When the Miami Dolphins open training camp July 27, first-year head coach Adam Gase is expected to use his skills to push quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the next level on a team with an offense that returns nine starters and added four more prospects to that side of the ball in its first five draft picks.
At 37, Gase is the youngest head coach in the league, but arrives in Miami with a resume that reflects an ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks. As offensive coordinator in Chicago last year, Gase helped controversial quarterback Jay Cutler achieve the highest passer rating (92.3) of his career as the Bears went from 28th in yards per pass play to 12th.
In 2013, his first season as offensive coordinator in Denver, Gase oversaw an offense that set NFL records with 76 touchdowns and 606 points as quarterback Peyton Manning was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player after breaking NFL single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and passing touchdowns (55).
Now there's an act for Tannehill to follow, eh?
Tannehill had 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 88.7 passer rating last season, which was 21st in the NFL. Much of his work in the offseason focused on accuracy and footwork. On the field, Tannehill's improvement must come mostly in red-zone, third-down and fourth-quarter situations.
In the draft, the Dolphins looked for help to give Tannehill time to pass by stealing Mississippi offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil No. 13 overall after his stock plummeted moments before the selections because of a YouTube video showing him smoking from a bong. Before that, Tunsil was rated by most as the best prospect in the draft.
On Monday (July 18), the Dolphins signed veteran running back Arian Foster, who might be a help to the rushing and passing game if he can stay healthy. Foster became one of the best in the league after the Houston Texans signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2009. In 2010, Foster rushed for 1,616 yards (4.9 per carry) and caught 66 passes for 604 yards, finishing with 18 touchdowns. That was the first of four seasons rushing for at least 1,000 yards.
Last year, Foster injured his groin in training camp, ruptured his Achilles tendon in Week 7 (vs. the Dolphins) and played in only four games with 163 yards rushing and 22 catches for 227 yards. Ironically, the Dolphins lost running back Lamar Miller to the Texans in free agency. Foster will join a backfield that includes second-year hopeful Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and rookie Kenyan Drake.
The Dolphins tried to bolster their defense with several veteran acquisitions, including defensive end Mario Williams, linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Here is a closer look at the newcomers and key players and how they should factor into the 2016 Dolphins team:
TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
SITE, LOCATION, ROOKIES, VETERANS
Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University, Davie, FL, 7/28, 7/28
COACH: Adam Gase
1st season as Dolphins/NFL head coach
2015 RECORD: 6-10
DIVISIONAL RECORD: 1-5
16; 9 offense, 7 defense, kicker, punter
OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Defensive end Cam Wake.
--Not only did he participate in most of the practices and workouts after sustaining a season-ending Achilles injury in October, but he was giving RT Ja'Wuan James problems during 11-on-11 drills. Granted, these were practices in no pads, and Wake didn't have his usual explosiveness, but he seems on track to be feared once again this season.
The draft -- A closer look at the Dolphins' picks (8):
--Round 1/13 -- Laremy Tunsil, G/T, 6-5, 310, Mississippi
Tunsil was rated by some as the best player in the draft and others as the best tackle. Miami wasn't scared away by the video showing Tunsil smoking from a bong, his Instagram messages asking an Ole Miss football official for money to pay his mother's bills, or his seven-game suspension last season. He'll likely start at left guard.
--Round 2/38 -- Xavien Howard, CB, 6-0, 201, Baylor
The Dolphins traded up to get Howard, who figures to battle for a starting job opposite Byron Maxwell. Howard started 24 games over the last two years and totaled nine interceptions. He also had 23 passes broken up over the last two seasons.
--Round 3/73 -- Kenyan Drake, RB, 6-1, 210, Alabama
Drake stayed mostly in the shadows behind Heisman winner Derrick Henry, but he's a talented player who is an elusive runner (rushed for 408 yards, averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year) as well as an outstanding special teams player. He'll have a chance to compete with Jay Ajayi, among others, for the starting job. The Dophins traded up to acquire Drake.
--Round 3/86 -- Leonte Carroo, WR, 6-0, 211, Rutgers
The Dolphins had a second-round grade on Carroo (39 receptions, 809 yards, 10 touchdowns), which is why they decided to trade up and give up two 2017 picks to grab him in the third round. They like his toughness and hands. As a junior, he had 55 receptions for 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns. For his career, he totaled 122 receptions for 2,373 yards and 29 TDs.
--Round 6/186 -- Jakeem Grant, WR, 5-6, 170, Texas Tech
The diminutive Grant joked he got the height in the family considering everyone else tops out at five feet. Grant is Texas Tech's all-time leader in receiving yards (3,164), surpassing Oakland's Michael Crabtree. Grant's best chance of making the team is as a kickoff/punt returner because it appears he's a long shot to contribute from scrimmage.
--Round 6/204 -- Jordan Lucas, CB, 6-0, 199, Penn State
Lucas has played both slot and boundary cornerback, and he'll be viewed first as a slot cornerback with Miami. He also played strong safety as a senior. He's not much of a ball hawk (three career interceptions), but he plays special teams and that could help. Lucas will compete with Bobby McCain to get playing time at the nickel/slot position.
--Round 7/223 -- Brandon Doughty, QB, 6-3, 210, Western Kentucky
Doughty is a local kid (played at North Broward Prep) who led the nation in touchdowns (48), completion percentage (71.9) and passing yards (5,055), joining Hawaii's Colt Brennan (2006) and BYU's Steve Young (1983) as the only others to reach that plateau. Doughty spent six years in college because of a redshirt and a medical redshirt. Doughty will compete with Matt Moore and Zac Dysert for reserve quarterback duties.
--Round 7/231 -- Thomas Duarte, TE, 6-2, 225, UCLA
Duarte might be more of an H-back than a hand-on-the-ground tight end. But he's effective. Last year, he totaled 53 receptions for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns. Miami's Jordan Cameron is the starter and Dion Sims is the top reserve. Duarte will compete with Jake Stoneburner for a roster spot.
--S Isa Abdul-Quddus: Ex-Detroit player is the likely starter at free safety. Solid veteran, should fit well.
--LB Kiko Alonso: Dolphins want the rookie-year Alonso (159 tackles in 2013). If not, it's an issue.
--DE Andre Branch: Ex-Jags pass rusher has 7.0 sacks in last two years. Figures to be major contributor.
--T Jermon Bushrod: Lifelong tackle expected to convert to guard. This should be an interesting change.
--CB Chimdi Chekwa: Shows promise at cornerback. Could eventually get playing time from scrimmage.
--TE MarQueis Gray: Long shot to make the roster at crowded position; needs special teams contribution.
--DE Jason Jones: Solid veteran; could bring depth to the line.
--CB Byron Maxwell: Enters season as No. 1 corner. Dolphins will play press coverage, which is his favorite.
--RB Daniel Thomas: Long shot former second-round pick back to revive floundering career.
--G Kraig Urbik: Veteran who will likely serve as backup guard-center, and could start at guard.
--DE Mario Williams: A steal if he regains his Pro-Bowl form. Only had 5.0 sacks last year in Buffalo.
--T Sam Young: Veteran backup tackle who should provide quality depth.
--RB Arian Foster: Versatile runner/receiver who was injured in 2015 and played only four games for Houston
KEY LOSS: RB Lamar Miller (16/16)*
--Miller departed for Houston via free agency. DE Olivier Vernon (New York Giants via free agency) could also own this title. They're both big losses, but Miller has no replacement. The Dolphins signed Mario Williams to replace Vernon.
--DE Quinton Coples (6/0), S Louis Delmas (0/0), T Jason Fox (15/11), CB Brent Grimes (15/15), WR Greg Jennings (16/5), WR Rishard Matthews (11/10), CB Brice McCain (14/11), DE Damontre Moore (3/0), DE Derrick Shelby (16/9), LB Kelvin Sheppard (16/12), G Shelley Smith (0/0), CB Jamar Taylor (12/6), DE Olivier Vernon (16/16)*
*Number in parentheses is games played/games started in 2015
Total games played/started lost: 156/111
-- Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX's network of NFL insiders provided information for this report.