bill) Belichick. The same with (Seahawks Head Coach) Pete Carroll and (Alabama Head Coach) Nick Saban, they’ve all had prototype standards as far as what you’re looking for. The one thing we’ve said is that there are always exceptions, but you don’t want to be a team of exceptions. You can’t be too rigid where you’re like ‘Hey, you can’t take this guy because he’s 5-foot-8 or whatever,’ but he’s a dynamic player. Then you say ‘Well, he doesn’t fit everything, so he’s out.’ I think you hurt your team by doing that.”

Chimed in Tannenbaum: “I think that line was, coach would say ‘Don’t draft linebackers that come out of Volkswagens.”

• A few things from WQAM midday host Orlando Alzugaray’s interview with Tannenbaum:

On free agent Kenny Stills --- “Kenny is a guy that’s really grown up over the last couple of years. Really proud of him.,… how he flourished in Adam’s offense. He’s a guy we would like to have back. We’ll see what the next couple weeks [hold]. He’s important to have back. He’s a selfless person. He has leadership in his own quiet way. Those are guys you will like to keep. We are going within reason, see if we can get something done.”…

Does Gase get his way if he wants a player?

Tannenbaum told Alzugaray that Gase’s opinion carries “quite a bit” of weight. “But we do have checks and balances. We want to make sure we get it right…. We’ve got to get the right players at the right price. Because in a salary cap system, we have finite resources and we can’t screw that up. We lost some good players, be it Lamar Miller, Derrick Shelby, Rishard Matthews, Olivier Vernon. Those are good players. If you pay them certain prices, it’s going to prohibit you from doing certain things. We were disciplined and yet opportunistic.”…

Tannenbaum, on his general philosophy: “You want to keep your homegrown talent. They were drafted here, coached here, developed here. You want to keep as many of them as possible…. Some of those guys are going to leave so that’s why we need to sustain productive drafts on top of each other. That’s the only way to make the economics work… Pro football is a very humbling sport. We have a lot of work to do. We’re going to try to keep a couple of our guys, knowing we’re probably going to lose a few.”

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