Miami Dolphins

With his career at a crossroads, this Miami Dolphins player enters critical offseason

DeVante Parker has made big plays this year — just not nearly enough.
DeVante Parker has made big plays this year — just not nearly enough.

The rehabilitation of DeVante Parker’s injured ankle began in early October.

The rehabilitation of Parker’s image — and perhaps even his confidence — began in earnest Thursday.

Clyde Christensen, Miami’s offensive coordinator, has long been Parker’s hype man. Christensen said in the spring that Parker, the wide receiver taken in the 2015 draft’s first round, was going to have a “monster” season.

Parker, we now know, did not. He ranks 57th in receiving yards (606), 63rd in catches (51), 155th in touchdowns (1) and 157th in yards per catch (11.9).

But Christensen still firmly believes that Parker is a Pro Bowl-type receiver. He just needs a little injury luck.

“My words were if he stays healthy, I really see this guy as a 10-touchdown and 1,000-yard guy,” Christensen said. “I’ll still stay with that. If he had stayed healthy, it probably would have been that. … Here’s what I think about DeVante,” Christensen added. “He’s learning. He’s 200 percent better today than he was the day that I got here at understanding what he’s got to do, taking care of himself and his habits, his workout regime and all of the things that go into taking care of your legs and those things. Did he get hurt again? Yes. But I’m telling you, he’s way further ahead on those things. In my heart of hearts, which tries to take the positive side of everything, I would say that’s going to pay off.”

At least once this season, Christensen pulled Parker aside, looked in his eyes and told him: Just keep doing what you’re doing. Do those things better. Good things will happen.

They better soon. This is the most important offseason of his career.

Goal No. 1: Get, and stay, healthy.

Parker’s list of ailments, both in college and as a pro, is like something out of the board game Operation.

Foot. Hamstring. And now ankle.

With the possible exception of hamstring, none has been remotely his fault. But combined, they have given him the reputation of being a fragile player.

“You can’t really control ankle injuries,” Parker told the Herald on Thursday. “It happens. You get tackled, you get rolled up on. You can’t really control that. It’s something that happens, it’s football.

“Sometimes you feel good in a game,” he continued. “Others, you just don’t. You’ve got to just play through it.”

He looked spry in Miami’s loss Sunday, going up in traffic to pulling in a 34-yard pass from Jay Cutler over Chiefs safety Ron Parker. It was reminiscent of his leaping catch against the Chargers in the opener, which Parker said is “the real me.”

But then there was the stretch earlier in the season when he could not catch anything thrown his way, with drops leading to interceptions.

That’s why Christensen rightly called Parker “inconsistent” Thursday — but did so with compassion.

“I feel bad for the kid,” he continued. “It’s not fun playing receiver when you can’t run.”

The biggest problem the Dolphins have with Parker: They think he will be a really good player, but they cannot know that. No one can.

Players usually are who they are after three years.

If that holds true with Parker, he will be an average receiver.

But all rules have exceptions, and the Dolphins believe he can be that exception because of the way he works.

The days of Parker eating and sleeping like a college kid are over. He takes his craft seriously, and plans to continue that this offseason.

He will spend a couple of weeks home in Kentucky after the season ends, and then return to South Florida to start training for 2018.

It’s a smart move for many reasons — not the least of which: The Dolphins must decide by May whether to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

“I think he wants to be good,” Christensen added. “That’s half of it, that you really do want to be good, because that’s the beginning of ‘OK, if I want to be good, now I’ve got to take these steps to be good.’ I think DeVante is starting to do that. He’s way ahead of a year and a half ago. If he does the same thing this offseason again and takes it another notch, I think he’ll increase his percentage chance and I’ll make the same statement probably preseason again that I think if he stays healthy, he’s a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown guy and South Florida is really proud of [him].

“I really hope it happens.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley