Nearly every Dolphins player had walked off the field following a recent training camp practice.
Linebacker Stephone Anthony was still very much engaged on the far end of the field putting in extra work in drills and talking with his coaches.
After experiencing first-hand how fleeting success in the NFL can be, Anthony isn’t taking anything for granted heading into his first — and what could be his lone — full season with the Dolphins.
“It’s been a blessing for me just to get the opportunity to come here and these guys to embrace me and give me a shot,” Anthony said.
Anthony (6-3, 245 pounds) enters his fourth NFL season in the thick of a battle for the Dolphins’ starting outside linebacker spot.
Although he’s the frontrunner — once again getting most of the first-team reps during Friday’s practice — Anthony knows he still has to prove his worth both in the short and long term.
In the short term, Allen is battling second-year player Chase Allen and rookie Jerome Baker to solidify that starting spot.
Allen figures to be the stiffest competition so far earning some first team reps on Thursday as the Dolphins continue to closely evaluate both.
“We just want to keep the competition going,” Dolphins linebackers coach Frank Bush said. “We don’t want anybody to get comfortable, so we’re putting him back outside to make sure he and Steph (Anthony) have real competition out there; but meanwhile making sure that [Allen]’s getting enough reps inside.”
In the long term, Anthony could motivate Miami to sign him to a deal after this season when he becomes a free agent if he can perform as well or better than he did in 2015 when he led the Saints with 112 tackles.
Anthony dealt with knee injuries and a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss six games and start only three overall in 2016 resulting in the New Orleans trading him to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick on September 20.
The former Clemson University standout says he feels completely healthy heading into this season after training back home in the offseason. His favorite activity, however, was spending time with his five-year old daughter, Skylar.
“She’s everything to me … innocent, sweet, I eat it up and I look forward to it every time I can go spend time with her,” Anthony said. “She loves it all and she’s learning. She loves getting a chance to see daddy.”
Anthony played in eight games a year ago and recorded 15 tackles total after joining the team in-season and playing mostly in nickel situations only.
The Dolphins chose not to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract, which would have been worth $9.6 million.
“[It’s] no big deal,” Anthony said. “My mind has to be prepared for that before I get here. My focus right now is…..my job is to come out here during this camp and get better each day and when game time comes, put my best foot forward. And then let the rest of the stuff take care of itself. You can’t worry about it because then it’ll worry you.”
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase recently praised Anthony’s tackling ability and thinks he can provide flexibility at the linebacker position having also played middle in New Orleans.
“When we played him a little bit this past season, he was involved in a lot of plays,” Gase said. “He’s around the ball. We just want to keep growing him in that capacity. The more spots he knows, the better. I think it’s just, he can give us a lot of flexibility because there is a lot he can do. He’s a good-sized guy that can run really well. When you have a guy like that, we just have to keep getting him better.”
Bush said about Anthony: “He came in later in our system last year, and we weren’t able to use him fully like we expecting to. We used him in some third-down situations; but now, he’s in there with the first group on first and second down. He’s doing a good job for us and really kind of learning the system and owning the information.”
A healthy and productive Anthony could go a long way toward improving a unit many consider the weakest on a Dolphins’ defense that was already one of the league’s worst in scoring defense last season - 29th out of 32 teams.
ProFootballFocus.com ranks the Dolphins the worst run-defense in the NFL heading into this season and ranked Miami 28th in missed tackle percentage on running plays last season.
“I’ll let you guys write those stories and make those judgments and we’ll just show up and play on Sunday,” said Anthony about the rankings. “We’re good players. We’re going to show up and perform. I think our linebacker group will be outstanding. We have guys that understand what it takes and are willing to do what it takes.”