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Chad Ochocinco returns to Miami, signs with Dolphins

Chad Johnson grew up in Liberty City, a fan of the University of Miami Hurricanes and the Dolphins.

Chad Johnson never got to play for UM. But Chad Ochocinco will get a chance to play for the Dolphins after signing a one-year deal Monday.

Breaking the news to the world: the Ochocinco News Network, the media outlet Ochocinco sold to Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

So now the Dolphins have one of the NFL’s most colorful personalities trying to extend his career as HBO’s Hard Knocks’ cameras descend on training camp.

Ochocinco worked out for the Dolphins on Monday morning after being released by New England last week after one season. Later Monday morning, Brian Hartline, who annually leads regular Dolphins wideouts in yards per catch, missed another organized team activity practice. During that practice, the drops continued at a high enough rate to bother the coaches.

“It is not an indictment of any of the players that we have; we like the players that we are working with at this point in time,” Philbin said of kicking the tires on Ochocinco. “I don’t think that it’s any different than any position, you always evaluate your roster, again [general manager] Jeff [Ireland] and his guys turn over every stone and they look for ways to improve the club.”

Since trading Brandon Marshall, the question of whom the Dolphins take into the season as a No. 1 receiver hangs over the offense. In fact, the first question to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on his season-ticket-holders-only conference call Monday evening could be summed up thusly:

What are you guys going to do about upgrading your wide receivers?

Signing Ochocinco might be an upgrade. That it’s a “might” shows how much has changed in just two years.

An NFL scout told The Miami Herald on Monday that Ochocinco seemed to have lost his explosiveness and might not bring enough for the $925,000 10-year veteran minimum a team would have to pay him.

From the moment New England released Ochocinco onto the free agent market last week after a single season, the Dolphins have been speculated as a possible landing spot. He put up seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and four seasons averaging more than 15.0 yards per catch during his 10 seasons with Cincinnati, while earning a reputation for flamboyance and intra-team drama.

The Miami Beach High graduate’s single season in New England included none of what marked his nine in Cincinnati — controversies, catches or yards. Last season, he caught 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown in 15 regular season games and one Super Bowl pass for 21 yards in the playoffs.

But the only lament heard about Ochocinco in New England was an inability to pick up the offense. Nobody criticized his willingness to work, accused him of any high maintenance behavior or degraded him as a teammate.

He comes into a receiving corps adjudged by many as pedestrian at best. Ross answered that first conference call question with: “We don’t have what some would call a No. 1 wide receiver. We have a lot of dependable receivers.”

This was hours after those receivers helped in a drop-by-drop slow torture of coaches.

Marlon Moore, B.J. Cunningham, running back Daniel Thomas, the list goes on. The dribbling of passes wasn’t organized, but it’s starting to look like a team activity.

“At some point in time you would like to have some players make it easy and distinguish themselves, maybe make the picture a little bit clearer,” Philbin said. “At certain times we have had some guys have some real productive stretches. The consistency of catching the ball is something that [wide receivers coach] Ken [O’Keefe] and [assistant wide receivers coach] Phil (McGeoghan) are working on and [offensive coordinator] Mike [Sherman] is a little bit concerned about, as am I.

“Again, glancing at some of the drills today down in the red zone there were a couple guys — it’s not always the receivers, some backs dropped one here and there and a tight end — but we have to catch the ball more consistently at every position on offense, because it is not quite where it needs to be.”

Not there again to catch or drop was Hartline. Monday’s practice wasn’t the first he’s missed because of injury, a minor calf problem according to an NFL source. Missing practices with a new coaching staff gets covered early in Job Retention 101.

“I am always going to tell you that we believe in the value of practice and repetition and if a player is not available that is always part of the evaluation process, how available are players to participate,” Philbin said.

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