Miami Dolphins

Receiving help must come from the Miami Dolphins’ roster

 

Despite Sunday’s poor effort, the Dolphins coaches said it’s not time to add to the receiving corps, and the current group needs to play better.

abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

To steal a line from Rick Pitino, Mark Clayton is not walking through that door, fans.

And with each passing day, it appears Jabar Gaffney or Donte’ Stallworth probably aren’t anytime soon, either.

While many thought this would be the week the Dolphins add a veteran free agent receiver, Miami’s front office has held fast.

That’s a tacit signal that the team thinks its up-till-now underwhelming receiving corps is talented enough, and those currently on the roster simply need to play better.

“We’re a work in progress,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said after practice Wednesday. “I think our guys gave good effort.

“I’m encouraged,” he added. “I think they’re going to improve.”

There’s little place to go but up. The four receivers who saw the field in Miami’s 30-10 loss to Houston — Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee, Brian Hartline and Anthony Armstrong — combined for just nine catches and 98 yards.

Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only three — the Buccaneers, Chargers and Browns — had less production from their receivers.

Of the 116 receivers to play in the first week, not a single Dolphins receiver cracked the top half of Pro Football Focus’ player grading. Hartline got the highest marks (69th overall), and Davone Bess, Anthony Armstrong and Legedu Naanee all ranked in the 80s.

“I feel like we’re still getting our identity, which can change from week to week,” said Hartline, whose 50 receiving yards (on three catches) led the team. “It’s more about us, and what we can do. We’ve got to be versatile and take advantages of weaknesses in different defenses.”

At least Hartline and Armstrong have an excuse. Armstrong didn’t join the team until the weekend before the opener — the Dolphins claimed him off waivers after final cuts — and admitted he missed a few assignments Sunday because of his unfamiliarity with the playbook. Hartline sat out all of camp with a pesky calf injury.

Bess, meanwhile, was characteristically steady, but not spectacular, Sunday. He caught five passes for 45 yards, but never broke the long one; Bess’ longest catch went for 11 yards.

As for Naanee, his only memorable play came for the wrong reasons. He was the intended receiver on Ryan Tannehill’s first interception — a slant route that Johnathan Joseph jumped. The throw wasn’t particularly good, but neither was Naanee’s effort to break up the pick.

“One of your jobs as a receiver is to protect the throw,” Philbin said. “You’re a big guy. You’ve got to be able to break the ball away.”

Despite starting, Naanee saw just 27 offensive snaps and finished without a catch — another less-than-stellar effort after a preseason marked by drops.

The sixth-year receiver is keenly aware he has not yet lived up to expectations. Naanee stayed late after practice Wednesday to get extra work running routes, and said he had a private meeting with his coach planned for later in the day.

“I haven’t really been on the same page, in the flow of the game, really,” Naanee said. “It’s pretty evident that I need to make plays. I want to make plays. I want to be the guy I’m counted on.”

For sure, most every passing attack struggles with a rookie quarterback. But another issue is the receivers have no clear roles. Bess is the top threat, and his play count Sunday backed that up. He was on the field for 55 of the team’s 63 snaps.

But other than that, it’s muddled. No other receiver took more than 37 snaps. Some observers believe that as Armstrong, who might be the team’s best deep threat, grows more comfortable with the offense, he will see an increased role — at Naanee’s expense.

As for Marlon Moore and Rishard Matthews, other two receivers on the roster? The former only played special teams Sunday, while the latter wasn’t even activated, despite being the most productive wide receiver in the preseason.

The Dolphins hope somewhere in that group, a couple of dependable threats will emerge.

They better, because as Miami’s transaction inaction makes clear, the guys on the scrap heap might not be any better.

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