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Onus on Miami Dolphins’ Adam Gase, Matt Burke to outscheme, outsmart opponents with creativity


These Dolphins believe they are better than the sum of their parts.

These Dolphins believe they’ve held back what they can really do.

These Dolphins believe their identity will emerge, and it will be impressive.

The time has come to see it actually happen. Many experts expect the Dolphins, kicking off the season Sunday at home against the Titans, to be among the worst teams in the league.

Coach Adam Gase? Not having it.

“I’ve said it since the spring, I like this group,” Gase was saying Friday. “I like the way they work, the way they prepare. That’s what you have to do to get ready for Sunday and then when we get there, just lean on what you’ve basically gotten yourself ready to do. Don’t think and just react to the game and play fast.”

Not just fast. Better.

The Dolphins finished 6-10 last season and then lost Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey and Jarvis Landry.

The Dolphins note they’ve added players with winning pedigrees — Danny Amendola, Josh Sitton, Frank Gore — and added players with unique skill sets like Robert Quinn and Albert Wilson.

Is the overall talent better? Debatable. Probably not. The return of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and linebacker Raekwon McMillan should be impactful. The additions of defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and tight end Mike Gesicki and linebacker Jerome Baker inspires some hope.

But here’s the thing. It’s on the coaches now. It’s on Gase and defensive coordinator Matt Burke to make this work.

It’s on them to utilize and maximize the versatility of the players they’ve had great says in adding. It’s on them to outscheme and outsmart opponents.

Because player talent alone isn’t going to get this done.

The Dolphins open this season without Landry and wide receiver DeVante Parker, who is much-maligned, but indisputably tall, fast, athletic and dangerous.

Immediately this creates a situation where Gase must deploy Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola and tiny but explosive Wilson and Jakeem Grant in a variety of creative formations that will confuse the Titans and their veteran defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, on Sunday.

It is true that Wilson and Grant can like up outside, inside or even in the backfield. It is true that explosive running back Kenyan Drake, who should be Miami’s best offensive weapon this season, can also split out and play some receiver. So can warhorse Frank Gore.

It is true that rookie tight end Mike Gesicki can play split out as a receiver, a huge advantage when matched against a smaller corner such as, say, Adoree Jackson of the Titans. Gesicki, the sky-scraping hoopster/volleyballer, was held back and held back again, intentionally, it seems, in the preseason.

They’re facing the Titans as the real games begin. Release the Kraken!

The NFL is a game of matchups. Gase knows it. Everything he does is geared toward creating the best matchup opportunities for his players. He’s had all offseason to brew up matchup problems for Tennessee.

Against New England in a home upset last season, for example, Gase was masterful.  He used tons of formations and personnel groupings, often in the same series.

“Just keep them guessing as far as what we were trying to do,” Gase said after the game. “We were just trying to keep them a little bit off balance.”

That’s exactly what Gase and first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains must do this season, more often than not. Tempo is an overused term in the NFL, and especially in Miami, but it will be helpful for Tannehill and crew to actually go (no, really!) up-tempo more often this season.

There is always a delicate balance in changing too much up on a week-to-week basis. As we know, the Dolphins have been penalized too often the last two seasons, oftentimes with presnap penalties.

As important as it is to confuse the opponent, so too is making sure your players aren’t thrown off balance by too many changes. But the Dolphins think they have added smart players who know what to do and have put in the preparation required to execute at a higher level more consistently this season.

The time has come to see what we hear.

And really, players like Tannehill, Drake, Stills, Grant and tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James should be more-than-comfortable with Gase’s play book by now. After all, they’ve all been here for three years.

There is no way this Dolphins offense will average only 17.6 points per game, as it did last season. In Gase’s first season, it was 22.1 points per game, still in the bottom half of the league.

This offense, with an offensive line Tannehill feels is the best he’s ever had, should average 24 points per game. That’s the target. Do what it takes to get it done. Vary tempos. Vary formations. Vary game plans on a week-to-week basis. Whatever it takes, just get it done.

Defensively, the Dolphins similarly have a variety of players with versatile skill sets. Miami will open this season with Bobby McCain at outside corner (though he’s arguably better inside) and Minkah Fitzpatrick at slot corner (though his future position is arguably free safety).

Burke has a variety of options on a week-to-week basis. Some weeks, he can give veteran defensive end/tackle William Hayes extra snaps, to slow the run. Some weeks, he can use three or even four of these men on one defensive line, to create a fearsome pass rush: Cam Wake, Robert Quinn, Charles Harris and Andre Branch.

Burke wants more sacks and more turnovers. He expects more sacks and more turnovers. Quinn and Fitzpatrick should help.

Miami hasn’t been able to cover a tight end in recent years. This year? Burke and the Dolphins have plenty of additional options, including first-year linebackers Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan, and Fitzpatrick.

Burke, like Gase, is smart enough to know he’s going to have to vary his packages throughout the season. Surprising an opponent, leaving players in the opposing locker room and coaches like Bill Belichick admitting they were out-coached, is always the goal.

In a defeat of the Titans at home last season, Burke was at his best.

Miami crushed Tennessee for six sacks. The Dolphins used schemes in which they brought: three, four, five, six and seven pass-rushers.

Tennessee had no idea who was coming and who was dropping, from where, on any given play.

“We move around and give them the illusion we’re doing to do one thing, then we do another,” Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said after the game.

Illusion. Fantastic word.

Some view it as a negative that Miami has two strong, physical safeties, in Jones and T.J. McDonald, with one playing deep on half or so of plays. Some view it as a negative that Fitzpatrick begins his NFL career at corner, when his future is likely safety.

Burke surely doesn’t view it that way. What he must seize on is the opportunities. On any given play, in an ideal world, the opponent may not know who is lining up where and who is coming from where and what exactly that coverage they think they’re seeing really is.

And in a really ideal world, on a week-to-week basis, Miami’s coaches will come up with a plan that leaves opponents disoriented, as they feebly attempt to stop something they just have not seen before on film.

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