Danny Amendola is latest Texas Tech tough guy to join Dolphins, following Zach Thomas and Wes Welker

Finally the Miami Dolphins have figured out a way to put the pinch on Tom Brady.

By signing Danny Amendola to a free-agent contract, the Dolphins deny Brady the use of one of his most reliable targets and a key member of the NFL’s top offensive unit.

Can’t call Amendola invaluable, of course. If Bill Belichick thought that term applied to

Former New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) makes a catch between Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Koa Misi (55) and Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (52) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 15, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

the slot receiver, New England would have outbid Miami for his services. Already, Amendola has taken some $10 million in paycuts the last three offseasons in order to stay with the Patriots.

Think, though, of the toughness Amendola brought to the Patriots’ huddle, and the leadership he will bring to Miami’s locker room. See if any of this fits the new “culture” that the Dolphins and coach Adam Gase want to build, albeit three years late.

Amendola signed with the Patriots just as Wes Welker was leaving them, a demonstration of his willingness to take on a big challenge.

He started only half of the Patriots’ 2017 games but had such a rapport with Brady that he was targeted more times (86) than anyone but Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski.

Amendola caught just two touchdown passes during the 2017 regular season, nothing dramatic, but then he caught two more in the fourth quarter of New England’s comeback win over Jacksonville in the AFC title game. Altogether, in 13 playoffs games with New England he caught six touchdown passes.

What’s more, according to the Boston Herald, Amendola kept on playing through a torn groin in 2013, knee and ankle injuries in 2015.

Not bad for a guy who went undrafted out of Texas Tech after playing there for Mike Leach, one of the most inventive coaches around.

Matter of fact, I’m going to suggest that the Dolphins look to Texas Tech more often in the talent searches of the draft and free agency.

That’s where linebacker Zach Thomas played his college ball on the way to a great Dolphins career that featured seven Pro Bowl selections.

And how about Welker, another Texas Tech star who the Dolphins didn’t really prize until he had left them and, in a New England uniform, transformed himself into the NFL’s leading receiver.

Jakeem Grant, 5-feet-7, is another little hardhead from Texas Tech. He and Amendola will be playing together now in Miami and maybe even sharing time in the slot position, unless Adam Gase decides he only needs one of them.

Will Brady be able to keep his offense moving without Amendola? Of course. He never slows down, no matter who is running the routes.

This addition of Amendola, however, will return to Ryan Tannehill some of the third-down certainty that was lost with the trade of Jarvis Landry to Cleveland for money reasons alone.

This may not work out so well if Amendola, 32, continues to have trouble with a bad knee that’s been bothering him the last few seasons. Can’t blame the Dolphins, though, for taking what Brady wants.

At least make the Patriots work a little harder on their way to the Super Bowl. At least make them do that.

[Not feeling confident about Gators, Canes and Noles in NCAA tourney]

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world gives Honda Classic another boost]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

A dream night for Jakeem, but not without the familiar frustrations

Jakeem Grant finally caught a touchdown pass on Monday night, the first of his NFL career, and people are still mad at him.

Because the guy is 5-feet-7 and 169 pounds, everything Jakeem ever does is going to be magnified, if that makes any sense. To me, it’s a wonder that he’s even in the league. Speed and elusiveness got him here as a specialty player, of course, but being so different means that he always is going to try a little too hard, too.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant catches a touchdown pass over New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler in the third quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 11, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

There was a play in Monday’s 27-20 upset of New England, for instance, where Jakeem decided not to return a punt but couldn’t keep himself from standing way too close to the bouncing ball as it settled to a rest. What was the point of that, when touching it would have made it a live ball? A New England player even took the opportunity to shove Grant toward the ball while everyone was just standing around and watching it on the ground.

Very poor instincts for a player who has returned 41 punts and 38 kickoffs in his career.

Two other spotlight moments from Monday night introduced a whole new category of exasperation for Jakeem the Dream.

The first was a spectacular leaping grab for a 25-yard touchdown over Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX for his interception at the goal line with 20 seconds remaining. Jay Cutler made the ball a 50-50 proposition and Jakeem hauled it in for a 20-10 Miami lead. Not only was it Grant’s first career touchdown catch, it was his fifth NFL reception period.

In the fourth quarter, however, Jakeem had everyone gasping, Miami and New England fans alike, with a dropped ball that could have gone for a game-clinching touchdown bomb. Cutler put the ball on Jakeem’s fingertips, just slightly beyond comfortable reach, but instead of a transformational, two-touchdown night it turned into a major downer. Grant, who had trouble with drops last year as a rookie, said in the locker room that he reached out his arms too soon instead of running through the ball and catching up to it more easily.

I tried to cut the kid a little slack on Monday night, tweeting that because the ball didn’t arrive in perfect stride and required a stretch on the dead run it should not be classified as a truly horrendous drop. Many of the responses to that opinion were similarly sympathetic, signaling that tons of people are pulling for Jakeem to succeed, but here is one that probably resonates with most of you.

“C’mon dude, an NFL player should make that catch!”

