Kliff Kingsbury and Adam Gase aren’t just colleagues. They’re friends, too.
So when the Texas Tech coach talks, Gase listens — particularly when the topic is Jakeem Grant.
“Kliff had told me that you’re not going to find a guy tougher” than Grant, Gase said. “He just said to bypass his size because he’s strong and he’s tough and he’s not afraid of anything.”
It’s very early in Grant’s career, of course. But so far, Kingsbury’s scouting report is spot on. Grant, the 5-foot-6 rookie wide receiver, was the MVP of the Dolphins’ preseason win over the Giants on Friday.
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Grant led all players in catches (four), receiving yards (68) and return yards (113). He was the fastest player on the field. And most importantly, he caught four of his five targets.
When Grant checked his phone later that evening, his inbox was full with well wishes — including one from Kingsbury, Grant’s collegiate coach.
“He told me, ‘Good game,’ but he also critiqued me, too,” Grant said. “He said there’s a lot of things that I need to do better on — to improve on — and that’s why I like him.”
Grant has gotten plenty of constructive criticism in his four months as a pro. Most notably: Watch the ball all the way until it’s safely tucked away.
Because for all his explosive speed —Grant claims he ran a 4.1 40-yard dash in college — he’ll only get on the field this fall if he becomes a better pass-catcher. Drops plagued him in college, and he’s had more than a few in camp.
Still, his stock is trending way up, as evidenced by Gase’s praise on Sunday.
“It’s fun to watch him return kicks and return punts because the whole time you’re sitting there thinking if he makes one cut and gets in the open field, he could be gone,” Gase said.
Added cornerback Byron Maxwell: “When he gets the ball, you're look, 'Ooooh, what is he about to do?' ”
In the preseason, Grant has the green-light to bring basically any kick out of the end zone, regardless of how deep. That suits Grant just fine, not to mention his mother Sylvia Whittaker.
“I always want to bring them out,” Grant said. “Every time I kneel, I always hear my mom’s voice saying, ‘Why’d you kneel the ball? You could bring that out!’”
Once the games begin counting — and there’s no reason to believe Grant won’t be on the roster when they do — he’ll have to show at least a little restraint.
The NFL is trying to legislate kickoff returns out of the league. The line of scrimmage after a touchback has been moved up five yards to the 25, further disincentivizing a team bringing one out of the end zone.
Of course, there’s no glory without guts, and the Dolphins could ultimately decide that Grant’s home-run potential is worth sacrificing a few yards of field position.
He nearly broke a punt for a long touchdown on Friday night.
“I thought I had it!” the emotive Grant said with typical pluck. “I went back and looked at the tape. I should have just broke back to the left and then took the kicker’s side. I’m not saying any bad things on kickers, but they don’t have a lot of experience in tackling. I should have just broke back to the kicker’s side and made him miss, and it would have been an easy touchdown.”
With the way Grant looked Friday, it’ll happen soon enough.
And when it does, he can expect another text from a West Texas area code.
▪ The minor groin injury that kept Byron Maxwell out of Friday’s game also sidelined him for Sunday’s practice, but Maxwell expects to be back in action Monday.
▪ The Dolphins held out several other players Sunday, most notably defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (calf), running back Kenyan Drake (hamstring) and corner Chimdi Chekwa (thigh).
▪ Gase expects his starting offense to play more in Friday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys than they did against the Giants.