Both are intoxicating talents that can leave defensive backs flummoxed. And besides talent and position, the Dolphins’ DeVante Parker and UM’s Stacy Coley share something else in common:
The gifted receivers are being pushed by their coaches like never before, told that they cannot simply get by on their talent.
The results are starting to show in Coley’s case, and the Dolphins are encouraged by Parker’s improved maturity and are hoping a breakthrough is close for a player who simply must get more chances to help rescue an ailing offense that ranks 28th in points per game, at just 17.8.
Here’s a quote:
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“The first thing I have to do is teach you how to be a pro; how to practice; how to take care of your body, do stuff maybe before you haven’t done.”
That comment was uttered by UM receivers coach Ron Dugans about Coley during the summer. But it sounds very much like what Dolphins coach Adam Gase and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson have said about Parker.
While AJ Green was dismantling the Dolphins secondary last week, Parker – who the Dolphins hope becomes another Green -- was largely invisible. He inexplicably wasn’t targeted at all in the first half and finished with two catches for 20 yards.
Some highly talented receivers would call for the ball in that situation. But Parker said he did not and will not, because that’s not his personality, even though he said he was often open during that game. That’s good in the sense that he’s not going to become a disruptive diva.
But the Dolphins also would like to see more passion from him, the type of every-play intensity that’s difficult to muster for a passive, subdued, soft-spoken soul like Parker.
That’s critical, because the Dolphins privately acknowledge that the 6-3 Parker is the player most likely to make their offense dynamic.
His 17.2 career average on 39 receptions is impressive, but he can’t be an offensive afterthought like he was in Cincinnati (and again, Parker isn’t primarily to blame for that).
The Dolphins have had to counsel him about a lot of little things: being more engaged and attentive in team meetings, eating breakfast (something he wasn’t even doing regularly before being ordered to do so) and hydrating – all areas where he has recently improved.
The Dolphins believe those diet and hydration issues contributed to his hamstring problems in August, which forced him to miss the regular season opener. The previous staff believed he didn’t practice hard enough.
Gase likes what he has seen recently.
“He’s done a good job as far as making sure he’s doing those little things,” Gase said Wednesday. “I can tell he’s way more engaged in meetings, for sure. So whatever he’s doing outside the building, he’s doing it right because you can tell when a guy’s either not sleeping enough (or) doing something outside the building that’s preventing him to sleep enough. He’s been engaged for probably, especially the last month. I can tell since we’ve started the season, the way that he pays attention to installations in team meetings and things like that. It’s important to make sure that he corrects whatever we were having issues with. I can tell he’s feeling better.”
Jefferson has tried other creative things with Parker.
For example: He knows Parker admires former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. So Parker told me that Jefferson gave him a cut-up of Johnson’s tape for Parker to study, hoping that will inspire him and push him to a new level.
“It would be great to have a career like that,” Parker said.
Gase said because his hamstring has healed, Parker is running more deep routes in practice. Perhaps that translates to games.
With Coley, the issues were somewhat similar. When Dugans replaced Kevin Beard as receivers coach, he told him he didn’t “have the years here I think he should have.”
Dugans has broken through with Coley in several areas: He pushed him to get in better shape, implored him to watch more film and do it correctly and prodded him to be a better blocker on the perimeter.
The 6-1 Coley is on pace for similar numbers in receptions and yardage as a year ago (47 for 689), but he already has four touchdowns, compared to four all of 2015.
“Watching film of before, I had no idea [of], ‘Would he block on the perimeter?’” Dugans said. “[Now], you see him out there and he's one of my best blockers. Things have gotten better mentally.
“The biggest thing when I got here is I wanted to teach him the game, understanding principles in the passing game, to elevate his game. The game has slowed down for him. He's watching film; when I'm in there teaching on the board, he's taking a lot of notes. I challenge him.”
For instance, Dugans said he sometimes will have Coley come up to the blackboard to explain a play. He will ask Coley and the other receivers to prepare a scouting report on the opponent. And on the practice field, he will push Coley physically like he has never been pushed.
“Fresh Coley is a really good football player,” Dugans said. “When he gets tired, now I want to see what type of player are you. I just challenge him on and off the field to be a player.”
So seeing Coley, a senior, make the type of plays like he did last Saturday, when he jitterbugged across the field with a 31-yard touchdown, was rewarding for Dugans and encouraging for NFL scouts.
“He has special speed,” an NFC scout told me this week.
As ESPN’s Mel Kiper said this past summer, “he flashed early of being a star, and I want to see him step forward. He has a chance to emerge.”
For Coley, another big game on Saturday’s prime time stage would be huge. So would a breakout by Parker on the same field 15 hours later.
HURRICANE MATTHEW UPDATE
• FSU is traveling to South Florida on Friday morning, and the UM-FSU game is on for 8 p.m. Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.
• Regarding the Dolphins game Sunday at Hard Rock, a team spokesman said: “We’re planning to play at 1 p.m. Sunday unless we’re told otherwise.”
For my Heat post today, on the team’s efforts to make Hassan Whiteside a better passer, please click here. And please follow me on Twitter: @flasportsbuzz