There’s a delicate balance Adam Gase must maintain as the Miami Dolphins’ second-year coach leads his team out of an injury-filled training camp, and into this week’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Gase has to get his offense and especially his new quarterback, Jay Cutler, ready for the Sept. 10 season opener against Tampa Bay at warp speed.
So Cutler, lured out of retirement two weeks ago, will make his Hard Rock Stadium debut on Aug. 17.
“It’ll just be good to get that first group out there for a little longer this time and see if we can get something going,” Gase said.
“That’s why it’s kind of nice that we’re playing Baltimore. It’s another tough opponent with a lot of good players. They’re going to be ready to go.”
But Gase is at a crossroads.
Gase must consider how much Cutler will play, and what kind of offensive line he’ll have for pass protection, keeping in mind Baltimore outside linebacker Terrell Suggs might be chasing Cutler, who had shoulder surgery in December.
Center Mike Pouncey (hip) doesn’t seem likely to play, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James (shoulder), who has missed the past two practices, is a question, as is guard-center Kraig Urbik, who is battling a back problem.
One school of thought says Cutler should have the best pass protection possible, so James and Urbik should play. The other says the ailing players should get as much rest as possible.
Philosophically, Gase can wash his hands of the injury situation and plow ahead toward the season opener.
“You do everything you can physically in the weight room and try to prepare yourself and try to schedule practice right and not fatigue your guys to the point where their bodies are breaking down,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, training camp is meant to be hard. It’s meant to harden you up. It’s meant to get you in condition. So you’re not going to prevent everything.”
Reality, however, shows four key players sidelined — quarterback Ryan Tannehill (knee), rookie middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan (knee), cornerback Tony Lippett (Achilles) and left guard Ted Larsen (biceps) — and running back Kenyan Drake has a concussion.
Gase seemed to hint running back Jay Ajayi, who got out of the NFL’s concussion protocol Tuesday, might not play against Baltimore.
“When you play that position and you’re used to how we use him, we just need him to be ready for the regular season,” Gase said. “And everybody kind of understands the drill with him.”
But the sense of urgency remains on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, the Dolphins must decide whether Mike Hull, the backup to McMillan, can handle the job or whether they need to seek free-agent help. Perhaps Hull gets an extended look against the Ravens.
The Dolphins have hosted a few linebackers for workouts, including Rey Maualuga, the veteran free agent from Cincinnati.
As for the defensive gameplan, it’s unclear how much veterans such as defensive end Cameron Wake, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and strong safety Reshad Jones will play.
Gase knows his team faces major injury concerns. He acknowledged his team’s injury situation when he reduced Tuesday’s scheduled practice to a no-pads walk-through.
But he’s also theorized the run defense and pass protection were sluggish during last season’s 1-4 start because there wasn’t enough contact during training camp.
He wanted to change that this year, but he never got to the point of making it a physical training camp. Injuries prevented that from happening. And now training camp is over.
Thursday is a chance for extended contact.
And, Gase, in deference to Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, said it’s a chance for the Dolphins to get better, despite the injuries.
“Coach Harbaugh always has his crew ready to go very early, and they’re going to be looking to work on certain things,” Gase said, “and for us to be able to play them, that’s good for our guys.”