By the end of August, the Dolphins offense had taken 264 snaps in preseason games and countless others in training camp. Injured wide receiver Brian Hartline had taken part in practically none of them.
Still, when Hartline returned to practice from a calf injury Aug. 31, he was confident.
“I don’t think I’m behind at all,” Hartline said then. “I know this offense.”
He sure looked like he knew it Sunday.
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After catching three passes in the Dolphins’ opener, Hartline tore through the Oakland secondary, amassing 111 yards off of nine receptions — both career highs.
It was a breakout game for the consistent, but seldom attention-grabbing, receiver from Ohio State.
The Raiders varied their coverages against him Sunday, but it did not matter.
Frequently finding his receiver open along the sideline, quarterback Ryan Tannehill kept coming back to Hartline, who was responsible for half of the Miami receivers’ catches.
“He was in a rhythm,” Tannehill said. “When you have a hot receiver, you want to get him the ball.”
Hartline, a former fourth-round pick by the Dolphins, amassed between 500 yards and 615 yards receiving in each of his previous three seasons in the NFL. After two games this season, he is on pace for almost 1,300 yards.
Such an increase in production — if he can sustain it — could partially be attributed to the fact that Hartline is in the last year of his contract with the Dolphins, making a breakout 2012 season especially timely.
But Hartline credited his success to his quarterback’s no-huddle play-calling.
“The biggest difference between now and other years [is that] we were able to get out there, see different looks and change plays,” Hartline said. “That’s all him.”
Drew Rosenhaus, Hartline’s agent, acknowledged the importance of this season for Hartline but said his client was focused on the team’s performance.
“Any time a player is in the last year of his contract it’s significant, but he’s going to give it his all whether it’s his last year of his deal or he just signed a brand new contract,” Rosenhaus said. “It looks like he and Tannehill have something very special developing.”
Whatever the reason, Hartline’s heroics have come at just the right time for the Miami receiving corps, a group frequently derided as being one of the worst in the NFL.
Hartline said the Dolphins must repeat the performance before the question marks that surround the receivers will go away.
“[We need to] earn that trust,” Hartline said. “No one just gets handed a silver platter just because you have one good game, so that goes for the whole corps.”
Tannehill and his receivers should face a tougher test Sunday against the New York Jets.
The Jets might have allowed 265 passing yards Sunday against the Steelers, but New York was fifth in the NFL in passing defense last season.
Star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who sustained a concussion Sept. 9, could be back in time to face Miami. Revis had two interceptions when the teams played last season in October.
Expect Hartline to have studied New York’s defense, though — with and without Revis.
Studying was the reason, fellow wide receiver Davone Bess said, that Hartline has fit into the system so nicely over the past few weeks.
Although Hartline missed spring practices with a calf injury and aggravated it early in training camp, Bess said his teammate kept his focus throughout preseason.
“I’m not surprised with him,” Bess said. “He’s so gifted mentally. He understands football. He didn’t miss a beat.”
Still, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was quick to mention that he does not want Hartline’s success to serve as proof that spring and summer workouts are not important.
“I can’t say anything good [about Hartline] because then I’ll have nobody here for [spring workouts],” Philbin said, joking.