MIAMI GARDENS — The Dolphins’ tight end room inside of the Baptist Health Training Complex is a little more cramped than most of the others around the NFL.
And for Miami, it’s the more the merrier, literally.
“Evaluation of the tight end position always felt similar to quarterbacks, it’s like there are just never enough,” offensive coordinator Frank Smith said ahead of Thursday’s practice. “So, when you have guys with NFL skill-set ability, broad-base skill sets, you can never have enough.”
Where most teams in the league typically carry three or four players at the position, Miami has five on this season's roster. Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Cethan Carter and Tanner Conner are top to bottom on the depth chart.
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“We got a lot of talent in the room,” Gesicki said. “A lot of guys that do a lot of different things. And in this offense, you’re asked to do a bunch of things in the tight end room. So, we got a bunch of different moving pieces and I like the room a lot. A lot of good dudes.”
With new head coach Mike McDaniel’s wide zone running offense, he and Smith will have no shortage of options to contribute to the complex blocking scheme, which may be different from what a lot of them have experienced in the past.
Regardless of their comfort level, Smith loves the commitment that the group has shown throughout the preseason and going into the regular season.
“I think the buy-in has been great,” Smith said. “They understand, in the system, how important they are to make it go. Coaching the position for six years, I understood personally that you can never have enough at that position just because there’s always a shortage. … I think [tight ends coach Jon Embree] has done a great job with the group, painting the picture of what we’re going to ask them to do.
“It’s been different from what they’ve been asked to do in the past. So, I think from there Mike, Hunter, Cethan and Tanner, they’ve done a fantastic job of really trying to be complete players inside of their skill sets.”
Embree, who also serves as the Dolphins’ assistant head coach, has worked in a variety of schemes and has coached tight ends with five other franchises.
He’s especially well-versed in the offense that McDaniel wants to run in Miami, having served in the same capacity under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco for five seasons. He oversaw the development of George Kittle, who’s become one of the elite tight ends in the league.
He knows how much he and the rest of the coaching staff are putting on the group’s shoulders and that they wouldn’t have put them on the final roster if they couldn’t handle those demands.
“We’re gonna do stuff that running backs do in pass protection," Embree said. "There’s things we have to do with the receivers, another thing we have to do is pass protection on the line of scrimmage. I think we do that probably more than they do in other places, and then go out and catch passes. So, there’s a lot that we ask these guys to do, a lot of motions, a lot of movements, a lot of formations they have to have on their plate.
“When you come into this offense, and it’s new for them, there’s just a certain learning curve and, for me, as a coach, it’s just figuring out what hits their brain.”
Rookie Tanner Connor converting from receiver to tight end
The beauty of having five tight ends learning a new system is that in addition to the coaching from Embree, McDaniel and Smith, there is a lot of tutoring among themselves. That’s especially helpful for Conner, a rookie who’s converting to the position after playing wide receiver at Idaho State.
The camaraderie that he sees in his players is exactly what Embree wants as they go into their first season together.
“I think the other thing to be in our room that makes it unique is it takes all of us,” Embree said. “We’re all going to play. We all need each other and it’s been like that everywhere I’ve been. So, we all got to help each other. It’s not like ‘Well I don’t want to help him because he may take my spot.’ If you’re a selfish player like that, you’re not gonna be able to function and not be able to play not only in this offense, but be in my room. You have to be a selfless player.
“So, one of the things I tried to do is just create an environment of positive peer pressure so that if guys aren’t going about what they need to do, they end up finding their way out of there.”
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Dolphins have 5 tight ends heading into NFL season opener vs. Patriots