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Jay Cutler's debut shows he's in control of Dolphins' offense

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- As Adam Gase strolled the sidelines two hours before Thursday's preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins' second-year coach exuded the expectant edginess of a teenager embarking upon his first day at a new high school.

Gase, after all, was about to see his new, recently unretired quarterback -- 34-year-old Jay Cutler -- take the field for the first time in a Dolphins uniform. Eleven days earlier, in the wake of a season-ending knee injury to starter Ryan Tannehill, Gase had persuaded Cutler to abandon his plans to begin a second career as a FOX Sports analyst. Now, in Miami's second preseason game, it was time to expose the team's new starting quarterback to live action.

"It's a fresh start for Jay, and that's exciting," Gase said. "It's the start of our process with him, and he basically just got here. It's not necessarily how much of the offense he knows -- he knows it -- but he hasn't played in awhile. You get bodies around you and jump back into it, and it's a little bit of an adjustment. I'm anxious to see how it plays out."

By the time Cutler's short stint was done, Gase, along with 64,464 fans at Hard Rock Stadium, had seen enough to conclude that the Dolphins' passing attack is in capable hands. Though his stats were ho-hum -- Cutler completed three of six passes for 24 yards while generating no points in two series of action, en route to a 31-7 defeat to the Ravens -- the strong-armed quarterback looked firmly in command of the situation.

He also flashed his impressive skill set on one early play, racing to his right to avoid pressure and zipping a 31-yard, back-shoulder completion to receiver DeVante Parker. The play was called back due to a holding penalty on tackle Sam Young, but the message had been sent.

It was a heartening moment for Gase, who had success while working with Cutler as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator in 2015. That helped Gase land the Dolphins' job at season's end, and he guided the team to a surprising playoff berth in 2016.

However, a late-season knee injury kept Tannehill from participating in the postseason, and when he further damaged his ACL during a training-camp practice earlier this month, Cutler emerged as the obvious fallback plan.

On Thursday, Gase became emotional while discussing the aftermath of Tannehill's injury, recalling a doctors' office scene the following day.

"I walked in and he was just crushed," Gase said, "and the first thing Ryan said to me was, 'I let the team down. We're gonna be so good this year, and now I can't be out there.' I was like, 'Bro -- this is not on you.' But that's the kind of guy Ryan is."

Predictably, Gase was not enthusiastic about the prospect of Cutler absorbing any undue punishment in his preseason debut. As he said before the game: "I'll tell you this: If anyone hits him hard, I'm getting him out of there."

Sure enough, after Cutler took a shot from Ravens linebacker Za'Darius Smith on a third-and-11 incompletion with 7:55 remaining, landing on his throwing shoulder, his night was done. When the Dolphins got the ball back with 5:40 remaining in the first quarter, backup Matt Moore was the new quarterback.

Though the Dolphins remain high on Moore, there's no doubt that their offensive fortunes will depend on Cutler's successful return. Gase, for one, is confident that the arrangement will be a fruitful one.

"I think Jay's comfortable here," Gase said, "and he and I are comfortable together. I have always judged people by how they are around me. And in our time together, he's been really good."

And if things stay good throughout 2017, what might happen next season, when Tannehill returns following reconstructive knee surgery?

"I'm worried about today," Gase said. "Beyond that, who knows?"

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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