Privately, the Dolphins would love if 5-7 rookie jitterbug Jakeem Grant can win both the punt and kickoff return jobs, allowing them to reduce Jarvis Landry’s workload.
The Dolphins know Grant is quick, fast and elusive. What they don’t know yet is whether he will be prone to missteps with ball control or drops. They also don’t quite know how he will fare returning punts, considering he never did that at Texas Tech.
“He’s had days he hasn’t dropped any and a couple days where he’s dropped one or two,” special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said. “He catches punts before practice, during practice, after practice. The guy is really putting the work in.
“He definitely is ahead of where I thought he would be, for a guy who didn’t return punts in college. He’s his own worst critic. We’re anxious to get to next Friday in live action [at the New York Giants].”
As far as ball security goes with Grant, Rizzi said: “Those guys that are elusive, fast guys — I’m not just talking about Jakeem, I’m talking about a blanket statement — sometimes tend to get careless with the ball. We’re going to make that a major emphasis.”
But Grant’s speed and ability to quickly change directions excite the coaches. “I know what he can do with the ball in his hand,” Rizzi said. “He’s proven it in practice.”
On returns, the Dolphins also are working running back Kenyan Drake and receivers Griff Whalen and AJ Cruz on return drills, but Cruz is a long shot to make the team and Whalen is very much on the bubble.
“All those guys are going to get a look in preseason,” Rizzi said. “Jarvis is not in the mix in practice because we know he’s a proven guy.”
Landry has been an effective returner so far in his career, with a 27.1 return average on 47 kickoffs and a 9.2 average and one touchdown on 61 punt returns. Conversely, Grant had a 24.9 average and four touchdowns on 87 kickoff returns at Texas Tech and did not have any punt returns.
▪ Grant had nine drops last season as a receiver at Texas Tech but Gase said “he’s been great as far as consistently catching the ball.”
Drake, who sustained seven injuries in four years at Alabama, pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury after a long run late in Friday’s practice. Drake also pulled a hamstring late in minicamp.
Meanwhile, receiver DeVante Parker missed a third consecutive practice with a hamstring injury. Running back Isaiah Pead (hamstring) remains out.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sat out with a minor back issue, but the Dolphins don’t consider it serious and don’t believe it would have kept him out of a game.
▪ Running back Jay Ajayi returned after missing three practices with a knee injury, but Gase said he’s not 100 percent. He split first-team reps with Arian Foster.
▪ The Dolphins gave a rest day to defensive end Jason Jones, left tackle Branden Albert and linebacker Kiko Alonso. Laremy Tunsil started at left tackle in Albert’s absence and was beaten by Cameron Wake for a sack.
James Michael-Johnson started at middle linebacker in Alonso’s absence, and linebackers coach Matt Burke said “JMJ has done a great job. He prepares better than anybody in the room.”
The Dolphins remain unsure how long Zach Vigil will be out with a back injury, leaving Michael-Johnson, Neville Hewitt, Spencer Paysinger and Mike Hull as the top backups.
Burke said Hewitt “flashes” but “he’s got to be more consistent.”
Burke said this year’s group of undrafted linebackers — James Burgess, Tyler Gray, Akil Blount – have some good moments and others “where I want to choke them to the ground.”
▪ Defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo said the first-team nickel corner job would be determined largely by performance in preseason. Bobby McCain and Michael Thomas are battling with the job, with Thomas also pushing Isa Abdul-Quddus at safety.