On a day the Dolphins ended their offseason program, the focus shifted to the start of something far more significant – the regular season.
Specifically: How do they avoid another 1-4 start?
Considering the easiest month of the Dolphins’ schedule, on paper, is September, a fast start is absolutely critical.
Here are the first five games: Home to Tampa Bay, at the Chargers in Los Angeles, at the Jets, New Orleans in London and home to Tennessee. There needs to be at least three wins, probably four, in that cluster of games for the Dolphins to enter mid-October in decent position.
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Here’s why: What follows is substantially more difficult – at Atlanta, the Jets (OK, that should be the easiest game on the schedule), at Baltimore, home to the Raiders, at Carolina, at New England (following a bye), Denver, New England, at Buffalo, at Kansas City and Buffalo to close.
Asked about getting off to a fast start this season, Gase said: “You have to make sure when we play games, we play better than we did last year.”
He pointed out that Miami played well in the opening loss in Seattle and then lost by seven New England and “we had a severe dropoff in games three, four and five.” (That would be a listless Thursday night loss in Cincinnati, an unimpressive home overtime win against doormat Cleveland and an embarrassing 30-17 loss to visiting Tennessee.)
“Let’s not have the peaks and valleys,” Gase said. “Let’s have consistent improvement.”
One key, Gase indicated, is players coming back to training camp in shape and prepared.
“We need to start fast in training camp and not waste time on guys getting in shape,” he said. “Our guys understand how we’re going to do training camp so they can’t go too far away from the playbook. They need to keep up with everything and when they come back, be sure they hit the ground running.”
• Former Arkansas receiver Drew Morgan, among the most impressive of the team’s undrafted rookies, has “put himself on the map,” Gase said. “He has a really good sense of how to play the position we’re asking him to play. Now it’s going to be about making plays when we get into games. He’ll get looks he hasn’t seen before. He’s put himself in a good position to compete. That’s all we can ask for, an undrafted rookie. Nobody knew who he was coming in here.”
Morgan’s college career ended inauspiciously; he was ejected in the fourth quarter for spitting at a Virginia Tech player in a 35-24 Hokies win in the Belk Bowl. Arkansas coach Brett Bielema called it "very embarrassing" for his team.
Morgan declined to discuss that beyond saying “Virginia Tech got in peoples’ heads. It is what it is.”
Operating out of the slot, Morgan consistently got open throughout the offseason program.
“I’m a little bitsy guy out there,” said Morgan, who’s listed at an even six feet. “Most people compare me to Wes Welker, Danny Amendola” among other Caucasian receivers he listed. “I don’t want to be stereotyped. My game speaks for itself.”
He said he expected to be drafted and one knock against him is “I don’t get out of breaks super fast. I’ve been working on that.”
He said he timed at 4.7 in the 40, below average for NFL receivers. “When running the 40, I’m slow,” he said. “But on the football field, I’m fast.”
He said he is “fearless” going across the middle. “It shows I care about the ball,” he said.
Morgan was nicknamed “Juice” in college but said that won’t be his nickname here because Jarvis Landry has it.
• Ryan Tannehill overthrew Julius Thomas on a deep ball early in the final practice, and the chemistry between the two remains a work in progress.
Gase is optimistic.
“It’s not hard for him to fit in,” Gase said of Thomas, whom he coached two years in Denver as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator. “He will fit in because he will talk to everybody. He will know everything about everybody. He’s enjoying being back in the system. It’s fun for me. I was with him when he was a rookie.
“I saw him go through low moments and I saw him at the highest of the highs. Keep putting him in position to make plays. When he gets those chances, he’s going to have to make those plays…. I have a history where things have worked out. He’s a fighter. He will give you everything he has and he will keep swinging.”