Few NFL rookies truly enjoy special teams. Most do it with enthusiasm — but only the enthusiasm of having an NFL job. Special Teams Lane is the most common rookie route to an NFL roster.
So Dolphins rookie defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan counts as an anomaly because of his attitude toward the kicking game alone. That Jordan also was the No. 3 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft makes him rarer than a really cool Oldsmobile.
“I feel like if you can’t participate on special teams, as a football player, that says something about you,” Jordan said. “I feel like it’s one of the hardest things to do. It reveals how athletic you are and how much you’re able to take in from the game.”
Explaining why he believes there’s a high degree of difficulty to special teams, he said, “Because a lot of people don’t want to do it. It’s more mental than anything. It’s pretty simple. Go down there, cover the kickoff, tackle the guy with the ball. But not everybody wants to do it.”
Jordan said he played special teams at Chandler (Ariz.) High School. He also did at Oregon. And he didn’t just do special appearances and spot duty – he was a regular.
“Starters start on special teams,” he said when it was pointed out most college starters didn’t do the special-teams grind. “The guys who want to play.”
Jordan shrugged off the idea he faces a greater chance of injury playing on coverage or return teams, though there’s a growing theory that the size and speed of NFL players has outgrown their ability to withstand the demolition-derby collisions of football.
“Every play is dangerous out here in football,” Jordan said. “You’ve just got to play it the right way.”
Said Dolphins special-teams coach Darren Rizzi: “Dion’s attitude, effort and enthusiasm towards special teams has been great. He did it at Oregon. That’s certainly a benefit to us that he’s done it before. He’s run downfield on kickoffs. A lot of times when you’re dealing with young players, especially high-profile guys, they haven’t done it.”
But, Rizzi also said, “One of the great things about our rookie class is we probably have more guys who have played special teams in college than I can remember.”
That group comes to a Dolphins team with several players still here from a special-teams season that, considering 2011, shows an upward trend for the Dolphins. For years, the Dolphins plugged in kicker Dan Carpenter, punter Brandon Fields and long snapper John Denney and crossed their fingers about everybody else. Sometimes, they got by. Sometimes, they got crushed, the nadir being the 2010 loss to New England that featured the second blocked punt in four games and a 103-yard kickoff-return touchdown. The next day, the Dolphins fired special-teams coach John Bonemego and promoted assistant special-teams coach Rizzi.
The Dallas Morning News’ Rich Gosselin, one of the most respected media members covering the NFL, developed a system for ranking overall special teams based on 22 different statistical categories. The Dolphins finished 25th in his rankings in 2010, then No. 2 in the first full season under Rizzi, and No. 4 last season.
Incoming rookies found incumbents where there’s often space.
“There’s probably more competition at the core positions of special teams than all my five years combined,” Rizzi said. “That was something we brought up at the start of camp. I put up on the board all the guys who have been here and the amount of plays they played last year and was pretty blunt with the young guys, ‘if you’re looking for jobs and you don’t end up a starter or even if you do, these are the guys you’re competing with.’ ”
He has not caught a pass in a regular-season game but had seven receptions for 61 yards last preseason. Pruitt went undrafted out of Ouachita Baptist in 2009.