During a decade of mediocrity, one positive constant has been the Dolphins’ ability to find undrafted rookie contributors: Davone Bess, Dan Carpenter, Damien Williams, Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt, among others.
But with training camp two weeks away, each of the Dolphins’ 12 undrafted rookies faces uphill climbs to make the 53-man roster, though several figure to end up on the 10-man practice squad.
Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn, expected to challenge incumbent Andrew Franks, enters camp as a clear underdog; Franks was more consistent in the offseason program.
San Jose State rookie Ryan DiSalvo, who improved during the latter stages of May/June practices, has a chance to unseat veteran snapper John Denney. Miami would save $650,000 against the cap it keeps DiSalvo instead.
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Draft analyst Tony Pauline cited former Louisville linebacker and Homestead High alum James Burgess (90 tackles last season, seven career interceptions) and ex-Florida Tech tight end Gabe Hughes (32 catches, 566 yards, three touchdowns) as Miami’s undrafted rookies that he believes are best equipped to make a team. But both are underdogs to make the 53.
Burgess — who had 19 passes defended during the past three years, including two against Jameis Winston (and an interception against him) — wasn’t drafted primarily because of his size (5-11, 227).
“But he should have been drafted,” Pauline said. “Fast, explosive, makes plays around the ball. Traditional weak-side linebacker. Size is the only limitation. He would be a nickel linebacker. The concern is he’ll get smothered at the point of attack. Could be an eighth linebacker.”
Burgess said six teams contacted him after the draft, but he picked Miami because it’s close to home (Florida City) and “I feel like I can make this team.”
He said some Hurricanes fans have lashed out at him on Twitter because he flipped his commitment from UM to Louisville on National Signing Day four years ago. He said he simply “felt comfortable with [Louisville coach] Charlie Strong” more so than he did with then-UM coach Al Golden.
“It was the best decision for my career,” he said. “Played in a bowl game every year. Won a BCS bowl.”
The Dolphins have two other undrafted rookie linebackers: Boise State’s Tyler Gray (51 tackles, three sacks last season) and Akil Blount, who had 75 tackles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns at Florida A&M last season and is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Blount.
As for Hughes, “if he doesn't make the 53, he will be on practice squad,” Pauline predicted. “Terrific pass-catching tight end.”
UM receiver Rashawn Scott, who caught 52 passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns for the Hurricanes last season, made a bunch of catches in the offseason program and has polished his route-running while working with ex-Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers.
But odds are heavily stacked against him and Temple receiver Brandon Shippen, Miami’s other undrafted rookie receiver. One or both could make the practice squad.
Pauline says keep an eye on cornerback Lafayette Pitts, who had four interceptions in four years as a starter at Pittsburgh. “When I watched Pitts as a sophomore, I thought he had Darrelle Revis-type potential,” Pauline said. “Then his game leveled off. Maybe practice squad.”
The other undrafted rookies: ex-Maryland cornerback A.J. Hendy, former Kentucky defensive end Farrington Huguenin and Toledo guard/center Ruben Carter.
DUARTE PLAYS CATCH-UP
▪ One of Miami’s three seventh-round picks, Thomas Duarte not only must catch up after missing all but three of the Dolphins’ offseason practices because of classes at UCLA, but also must prove he is capable of inline blocking, something he said he never once was asked to do in a game.
How good can he be at in-line blocking? "No idea,” he said.
Coach Adam Gase said: “We like his skill set as a receiver. We will see when we get pads on in training camp as far as a run blocker and pass protector.”
▪ When HBO’s Bill Simmons asked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the most terrifying defensive player in football, Rodgers cited Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. “One of the most dominant players, still,” Rodgers said.