May 24 (UPI) -- In February came the news that the Miami Dolphins were trading for Julius Thomas. After re-signing Kenny Stills a month later, it was clear that the franchise wanted to build around Ryan Tannehill.
Thomas, the Dolphins' newest pass catching weapon, spoke Wednesday at the team's second day of OTAs in Davie, Fla.
The Pro Bowl tight end was impressed after his first interactions with Tannehill.
"Ryan is probably gonna make his mark by just by how smart he is," Thomas said at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University.
"You can see it by talking to him and working with him that he s very cerebral," Thomas said. "He puts so much time in. He really wants to make this his offense and to own it. I've been extremely pleased and excited just to see his work ethic. Outside of his physical ability...just the quarterback that he is becoming. I expect him to continue to grow as a player."
Saying Tannehill puts a lot of work in is quite the compliment from Thomas, who spent three seasons with Peyton Manning as a member of the Denver Broncos. Dolphins coach Adam Gase was the offensive coordinator for two of those seasons, when Thomas scored 24 touchdowns. Gase was also quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator for their first season together in 2012.
The Dolphins showed a lot of faith in their offense in the 2017 NFL Draft, taking six defensive players out of eight picks. Its lone skill position selection was seventh rounder Isaiah Ford, a wide receiver out of Virginia Tech.
With coaches touting running back Jay Ajayi's improved hands this offseason, DeVante Parker's overall growth coming into his third year and the addition of a 6-foot, 4-inch target in Thomas, you can expect Tannehill to air it out a bit more in 2017. This strategy will also stop defenses from keying on Ajayi after a breakout 2016 campaign.
It all looks great on paper, but it won't come to fruition if the Dolphins' defense struggles like it did last season. Ball control will be a battle the Dolphins fight on a weekly basis. Thomas says that "mixing" it up on offense will keep teams off balance. Long drives would also keep the Dolphins' defense on the sideline.
"Jay is a dynamic back," Thomas said. "If we do what we need to do on offense we will be able to keep teams off balance. Mixing up the run, mixing up the pass and putting ourselves in the best position each play. I think it will all complement well."
Ajayi told reporters Tuesday that he is ready for a bigger workload, including a rumored 350-carries.
"I'm ready for it," Ajayi said. "I prepare myself every season to take a huge workload and be able to carry the team, and I think I'm ready for that. If that's what he wants to do then that's what we'll do; but every time I step out on that field, it's to put my all out there on the line. So whatever we do, that's what we'll do."
Ajayi also said he was "excited" when he looked out at the offense on the first day of OTAs. He called Thomas a "great teammate."
"[He is] a guy who can stretch the field and definitely create mismatches for us," Ajayi said of Thomas. "That'll be really good on offense. He's a guy that's done it at a very high level in the past and so we just hope when he comes out here for us, he'll raise the bar even more."
The Dolphins spoke with Manning about Thomas before he was acquired. Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said that he "hopes" Thomas can add the 10 to 12 touchdowns he's scored in a season to the Dolphins' offense, but "he's going to add way more than touchdowns..."
"Hearing Peyton talk about him and what he meant to the offense," Christensen told reporters during rookie minicamp. "Gase knows him inside out. Gase knows exactly what he's getting and knows how to use him. [Gase] used him extremely well out there in Denver. I have great confidence that we will get that."
Stills, who had a career-best nine scores last season, thinks Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Thomas, Ajayi and himself can "do something big."
"I think that's one of the biggest things coach Gase stresses with us is going out there and flying around," Stills said Wednesday. "The fact that we know our responsibility, we know our job (and) we're more comfortable out there, we can fly around and play this game at a high speed, high tempo."
For fantasy football purposes, expect Tannehill to make a jump this season if fully healthy. Before getting injured last season, he was averaging 30.7 passing attempts per game. He averaged 36.6 attempts in 16 games in 2015. Thomas has proven to be more than just a red zone option and Ajayi's improved pass catching ability should give Tannehill more success on dump-offs. Tannehill showed improved decision-making under Gase, but it wasn't just from throwing shorter passes. He completed a career best 67.1 percent of his throws for a career-long 7.7 yards per attempt.
Statically speaking, if Tannehill had played a full 16 games in 2016, he would have likely ended up with close to 25 touchdown passes. This season I expect a healthy Tannehill to again approach 4,000 passing yards, with a shot at eclipsing 30 passing scores for the first time in his career. Thomas will be a big reason for the ascension, as he has scored in more than 57 percent of his NFL appearances. That number dwarfs any other player currently on the Dolphins' roster. Ajayi has scored in 37.5 percent of his appearances, followed by Stills (31.7), Landry (31.2), Parker (23.3) and Anthony Fasano (21.3).