For those clamoring to see more of the Dolphins’ young receivers, and for the young receivers who are yearning to play more, the opportunity arrives Sunday.
On Friday, the Dolphins ruled out starting receiver Davone Bess for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville because of a back injury that Bess said he sustained while trying to recover his own fumble in the third quarter of last week’s loss against San Francisco.
That means more playing time for Rishard Matthews and Marlon Moore and possibly Marcus Thigpen or newcomer Armon Binns. Coach Joe Philbin was noncommittal about whether he would play Binns, who was claimed this week off waivers from Cincinnati, but said he’s a fast learner.
Thigpen, who started the season at running back, has been practicing at receiver the past few weeks. He said that he, Moore and starter Brian Hartline got a lot of practice work in the slot the past three days in the absence of Bess, who has 61 receptions for 778 yards.
Moore and Matthews have beaten out nearly a dozen receivers who have passed through Miami since the summer. On Sunday, either or both figure to get their most snaps of the season.
“I take pride in still being here,” said Matthews, a seventh-round pick in April’s draft.
A core special teams player, Moore has stuck around after being signed out of Fresno State in 2010.
“To be here a third year as an undrafted receiver is an achievement,” he said.
Both have made plays when given the chance. Moore has been targeted eight times in 144 snaps this season and has four receptions for 83 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown against St. Louis, plus drawn a defensive holding penalty.
Matthews has been targeted six times in 99 snaps and has three catches for 55 yards, plus drawn a 30-yard pass interference penalty against Buffalo.
Seven months ago, the odds weren’t especially good that the two California natives would both survive on the roster this long.
Roberto Wallace and Julius Pruitt were the flavors of the month during May and June, earning accolades from teammates. Jeff Fuller, now on Miami’s practice squad, also had his moments and had the advantage of familiarity with Ryan Tannehill, his former college teammate at Texas A&M.
Clyde Gates, Miami’s fourth-round pick in 2011, and B.J. Cunningham, the Dolphins’ sixth-rounder in April, were considered better prospects than Matthews and Moore by draft analysts. Chris Hogan was billed by HBO’s Hard Knocks as a receiver who couldn’t be covered.
Matthews and Moore also outlasted veterans Chad Johnson, Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney, who all had cameos here.
Of those 11 who were ultimately beaten out by Matthews and Moore, only Gates (Jets) and Armstrong (Cowboys) are on a 53-man rosters elsewhere. Fuller (Dolphins), Cunningham (Eagles) and Hogan (Bills) are on practice squads.
Moore has stuck around because he is a solid special teams player and has the speed to get open. “I’ve gone through the whole thing of, ‘He’s not good enough,’ ” Moore said. “I just laugh and keep going.”
Cornerback Sean Smith said Moore is Miami’s fastest receiver, Matthews second-fastest.
Matthews has survived because he has good hands and speed (4.44 in the 40) and size (6-0) and displayed a physicality in competing for balls in the air.
“He’s stronger and faster than he looks,” Bess said.
Matthews originally signed with Oregon but “messed up academically” and attended a junior college before enrolling at Nevada, where he caught 147 passes for 2,243 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons.
NFL.com’s Gil Brandt said he expected Matthews to be drafted far higher after a late-March on-campus workout when he “blew my socks off. Scouts said it was as good a workout as they have seen from a receiver” last spring.
But Matthews said his stock dropped because at the NFL Combine, he wasn’t fully healed from a knee injury.
Moore said Matthews reminds him of Baltimore’s Anquan Bolden because of his physical play, and Matthews has been studying Bolden’s tapes on YouTube.
“I still make a lot of mental mistakes,” Matthews said. “Technique-wise, I need to improve. But I’m showing a lot of upside, and I haven’t reached my potential yet. A lot of people underestimate my speed because of my size.”
Philbin said Matthews’ “play speed is starting to catch up. There’s still a curve that needs to get accelerated as quickly as we possibly can. I like the way he’s developing.”
Matthews and Moore are roommates on the road and, coincidentally, both made their first NFL receptions on a Thursday night game before Thanksgiving — two years ago for Moore, this year for Matthews.
“Marlon has been a big brother, mentor to me, taught me to be patient,” Matthews said. “He’s seen me get frustrated and stressed out. He understands what I’m going through.”