Of all the Dolphins’ most prominent jobs on special teams, the only one that’s seemingly resolved belongs to the player who was a clear-cut underdog to win a job at this time last year.
Yes, punter Matt Darr is safe, a year after he beat out Brandon Fields and averaging 47.6 yards per punt, third-best in the league.
But everything else is in question.
The kicking job is a toss-up between incumbent Andrew Franks and Iowa rookie Marshall Koehn.
“Couldn’t say one is ahead of the other; they have a similar skill set,” special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said Thursday, noting Franks made five of six field goals on Thursday, including a 52-yarder with “15 yards to spare.”
The punt and kickoff return jobs are unsettled among rookies Kenyan Drake and Jakeem Grant, with Jarvis Landry still in the mix and others getting a look, including Isaiah Pead, Bobby McCain and Tyler Patmon.
Even the long-snapper job is in doubt, with San Jose State undrafted rookie Ryan DiSalvo expected to challenge John Denney.
Franks, who beat out Caleb Sturgis for the job last year, attempted the fewest field goals of any full-time kicker last season, converting 13 of 16, with all three misses over 40 yards and one from 63. But he also missed three extra points in 36 attempts.
His kickoffs were generally good, with 61 percent resulting in touchbacks, 11th-best in the league. The NFL this season will experiment with placing the ball at the 25-yard line after touchbacks, instead of the 20.
“Andrew has come leaps and bounds,” Rizzi said. “Has ironed out his technique. I want to see him become more consistent in everything. We missed three PATs last year. One wasn't on him. But the makeable kicks that he missed are the ones we want to see.”
As for Koehn, he hit 12 of 16 field goals as a junior and 16 of 20 as a senior, including a game-winning 57-yarder against Pittsburgh. But after making all 38 extra points as a junior, he missed six of 53 last year.
Koehn is a better athlete than many kickers. Koehn ran a 4.61 40-yard dash, the fastest by any kicker or punter as far back as NFL.com's records go for the Combine. He was faster than every quarterback except one, almost every linebacker, 10 wide receivers, and five running backs.
“Marshall [Koehn] had a hell of a career in the Big Ten,” Rizzi said. “He kicked in inclement weather. He kicked in some big situations. He has a great skill set. He has a real strong leg. He reminds me a lot of Andrew coming out last year. The only difference is that [Koehn] kicked at a bigger school."
As for returns, it would be ideal of Grant and/or Drake seize both punt and kickoff jobs, to lessen the load on Landry.
“We are going to have multiple guys back there,” Rizzi said. “I don’t think the deep guy is always going to get the ball.”
Grant averaged 24.9 yards and scored four touchdowns on 87 career kickoff returns. Drake averaged 26.6 yards on 19 kickoff returns --- all last season – with one touchdown coming on a 95-yarder against Clemson in the national championship game.
Keep in mind that Landry’s 27.1 career average on 47 kickoff returns was better than Grant’s or Drake’s college averages. Rizzi said Landry will keep the job if he’s the best option.
Grant has never returned a punt in a college game, and Drake returned only one (for 19 yards, in 2013). But Rizzi said Grant and Drake are ahead of where he thought they would be as punt returners.
Denney, 37, has been the Dolphins’ long-snapper since 2005, but DiSalvo will be given a long look.
Denney has a $1.2 million cap hit if he’s on the team, with $100,000 in dead money if he’s cut. DiSalvo would have a $450,000 cap hit if he makes it, no hit if he’s cut. Any cap space saved would be added to the Dolphins’ $16.9 million in cap space and likely being carried over to next season.
“Ryan DiSalvo played for three years in a pro style punting scheme, which is very rare in college these days; he’s a little bit ahead of the curve,” Rizzi said. “He’s going to have a tough time beating out John, who’s been a multiple Pro Bowler. It’s going to be a competitive situation.”
On Darr, Rizzi said: “Now some people would say, 'Well gosh, Matt Darr was third in the league in gross punting… But there are areas he can improve,… like location, hang time. I think he could be an elite NFL punter, if he's not already.”