Injuries leave lots of questions for Gase’s Dolphins
MIAMI (AP) — There’s confusion in the Miami Dolphins’ backfield.
For Jay Ajayi, playing with Jay Cutler has required an adjustment.
“It has been interesting,” Ajayi said. “A lot of ‘Jays’ are being called around here, and we’re both looking, trying to decide who’s talking to who.”
The Dolphins spent training camp sorting out that and more. Injuries and other issues forced the team into tryout mode in the offensive line, at linebacker and at cornerback.
The biggest setback came a week into camp when quarterback Ryan Tannehill reinjured his left knee, which required surgery that will sideline him for the entire season. Coach Adam Gase then turned to Cutler, who had planned to become a TV analyst this season. He instead joins a team with a talented cast at the skill positions, including 1,272-yard rusher Ajayi.
The Dolphins made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008, but still haven’t won in the postseason since 2000. Here are things to know as Miami tries to end that drought:
NEW QB: The 34-year-old Cutler, who parted with the Chicago Bears in March after eight seasons, agreed to delay his broadcasting career when he signed a $10 million, one-year contract with Miami. He had a career-high passer rating in 2015 when Gase was the Bears’ offensive coordinator, and the Dolphins envision him meshing with his former coach to lead a potent offense.
Cutler knows Gase’s playbook but must become comfortable with his new teammates, especially the pass targets.
“When it clicks, it clicks,” he said. “It’s like whenever you meet somebody new — right off the bat there’s a spark, or sometimes it might take a little bit longer, or it just doesn’t happen. But with these guys, it’s going to happen. These guys are good players, and they’re fun to be around. It’s an enjoyable process.”
The warm feelings could fade fast, however, if Miami starts to lose. Cutler has a career record of only 68-71 as a starter, including 12-23 in the past three seasons.
BUDDING STARS?: Miami’s deep receiving corps includes DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant, both of whom could be on the verge of breakout seasons.
Parker has been slowed by injuries since being taken by Miami in the first round of the 2015 draft, but he and Cutler connected repeatedly on long passes in training camp practices.
“His name is not DeVante; he’s a monster,” receivers coach Shawn Jefferson said. “If he keeps performing like this, he’ll get invited to the Monster Bowl after the season.”
The 5-foot-7, 169-pound Grant played little on offense after being taken in the sixth round of last year’s draft. But the Dolphins are determined to find ways to take advantage of his speed, and he scored on two long passing plays in the preseason.
DEPLETED: Tannehill was one of three regulars to have his season ended by training camp injuries. Rookie Raekwon McMillan, projected to start at middle linebacker, tore his right ACL on his first play in the first exhibition game. Tony Lippett, projected to be the No. 3 cornerback, tore his Achilles tendon during practice. In addition, starting guard Ted Larsen is expected to miss much of the season with a torn right biceps.
ROOKIES: First-round pick Charles Harris made little impact at defensive end in the preseason, but fifth-round choice Davon Godchaux exceeded expectations and might beat out third-year pro Jordan Phillips for a starting job. Third-round pick Cordrea Tankersley also has a chance to contribute early at cornerback.
FIGHTING THE LAW (OF AVERAGES): Last year Miami went 10-7 in Gase’s first season as coach, but the 2017 Dolphins might struggle to reach .500 because of reversion to the mean. That’s a fancy way to say they’ll be hard-pressed to do so well in close games again.
Last year the Dolphins won their final seven games decided by a touchdown or less, and earned an AFC wild-card berth even though they were outgained by 798 yards.
A fast start would help the Dolphins get ahead of the pace from a year ago, when they were 1-4 before Gase led a turnaround. Another fast finish will be difficult because four of the final eight games are against 2016 playoff teams.
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