During a break in workouts at the Miami Dolphins training facility in the offseason, Kenny Stills invited his fellow wide receivers to Nebraska to train and live together. It was a time to bond as a group.
Stills rented an Airbnb. The group brought a chef along and for four days the men worked out in the morning with former Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams. They ate together. They went through drills together. They went through recovery together.
In the evenings, they played video games or cards. One day they played golf.
“We spend a lot of time here together, all of us,” Stills said Thursday. “But when you sleep in the same house as somebody, you wake up and have breakfast with them every day, have lunch and dinner with them, you build a different relationship.”
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That time and others have convinced Stills of one thing about the 2018 Dolphins wide receiver corps:
“We lost some of our quote-unquote star power, but we’ve got guys that want to step up, and can, and will,” Stills said. “It’ll show once we get out there in the preseason and regular season.”
First on his list of players Stills sees benefiting from the offseason work so he can have a good season?
Stills made the transition from potential to production in 2016 and ‘17 when he combined for 15 touchdowns. He’s hoping — indeed everyone in the Dolphins organization is hoping — Parker can make a similar leap this season.
“I’ve been watching and trying to play the big brother role for him — get him on the little details of every day life,” Stills said. “Training, rehab, all the things the staff here are trying to get him to understand and trying to get him on a routine on, we’re working on. I’ve just continued to harp on those things with him.
“The evolution of how he’s taking the coaching, how he’s adding everything to his plan of what works for him makes me really proud because I’ve seen the way he’s grown.”
Understand that Parker started the journey toward conducting himself like a professional at an elementary level. A couple of years ago, the Dolphins discovered they had to tell him to have a healthy breakfast every morning.
Then someone realized Parker was playing video games into the late hours of the morning before reporting for work the next morning.
Then someone realized Parker liked chicken nuggets and other food that isn’t exactly great fuel for an NFL wide receiver.
That’s history now. Parker has solved that stuff.
Now he’s got to, you know, actually go play like everyone expects of a former No. 1 draft pick with boundless physical gifts.
And to that point, this training camp has been hit and miss. Often matched against Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard in practice, Parker has not been amazing. He’s had some good moments but also some moments that disappoint.
One such moment came Wednesday. On a pass play in which quarterback Ryan Tannehill could find no one open, he began to scramble. And the quarterback spotted Parker standing near the back pylon.
Tannehill threw the ball high and Parker sort of jumped before the ball bounced off his one raised hand. To the naked eye it seemed Parker had not really tried to make the play.
On tape, coaches realized Howard was holding Parker’s other arm, which kept him from making a full vertical leap.
But here’s the thing: Parker had mostly just stood there. He didn’t work toward the front pylon. He didn’t run toward the goal post as Tannehill was scrambling, which could have gotten him loose from Howard. He surely did not sell (or over sell) Howard’s hold on him in an effort to get a defensive holding or interference call.
Isaac Bruce was visiting practice Wednesday and I believe if he had been in the same situation, he would have not frozen in place as Parker did. Bruce, who I believe is Hall of Fame worthy, would have tried to find some way to make the play.
Maybe that’s being hard on Parker. Maybe that’s expecting too much.
But the Dolphins need Parker to be good for them to be a better team. Parker knows it. Stills knows it. Fans know it.
“I know that I need him, we need him, for this team to do well,” Stills said. “We all need each other to have success...”
Stills knows the commentary on Parker is prolific.
“Most of it negative,” he said. “It’s wrong. I read the stuff and coming from somebody that sees him every day, sees the reps, sees how he’s graded, I can tell you he’s improving everyday. And sometimes that’s all you can ask of somebody -- come out here every day, learn from their mistakes, not make the same mistakes the next day and keep stacking good days on good days.”
Stills is thoroughly convinced Parker is about to break out in 2018.
I’m really excited for him this season,” Stills said. “I see some of the things that are said about him and said in a negative way. You have to realize he’s in a battle. He’s in a battle against one of the best young corners in the league right now. X might not get all the love and attention that he deserves but he’s a young guy who works hard and is going to be a force in this league for a long time.
“I give credit to DeVante, coming out here every day during OTAs, coming out here during training camp, going up against X and not shying away from the competition. I try to be positive with him and get him to understand, we’re not going to win every battle and if you can work here against the best and win some, and lose some, when it gets to Sundays you’re going to fine.”