The Dolphins opted for “live” contact in training camp on Monday, and the practice was sufficiently rough and tumble to result in an apparent concussion for running back Jay Ajayi. After practice, coach Adam Gase discussed and defended the decision to dial up the physicality.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, probably since last spring,” Gase told reporters. “I think a lot of it had to do with just we made a lot of missed tackles last year. It probably took us a while to really get going in the run game and pass protection, kind of that sense of urgency to have. [I was] just talking to the coaches and seeing how we could set it up to where we could get great work in there.
“When you talk to some of your veteran players and you can’t even finish the sentence and they’re saying ‘Absolutely,’ that’s when you know it’s a good thing. We didn’t do it last year. We were still — I think we were just trying to feel everything out. A lot of times when we talked about going live, we’d get pushed in the indoor and that wasn’t ideal for us. This was the right time for us.”
Gase was pragmatic about the dilemma that comes from having “live” contact and risking injury.
“You’re not going to win either way,” Gase said. “If we don’t go live, you guys write that we don’t work on tackling. If we do go live and somebody gets hurt, then you say we shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to be wrong either way. We feel like that’s best for our football team. We needed to go live and tackle and it’s football.”
Here’s an ever better argument that Gase didn’t mention: According to the player who delivered the hit to Ajayi, it didn’t happen during a “live” period.
“[W]e had a couple periods – a couple live periods – that wasn’t live, though,” safety T.J. McDonald told reporters. “I was just trying to thud him up and do my job. It’s always good to have contact and it is football, so it’s going to happen.”
It definitely will happen, even with reduced contact in modern NFL practices. The goal is to get players ready to perform appropriately during games, and that process will always entail risk.