The Dolphins’ deep and talented receiver group, which entered June without many unresolved issues, now has a few — from DeVante Parker’s status following foot surgery to Kenny Stills’ troublesome calf to whether there might be a need to keep a sixth receiver early in the season.
Two weeks ago, coach Joe Philbin said he didn’t know whether Parker, who had surgery June 5, would play 30 or 60 snaps in the regular-season opener Sept. 13 at Washington.
But on Tuesday, Philbin said: “We’re not sure exactly when he’s going to get back. I don’t know if he’s going to practice, how much he is going to practice, if he’s going to play in the preseason.”
Parker, who’s on the physically unable to perform list, needs to start running and cutting eventually before the Dolphins have a sense of where he stands. His agent has consistently said he will be ready for the Redskins game.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure he’s ready to go when we’re given the word it’s time,” receivers coach Ken O’Keefe said Tuesday. “He’s doing a great job for a young guy staying engaged from a mental standpoint. Physically he’s doing what’s being asked of him according to the rules. I’m not concerned about it. I think he’ll be in good shape.”
But is Parker good enough to play and contribute in the opener if he doesn’t play in preseason? “This is the NFL; there is going to be a learning curve no matter what,” O’Keefe said. “He’ll have to shake some rust off. But he’s here to play.”
Stills, meanwhile, has missed two consecutive practices with a calf injury. But O’Keefe likes what he has seen: “Kenny runs out of his routes well. He has the speed you look for down the field.”
The Dolphins could keep six receivers to start the season — one more that usual — if Parker needs more time. Michael Preston, Matt Hazel and LaRon Byrd have all had some good moments in camp and would be top candidates if Miami keeps a sixth. Byrd left Tuesday’s practice with what appeared to be a leg or hip issue.
“All those guys are climbing a little bit,” O’Keefe said. “Hazel has improved every day. Preston has made a lot of plays from OTA, minicamp right to now. We need all of them to keep pushing.”
Tommy Streeter, Christion Jones, Cobi Hamilton, Damarr Aultman and Tyler McDonald are also competing.
Rishard Matthews, who had several catches Tuesday, remains the front-runner for the No. 5 job behind Jarvis Landry, Parker, Stills and Greg Jennings.
“He’s had a very good camp,” Philbin said. “I like the way he catches the ball. He’s tough. … What can he do better? Catch the ball he dropped in two-minute [drills] today.”
The Dolphins added receiver Kevin Cone to the mix on Tuesday, claiming him off waivers from Cleveland. Cone spent training camp with the Dolphins last summer. To make room, Miami released guard Dionte Savage.
PASS PROTECTION ISSUES
Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins’ vice president/football operations, made clear during a WQAM-560 interview that the running backs must be competent in pass protection, regardless of their running skills.
On fifth-round pick Jay Ajayi, Tannenbaum said: “There are things we like about him, but if he can’t pass protect, he will never be active. I don’t care how talented he is between the tackles. If Jay Ajayi can’t pass protect, he won’t be active.”
Conversely, Philbin said LaMichael James has made a strong impression in that area.
“Everyone knows he’s not the biggest guy [at 5-9 and 200 pounds],” Philbin said. “I like his aggressiveness in pass protection. Everybody can see the escapability, the quick feet, the elusiveness. If he’s going to play for us, he has to be able to sit in there and protect on occasion.”
▪ Asked about the two games against his former team, Buffalo guard Richie Incognito told 104.3 The Ticket: “You better believe those games are circled in red on my calendar.”