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A.J. Is Running In Cruz Control

Posted Jul 13, 2016

A.J. Cruz, who went to training camp with the Bears in 2015, was the only player on the Dolphins offense during the offseason who had had any previous exposure to Head Coach Adam Gase’s offense.

Wide receiver A.J. Cruz got a small taste of Adam Gase’s offense last summer during his brief time with the Chicago Bears, but it was enough to give him a head start after he signed with the Dolphins in February.

It also helped Cruz serve as a tutor of sorts when quarterback Ryan Tannehill and some of the Dolphins receivers got together in the offseason to run passing plays they might encounter in Gase’s offense.

“It was really cool,” Cruz said. “Once I signed and came out here in February, I made it a point to make sure that I got the right contacts and talked to Ryan and Kenny (Stills) was here when I signed. Actually, I played against (Stills) against high school, so there’s a little bit of a familiarity that we kind of chatted and bonded with. Right away, I was kind of reaching out, hey, when do you guys throw?

“To be able to walk through some of that stuff and hopefully get a head start, at least for (Tannehill), for everybody, it’s helpful. You start getting an idea of some of the concepts, some of the route combinations. By no means was I drawing stuff on the board and going through a whole install meeting, but it’s nice to get a little bit familiar beforehand and it’s nice to get that chemistry with the receiving corps and with the quarterback and making sure we’re all on the same page.”

The informal workouts began before the start of the offseason program, at a time when NFL coaches are forbidden from having contact with their players.

Cruz was the only player on the Dolphins offense who had had any exposure to Gase’s offense. Tannehill, Stills and everybody else on the Dolphins offense were limited to watching film of Gase’s offense from his time with the Denver Broncos and the Bears.

“(Tannehill) was doing a lot of work on his own, pulling up as much film as he could to try and get a vague understanding because, again because of the rules,” Cruz said. “He had a pretty good idea of some things, just from his own study habits and watching that film to pick that up. So it was really exciting to kind of see how quick he learns and picked that up and put that into play with our workouts together.”

Cruz’s stint with the Bears began after they signed him to a three-year contract after he had played in the Arena League. It ended when he was released shortly before the start of the regular season after sustaining an injury.

Cruz, though, managed to make enough of an impression on Gase to land a contract with the Dolphins this offseason.

“I kept a good relationship with Coach Gase and got along with him well during my time there and really appreciated the system and felt like I was good a fit,” Cruz said. “He felt the same and kind of opportunity came about here, so it was exciting.

“It was a short amount of time that I was with (the offense), but already when I came in for our veteran minicamp I just felt real confident and real familiar and it’s really helpful. Especially in this system, once you start understanding the scheme, you can play a lot faster and really can create more opportunities for yourself once you understand that.”

Cruz starred in the Arena League after being a three-time first-team All-Ivy League selection at Brown University.

Finding a way to earn a spot on the 53-man roster won’t be easy given the depth the Dolphins have at wide receiver with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Stills, Griff Whalen and rookie draft picks Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant, to name just six. But playing in the NFL always has been the dream for Cruz, and he’s not about to give up now even if his Ivy League education left him with several different avenues to explore.

“I had a chip on my shoulder coming out of college because I didn’t get any looks,” Cruz said. “I was a defensive back coming out. I felt I should have had opportunities with some NFL teams and it just never came about, so I kind of had a chip on my shoulder with that. So my mind-set was always, yeah, let me prove why I belong and why I need to be at this level.

“The education that an Ivy League school provides creates a lot of opportunities, work-wise. I was very fortunate to be able to put kind of real work off to the side even though there were some very enticing opportunities just in terms of coming out of an Ivy League at a time when some people are having a hard time finding jobs. Throughout college I had a business degree and I had interned at a financial advising firm back home, so I kind of had a little bit of experience in that field. That was kind of my mind-set for work if that’s the route I wanted to go.

“But I knew in my heart there’s still a strong desire and a strong passion of mine and I knew I was capable of playing, so I kind of put that to the side and kept pushing and pursuing and was very fortunate to get the opportunity in Chicago and very fortunate to have this opportunity. I’m very excited for it and ready for it for sure.”
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