Seemingly every August, a few undrafted players — often rookies — arise from anonymity and seize Dolphins’ roster spots.
Whether it be Davone Bess, Dan Carpenter, Derrick Shelby, Josh Samuda or others, the Dolphins have uncovered several under-the-radar “acorns” in recent years, to borrow a pet phrase of Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland.
So who, if anyone, will break through from this year’s cast of long shots?
Receiver Chad Bumphis is certainly making a case. And there are others trying to crack through, from second-year back Jonas Gray to second-year tight end Kyle Miller to a bunch of rookie linemen.
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Receivers coach Ken O’Keefe has told Bumphis all about Bess, who won a job in 2008 and went on to catch 321 passes in five seasons before being traded to Cleveland in April.
“He said, ‘Davone came in undrafted and was able to contribute,’” Bumphis said. “I said, ‘That could be me.’ ”
Though Bumphis made an error on a route on a tipped ball that resulted in an interception return for a touchdown Sunday night against Dallas, he also caught five passes for 85 yards. And he was outstanding during Tuesday’s practice, hauling in at least six passes.
“I know one thing,” coach Joe Philbin said. “No. 16 [Bumphis] is catching a lot of passes. Chad is a good football player.”
Said Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman: “He’s talented. To play that slot receiver, you have to be nifty and crafty. He appears to be that.”
Bumphis, 5-10, caught 58 passes for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns for Mississippi State last season and said he feels “good” about his chances of making the team. Working largely in the slot during practice “allows me to get open,” he said.
There’s a decent chance one or two undrafted players win roster spots at receiver, with undrafted Iowa rookie Keenan Davis earning praise from Philbin on Tuesday after making three catches for 48 yards against Dallas.
Marvin McNutt, a sixth-round pick of the Eagles last season, started camp strong but has dropped several balls in the past 10 days, including one Sunday. And 2012 practice-squad receivers Jeff Fuller and Brian Tyms have had good moments in camp.
Among other positions where young players are trying to beat odds and win spots on the 53-man roster:
• Running back: Gray spent last season on the Dolphins’ physically unable to perform list, recovering from a serious knee injury at Notre Dame. The Dolphins kept him around because they liked the skills he displayed in South Bend, Ind., including 791 yards on 114 carries and 12 touchdowns as a senior.
He justified that faith Sunday, with 41 yards on seven carries. It would still be a surprise if he sticks behind Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee, but Gray is making a case.
Evan Rodriguez, a fourth-round pick of the Bears in 2012, has flashed some receiving skills but faces an uphill climb. The Dolphins might not even keep incumbent fullback Jorvorskie Lane, because Charles Clay gives them more versatility as a fullback/tight end.
• Tight end: Kyle Miller, undrafted out of Mount Union in 2012, joined the Dolphins last season after Indianapolis cut him and has impressed by finding seams in the middle of the field. But he’s an underdog against the improved Michael Egnew in a battle for potentially one roster spot.
• Offensive line: None of the rookies has duplicated the success of Samuda, who claimed a roster spot as an undrafted rookie last summer and now is working with the starters at right guard. Asked who impressed him among the young linemen Sunday night, Philbin could not name anyone.
Jeff Adams, Chris Barker, Chandler Burden, Sam Brenner or Jeff Braun will need to demonstrate a lot more to avoid the waiver wire.
• Linebackers: Undrafted Lee Robinson, 26, already has had stints with four NFL teams and the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos and has made several good plays over the past three months. But he’s facing heavy competition (Austin Spitler, Josh Kaddu, Jonathan Freeny and others) for one or two jobs behind the three starters and top backup Jason Trusnik and fourth-round rookie Jelani Jenkins.
• Defensive backs: Undrafted safety Kelcie McCray, who spent all of last season on the Dolphins’ injured list, has had a good camp and appears to have a strong grasp on the No.4 safety job.
• Defensive lineman: Tristan Okpalaugo, an undrafted rookie from Fresno State, forced a fumble against Dallas, and A.J. Francis (who wants to be governor of Maryland someday) also has had his moments in camp. But it’s difficult to see any of five undrafted long shots at this position making the 53-man roster, largely because two second-year linemen, Kheeston Randall and Derrick Shelby, have played well.
Randall, a seventh-round pick in 2012, tipped an interception in practice Wednesday. Shelby had two sacks Sunday and “is a very, very sound player,” Philbin said. “I love him because … he gives effort, he’s in the spots where he’s supposed to be.”