DeVante Parker, sometimes shy and something of an anti-diva wide receiver, finished his first day on the field for the Miami Dolphins and set his sights on his rookie season thusly:
“I just want to come out and compete, do what I can and help the team out,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any pressure on me. All I have to do is come out and play and help the team out.”
Coach Joe Philbin, sometimes guarded and often understated, watched his newest weapon on the field for the first time Friday and summed up his first impression of Parker by saying, “I like the way he got in and out of the huddle. Day One you’re looking for some simple things.”
Well, yes, maybe the first practice of the first day of a rookie minicamp is a good a time as ever to manage expectations and douse the flame of high expectations with monotonous quotes.
But for this Dolphins first-round selection that is where the tedium and dullness must end.
DeVante Parker has to be a star for the Dolphins. It must happen. And he has to do it quite quickly.
Yes, the team has Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and Greg Jennings to play receiver. But that group is incomplete and something of a downgrade from last year’s group unless Parker is added and he’s the star he was plucked 14th overall to be.
“He needs to be a big-time contributor right away,” former Dolphins receiver and first-round pick O.J. McDuffie said as he watched the rookies practice. “I think you pencil him in as a starter now and float everybody else around.
“I think him, Stills, Landry and Greg Jennings, you should play them all and everybody else gets in wherever they fit. But you play this guy right away and start game planning for him right away.
“He’s that type of player. We don’t have that type of player. He’s what we lack. We don’t have anybody that will go attack the football, nobody to go get it. On 50-50 balls, he’s got to be the guy right at the beginning of the season that, covered or uncovered, he’s got to go up and get that ball at its high point. Right away he’s got to be in the mix.”
McDuffie has no agenda for lowering the expectations for Parker. He sees the possibilities the 6-3 wide receiver from Louisville offers. He sees what the Dolphins obviously saw on tape before they selected Parker.
McDuffie simply is saying what we all feel.
Parker cannot be like Dion Jordan or other recent Miami draft picks such as Jamar Taylor who we’re still waiting for to produce two and three years into their career.
The Dolphins don’t have that luxury with Parker. Not the way the current receiver corps is constituted.
The Dolphins had a vision for Parker when they picked him. And he’s got to run toward bringing that vision into focus sooner rather than later.
“I think he’s a guy, one of the things we want to do is increase our explosive plays,” Philbin said about the vision. “We want to have guys that have a good, strong presence outside the numbers. We’ll see how it goes. That’s one of the things I think he brings.
“I think he’s a guy that can attack the middle of the field, he’s got good size and length. I think it’s a good start for him [Friday], and we’ll see how things go.”
It has to be go-go-go for Parker. The Dolphins desperately need that.
The problem is every individual is different and not everyone is immediately able to be the cornerstone of a receiver corps as a rookie — not even players who become great later.
Mark Duper wasn’t great his first year.
Neither was Mark Clayton.
Neither was McDuffie.
It wasn’t a lack of talent. But a conspiracy of game speed, inexperience and the tedium of being a professional sometimes weigh players down their first season.
“You know, it took me a little while,” McDuffie said. “I knew the playbook really well. That only took a couple of minicamps with them adding stuff and all that. But really figuring it all out, it was probably into my second year.
“I was young and it was not only that but understanding the business part and how to be a pro, the spending all day thing here. It took a while to get used to all that.”
Parker will have to learn all that and it would help if his veteran teammates took time to teach him.
The truth is coaches who specialize in developing young players and teach technique and refine raw talent can only do so much.
That’s why when Parker was drafted, the team inadvertently put the other wide receivers on notice that they must help the youngest addition to the receiver room for the benefit of the entire team.
“Coaches can draw it up. And it’s all fine and dandy,” McDuffie said. “But we call that theory. It looks good on paper, but the guys can teach you the reality of releases, running routes, you get jammed up you shorten it a little bit.
“Coaches would tell me get to 14 yards but [Irving Fryar] would be like, ‘If you get jammed up, pull up a little bit and go to 12 because Danny is going to throw it.’ That’s critical information.”
McDuffie credits Fryar, Tony Martin, Freddy Banks, Mark Ingram and even Duper with helping him learn his trade even while they understood he might take one of their jobs or playing time.
Jennings, Stills and Landry must have that approach with Parker.
“A lot of receivers are threatened by a first-round pick at their position,” McDuffie said. “They worry they’re going to lose their job, so they’re not willing to help. All those guys were willing to help me out with being professional and everything about it. I was very lucky with the group I ran into.”
The hope is Parker is lucky, too.