Albert Wilson did more than lead the Dolphins in catches Friday night.
He made his strongest argument yet that the Dolphins should find a way to play him, even when DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills return from injury.
Wilson showed proficiency lining up at all three receiver positions against the Panthers — split end, flanker and slot.
And that versatility is a big reason the Dolphins signed him to a three-year, $24 million contract this offseason, despite no obvious place for him in the starting lineup. The belief was that he would compete with Danny Amendola for reps in the slot, but Dolphins coach Adam Gase shot down that theory a few weeks back, insisting Wilson would be an outside receiver.
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That was largely true against Carolina. Although he got some snaps inside, Wilson told the Miami Herald he primarily played the Z, or flanker, position.
What that means: The Dolphins appear to have identified the Z as spot where Wilson can be most effective when the games count in a few weeks. If not, they would have played him at the X.
“Just this past week and a half of getting the reps with the 1s, it’s taken my learning level from learning a couple of things a day to learning five, six things a day,” Wilson said. “If we continue to progress at that level, by the time Week 1 comes around, we’ll be ready to rock and roll.”
Stills is on track to return to action this week, Gase said Sunday. His injured ankle and calf have healed to the point where he was “a really good chance” practicing when the team returns to the field Tuesday, Gase said.
Parker, meanwhile, is still a ways off with a broken finger.
Until then, that takes the Dolphins’ only big body at receiver out of the game plan. At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Parker is the only prototypical X, or split end, on the roster. (Caveat: The Dolphins are not bound to prototypes, as evidenced by them using 5-7 Jakeem Grant at that spot Friday.)
“I pretty much like playing all of them,” Wilson said. “The Z’s mostly to the strength call. You usually have a tight end over there, so you’re pretty much single receiver most of the time. It’s good to get that work out there on the island by yourself, but I’m pretty comfortable playing all of them.”
Flanker fits Wilson’s dynamic skill set because that position usually plays off the line of scrimmage and is allowed to motion, giving him a freer release against a corner playing press.
So what does this mean once the Dolphins are again at full strength? We don’t know for sure, but it’s fair to surmise that Stills and Wilson will work at the Z, Grant (who had a team-high 45 yards on four catches against the Panthers) and Parker at the X and Stills and Amendola will both see action in the slot.
The breakdown in playing time will be based on health, matchups and effectiveness.
Parker was largely a nonfactor this summer even before his injury, and if his slump continues, that could change the equation as well.
“He’s able to do a lot of different things on the football field, just because of the talent that he does bring,” said backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, who has worked extensively with Wilson this summer. “... No one is going to outwork him. He works extremely hard every single day. He’s the same guy every single day, which as a quarterback, you really appreciate him, because you can trust him. You know exactly what he’s going to do. You know the exact player he’s going to be. You know he’s going to do the right thing at all times, and that’s something that I appreciate.”
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