Bottom line, Jakeem made himself available by sprinting past Butler and into the clear but failed to finish the play. At that point of the game, with New England on the ropes, it was the one play that everybody would have gone home talking about on Monday night, not only as Cutler’s fourth touchdown pass but as a Mark Duper moment for Jakeem.

Credit Adam Gase with finding ways to utilize Grant in this game, even lining him up in the backfield a time or two. You’ve got to find things that Bill Belichick and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia haven’t planned for, and who game-plans for Jakeem?

I still wonder, however, if the former sixth-round draft pick will be on the Dolphins roster next season. Might as well keep using him as much as is practical in the final three regular-season games to explore all the possibilities.

One thing is for certain. With Jakeem Grant, a gadget player with the ongoing mission of becoming a reliable wide receiver, it will never be boring.

[It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger Woods will play in Honda Classic]

[Bobby made FSU seem a dream destination but Jimbo? Not so much]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Schiano and Mullen]

Kenyan Drake’s TD return was a lightning strike, but Dolphins burned Jets even worse with Ted Ginn

Lightning actually struck twice in Miami’s 27-23 Sunday win over the New York Jets.

Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and Jakeem Grant took a punt return all the way from 57. Problem is, Grant’s touchdown was wiped out by a penalty, but it got me thinking.

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32), runs away from Jets defenders on his way to a kickoff return touchdown late in the fourth quarter of their NFL game Sunday November 06, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32), runs away from Jets defenders on his way to a kickoff return touchdown late in the fourth quarter of their NFL game Sunday November 06, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

When was the Dolphins’ most explosive day when it comes to the bonus-points category of touchdown returns?

It would take a lot of time to dig through all the archives to verify this fact, and maybe I’ll get around to that on some rainy day. For now, take a look at this crazy game from 2009.

The date is Nov. 1 and Miami is playing the Jets, again.

It’s a sleepy 6-3 game early in the third quarter, with the Jets leading at Giants Stadium. Then Ted Ginn Jr., rips off a 100-yard kickoff return to give the Dolphins their first lead. Uncommon.

A few minutes later Paul Soliai knocks the ball loose from Jets running back Shonn Greene and Miami legend Jason Taylor scoops and scores from 48 yards out. Unbelievable.

But wait, another miracle is coming. Ginn strikes again with a kickoff return of 101 yards, the only time in franchise history that a player has scored on two kick returns in the same game. Unconscious.

We’re talking about three touchdown returns for Miami in the same quarter, and all in the space of seven minutes and one second. Every one was vital, too, because the Dolphins, quarterbacked by Chad Henne, won 30-25.

Sunday’s game was similarly scary. The Jets led 20-16 with 5:32 to play. Oh, and don’t forget that clumsy Ryan Tannehill swing pass that lofted toward Jay Ajayi in the third quarter. Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins anticipated the play and had the pass right in his hands with 90 yards of open field ahead. Dropped it.

Everything was made right, however, by Drake’s touchdown return. Wasn’t watching Dolphins running backs coach Danny Barrett as the rookie sailed down the sidelines, but I would imagine he was jumping and screaming and telling whoever would listen “I told you so.”

Back in the steamy early days of training camp in August, Barrett said of Drake, “Obviously, he’s going to be a special-teams demon for us.”

That was before Drake had spent much time catching punts or kickoffs. Before any preseason games, too. Barrett and the rest of the staff were primarily focused on the kid’s ability to shed blockers and cover kicks, the kind of duty that often secures a roster spot at the final cutdown.

For that matter, prior to Sunday’s game-winner, Drake had been used only sparingly in regular-season games as a return man. In the first seven weeks he returned three kickoffs for an average of just under 20 yards and returned no punts at all.

Now teams will be worried about Grant and Drake together, trying to decide where the least danger lies on kickoffs. It’s far more than just an exciting prospect. It’s going to be the key to winning more games in the season’s second half and possibly surfacing somewhere in the December playoff conversation. Miami, after all, has little room for error week to week. The Dolphins won their first game in overtime and won the last two by a combined total of seven points.

Even last year, the Dolphins might not have gotten to 6-10 if not for Jarvis Landry’s punt return for a touchdown to beat Washington. The game was tied at that point, and in the fourth quarter.

So we say congrats to Drake and Grant, who have one touchdown each in the first half of their rookie season, and, of course, many happy returns.

Shades of Tommy Vigorito as something happens to wake up Dolphins crowd

Want some good news on the 1-4 Miami Dolphins? Only one thing comes to me right quick, and it’s somebody right quick.

Rookie Jakeem Grant, 5-feet-7 and 172 pounds, is close to matching the franchise record for punt return touchdowns.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant (19) takes a punt return 74 yards for a touchdown against the Titans during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium on October 9, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant takes a punt return 74 yards for a touchdown against the Titans during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium on October 9, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

OK, so the record is two, shared by Freddie Solomon, Tommy Vigorito and O.J. McDuffie, but Grant made it look so easy bringing a punt back for 74 yards and a score against Tennessee that it makes you think he’s only getting started.

