Adam Gase’s attention to detail fuels Dolphins’ culture change
DAVIE, Fla. — There is no mystery about what awaits the Miami Dolphins following their first playoff appearance in eight years. There will be more doubters who will view them as one-hit wonders, more skeptics who will predict their demise under the weight of a tougher schedule and more naysayers who will scrutinize their overall flaws. It comes with the territory of ascending when nobody really sees you coming. It’s also a reality that Miami couldn’t care less about this offseason.
The first thing to know about these Dolphins is this: Head coach Adam Gase expected them to be a playoff team when he arrived last January. Now, here’s the second thing to understand: Gase is thoroughly convinced that this year’s group is legitimate enough to reach the postseason again. He can see that in the maturity they displayed in 2016 — when they overcame a 1-4 start to finish 10-6 — and he can sense it in the exuberance they’ve displayed during offseason workouts. As much as the Dolphins love the game of football, they clearly love being around each other even more.
It’s that chemistry that propelled Miami to its best season in over a decade. It also might be enough to keep the Dolphins competitive in a division that the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have controlled for most of the last 16 years.
“We’re trying to put last year behind us while also learning from it,” Gase said. “We learned a lot about guys because almost every game came down to the fourth quarter and we had to make plays. People can call it luck, but there’s no such thing. You create your own luck. We found out when it gets tight, who will step up. And we had a lot of guys with no experience step up and make plays. When we get into difficult times, my confidence will be up.”
Gase is referring to the fact that Miami won eight games by seven points or less. Even with the Dolphins playing a last-place schedule, those types of numbers do speak to the mental toughness he instilled in a relatively short time. He’s also well aware of the main reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers dominated them in a 30-12 AFC wild-card loss. As good as the Dolphins were in the clutch, they also made the kind of mistakes that can keep a young, talented team from reaching its full potential.
This explains the amount of time Gase and his staff have devoted this offseason to showing players how seemingly small errors can have a profound impact in big games. In that loss to Pittsburgh alone, two blown assignments cost them a shot at a possible 14 points.
“We’ve really been focusing on attention to details,” Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills said. “We looked at a lot of the mistakes we made last year, and we realized that sometimes you have to be put in a certain positon to learn from a mistake. We did a really good job of going through the mistakes we made last season and correcting them. We’ve made a big emphasis on the idea that (one) person’s mistake is everyone’s mistake.”
The most obvious area where the Dolphins need to improve is on defense. They fielded a unit that ranked 29th in the NFL in total yards allowed (a franchise-record 6,122 yards) and 30th in rushing yards allowed (140.4 per game). Those numbers are even more disturbing when considering the schedule Miami faces after finishing second in the AFC East. Of the 16 games they’ll play this coming season, eight will involve teams that finished in the top 10 in scoring last season (including the three most potent offenses in the league last season: Atlanta, New Orleans and New England).
Gase believes the Dolphins will have more talent to help offset these issues, including the signing of free-agent linebacker Lawrence Timmons and the use of a second-round pick this year on linebacker Raekwon McMillan. They also return safety Reshad Jones, who missed 11 games with a season-ending shoulder injury after making the Pro Bowl in 2015. Just as important is the comfort level the Dolphins will have with a defense that now is being run by former linebackers coach Matt Burke after last year’s coordinator, Vance Joseph, was hired as the Denver Broncos head coach. Gase specifically wanted Burke on his staff last season to avoid any lack of cohesion if Joseph moved on to a better opportunity.
Miami’s pro football team stepped outside of the conventional charity box (think building neighborhood playgrounds and houses) by reaching out to and inviting youth teams from the city’s roughest sections, including inviting a squad co-founded by rapper and activist Luther Campbell, to watch Dolphins practices in person and interact with the team’s players. From there, the Dolphins have moved into the civic realm, looking to lead by example via a voter registration drive with some help from special guest Martin Luther King III.
The team aims to become the first in the nation’s history to have a roster of fully registered voters. The son of the civil rights icon has even been seen flagging down Dolphins players within the team’s facility to ensure registration forms were properly completed.
“Of course, the hope is that translates to encouraging more people across our nation to get engaged and to vote because a vote-less people, as dad said, is a powerless people,” King said Thursday, via the Miami Herald. “One of the most important steps that we can take is that short step to the ballot box.”
Although his Dolphins fandom might have originated on accident, Toplander doesn’t take it lightly. He once was supposed to take in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game with his dad but settled for a Dolphins game when his flight to Tampa was oversold and he was diverted to Miami.
“[I’ve] been each year since and with Game Pass never miss a game,” Toplander said in a note posted on Twitter.
Dolphins rookies don’t report for training camp until July 20, and the veterans don’t follow suit until July 26. Don’t tell that to Toplander — he probably has those dates memorized if he’s dedicated enough to wear the helmet at his wedding.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see Toplander at the the Dolphins’ facilities next month wearing the same head gear, begging for a photo with Ryan Tannehill. Or better yet, begging to squeak in a few reps alongside the veteran QB. Besides, he already has the helmet.