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Dolphins tight ends unpacking new offense while seeing limited targets – Boston Herald


The tight end can be extremely productive in new Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel’s offense. Just look up what George Kittle did the past few years in San Francisco.

But through two weeks of training camp, Dolphins tight ends have been largely invisible as pass-catching targets. While there have been numerous highlights and chunk plays from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throwing to his new flashy receiving corps, the tight end unit has been mostly absent from those opportunities in the passing game.

Some of it has to do with a focus on run blocking at the position, which is emphasized in McDaniel’s outside-zone scheme that Miami is transitioning to, but with that also comes a hope it leads to more chances off the play-action pass.

Mike Gesicki, who has a prove-it season on the horizon playing on the franchise tag in this new offense, only had a handful of targets in camp up until a minor uptick over the weekend. Others in Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long and Cethan Carter have been quiet, too. Long has made some catches of late, but he also had a pair of drops on Wednesday.

Dolphins tight ends coach Jon Embree said Gesicki’s fewer targets early in camp was largely coverage-dictated, dependent on what the defense has done, while also noting there have been instances where he’s open with the ball going elsewhere.

He cautioned not to compare Gesicki, who had a career high 73 receptions for 780 yards last season, based on stats this year, as he may get fewer pass-catching opportunities while the hope is he becomes more of an all-around contributor.

“It’s about winning,” Embree said. “He’s had some good stats in the past, but for what? So, it doesn’t mean nothing, right? It’ll mean more when you get something meaningful as a team, then your contribution will carry more of an impact.”

Embree is hopeful Gesicki can transform himself into a two-dimensional player that won’t have to be taken off the field for run situations like he has been in previous seasons.

“It has to be like that if you want to contribute and be a part of it. This offense, we are going to run the football. We’re going to get an opportunity for big plays off play-action. … If you’re not [on the field] when we’re running the ball, then you can’t be on the field when it’s a play-action pass.”

McDaniel said Sunday that Long, whom the Dolphins selected as a 2021 third-round draft choice, was on his radar with the 49ers ahead of that draft.

“He’s a young player that fits what we do, so we’ve been very excited with him,” McDaniel said. “This whole process, especially for tight ends, is difficult because of the scheme we run on both sides of the ball. The tight end position in general is a work in progress because we’re undoing a bunch of technique that they’ve been used to their whole football lives.”

McDaniel broke down how, in most systems, the tight end is taught “to not get beat as opposed to attacking with known help,” which is a shift from how this staff is coaching run-blocking.

“We say we’re going to go after the guy,” McDaniel said. “Here, on these plays, you will have help. Here, you won’t. It’s really a completely different mindset. It’s almost like, every time he blocks, he’s running a route. You’re coming off the ball with that same mindset.”

Long, entering his second season after making just one catch in seven games as a rookie, said he feels a comfort level in a similar scheme to what he ran at Boston College.

“Everyone sees the history of this offense and what the tight end does in it, and obviously, we love that,” said Long, alluding to Kittle, for one, who has made three of the past four Pro Bowls. “The scheme just requires an all-around tight end, and we got a bunch of those guys. I like to see myself in that category. I like to come every day and give this offense my all. Where they put me, they put me, and I’m going to try and [succeed] at that.”

Smythe and Carter are known as more blocking tight ends, although Smythe hit career highs in 2021 with 34 receptions for 357 yards. Shaheen had 12 catches in 2021, like he did in 2020, but they went for 40 fewer yards (110) and no touchdowns after hauling in three that 2020 season. Of the tight ends, roster longshot and undrafted rookie Tanner Conner has been the most active, mostly against backup defenders.

The Dolphins tight ends, this week, will get a chance to display how they look against an opponent over joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday and Thursday before a preseason exhibition on Saturday.

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