Barry Jackson

Dolphins sign WR; High-pressure on five recent Fins draft picks

Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) defends against the New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) on an incomplete pass in the second quarter as the New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 18, 2016.
Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) defends against the New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) on an incomplete pass in the second quarter as the New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 18, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The Dolphins, beset by injuries at receiver, added one with a familiar last name on Monday evening.

Trey Griffey, son of former MLB star Ken Griffey, agreed to a Dolphins contract, as ESPN reported and a source confirmed to me.

He went undrafted out of Arizona and spent time with the Colts this summer before being waived last month.

The 6-3 Griffey had 23 catches for 382 yards (a 16.6 average) and two touchdowns as a senior last season and 79 catches and six TDs in his four-year career.

The Dolphins have been without five injured reserves: Leonte Carroo (hamstring), Rashawn Scott (foot), Isaiah Ford (knee), Frances Owusu (knee) and Jordan Westerkamp (hamstring).

Fortunately for Miami, their top three receivers have been healthy - Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. So has returner Jakeem Grant, who is much improved as a receiver.

If the Dolphins keep six receivers, which is far from guaranteed, Damore’a Stringfellow and Drew Morgan would be the top contenders unless Scott gets healthy in a hurry. UM grad Malcolm Lewis also is in the mix but missed time recently with a concussion. Griffey now joins that competition.

Stringfellow caught a 99-yard touchdown against Atlanta on Thursday. Morgan was impressive in the offseason program but hasn’t been as much of a factor during training camp.

Miami Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris talks about his first-time playing in a NFL preseason game on Aug. 13, 2017.

DOLPHINS CHATTER

Add this to the list of things critical to the Dolphins this season: that five key returning draft picks establish themselves as high-quality building blocks this season, as pieces that can be relied on longterm.

These five, in particular, and where they stand:

• So, somehow, Jordan Phillips has gone from being one of the keys to the Dolphins’ defense this season to being the No. 3 defensive tackle behind a fifth-round rookie. For nine straight days, Phillips has played behind Godchaux, and it’s clearly the rookie’s job to lose at this point.

The Dolphins want Phillips not only to play with far more consistency, but also with more passion and effort. Not everyone in the building believes this will ever happen, we’re told, and his first two weeks of camp have been less than a rousing success: He lost his starting job to rookie Godchaux (who has been very good), committed two penalties in one practice, then had more penalties (one) than tackles (none) in the preseason opener.

But Dolphins president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum, who advocated Phillips’ drafting (while then-general manager Dennis Hickey preferred Missouri guard Mitch Morse, who was picked before Phillips after Miami traded down with Morse on the board), wants to give Phillips at least one more year to prove his value. And that makes sense, because he’s on a cheap rookie contract, and frankly, the Dolphins need talented bodies at defensive tackle.

If he’s good, he will be in the longterm plans. If not, he won’t be.

Though Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke cautioned a week ago not to overstate Phillips’ move to the second team, it’s clearly meaningful. Remember, Adam Gase said practice performance dictates first-team reps. So Godchaux is ahead of Phillips, period.

Godchaux “is doing a good job; it's good competition,” Phillips said. But “I’ve had a good camp” too.

Even teammates know answers won’t come until the regular season.

“I think he’s focused, and he has an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong,” said Ndamukong Suh, who has tried to mentor him. But “it’s going to come down to when we start playing real games. Obviously he has the ability to get to where he wants to be.”

Time eventually is going to run out.

• The Dolphins believe Xavien Howard can be a high-end No. 1 corner. He won’t need to be that this season, with Byron Maxwell here. But he will need to be next season, with Maxwell likely to be salary cap casualty unless he has a Pro Bowl caliber year.

Howard’s improvement this offseason has been noticeable, a year after he was limited to six games because of injury and allowed a bloated 104.5 rating in his coverage area and had no interceptions in 582 snaps.

“Outstanding,” Burke said of how Howard has looked. “He’s physical; he’s putting his hands on guys. I’m going to turn the pressure on ‘X’ up a little bit. He was a rookie last year, didn’t play, had the [knee] issues, and that plays with you guys with people a lot, psychologically and physically. He’s had a very, very, very, very good camp and we’re putting a lot of expectations on him to continue that trend.”

But he allowed two completions on soft coverage in the preseason opener and failed to touch a receiver who was on the ground. He was beaten for a long touchdown in Sunday’s practice.

So there’s work to be done. But the arrow, overall, is going up.

• The Dolphins believe Ja’Wuan James can be a premier right tackle but don’t believe he’s that yet. They have implored him to play with more aggression, to not get lazy with his technique.

James insists he has gotten the message.

Coaches have been “super tough on me, but that's what I want,” he said. “They see a lot of potential in me. The expectation is high. They don't think I should get beat on any play and I don't think I should, either. When I do, I've got figure out what I did wrong and try to perfect it.”

What coaches want from him, he said, is “just consistency. I showed flashes of the doing the right thing at times. Now just doing it over 16 games period.” He said his technique has been an issue in the past “but I've done a better job this year and I've got to continue to build off of that.”

Do coaches tell him he needs to play with more fire?

“Sometimes people mention that, with my personality, with how I am, but on the field, I play aggressive in the run game,” he said. “I like to stay even keeled.”

James returned to practice on Monday after missing three days with a sore shoulder.

Jakeem Grant’s growth as a receiver has been encouraging the past two weeks – he had a terrific catch in Thursday’s preseason opener - but the bigger priority is eliminating fumbles on returns; he’s improved there but still has the occasional drop.

Among NFL players with at least 19 punt returns last season, Grant 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. But the four November/December fumbles created doubt.

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. He has coaches kick three balls to him at once, throw things at him while trying to field punts and do anything to improve his craft.

“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.”

• Gase joked that he wanted to attack Kenyan Drake at times in the past because of occasional missteps, from tardiness to not making the right read.

The problem, running backs coach Danny Barrett admitted, ranged from taking “things for granted” or not finishing plays or “just not being where you’re supposed to be. I think he’s overcome those things this offseason.”

Not only did Drake average 5.4 yards on 33 carries last season, but he forced seven missed tackles on 42 touches and has “elusive rating” was higher than Dallas standout Ezekiel Elliott’s, Pro Football Focus said. He ran well Thursday (four for 21).

Gase said the Dolphins put “too much on his plate” last season but now “he’s more comfortable with the terminology. He’s trying to be as detailed as possible. His speed obviously is something that you notice right away because it looks like the defense may have him and he pulls away from them, which is hard to do in the NFL. You really notice it especially in the route-running too. He can create some separation there. He’s done a good job.”

But durability remains a question. He missed time at Alabama with seven different injuries and limped off the field during Monday’s practice after taking a hard hit.

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