If second-year receiver/returner Jakeem Grant can’t fix the fumble issues that hindered him last season, it certainly won’t be for lack of effort.
After flying punter Matt Darr to Lubbock, Texas, during the spring so he could field hundreds of punts, Grant resumed his maniacal preparation during the six weeks between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp – a time many NFL players use for vacation.
On most of those days, Grant fielded at least 100 punts a day from a college teammate who’s trying to get NFL work as a punter. He has fielded thousands this offseason, and he’s confident he’s fixed the problem that led to four fumbles over the final two months of last season.
“It was unbelievable,” Grant said. “That’s all I did. Wake up, go catch punts, eat lunch, go right back at it. I catch so many punts, I got it to second nature that I only don’t even think about catching it. I just react. And that’s exactly how I want it to be. Every day I am out here doing something involving catching punts because I don’t want to make those mistakes I made last year. So I harp on that and make sure I get those things corrected.”
Even after he reached 100 during his daily summer punt fielding exercise, he would continue if there was the slightest misstep. “I don’t stop until I’ve caught enough until I’m comfortable,” he said. “If my stance is wrong or if I bobble it, I won’t leave until everything is correct. I am not moving until everything is perfect.”
When he’s around special teams coach Darren Rizzi, “it’s to the point where I catch punts and coach Riz is like, ‘Take it to the house, and I’m like, ‘No I feel like that’s not enough.’ So I keep catching and keep catching. And there are times I get on Rizzi like, ‘We’re not starting to get the Jugs machine early. You’re getting soft on me.’”
Grant has asked those around him to make punt fielding as difficult as possible for him. Sometimes, he asks them to kick him three balls at once, to see if he can catch all three.
“Coach has been throwing a big medicine ball at me,” he said. “I listen for the Jugs to shoot off and turn around and catch the ball. They’re throwing balls at me, hitting me in the head, and I’m still catching them because I’m focused in on catching them.”
The results, he said, have been encouraging. “I haven’t charted drops, but I haven’t dropped many,” he said.
The Dolphins believe that if he eliminate the drops, he can be a dynamic returner for years.
Among NFL players with at least 19 punt returns last season, he was 12th with an 8.3 average, including a touchdown. Among players with at least 19 kickoff returns last season, he was seventh at 23.1.
Coach Adam Gase said Grant also has made progress as a receiver, and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said the Dolphins want to increase his role on offense after he had just 19 snaps last season.
Grant, who caught a couple of passes for significant gains early in camp, said the offensive improvement has come in “route running, catching the ball, being more consistent on making plays. Everything as a receiver, I’ve been improving on.
“But I still have a lot of things to improve on. That’s only a step up the mountain I’ve taken. I’ve got to keep going. I would love to get in every series. Right now, I’m trying to build that trust in the coaches that they can rely on me when it’s game time.”
Please check back in a few minutes for a lot more Dolphins news, with Marlins and Heat news on the way later today.