Wherever you looked — on offense, defense or special teams — you were bound to see a Gator on the first day of Dolphins rookie minicamp Friday.
There was running back Mike Gillislee turning the corner and exploding for what would have been a long touchdown run if the play hadn’t been blown dead.
There was linebacker Jelani Jenkins maneuvering swiftly in coverage.
There was kicker Caleb Sturgis booming a 50-yard field goal, with at least five yards to spare.
For the three Dolphins draft picks making the Gainesville-to-Davie trek, there is also the collective comfort of beginning their NFL journeys with the same team.
“We’re all going through it together,” Jenkins said. “We all had anxiety coming in, but … we’re all excited and happy to be here.”
As Gillislee said: “It’s another opportunity to become closer after four years at Florida.”
Gillislee, selected in the fifth round, shot through holes on at least three runs Friday, albeit against a front seven filled mostly with undrafted prospects.
“It looks like he had some good burst out there,” coach Joe Philbin said. “He has picked up the offense relatively well so far. He did a good job.”
At this time last year, Gillislee “was nowhere on the radar,” UF coach Will Muschamp said by phone this week.
He had never even started a game at Florida in his first three seasons but seized the job last summer and produced 1,152 yards on the ground (4.7 per carry) as a senior, as well as 16 receptions for a 9.9 average.
“He earned his stripes there,” Philbin said. “When his opportunity came, he took advantage of it well. We liked his productivity. We thought he had a good combination of size and speed.”
Gillislee, 5-11 and 208 pounds, figures to compete with Daniel Thomas for playing time behind likely starter Lamar Miller. But Philbin said he “wouldn’t rule out” Gillislee competing for the starting job.
“I really like Mike Gillislee,” general manager Jeff Ireland said. “He’s got a very good skill set. He catches the ball well and he pass protects. He runs it very well as well.”
Muschamp said the Dolphins are getting a player with “good lateral quickness, a tough, hard-nosed runner” who “gets stronger as the game goes on” and “can play every down because he can pass protect.”
Gillislee’s impression of his first practice? “It was fast, just like the SEC.”
He takes pride in that “I can do a lot of things” well.
“I run hard,” he said. “I came here to compete against the best. Lamar and all the other running backs here are good. Whatever happens … happens.”
Jenkins, meanwhile, will assume a key special teams role as a rookie, and potentially more, depending on how quickly he develops. ESPN’s Todd McShay called Jenkins the best pass coverage linebacker in the draft.
“He will probably back up at multiple positions and has a chance to start in the future,” Ireland said. “He is very quick, very athletic, very versatile. He’s a great kid, very educated, smart.”
Jenkins said he split time between WILL and MIKE linebacker Friday and is comfortable at either.
Though he will likely begin his Dolphins career as a backup, Muschamp says Jenkins, who has three career interceptions and six sacks, “is an every down linebacker. The guy can really run and play in space. He has improved his physicality. He can play every down.
“In a spread league, you have to have guys who can play in a box and play every down. He can do that.”
Muschamp also raves about Sturgis, calling him “the best kicker I’ve ever been around. Accurate, strong leg. No issues. The confidence level I’ve had in him, I’ve never had in a kicker.”
Philbin said “we liked his consistency coming out” of UF — and that consistency extended to long field goals.
Sturgis — who was the first of only two kickers drafted last weekend — was 16 for 20 on kicks between 40 and 49 yards in his career, and 8 for 13 on field goals of 50-plus.
Last season? Sturgis was 5 for 6 between 40 and 49 and 3 for 3 from 50 or longer. Sturgis’ competition, incumbent Dan Carpenter, was 8 for 10 between 40 and 49 last season but just 2 for 5 from 50-plus.
“I’m competing against one of the best kicker in the NFL,” said Sturgis, who hasn’t spoken to Carpenter yet.
Sturgis made 24 of 28 field goals overall last season, and Muschamp said the three that were blocked weren’t his fault because “one was a snap issue, one was a protection issue, and the one blocked in the Missouri game wasn’t his fault because he had an ankle injury.”