On the surface, the glaring statistic — no touchdowns in 21 NFL games — is discouraging in assessing a player who, when he was drafted 18 months ago, was billed as potentially the Dolphins’ best young red-zone tight-end threat in many years. But the numbers on Mike Gesicki don’t tell the whole story, not by any stretch.
Fact is, Gesicki is getting few chances in the red zone because the Dolphins don’t get there often enough, among other factors. And there have been clear signs of improvement, including an impressive and difficult 30-yard catch of a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Washington.
What’s more, coaches say there has been significant improvement in multiple areas — including shaking free from defenders.
“I feel I’ve done a much better job than I did last year in my releases, in defeating man coverage,” he said. “That was the big thing I wasn’t doing last year. [Tight-ends coach George Godsey] has helped me out a lot this year with the techniques, being able to use my hands, being able to use my size and my strength against smaller guys that are trying to get their hands on me and being able to use my speed and quickness to get open on the top of routes.”
Gesicki says he’s getting open more often, which was a problem last season. Gaining 10 pounds of muscle has helped him shake free of defenders on press coverage.
“I see a lot of improvement from him ... a ton from last year,” Godsey said this month.
The Dolphins also say his blocking has improved. That remains a work in progress. Pro Football Focus rates him the third-worst run blocker among qualifying tight ends this season but says 19 qualifying tight ends have been worse at pass blocking.
And he has gone about his work diligently, staying after practice to catch 100-plus balls, studying tape of other tight ends, and learning the details of the position “that you can lack in college.” He has watched film of how retired Rob Gronkowski ran routes, while noting that “he’s a different player than me with his physicality and size.”
In the meantime, Gesicki — who has nine catches for 102 yards — is trying to be patient waiting for opportunities, particularly in the red zone. He had a rare chance in the end zone Sunday, but Washington’s Landon Collins knocked away a pass intended for him.
The Dolphins’ 2018 second-round pick is fully aware several tight ends selected after him in the 2018 draft have produced bigger numbers, including Baltimore third-rounder Mark Andrews (34 catches, 410 yards, three touchdowns this season) and Seattle fourth-rounder Will Dissly (23, 262, four TDs). But he’s not going to lobby for more targets.
“I’m not really one that’s going to be, ‘Hey, can we get this in?’ or ‘Hey, can I get a shot in?’ I kind of let the game take its course and let coaches put players in position to be successful. So I’ve got to make sure when I am put in those positions to be successful that I make the most of it.
“On Sundays, it’s about getting the right looks, getting the right play calls against the right defense. The stars have got to kind of align for everything to work out.”
He believes the chemistry with quarterback Josh Rosen “has gotten a lot better” and mentioned that he has had multiple touchdowns in practice.
“Whether it’s in practice or games, the more he throws me the ball and I come down with it, the more he’ll say ‘I’ve got Mike back there.’ Even if everything breaks down, if he does feel pressure, he can look for me and hopefully I’m going to give him that safety blanket.”
And he said he pays no mind to critics who base their conclusions only on stats.
“I had some adversity I went through at Penn State, dealing with outside noise and all that kind of nonsense,” he said. “If people want to talk, if I don’t know you, I don’t care. I couldn’t care less about anyone else’s opinion outside of this building.”
So much of this season for the Dolphins is determining which players are worthy of being retained when Miami exits the rebuild, and there’s not enough information to make that decision yet on Gesicki.
“I would love to be one of those pieces to get the franchise back to where it belongs, back to where it deserves to be,” he said.