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Dolphins pushing hard for more from tight ends; LB on radar; Marlins on Tebow; Spoelstra's message; UM battle

 

TUESDAY NIGHT BUZZ COLUMN

 

Already blessed with the NFL’s most destructive tight end in Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots further strengthened themselves at the position by trading for Marcellus Bennett, giving them two tight ends who combined last season for 125 receptions and 1615 yards.

If the Dolphins get even half of that yardage production from their top two tight ends this season, it will be reason for a parade.

Tight ends were often an afterthought in the Dolphins’ passing game last season, with Jordan Cameron (35-386-3 touchdowns) and Dion Sims (18-127-1) combining for 53 catches and 513 yards. They weren’t prominently featured early in training camp or in Friday’s win against the Giants.

But they made a bunch of catches in practice Tuesday, including a touchdown by Sims, and Dolphins coaches are clear that they want to incorporate them more in the passing game.

“We need some big plays out of that room,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “That’s where your matchups are on third down. They’ve got to win and we’ve got to have some good stuff for them. We’re not there yet.”

Cameron said he accepted a $1.5 million pay cut, to $6 million, to stay with Miami partly because “one of my good friends, [Jaguars and former Broncos tight end] Julius Thomas, who played for [Adam Gase], said, ‘You've got to play for this guy.’ He does a good job of putting [tight ends] in spots to succeed.”

But Cameron said this week he isn’t sure how much more he will be targeted this season and insists it doesn’t matter to him.

“I’m tired of… these questions about my role; I really don’t care,” he said. “I want to win. I haven’t won. I haven’t had a winning season in the NFL. I’m tired of that. I just want to win games.”

The utilization of Cameron last season was somewhat puzzling considering he caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns for Cleveland in 2013, then averaged 17.7 yards on 24 catches in 10 games for the Browns in 2014.

But two things happened: The previous offensive staff asked Cameron to block more than he ever has. And his chemistry with Ryan Tannehill wasn’t very good.

Cameron caught only 50 percent of the 70 passes thrown to him. Among 51 qualifying tight ends, only Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis caught a lower percentage (43 percent).

Most good tight ends catch more than 60 percent of their targets, some more than 70 percent, including league leader Brent Celek (77 percent). Gronkowski was at 60 percent and Sims was at 72 percent, though Sims was thrown only 25 passes. In Cameron’s defense, some of his targets were deep throws.

Cameron’s low completion percentage, in the eyes of coaches, was partly a byproduct of erratic throws but also the result of Cameron’s inability to come down with enough contested balls despite his 6-5 frame.

“Contested passes - that’s something Jordan specifically is really working on,” tight ends coach Shane Day said. “It’s something we’ve talked about since the offseason when we were doing evaluations and he’s aware of it. We’re working on it every day.”

So can the Dolphins ever expect the type of production from Cameron that he gave the Browns?

“I don’t want to predict anything,” Gase said Tuesday. “I feel like what’s going on with him right now is that there’s a little bit of a learning curve for him. We went through some struggles there in the spring and a little bit at the beginning of camp. The thing about the tight end position is that there’s a lot of responsibility you have. You’re doing multiple phases of the game,…have a lot of responsibilities…. It’s just a lot on his plate.

“I went through the same growing pains with Julius Thomas. It wasn’t like that thing happened overnight. It was two years of he didn’t play and once it clicked for him, it clicked. Obviously with Jordan being a little more experienced, it’s going to happen a little faster.”

With Sims, Gase made clear in March that “potential has been used a lot with Dion. I told him this is probably the year we get this thing rolling.”

Day said Sims is “learning to use more of his size along with his speed, use more of his length to his advantage.”

Whether a legitimate No. 3 tight end emerges remains unclear. MarQueis Gray, third on the depth chart, remains out with a leg injury. Dominique Jones, who has caught three passes in 13 regular-season games for three teams, caught two for 25 yards Friday but also dropped an easy one.

Seventh-round rookies Thomas Duarte caught a touchdown against the Giants and must “utilize his strengths, which are his quickness and his speed to get on guys quickly and use his hands,” Day said.

And from a blocking perspective, “we’re kind of starting from ground zero because at UCLA he really wasn’t asked to play in-line tight end,” Day said.

How did Duarte do with in-line blocking against the Giants?

“I think there’s a little bit of a learning curve there for him,” Gase said. “I know the effort is there, which that’s the number one thing you want to see from a guy that really hasn’t had to do it before or asked to do it before. Hopefully sooner than later it will just keep getting better. Of course, you’d love to jump to step 100; but it’s early in his career and we’ve got a ways to go here before that first game and figuring out who (are) going to be our guys. But I see improvement and I see a guy who is willing to try to do the right thing.”

Gase has been pushing his tight ends hard, and Cameron said: “We have a good relationship. He holds us to a high standard. We’ve got to make the plays when they’re there for us.”

CHATTER

• Free agent middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, a Miami Killian alum and a longtime NFL starter for Tennessee and Detroit, is on the Dolphins’ radar. Miami wanted to bring him in for a workout recently, but the Dolphins made clear they were looking to add a linebacker on a low-money deal and Tulloch is waiting for something better than that. Tulloch, 31, released by Detroit last month, had 107 tackles in 16 starts last season.

• Though there’s a good chance Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan will begin the season on NFI, coach Adam Gase said: "Every time he’s supposed be somewhere, he’s been there. He’s been engaged in everything we’ve done. I see a guy that seems to be excited to be here and, for him, it’s like the first thing I told him, ‘Whatever’s happened in the past is irrelevant. You got a fresh start so make the most of it.’”

Please click here for a ton more Dolphins news, including one player lashing out at Donald Trump.

• UM running back Trayone Gray is out for the year with a serious knee injury, a source confirmed tonight. (The Palm Beach Post reported this a few minutes ago.) Gray likely wasn't going to get much playing time this year.

We're told that Gray was sixth in the hierarchy among UM backs, behind Mark Walton and Joe Yearby (who are competing to start), Gus Edwards, fullback Marquez Williams and freshman Travis Homer, who has impressed coaches with his speed. Gray would have been fifth if you don't count Williams.

Gray carried 23 times for 145 yards last season.

Malik Rosier, competing with Evan Schirreffs and Jack Allison for the backup quarterback job, said coaches indicated "whoever has the best performance throughout this next scrimmage [Wednesday] is probably going to be the No. 2 guy."

“I feel very consistent with my footwork," Rosier said. "During the spring I was very off. Sometimes I didn’t know what I was doing. Sometimes I was doing it wrong. This time I know what I’m doing. It feels natural now.”

UM coaches were unhappy with Rosier's penchant for turnovers in the spring, but Rosier said QB coach Jon Richt told him "through the fall I've gotten more and more consistent."

Schirreffs fits the Mark Richt drop-back mold better than Rosier, but he must play decently Wednesday.

The No. 2 offense will go against the No. 1 defense in this next scrimmage.

• While receiver Dayall Harris has impressed throughout camp (and he's now getting even more first-team reps with Ahmmon Richards injured), Darrell Langham has been underwhelming, though he played better the past two days (according to Mark Richt).

• Team president David Samson said he doubts the Marlins will send anyone to Tim Tebow’s audition for big-league teams. “Nothing is harder in sports than hitting a baseball and to not take a swing in [a game] for 10 years” makes this difficult for Tebow, Samson said.

• For a look at Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's message to fans today, please click here.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

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