DAVIE, Fla. -- It wasn't too long ago that Adam Gase was the NFL's flavor of the month. He was coined the next great "offensive genius" after setting records as an offensive coordinator with Peyton Manning in Denver. Gase made those declarations look correct by leading a nondescript Miami Dolphins team to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth in 2016, his first season as a head coach.
Gase's success paved the way for other teams to take a chance on hiring young offensive coordinators, such as Kyle Shanahan (49ers) and Sean McVay (Rams) as head coaches.
A little more than a year later, many are projecting the Dolphins will be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Many others questioned Gase's decision to jettison the team's closest thing to stars -- Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry and Jay Ajayi -- over the past 12 months. Some even wonder if Gase is on the hot seat. Perception has changed quickly in the course of a season.
"I like our team. I like the fact that we’re a team," Gase said with a firm glare and a passionate emphasis on the word "team." "I’m not really worried about what anybody else thinks about that because when you’re not there every day and around these guys and watching them work, watching them at meetings, watching them practice, you don’t know. You look at a piece of paper. That’s why they play the games.”
Gase knows people outside the building won't believe him until his team proves it on the field. He's confident the Dolphins can reclaim that 2016 magic after what he called a "horrible" and "chaotic" 2017, which hit Gase like a hurricane.
He takes off his hat and runs his hand through his hair and you can hear the stress in Gase's voice when he starts to describe 2017.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill needed surgery to repair a torn ACL before the preseason began. Gase reached out to a familiar face in retired Jay Cutler, signing him as a life-raft option to save the season.
A literal hurricane postponed the Dolphins' first game.
Starting linebacker Lawrence Timmons went AWOL one day before their first game in Week 2.
After a Week 5 win, video of then-offensive line coach Chris Foerster snorting a white substance at the team facility leaked. It led to his resignation.
Three weeks later, after a 40-0 loss to the Ravens, Gase erupted on the Dolphins' offense, citing a lack of effort, proper attitude and focus from some of their best players. Ajayi was traded to Philadelphia later that week.
All of that happened before November.
"I look at last year like it was horrible to go through, but there are 1,000 things I’ve learned. Now I’ve been exposed to it," Gase said. "There’s no handbook for some of the things we went through last year."
Gase takes a deep breath after recalling the most frustrating year of his coaching career and then smiles.
"But this year, there's a lot of 'what's best for us' thinking instead of 'what's best for me.' That's different," Gase said. "I’m excited to be in meetings because I can see the way guys look at me, the way the guys take notes."
Of course, Tannehill's return is another reason for hope. He completed 67 percent of his passes and had the fourth-highest passer rating in Dolphins history in 2016. Gase believed Tannehill was becoming more vocal and ready to play his best football before the injury.
Tannehill took drive-by shots from Landry this offseason, but his current teammates swear they see a quarterback who is comfortable his own skin. Tannehill said last month his mindset this year is: "Screw it, I'm going to be me."
Despite a rough preseason, Dolphins players -- new and old -- say they believe in Gase's up-tempo offense, Tannehill's return and their chances to be much better than one of the worst teams in the NFL.
"We’re going to surprise some people, and not just with our team. Our offense will really surprise some people," said receiver Albert Wilson, a free-agent signing from Kansas City who was brought in to help pick up some of the targets Landry vacated. "We have a lot of weapons and the offense is open for us to take advantage of it."
Gase's biggest goal this offseason was changing the Dolphins' culture, from the locker room to the coaching staff. Last year, they missed Branden Albert, who handled locker room issues in 2016. Gase wanted to find players who find solutions when adversity hits instead of adding negativity or bickering.
He feels like he accomplished his goal. He says this team is different than 2016's, but it has some of the same characteristics.
"We have guys who can help us fight out of it if we have bumps on the road. The majority of our better players are our better leaders. We had been lacking there over the last two years. I don’t think that’s a secret," Gase said. "If you look our teams the last two years, you might struggle to point them out. This year, you can point them out. There is value in that."
Gase said the 2018 Dolphins look like the team he envisioned leading when he took the Dolphins gig 2½ years ago. He starts rattling off offensive leaders like a proud father listing his kid's accomplishments in school: Frank Gore, Danny Amendola, Josh Sitton, Daniel Kilgore and Kenny Stills.
Then, of course, there's Tannehill, who Gase says has reached the point of his career where "he’s not afraid to say what he wants to say, and his delivery is good on relaying what he needs to without starting a forest fire."
If the Dolphins improve their culture and discipline, it should put them in position to be a more cohesive team. But Miami no longer has any bona fide stars. They were one of three teams with zero players in ESPN's top 100 players of 2018. Kenyan Drake has the potential to fill their star void by year's end.
But even if he doesn't, Gase believes the Dolphins can win without a true superstar.
"Everybody thought the L.A. Rams were going to be terrible last year. By the end of the year, everybody said they’re like two players away from winning the whole thing. They didn’t make a whole lot of changes. The same thing with Philly. A lot of teams were saying they had issues at linebacker and cornerback. But they kept fighting and kept the locker room tight. They got on a roll. Sometimes that’s all it takes in this league. Confidence is something that can really propel you sometimes."
Gase is confident the Dolphins can reclaim their 2016 magic. He doesn't care if you believe him.