Jakeem Grant needs to catch the ball better in 2017.
He knows that. The coaching staff has said so, publicly and privately.
But here’s what else the organization has told the second-year speedster: We believe in you, and have confidence that you can be an excellent returner. Now go do it.
Grant has gotten the message.
That’s why he’s dedicated his winter vacation to his craft.
And that’s why he reached out to friend and teammate Matt Darr and invited him to West Texas this past weekend.
Texas Tech — Grant’s alma mater — allowed the two Dolphins specialists to work out at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Here’s how it went out in Lubbock: Darr would boom punts deep. Grant would look the ball into his hands, turn upfield and then fire up the jets.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, and how the Dolphins need it to work in 2017.
Grant has boundless potential as a returner, but his natural gifts do the Dolphins no good if he puts the ball on the turf.
He mishandled five punts or kicks his rookie year, including a botched punt inside the Dolphins’ 10 against the Chargers that nearly cost Miami the game.
But Grant also had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown last year, with another wiped off the board because of a holding penalty by Kenyan Drake.
Since his days at Tech, kickoff returns have always been Grant’s strength, so it’s no surprise he was very good at them in his first professional season. Grant averaged 23.1 yards per kick return as a rookie, which was seventh-best among players with at least 19 attempts.
His issues were with fielding punts. He simply wasn’t as comfortable with those.
That’s why he has caught them most every day this offseason. And that’s why he plans to travel to Dallas this week to spend more time training with Darr before both return to South Florida for the start of the spring training program.
“Shoutout to my boy @M_Darr for coming to LBK to punt to me! Best punter in the league helping me to become the best returner in the league!” Grant wrote on Twitter Saturday.
During Grant’s struggles last year, Dolphins coaches pointed to other players such as Devin Hester who had fumbling issues early only to become stars once they figured it out.
Grant, in Year 2, knows he needs to have it figured it out.
Despite the vote of confidence from the organization — and the encouraging reality that Miami did not sign a returner in free agency — he realizes the stakes.
The Dolphins’ entire wide receiver unit from last year is back, and so Grant knows that special teams is his best chance to both make the team and see the field.
And the surest way to do both is to prove to Adam Gase and his staff that their confidence is justified.