Barry Jackson

Here's the unique approach Dolphins rookie tight ends are taking to get up to speed

Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki runs during a practice last week.
Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki runs during a practice last week.

For the Dolphins’ pair of rookie tight ends now charged with learning a complex playbook, the workday hardly ends when they leave the facility.

Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe transform the Broward County hotel room they’re sharing this month into a mini class-room, complete with a whiteboard that Gesicki borrowed from the team facility.

It has become a near-nightly ritual. Gesicki quizzes Smythe about a bunch of things they learned that week, and Gesicki draws up the plays on the whiteboard. Then they switch positions.

“Me and Durham get in the hotel room, and he’s calling out a play and calling it out quick [so I can] draw it up,” Gesicki said.

Such is life when you’re learning a playbook that Smythe estimates is twice as big as the one he had at Notre Dame.

The amount of information to digest can be so voluminous that Gesicki, the team’s second-round pick, cautions against reading too much into June on-field production.

Miami Dolphins rookie tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe, talk to the media about how they have a white board in their hotel room to continue learning the play book after OTAs at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Fl, June 11, 2018

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill noted that Gesicki made a great one-handed catch on a deep ball earlier during this four-week stretch of on-field practices, which conclude on Thursday. But neither Gesicki nor Smythe has been targeted a lot — or done anything memorable — in the four practices open to reporters.

And the Dolphins don’t want anybody to draw conclusions from that.

“I’m not worried about the production on field right now,” said Gesicki, who had 129 catches and 15 touchdowns in four years at Penn State and was considered one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the draft. “I only had one catch today, I didn’t score a touchdown. It’s June; we don’t have a game for three months. What I’m concerned about is showing coaches, showing the quarterbacks, my teammates trying to earn their respect [and say] ‘this kid knows what he’s doing, knows his role, his assignment, I want him on the field, I want him to make a play for us.’”

Gesicki said he viewed Monday’s practice — which was not open to reporters — as a bit of a turning point for him.

Miami Dolphins rookie tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe, talk to the media about the challenges of training in the heat and humidity during the OTAs at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Florida, June 11, 2018.

“Today was a huge step forward,” he said, crediting mentoring from backup quarterback Bryce Petty on Friday as well as overall guidance from Tannehill. “I felt pretty confident. Not second guessing myself, lining up quicker, being able to adjust to the defense and playing fast."

Gesicki said the Dolphins’ offense is a “different system” than Penn State’s, with “more terminology. It’s a challenge, something I’m really striving to master."

The Dolphins, at this point, have no idea who will be starting at tight end in the opener against Tennessee. Gesicki, Smythe, A.J. Derby, MarQueis Gray, Gavin Escobar and Thomas Duarte are all competing.

“Everybody has had their shots [with the first team],” Gesicki said. “I [couldn’t] care less about a depth chart. I just want to be able to learn this playbook, play fast, play confident. That’s when I am at my best. When I get to that stage, that’s when I’m going to be lining up with the ones.”

As for Smythe, because June practices are not in pads, he doesn’t yet know whether his greatest strength in college — blocking — will be an immediate strength in the NFL.

The Dolphins selected Penn State's Mike Gesicki with the 42nd pick in Round 2 in the 2018 NFL Draft.

“With no pads we are working a lot on technique,” said Smythe, who has been focusing on the Y spot, which is an in-line position. “You don’t get to go full speed into a guy.”

Smythe, a fourth-round pick, said he has caught every ball thrown to him in full team drills and the Dolphins believe he was sold short as a receiver in college, where he caught 28 passes in four seasons

“I feel like with the offense we ran at Notre Dame and our philosophy of what we wanted to do, I wasn’t targeted as much and didn’t have as many catches,” he said. “That’s something I tried to show throughout the pre-draft process; that’s something I can do as well.”

Tight ends coach Shane Day gave him former Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano’s phone number, and Smythe said he will call him in the next few weeks, “maybe pick his brain about what to do during this time [of year]. It’s nice to have a guy connected to the Dolphins and connected to Notre Dame who sounds like he’s willing to help.”

Rooming with Gesicki has been a plus because “it’s nice having a guy who plays the same position going through the same thing so we can kind of bounce ideas off each other,” Smythe said.

The nightly whiteboard ritual will continue only a few more nights, before the two rookies go their separate ways for a five-week summer break. But both say their preparation won’t end Thursday.

Smythe said continued studying is essential for him because “in college I was a guy who used the mental part of the game as a strength. I knew the playbook extremely well…. That’s something I’m trying to make my strength.”

Gesicki said he cannot bring the hefty whiteboard “all the way from Florida to New Jersey. I’m going to have to get another one. I’m sure my dad will be at home waiting for an opportunity to help me out.”

But he makes this clear: “There is zero unwinding” before the start of training camp in late July. “My foot is on the gas from now until February.”

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