Barry Jackson

Dolphins still waiting on young veterans to take big jump

Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (11) hauls in a one handed catch for a first down in the fourth quarter as the Miami Dolphins host the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium on Sun., Nov. 5, 2017.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (11) hauls in a one handed catch for a first down in the fourth quarter as the Miami Dolphins host the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium on Sun., Nov. 5, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

One could make the case that the Dolphins season was doomed when Ryan Tannehill’s ACL crumbled on the sideline of an early August practice.

But it didn’t need to be this way.

It didn’t need to be this way if the defense had been better than a unit that has now plunged to 23rd in yards per play and 25th in points per game.

It didn’t need to be this way if the offensive line was consistently competent.

And it didn’t need to be this way if the Dolphins’ young veterans had taken the step that this team had privately hoped or in some cases, expected.

That last reality is as disappointing as anything, the fact that none of the team’s young veterans, aside from offensive lineman Jesse Davis, has improved dramatically, though Kenyan Drake has shown some signs of growth.

That’s coaching and opportunity to an extent, but the greater onus is clearly on the players, at least those given an opportunity (and not all of them have been).

Consider:

• In May, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen predicted a “gigantic” year for DeVante Parker.

Shawn Jefferson, Miami Dolphins WR coach, says receiver DeVante Parker "is a monster...he will be invited to the monster ball".

Instead, he contributed to two interceptions Sunday, ranks 66th in yards per catch (an underwhelming 11.9), apparently can’t play at his best when he’s less than 100 percent and seemingly has lost his edge (according to Christensen).

Also, Dolphins quarterbacks have a poor rating of 77.9 while targeting Parker, according to ProFootballFocus.

Calvin Johnson, Parker’s idol, tried to inspire him during Johnson’s week with the team this summer. But Parker hasn’t proved he’s a clear-cut No. 1 receiver, and by year three, you would have expected that.

• A high-ranking Dolphins executive told people at the Senior Bowl that Laremy Tunsil would be a Hall of Fame left tackle. He might still be, but in his first year as a starter, he’s an average left tackle.

His 10 penalties are second-most in the league; PFF ranks him 46th of 81 tackles; and he’s part of a unit that has produced the second-worst run blocking metrics in the league (ahead of only the Jets), according to ESPN’s KC Joyner.

“We believe he can be a fine player and the consistency should come,” Christensen said. “It hasn’t yet but it will. Hopefully it comes the sooner the better. He would be the first to say you can’t have that many penalties.”

• Christensen assured in May that Jakeem Grant would be immersed more in the offense. Hasn’t happened.

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins running back, talks to the media about being the "next-man-up", starting running back Jay Ajayi left the practice field today to receive a concussion protocol.

He has played just 72 offensive snaps all season (none the past three weeks), with three catches for 15 yards. His average on punt returns has dropped from 8.3 as a rookie to 5.6 this season, and his kickoff return average is nearly identical.

“I was just talking to him about things didn’t quite go as planned early in the season,” Adam Gase said Wednesday. “We don’t have enough plays in the game to [sometimes use him]. I like the way he keeps trying to prepare himself. It’s nothing with him.”

• The Dolphins traded third, fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2016 for receiver Leonte Carroo, convinced he could be a longterm weapon. He has seven receptions and just 134 snaps this season and was inactive last week, again surpassed by Rashawn Scott.

Carroo “is never going to be a speed burner so he has to be on his technique,” Christensen said. “The times he has been in there he has gotten open and made a couple big catches. Special teams is a huge factor [in whether he’s active] - bigger factor than the offensive practice snaps.”

Kenyan Drake has improved but Christensen said the Dolphins want to see how his body handles a heavier workload. His seven carries for four yards last Sunday brought him down to earth after a strong game against Carolina.

Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore meets with reporters ahead of what could be his second start of the year.

On the positive side, Christensen said “he is improving his alertness, paying attention. His fines are way down from his rookie year. He’s doing things more like a pro. His first game [after the Jay Ajayi trade], he got the ball popped loose and it crushed him. That was the right reaction. It should crush you.”

Ja’Wuan James. Miami thought he could be a clearly above-average right tackle. He wasn’t (before his season-ending injury) and now the organization is non-committal if he will be back.

Xavien Howard. The Dolphins front office was confident he had the skills to be a high-end No. 1 corner.

He’s not yet even a consistently high-end No. 2 corner, with seven penalties, a passer rating against over 100 and a PFF rating of 117 out of 118, though he played well against Tampa Bay.

During a season when so many Miami Hurricanes have improved, it’s glaring that hasn’t happened with our pro team. And that needs to change.

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