In 2013, Julius Thomas, then the tight end for the Denver Broncos, caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. The next season, he missed three games, but still managed to catch 43 balls for close to 500 yards and another 12 touchdowns.
Last season, the tight ends for the Bears, Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller, combined for 87 catches for 878 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The common thread in all three of those very productive tight end seasons? Current Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase ran the offenses of all three of those teams. In almost every offense Gase has controlled, his tight ends have been highly involved, and especially so as the team nears and enters the red zone.
In the offseason, as rumors swirled that the Dolphins might part ways with tight end Jordan Cameron as a cost-cutting measure, and Cameron was being asked to restructure his contract - at that time he was scheduled to count $9.5 million against the cap – he received a phone call from Thomas, saying, “you HAVE to play for this guy!” That convinced Cameron to agree to a pay cut and re-sign with the team.
As quarterback Ryan Tannehill notes, the tight ends “have to be a full player - a complete player - and be able to run routes, not just tight end routes, not just corners and flats. They have to be able to run receiver routes as well, because we are going to put them on the outside and try to stress teams in that way."
Being able to block and pass catch is important in Gase’s offense.
"We definitely need both roles from our tight ends,” said Tannehill. “There's going to be a lot of situations where they're going to be pass blocking and run blocking, and then we're going to be putting them all the way on the outside and trying to create a mismatch out there.”
Coupled with Dion Sims and rookie Thomas Duarte, Cameron was expected to be a big part of the Dolphins game plans this year.
But for some reason, that hasn’t happened. Through two preseason games, the three tight ends have combined for just 5 catches for 35 yards and 1 touchdown, including one lone catch for 5 yards for Cameron. Against Dallas, Cameron dropped what would have been a touchdown pass from Tannehill.
It’s a given that preseason game plans are vanilla by nature. Gase certainly isn’t going to give away any offensive tendencies, and the team as a whole is far more concerned with finding out which players will stick at the bottom of the roster at the expense of getting the starters much quality playing time. As such, the lack of production from the tight ends, while seemingly odd, isn’t a concern. In fact, Tannehill has gone out of his way to praise Cameron.
"He's extremely athletic,” said Tannehill. “He's a talented guy. You like your matchups with him on safeties, definitely on linebackers. He's a guy we want to get rolling and be able to take advantage of mismatches."
As the Dolphins head into their third preseason game Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons, the starters are expected to see extended playing time, possibly playing one series into the second half. And maybe, just maybe, fans will finally start to see the offense use the big guys out on the end of the line a bit more. In spite of the dropped ball in the endzone last week, Tannehill insists he’ll have no problem coming back to Cameron if the situation arises.
"It was one mistake in a season-long campaign,” Tannehill says of Cameron's dropped pass against Dallas. “You can't dwell on it. Obviously we want to make those plays, but he's going to make a lot of plays for us. He has to keep his head up, keep working, and he'll make it next time."
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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