In a quest to surround quarterback Ryan Tannehill with as many weapons as possible, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland clearly made it a point to upgrade his team’s wide receiver corps during the offseason.
A year after calling his receivers a bunch of “fours, fives and sixes” on HBO’s Hard Knocks, Ireland landed speedster Mike Wallace from the Pittsburgh Steelers, re-signed Brian Hartline off a 1,000-yard season and snatched tight end Dustin Keller from the New York Jets.
While those moves grabbed most of the headlines, it could be the switch at slot receiver that makes the biggest difference in Miami’s offense. Former inside man Davone Bess was made expendable after the Dolphins picked up Brandon Gibson.
“He’s smart, instinctive,” coach Joe Philbin said of Gibson. “He understands coverages and understands leverage of the defense very well. He’s a smart player; I like him.”
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Gibson caught 51 passes for 691 yards and five touchdowns last season, and 43 of his 51 receptions went for first downs, good for the third-highest percentage in the league. He’s expected to line up in the slot this season after playing on the outside for the majority of his career.
Gibson replaces Bess, who was a security blanket for Miami quarterbacks for years. In the past five seasons, Bess had 130 catches on third down, second-most in the league in that time period.
Third-down improvement will be key for Miami in 2013. Last season, Tannehill completed only 59 percent of his passes on third down, throwing seven interceptions compared with only three touchdowns, adding up to a subpar 65.3 passer rating.
“He’s a great inside receiver,” Tannehill said of Gibson. “We had Davone, who was a good player last year. Brandon’s a bigger guy [6-0, 207 pounds compared to Bess at 5-10, 195]. He’s able to use his body more in the middle of the field. He can win inside or outside routes. He’s a real asset for us.”
Gibson’s size will be key, as Miami looks to attack the middle of the field more with Keller and Gibson. In June, Philbin explained his philosophy on the Gibson acquisition, saying, “It’s easier when you have a bigger body at times cruising through the middle.”
Gibson’s personal goals are to help the team in every way.
“I want to be a complete receiver, make touchdown blocks and celebrate with my teammates when we score,” Gibson said. “The biggest strength I bring to this team is my ability to compete for the ball when it’s in the air.”
Gibson’s training camp has been solid if not memorable so far. During practice, he has established a stranglehold on the third receiver position, especially in the wake Armon Binns’ torn ACL and subsequent release. In Miami’s two exhibition games, Gibson had one catch in each for a total of 21 yards.
Wallace, whose speed should open up some routes for Gibson in the middle of the field, spoke highly of his running mate.
“Brandon is great. Great route runner, smart guy,” Wallace said. “He really knows to work the field.”
Off the field, Gibson has adjusted well, making the transition from the Midwest to Miami. The former Washington State standout turned 26 on Tuesday.
“I feel like it’s cool, Miami’s becoming home,” Gibson said. “It’s a real upbeat city, lots to do. The receivers, we all get along great, we all have fun.”