In the Spring of 2011, Miami Dolphins coaches were impressed by one player they saw take a significant jump from what they saw the previous season to what they were seeing only months later in the the offseason workout program.
Safety Reshad Jones was the talk of the coaching staff.
The team was only in its early part of the program but coaches were wowed by Jones’s performances -- granted, in limited team drills that did not include contact. That raised their expectations for him dramatically for the coming season and even caused them to pencil the former fifth-round draft pick as a starter.
Jones, by the way, did not disappoint and today is among the best safeties in the NFL.
Today, on the eve of the Dolphins beginning their Organized Team Activities (OTAs), there is one player coaches believe has taken a significant jump from what they saw last year. He has become one of, if not the most improved player, in the early part of the team’s offseason conditioning program and coaches are hopeful that will continue and carry over to the OTAs ...
Then to training camp.
And the preseason.
And the 2017 regular season.
DeVante Parker is that player.
I am told by multiple sources Parker has been so impressive this offseason he has coaches hopeful he can finally develop into the dominant threat the Dolphins were expecting when they drafted him in the first round in 2015.
So why has Parker been so impressive in the four-hour training sessions the players have been participating in four days a week for the past five weeks?
This is what I’m told:
Parker has apparently come to understand that staying healthy is key to his success and that entails much more than simply stretching before workouts and cooling down afterward. Parker is eating right -- exactly what the team nutritionist has recommended. He’s not skipping meals.
He is apparently getting enough sleep. This is what coaches are thinking because when he tells people he’s going to be somewhere at a certain time of the morning, he’s been on time. That wasn’t always the case in the past.
Most importantly, Parker is going hard during his workouts.
This part is interesting because Parker is so athletically gifted that before he reached the NFL, he probably didn’t have to practice and work out hard to play well. But that was a trap. It formed bad practice habits.
The Dolphins believe Parker carried those bad habits over to his rookie year and, as wide receiver elder statesman Mike Wallace had been traded months earlier in a purge of vets, Parker obviously didn’t get great veteran advice, either. And, with respect to the 2015 coaching staff, they didn’t exactly push the players to maximize in practice.
And so Parker, a young player, asked his body to go full throttle only in games. And current coaches think that’s a recipe for disaster because the body isn’t ready to go full speed on game day when it isn’t conditioned to do so during the week.
So the body complains. Muscles cramp. Or strain. It’s like taking a brand new car with a new engine and putting the accelerator pedal through the floorboard on first start up. There’s no break in period so there is simply breakage.
Parker is apparently going hard all the time now and I’ve been told it is game-speed hard.
There are other clues Parker might be on the verge of something big that have nothing to do with his ability to get healthy. One thing has to do with his desire to learn. I’m told he’s paying closer attention. Correcting mistakes. Not accepting shortcuts or taking corners.
He’s trying to do exactly what coaches are teaching him in the manner he’s being taught. Wide receiver coach Shawn Jefferson, something of a stickler for details, is key in this regard for the third-year pro.
Parker’s body lean in and out of routes has improved.
His footwork has improved.
His consistency in getting those two right at the same time has improved.
Is it perfect so far? No.
Is it guaranteed Parker will remain on his current path as the workout’s difficulty increases, starting with OTAs, then into mini camp and training camp? No.
And even if all that happens, will Parker carry everything he’s learning and his approach into the season when all these learned skills need to become instinctive? No one knows.
But the Dolphins have good vibes about this. They’re hopeful.
They see a player with an impressive ability realizing for the first time he needs to hone that God gift. That has made DeVante Parker get much attention within the organization even though he hasn’t caught one pass in a game since last year yet.
That has made Parker perhaps the most improved player in the Dolphins offseason so far.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero