ORLANDO — Part two of a two-part series on Dolphins offensive issues, through the eyes of coach Adam Gase, at the NFL owners meetings:
The Dolphins need a lot of things to change their fortunes, and here’s one that would help: Their remaining first-round picks on offense need to give them more.
That means a more dynamic, explosive DeVante Parker and more consistently good tackle play from Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James.
Hurt partly by poor quarterback play but also partly by his own inconsistencies, Parker caught 57 passes for 670 yards last season, a modest 11.8 average, with only one touchdown in 13 games. During one stretch, four passes thrown to him were intercepted, though blame was shared there between Jay Cutler and Parker.
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Asked Tuesday if the Dolphins are beyond the point of talking about Parker’s potential as he enters his fourth season, Gase said: “We know what we can do in our building. I don’t think there isn’t any question. I don’t even think it’s a potential thing. It’s health. It’s however we can keep him healthy. That’s when we get our best DeVante Parker. We are trying to do as much as we can to figure out a way to make sure when we hit spring, we start from there and keep build on it. It’s unpredictable. We need a little bit of luck. We need him to do the right things. He has been. He has been trying to do everything the right away.”
The Dolphins must decide by May whether to exercise the 2019 fifth-year option on Parker, which would be guaranteed if he’s seriously injured in the 2018 season. It would make sense to exercise that option because of the talent level.
The Dolphins decided to keep James this season on his fifth-player option of $9.3 million instead of releasing him and paying him nothing, partly because of lack of appealing options on the free agent market. But they also believe James is still young enough to improve.
He allowed two sacks in eight games last season before a season-ending hamstring injury, and the entire line’s run blocking for those eight games was substandard.
Asked why the Dolphins kept James, Gase said: “We looked through all our options. He had a chance to think through how he felt. We had a lot of discussion with him, his agent, us… and we felt like Ja’Wuan wanted to be back. He wanted to get an opportunity to finish off last year the right way and wanted to continue building on what he felt he was building on. We had a great conversation where all of us felt really good about that he deserved a shot to get what he wants, to be part of that group and be an impact guy for us. The biggest thing that excited me is he wanted to be here, it meant a lot for him to be back. He wanted to be a part of it.”
Tunsil had a rocky transition moving from guard to left tackle last season, his second in the NFL. He relinquished five sacks, and his 12 penalties tied for fourth most in the NFL.
“I might not be the only one; there were probably a lot of us sitting here who thought it would be an easy transition for him,” Gase said. “It’s still left tackle in the NFL. It was tougher for him than what all of us anticipated. But he felt the same way where there’s nothing easy about this.
“I saw a different side of him last year. I saw a guy that started to notice it’s not that easy. He went to work, practiced hard, was great in meetings. The way he was watching film, his development as a professional improved last year. It’s exciting getting [new left guard] Josh [Sitton] in there to work with him and to be the guy he has wanted to be since he came out.”
TIGHT END UPDATE
The Dolphins plan to add at least one more tight end, if not two, but Gase spoke highly of two young players on the roster: A.J. Derby and Thomas Duarte. The Dolphins also like the toughness and blocking ability of MarQueis Gray, who remains under contract.
With Derby, Gase said: “I’m really interested to see what we can do with him. When he came on board, I wasn’t sure where he was health wise. Kind of a weird situation. To see him go out the first day and he’s running around and fine, I could tell the quarterbacks really like working with him. Anytime you get a guy that’s been a former quarterback, he seems to have a great feel for where to be and where to fit and kind of what that guy is thinking. We will see what we can do developing him. Has a great feel in the slot and kind of that one on one spot vs. a safety or linebacker.”
Derby had two catches for 20 yards in two games with the Dolphins last season after Miami picking him up off waivers from Denver, where he had 19 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns last season before a shoulder injury that led to his release.
Derby, a former sixth-round pick of New England who’s entering his fourth NFL season, had 16 catches for 160 yards in six games for Denver in 2016.
Duarte, a seventh-round pick in 2016, was a skilled pass-catching tight end at UCLA and has worked on his blocking. He has played in one game in two years, spending time on the active roster and practice squad.
“We did something in the middle of the season where we were talking to [tight end coach] Shane [Day] and [offensive coordinator] Clyde [Christensen]. We talked about putting him in with the ones and kind of seeing what happened. Shane put him in there the majority of run plays and pass protection.
“We were in pads — it was great to see him throwing his hat in there. He was being physical, doing things right. That gave us a lot of confidence that we feel like things are headed in the right direction. This is going to be a really important offseason for him so when he hits training camp he’s not thinking, he’s reacting, he’s able to play physical and at the same time, when he gets opportunity in the passing game, he makes the most of it.”
Gase said he had one conversation after the season with Julius Thomas, last season’s starter, but no contact since. Thomas was released and is not expected back.
Regarding free agent backup tight end Anthony Fasano, Gase said: “We talked at the end of year. As of right now, we are going to be in a holding pattern. We will see what happens in the draft or after the draft. If we still have to address anything, we will from there.”
Fasano hasn’t decided whether to continue his playing career, according to a close associate.
OTHER OFFENSIVE NOTES
▪ Gase said there’s probably a better chance Miami will keep three quarterbacks if the Dolphins draft one.
Brock Osweiler, David Fales and Brandon Doughty are also on the roster.
“For me to say that, it’s hard to know,” Gase said of keeping three quarterbacks. “I don’t know how the draft is going to fall. Are we taking a guy just to take a guy? I would like to add a quarterback as much as anybody else, but at the same time I want it to be the right guy for us. That’s an important position. The more guys we can bring along and the more guys we can develop, it’s hard to just say we’re going to keep a practice squad guy. Last year we felt really good about how David Fales was coming along. That wasn’t an option. Letting him move on was not going to be an option for us.”
Regarding Osweiler, Gase said: “I like the competition we’re going to be able have between those three guys. We will see how it goes with the draft. Brock has got the tool set we saw when we drafted him in Denver. Had a rocky road the last few years. When you are used to working with a guy, you are able skip a few steps and get into the meat of the action. And get into fine-tuning a few things. He will do in well in practice with us and he will be able get on the same page with guys really fast. He knows how things need to be done.”
▪ On the change at center — from Mike Pouncey to Daniel Kilgore — Gase said: “Mike Pouncey, when you have a guy that has done as much for this organization as Mike, I don’t know if you can really replace him.
“Daniel will put his spin on that position. He has some different traits that are strengths to him. We’ll see how everything gels together. That’s what we’re looking for to see how those three interior guys work together.”
Armando Salguero will have a post on Ryan Tannehill later.
Adam Beasley will have something later on the team’s situation at guard and Gase’s comments about Baker Mayfield.
And here’s my Tuesday morning post addressing everything else on offense, including Gase’s planned offensive changes and his thoughts on new additions Frank Gore, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson.