About a week before the start of the 2016 NFL season, Sports Illustrated caught up with Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron in Davie, Fla. shortly before one of the team's final off-season practices. Cameron, a six-year veteran and former Pro Bowler, is entering into his second season with Miami after four with the Browns. The tight end spoke with SI about the growth he has seen from quarterback Ryan Tannehill this off-season, the process of learning a new offense, why exactly new head coach Adam Gase is considered an “offensive guru” and the team's confidence level heading into a year when most pundits do not regard the Dolphins as contenders.
Ben Baskin: There has been a lot of talk this off-season about the growth of your quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. When you compare this past off-season to last year, your first season with the Dolphins, what changes would you say you've noticed from Ryan?
Jordan Cameron: I think it’s subtle, but it’s just the way that he carries himself and the way he talks in the huddle. Even his demeanor on the field, it is just more confident. It’s not like a, “He is doing exactly this, and that is why he is more confident.” It’s hard to even describe what exactly it is. I know everyone uses the word ‘swag’ and I think it’s a terrible word, but he has more of that this year, whatever you want to call that. And that has definitely been noticeable for us as a team. It’s just more of a feeling, more of a vibe, that is different. But you can just feel that energy.
BB: Where would you say that this subtle change is being derived from?
JC: I think it’s really a combination of a lot of things. He’s been given the reigns of the offense this year, and has been given that ability to be in control. So he had to step into that role. And I think he is. Plus, Coach Gase is giving him confidence. Coach Gase will get you comfortable just from the things he says. Even though you might think you can't beat the guy on this play, he’ll say, “You’ll beat him on this route,” and so you’ll say to yourself, You know what, maybe I will. He does that a lot with Ryan. Good coaches know how to motivate and give players confidence.
BB: How has Ryan’s added confidence manifested this year, either on the field or off?
JC: I’d say he is definitely more vocal in the [offensive team] meetings. This offense requires him to have more say, because he’s the one out there doing it, he’s the one making the throws, he’s the one who will ultimately see the [defensive] look and tell us what he wants us to do. So it really helps for us [as an offense] to have that communication and get on the same page on different routes in the new offense, and Ryan has been great at that so far. Just yesterday I ran a route, and he just told me to do it slightly different, to go at the guy this way, instead of taking it inside. There are just these little things that probably don’t mean that much to the outside world, but I’ll know exactly what he’s talking about and I’ll change that the next time I run that route.
BB: There has been a lot of talk of the different responsibilities Tannehill has been given this year that he hasn’t had in years past, like having the ability to make changes at the line, call an audible, change a route concept, etc. Obviously there will be an adjustment period with that, but what has that progression been like for him this off-season?
JC: I think that [idea] has been blown up. He has been able to make play changes at the line before. It’s just different this year. Different offenses allow you to do different things. I wouldn’t say that he has more control, but now he has more opportunities to change the play and more reigns of the offense. Coach Gase trusts his players. He’ll ask us point blank, “What do you think about this? What do you think we should do?” So it’s more of a back-and-forth, and not as much as a “do this” or “do that.” And [NFL players] like that. Or at least the façade of that. There are a lot of egos in football, so it gets tough. Sometimes you do have to be very blunt [as a coach], and say “do this” or “do that.” It is a very fine line between trust and giving a guy too much leeway or too much leverage. But [Gase] does a good job of finding that balance.
BB: Speaking of Adam Gase, there is always the description of him as an offensive guru or a quarterback whisperer. How would you describe his offensive system? What is the secret sauce?
JC: I think the biggest thing is that he’s simple. People put so much effort into the X’s and O’s these days and the idea that you have to trick [defenses] now. But Coach Gase just knows his stuff, knows his system, knows it’s going to work, and executes it. It is more black and white. There are no maybes. It’s “You’re going to do this”and“You’re going to do that.” You know what you’re doing, and that allows you to play fast, which is the key. When someone you believe in is calling the plays, you’re going to be able to play faster.
BB: How long does it take to get on the same page with your quarterback on route concepts and other things like that, and where would you say you guys are at learning this new offense?
JC: Right now there are hand signals, a lot of talking, a lot of yelling—the non-verbal changes [at the line of scrimmage] will come later. But there’s definitely a lot of communication now, because we don’t really huddle that much. When we do huddle, obviously [Ryan] is telling us the play. But when we rush to the line of scrimmage there’s a lot of looking at Ryan, and he’ll look at the defense and then he’ll let us know what we got. If we’re not huddling and Ryan is at the line of scrimmage, if he sees a different defensive look, he’ll have the opportunity to change the signal and make it a different play based off of what he sees. That comes with the added control he’s been given. Coach Gase came from being with Peyton Manning for a while. So he is used to having someone have that control over his offense. And Ryan is doing a pretty good job with that. We’ll only get more comfortable [as the season goes on.]
BB: On this team in years past, it seemed like everyone’s job—especially Tannehill’s—was constantly being talked about as being in jeopardy, or them being “on the hot seat.” So far this year it seems that Adam Gase has tried to make it very clear that he supports the guys on the team that are here now. What has that done for the confidence of the guys on this team and especially the quarterback?
JC: If you think about it, in anyone’s personal life, if your boss is kind of like,“Eh, we feel kind of good about you,”I don’t think you’re going to go out there and do the best you can do. But if your boss is like, “I believe in this guy, I trust this guy,” that gives you confidence in and of itself right there. You’ll be like, “I got this,”if your coach believes in you. Because he’s the one that calls the shots, and he believes in me, so I got this. And you'll play better like that. But if [your boss] is timid, or saying “Eh, maybe he is, maybe he isn’t,” or he’s giving shoulder shrugs, to me that is bull crap. [With Ryan], you have to say, he’s our guy, we paid him as such, he’s played great so far, he’s been sacked a million times and he still has had top-three QB numbers for the first four years of his career. [Ed. note: Only two other QBs, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino, have thrown for more yards than Tannehill’s 15,460 over the first four years of their careers.] You have to go with those things and trust him. And that’s what coach Gase has done. It sucks because the media, we all know how it works. They need stories, so there are negative things being said. But Ryan has done a good job of knowing not to buy into that crap and to believe in coach Gase and what coach Gase has been telling him.
BB: It’s clear that the offensive line has improved pretty drastically this year. How have you seen that help Ryan so far?
JC: I haven’t talked to him about that, but he has to feel it. Before, there was the pressure of getting back there and thinking, Oh crap, who’s coming to get me? Now he can make his read, now he can [go through his] progressions. It just slows the game down a lot. Now he can really just play quarterback and not have to think about getting hit or having to duck a guy. He’s more relaxed in the pocket and you can tell.
BB: Any parting thoughts going into this season?
JC: The main thing is that we are confident in our abilities. A lot of people might overlook us and think that we are going to be the same old Dolphins. But I think it is a little different inside of this building now and where our mindset is and where we think we can go. I’m not going to make any predictions, but we are confident in what we got and I think we will show it when we go up to Seattle.