Barry Jackson

Dolphins say this is better team “by far” than 2016 opener; Personnel notes

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase with special teams coach Darren Rizzi (left) and assistant speacial teams coach Marwan Maalouf, during practice at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie on Aug. 4, 2017.
Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase with special teams coach Darren Rizzi (left) and assistant speacial teams coach Marwan Maalouf, during practice at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie on Aug. 4, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of Thursday night notes from Dolphins coordinators’ first media availability in six weeks:

• Last year’s Dolphins offense entered the season with a healthy Ryan Tannehill but without an injured DeVante Parker and Mike Pouncey and with Jay Ajayi left back in South Florida as punishment.

This year’s offense that plays Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers has Pouncey and Parker and Ajayi, but no Tannehill, with Jay Cutler taking over after Tannehill’s season ending knee injury.

And offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said the group that will start this season is far better equipped to succeed than last year’s.

He meant that as absolutely no slight at Tannehill, but more so a function of players adjusting in year two to Adam Gase’s system and the presence of Ajayi and Parker and Pouncey.

“There are a lot of guys who are better players this year,” Christensen said. “A lot of things have changed. We know what we’re doing now. A lot of guys are more comfortable. We’re a better team - a better unit - by far than we were last year at this time.”

Christensen called Pouncey “one of the two best at the position in his league [with his brother, Steelers center Maurkice]. He will give [Cutler] a stability there that will help him.”

Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey talks to the media after practice on Aug. 13, 2017.

• Christensen said Sam Young and Jesse Davis will be the backup tackles, and undrafted Virginia rookie Eric Smith – who made the 53-man roster –is more of a developmental project.

He said finding a No. 3 center, if needed, will be an adventure. If Pouncey is injured, Anthony Steen would slide over from left guard to center.

• Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, on replacing kicker Andrew Franks with Cody Parkey:

“Cody Parkey is a guy that I’ve always thought is a really good player – a really good kicker – consistently. I knew that they had drafted a guy out in Cleveland so we kept an eye on that one. It’s no slight on Andrew (Franks). Andrew’s done a lot of great things here. Certainly last year, he had a lot of great moments; but we just felt like overall, it was a better situation for us moving forward.”

• On the punter change from Matt Darr to undrafted Arizona State rookie Matt Haack, Rizzi said:

“Matt Haack has a little bit of a back story. Every year we evaluate the kickers and punters coming out. Myself and (Assistant Special Teams Coach) Marwan Maalouf, we get together in the offseason and evaluate all of the kickers and punters and specialists, and we had Matt Haack the No. 1 rated punter coming out of college this past year. I was very surprised that he did not get drafted.

“No punters got drafted. I think there were three kickers that got drafted, one snapper, no punters. So he was there at the end of the draft. We had a very good relationship with him. I had gone out to Arizona State to work him out. He came out to Miami for a 30-visit, and we had a really good relationship with him. It was just an opportunity to get a really good player and he did the rest himself.

“From the first day he punted out in OTAs, right on through training camp, he performed very well. He kind of raised Matt Darr’s game a little bit too because Matt started to really perform well towards the middle of training camp and towards the end of preseason games. It felt like we were in a no-lose (situation) there. We had two NFL punters; but Haack really, really punted the ball well.. He obviously has really good hang time on the ball, he gets rid of the ball quickly, he’s a lefty punter. He won the job fair and square. He was more productive in the preseason.”

Why Matt Haack instead of Matt Darr? Darren Rizzi said Darr won the job "fair and square."

• Rizzi is optimistic that Jakeem Grant’s fumble problems late last year (four in November/December) are behind him.

“To Jakeem’s credit, he worked on his self-confidence a bunch, even before we got back to OTAs,” Rizzi said. “You guys know the back story on that about how much he worked on it in the offseason, so I do think it’s a big difference. I see a different person taking the field this year than I did last year at this time.

“I see a much more confident guy, a guy that’s really worked at learning the game and learning that position. There’s a lot of nuances to that position, so I think he’s done a hell of a job with that, and to his credit. I see a totally different guy. We always say you want to see that big jump from year one to year two and I’ve seen that out of him, so hopefully we’ll see the fruits of that labor pay off for us in the regular season.”

Jakeem Grant, Miami Dolphins wide receiver and punt returner, talks to the media about becoming mentally tougher to over come his insecurity on catching kick returns last season.

• The Dolphins named five captains for 2017: Kenny Stills, Mike Thomas, Pouncey, Cam Wake and Ndamukong Suh.

Adam Beasley has more notes from the coordinators in two posts. Please see The Herald’s Dolphins page for those.

Here’s my Thursday piece on the Dan Marino documentary that debuts Friday, with 10 great sounds bites... Here’s my Thursday morning six-pack of Dolphins notes, with items on Cutler, Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas and more.

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