There have only been three longer punt returns than Grant’s in the NFL this season – 85 yards and a score for Jamison Crowder of Washington and Andre Roberts of Detroit plus a 79-yarder for Marcus Sherels of Minnesota.

On top of that, with a small sample size of seven returns, Grant ranks seventh in the league with an average of 14.7 yards. He’ll need to pop a few more to keep that going or even grow it a bit, but in all of Dolphins history only one player has averaged more than that over an entire season. That was Jeff Ogden on 17.0 yards per return in 2000.

Keeping the kid in one piece may be a problem, of course. He headed back to the locker room in the first half of that 30-17 loss to the Titans but returned in the second half. Coach Adam Gase turned to Jarvis Landry later in the game, as he is prone to do.

“I just got rolled up on my ankle,” Grant said. “I came back in because I felt like if I would have stayed out, I would have been letting my team down. That’s just how I am. I’m going to push through anything I can to help the team out.”

Grant kind of reminds me of Vigorito when it comes to providing a real spark as a newcomer to the team. In 1981, in a Thursday night game at the Orange Bowl, Vigorito made a similar rookie splash by returning a punt 87 yards for a touchdown in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Vigorito wasn’t quite as small as Grant at 5-10 and 193, but who is?

[Dolphins’ offense getting slower as Gase’s no-huddle concepts don’t take]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County athlete ever has]

[Nate Silver’s preseason prediction of last place for Dolphins looking pretty good]

Both were good finds, too. Vigorito was a fifth-round draft pick for the Dolphins. Grant joined the team this year as a sixth-rounder.

Who’s my pick for the most dangerous punt returner in Dolphins history?

How about Solomon, who died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 59? Between 1975 and 1977 the former University of Tampa quarterback scored two touchdowns for the Dolphins on punt returns. Later he scored two more for San Francisco.

Ted Ginn Jr., was more of a one-hit wonder as a punt returner, bringing one back 87 yards for a score at Philadelphia in 2007. His specialty was kickoffs, with two returned for Dolphin touchdowns in 2009 alone.

 

 

 

Not only is Dolphins offense getting worse, it’s getting slower and more deliberate, too

Here’s the most shocking demonstration of how far Adam Gase has to go in fully implementing his offensive system.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase reacts to questions from the media following their loss to the Titans at Hard Rock Stadium on October 9, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase reacts to questions from the media following their loss to the Titans at Hard Rock Stadium on October 9, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Rather than speeding up the pace with no-huddle pressure and making the defense adjust on the fly, the rookie coach actually slowed things down to a more rudimentary pace in Sunday’s 30-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Miami ran 41 offensive plays. Sure, Tennessee dominated the time of possession with a 235-yard rushing attack, but 41 plays, the Dolphins’ season low, is a sad and listless total under any circumstances, and that’s especially true for a team that was forced to play catch-up for the entire second half.

Only once last year, in another 41-play day against Dallas, did the Dolphins have so few opportunities to establish a consistent scoring threat. In 2015, Miami’s play count never dropped below 55 in a single game.

Gase was supposed to change all this. Instead he has been forced to go into a shell with the presentation of his playcalling, milking every second he can get out of each sluggish possession and buying time for the Dolphins defense to rest. Nothing is working, no matter what Gase tries.

“We’ve just got to figure something out,” he said. “We tried to slow it down today and huddle and we only had 41 plays and eat up 23 minutes.”

Some of the reasons for the more deliberate delivery and execution of each play call were obvious.

Because Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil were game-day scratches, Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas were forced into the starting lineup on the left side of the offensive line. Neither of them were up to the task, plus they haven’t been working with the first team in practice, when all that fast-paced preparation gets installed.

[Jupiter’s Cody Parkey has sympathy of Dolphins’ coach after missing FG for Browns]

[Doing my joyful duty with Arnie’s Army at his final Masters round in 2004]

More troubling is the fact that no combination of players has worked for long in combination with Ryan Tannehill, who has had a few good moments leading rapid drives at Seattle and New England but for the most part has struggled to keep the chains moving. Sunday was more of the same, 4-for-11 on third down, and if not for a punt return touchdown by Jakeem Grant the Dolphins wouldn’t have been in the game at all.

Throughout a 1-4 start to the season, Gase has been unable to find that passing gear with his offense, and on Sunday he didn’t even try. The frustration ran so deep that Matt Darr got called for unnecessary roughness while running down to cover one of his six punts. Tannehill wasn’t feeling too chipper after getting sacked six times, either, and getting booed by the home fans.

“We’re inept right now,” Gase said.

Yeah, and bordering on inert.

Getting the offensive line healthy can only help in coming weeks, and part of that is Mike Pouncey’s return at center on Sunday for the first time all season. There has to be a different gear for the Miami offense, one that makes Pittsburgh and other upcoming opponents worry about Tannehill quick-counting them and making substitutions difficult.

Gase’s quick-strike offense has turned into a slog through the quicksand, and its taking his famous creativity away. What we’re seeing now isn’t much different than what Joe Philbin showed as Dolphins coach. Makes a man wince a little to type a sentence like that.