If there’s one position on the Dolphins with more NFL-caliber talent than roster space available, it’s wide receiver.
The Dolphins have seven receivers who have started multiple NFL games, as well as a highly regarded rookie second-round pick in Jarvis Landry, converted running back Marcus Thigpen (their primary returner the past two years) and five others.
Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson will be the team’s top three receivers, and Landry obviously will make the team.
That would leave Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns, Damian Williams and Thigpen as the primary challengers for the fifth receiver job. Teams often keep five receivers, but the Dolphins could keep six if Thigpen is one of them.
“I like the group; it’s the deepest since I’ve been here,” coach Joe Philbin said. “Things have a tendency to sort themselves out once these practices and preseason games take place. There will be some special teams things that will maybe impact a couple of those decisions.”
Binns, who sustained a torn ACL and MCL early in last year’s training camp, has looked good throughout the offseason program and during the first two days of camp.
“I feel great,” said Binns, who has 24 career receptions and previously made five NFL starts for Cincinnati. “I’ve been cut. I’ve made teams. If you can play, somebody will find you and you will be on a roster.”
Williams, who made 17 starts in four seasons for Tennessee but just one last year, produced two impressive plays during Saturday’s practice: a diving 40-yard catch on a throw from Ryan Tannehill and another when he caught a short pass and juked Jamar Taylor for a sizable gain. He has 106 career receptions but had just 15 (for 178 yards) last season.
Matthews caught 41 passes for 448 yards and two touchdowns last season and made five starts but is at serious risk of not making the team. He was stripped of the ball by Taylor on Saturday, and Jason Trusnik grabbed it in the air.
The team has privately questioned his focus in the past — Matthews admitted to being late to a couple of meetings earlier in his career — but Philbin praised his work in the offseason program and Matthews said he and Philbin are on the same page after meeting this offseason.
Thigpen, who caught nine passes for 112 yards during his first two seasons, has looked smooth as a receiver early in camp. Thigpen, Williams, Landry, undrafted rookie Rantavious Wooten and cornerback Brent Grimes have fielded punts early in camp. If the Dolphins believe Landry can be a productive returner, Thigpen would be in serious jeopardy.
The Dolphins are intrigued by 6-5 receiver Stephen Williams, who started three games for Arizona in 2010, but he’s a major long shot, as are Wooten, sixth-round rookie Matt Hazel (both are possibilities for the practice squad), Ryan Spadola, Kevin Cone and Gerald Ford.
Gibson, who sustained a torn patellar tendon against New England last October, has looked good early in camp, catching several passes. “Last year’s offense, I did a lot of intermediate type stuff,” he said. “I hope I get to get downfield a little bit as well.”
Taylor, limited last season by the effects of offseason sports-hernia surgery, said he feels much better.
“I can move [now],” he said. “I was running real slow [last year]. I run way faster. My breaks are better. Even if a receiver is catching it, usually I’m right there.”
Taylor played just 45 defensive snaps last season.
ELSEWHERE• It’s not a surprise that Cameron Wake has beaten rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James a few times early in camp. But Philbin said of James: “I like what I’ve seen first two days. Very smart. Very aware. I like his poise.”
• Short stuff: Defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui (cyst near his ear) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (undisclosed reason) left practice early. Defensive end Derrick Shelby, recovering from knee surgery, was again held out. … Safety Reshad Jones intercepted Tannehill on a deep throw to Wallace. Tannehill misfired on both deep throws to Wallace on Saturday. … The team will practice in pads for the first time Sunday.
• The attorney representing Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and his brother, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, said the lawsuit filed against them Thursday “is a complete sham” and that his clients plan to counter-sue “for malicious prosecution and defamation.”
The original lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade court Thursday, claims that the brothers roughed up three club-goers at South Beach’s Cameo the night of their birthday party earlier this month.
“The plaintiffs and their lawyers are perpetuating these lies in a bid for notoriety and financial gain,” said Jeff Ostrow, the Pounceys’ attorney.