It was Kenny Stills Highlight Day at Dolphins camp Monday — before practice and during it.
Stills, the team’s top deep threat, practiced Monday for the first time in more than two weeks. A calf injury kept him out of action for most of training camp, which officially ended with Monday’s two-hour practice.
But Dolphins players had an idea Stills would be back when, on their way out to the practice field Monday, they came across clips of his big plays from college playing on weight room televisions.
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They were right. He practiced fully Monday. And Stills went right back to making big plays.
He burned Brice McCain on a go route and caught a perfectly thrown ball from Ryan Tannehill. Stills finished practice with several receptions, showing little rust from his time off.
“It’s nice to have him back,” Tannehill later said. “I think we’ve missed him.”
Stills said of his time away: “It was extremely frustrating. During training camp is when a team’s building all of their chemistry. We’re working hard together and we’re building everything that we’re trying to build. It’s frustrating when you’re not out there. I’m just happy to be out there and getting some reps again.”
The coaching staff surely agrees. They want him to fill the role Mike Wallace never could in Miami.
Stills has elite speed; he ran a sub-4.4 40 at the Scouting Combine and averaged 14.8 yards per catch with the Saints in 2014.
But those plans have been on hold since Stills strained his calf in the first days of training camp. He had company in the training room; DeVante Parker hasn’t practiced since undergoing surgery to replace a screw in his foot two months ago.
Yet Monday brought encouraging news with Parker, too. He did some light jogging while his teammates practiced on the far field, the first running he has done in front of reporters this camp.
“That’s Step One,” coach Joe Philbin said. “We don’t want him to get out here with the other guys until he’s ready to go. It’s hard to put a timetable on that right now.”
When asked if he’s optimistic Parker will appear in a preseason game, Philbin responded: “I’m always optimistic. I’m an eternal optimist as you guys know.”
There’s ample reason to be optimistic about the Dolphins’ offense when it’s at full strength. An argument can be made that this is their deepest set of receivers since the Marino era.
With Stills out, Rishard Matthews played well enough to start in Chicago last week; Matthews, Stills, Greg Jennings and Jarvis Landry all got work with the first team Monday.
When Parker eventually returns, the Dolphins’ biggest problem might be finding a way to keep them all happy.
Despite Stills’ production with the Saints, New Orleans ultimately deemed him expendable because he wasn’t a great personality fit with quarterback Drew Brees.
But he insisted Monday that personal agendas won’t be an issue — at least for him. How the team plans to use him is a topic that’s “above my pay grade,” he said.
And when asked if there are enough footballs to go around, Stills responded: “Plenty. Plenty. We’ve got great guys in the room, and so it makes a huge difference. All of us want to see each other do well and we just want to win at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter who’s getting the ball, as long as we’re winning.”
The best way for the Dolphins to win is for Stills to make the kind of plays shown on the in-house highlight loop Monday. And they expect it. The team gave up a third-round pick and Dannell Ellerbe to acquire him.
“He’s definitely a big play receiver,” Tannehill said. “I think that obviously his speed is tremendous, his route-running ability, the smoothness he has coming in and out of breaks. It’s probably the smoothest that I’ve seen. When you add that to what we have from the other guys, it really opens up another dimension for us.”