Let’s discuss the future because, for the time being, the Miami Dolphins’ present is not exactly a picture of grand success and glad tidings.
You saw a glimpse of what is possible in the future last week. In one seven-second span, a lightning-bolt touchdown from Ryan Tannehill to DeVante Parker opened the window on tomorrow.
Miami’s young, highly drafted, highly paid quarterback threw to a highly drafted, highly paid rookie wide receiver, and it wasn’t another 5-yard gain or even a pass just out of reach needing more refinement.
It was a charge of electricity and excitement, full of potential, that lit up Sun Life Stadium.
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That play helped win a game last week.
But that play could also help define the Dolphins’ future.
That play was a statement of where the Dolphins’ offense wants to go and could go in the coming years.
Tannehill, despite ample criticism and uncertainty about his 2015 play, isn’t going anywhere. He is Miami’s quarterback for some time. He’s going to be here.
Parker, meanwhile, is headed into his ascendancy. He already has earned more playing time than he had early in the season. With the rib injury to Rishard Matthews, Parker is also in the starting lineup.
And that’s the way it is likely going to be in the coming years.
So start there, with Parker.
If he stays healthy, he is going to bring to the Miami passing game a type of dynamic ability that the franchise hasn’t enjoyed since … since … a long time.
Mike Wallace was supposed to deliver that and failed. But Parker is seemingly different. He is not the speedy deep threat Wallace was. But he’s more a red-zone mismatch. He’s a third-and-long option the likes of which Miami hasn’t had since Irving Fryar, because Parker is not just fast, he also is long and with the catch radius of a professional fisherman’s net.
Tannehill to Parker is going to be a thing in the coming weeks and seasons.
And that’s not just me thinking this. The Miami personnel department projected this before the NFL Draft. The coaching staff sees this now.
Even Parker, a soft-spoken, understated guy who isn’t prone to boasting, sees it coming.
“I think I can become a great player down the road,” Parker said. “I just have to keep working hard, keep lifting and studying hard like a pro player is supposed to.”
Parker, sidelined most of the preseason with a foot injury and then again in early November when he tore scar tissue in the same foot, is overcoming the setbacks. And the more he plays, the more opportunities he has, the more you’ll see plays like that surprising 38-yard touchdown from a week ago.
“The fans saw the potential of what I can do for the first time,” Parker said. “Back at home, people know my potential. They’ve seen it. People here just haven’t seen it all yet. But sooner or later, they’ll see.
“People at home know I’ve been doing that four years at [Louisville]. So they know I can do that. It’s nothing new there. Down here, that was new. It’s new to them.”
And then this prediction:
“By next year it shouldn’t be new anymore,” Parker said.
That is obviously what the Dolphins hope. That is what Tannehill hopes.
“I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface,” Tannehill said. “I think that obviously we saw his talent flash a couple times last weekend, and it’s building. You’ve seen it kind of grow over the past five or six weeks as he’s starting to get more playing time and more comfortable with what we are doing out on the field. He’s really able to relax and go play and be the player that he is.”
Parker denies his confidence was shaken earlier in the year when he was missing time. But interim coach Dan Campbell knows missing that time, that work, came at a cost. It cost practice time. It cost classroom time. And it did, indeed, cost Parker some confidence.
But that has changed.
“DeVante is finally feeling well, and his confidence level now is through the roof,” Campbell said. “He feels good, he’s healthy, he’s getting better every week, and everybody is starting to see why we drafted this guy. Hopefully it continues on that path.”
Assuming Parker stays healthy, the trajectory this Tannehill-to-Parker combination is promising is good for the offense, but it also could affect other players.
Jarvis Landry, Miami’s go-to receiver his first two seasons, is a fierce competitor who wants the ball a lot. But with Parker on the scene, Landry must understand he’s going to have to decrease some so that Parker can increase.
Parker’s rise could similarly affect Matthews.
The major reason Parker got his opportunity last week is because Matthews missed the last game and is about to miss Monday night’s game against the New York Giants. In that regard, the Dolphins had no choice but to thrust Parker into a bigger role.
But Matthews, a free agent after this season, must see that a team that drafted Landry last year, then traded for Kenny Stills and drafted Parker this year, is likely to want to feature them in the future.
So will the Dolphins pay Matthews as much with Parker surging as they would if the rookie’s future were not bright? Would Matthews, who wants to keep the starting job he earned early in the season, stay in Miami after this season knowing that starting job might be at risk with Parker on the rise?
The dynamics of DeVante Parker heading toward his potential touches many bases. It reaches deep into the future.
And that’s the way the Dolphins should want it.