Barry Jackson

Will Mike Gesicki become the first Dolphins tight end to catch 80 passes in a season?

New Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki runs after a catch against the Michigan State Spartans in a 2014 game. The Dolphins hope Gesicki can be a dangerous pass catching threat in the NFL.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
New Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki runs after a catch against the Michigan State Spartans in a 2014 game. The Dolphins hope Gesicki can be a dangerous pass catching threat in the NFL. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Before selecting Mike Gesicki 42nd overall in last month’s NFL draft, the Dolphins hadn’t invested that high a pick on a tight end since 1974, when they chose Andre Tillman 38th.

And Gesicki might represent Miami’s best hope for its first 80-catch, 1,000-yards-in-a-season tight end in franchise history.

Gesicki on Friday agreed with the characterization of him as an athletic tight end that can make tough catches in the red zone.

“That label, athletic tight end, fits me but I will continue to work to be a complete tight end,” he said on the first day of a three-day rookie mini-camp. “With the way the game of football is going, that athletic tight end is an important piece to the puzzle. [But] ultimately you have to be able to do everything: run block, pass block, deeper routes, shorter routes. You can’t just be a big receiver.”

Gesicki, perhaps the best receiving tight end in the draft, caught 129 passes for 1,481 yards and 15 touchdowns in four years at Penn State, including 57 for 563 and nine touchdowns last season.

The 6-6 Gesicki, who played receiver in high school before moving to tight end at Penn State, said he’s heard all the criticism about shortcomings in his blocking.

"Somebody says something about you, you are not going to be happy about it,” he said. “I will be the first one to tell you I need to continue to improve in the run game and blocking. I’m extremely competitive.”

Beyond blocking, he said he must improve on “minor details of route running, [my] first step, coming out of breaks. I am nowhere near to where I need to be. I’m going to get there whether it’s this year or next year.”

What does he do really well?

“My best attribute would be high pointing the ball, making contested catches, making big plays, scoring touchdowns in the red zone,” he said. “That’s one of reasons I was picked where I was.”

He played basketball most of his life and received scholarship offers from Lehigh and Colgate and a few other schools, but determined by high school that he likely wouldn’t be an NBA player and instead “saw potential of where football could take me. I didn’t put all my energy and effort into football until I got to college.”

Asked what NFL tights ends he has watched and hopes to become in time, Gesicki named two: Kansas City’s Travis Kelce and Green Bay’s Jimmy Graham.

“Graham with the basketball background and being a big threat in the red zone,” he said. “Kelce being extremely athletic – those guys have been extremely successful – those are guys I’m shooting for.... I haven't really scratched the surface of the player I can become.”

BAKER CONFIDENT

Jerome Baker, the Dolphins’ third-round pick from Ohio State, dismissed criticism that he’s too small, at 6-1 and 225 pounds, to be an effective every down NFL linebacker.

“They [always] said I was too small,” he said. “I can do it all. The game is on the line; I can make plays.”

Baker, who might end up at weakside linebacker, said he hasn’t been assigned a particular position yet.

One thing that appealed to the Dolphins about new kicker Jason Sanders: Only 22 of his 132 kickoffs were returned at New Mexico the past two seasons. That’s an 83 percent touchback rate.

Last season, the Dolphins’ (and Cody Parkey’s) touchback rate of 41.8 percent was fourth-worst in the league. Parkey signed with the Chicago Bears this offseason.

Sanders, a seventh-round pick who joined Auburn’s Daniel Carlson as one of only two kickers selected in this year’s draft, said he made a 70-yard field goal in a New Mexico practice, a 60-yarder in a scrimmage and 53-yarder in a game (which beat Tulsa).

“I have one of the strongest legs coming out of the draft,” he said.

Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi flew to Albuquerque to work him out in March and “I didn’t think I did great,” he said. “I did good. I showed a lot of good things.”

Though he was 4 for 5 from 50 yards or more in his career, he missed 10 of his 35 college field goals overall.

“I don’t want to blame anybody but myself,” he said. “There are a lot of kicks I wanted back.”

Sanders, who will compete with undrafted FAU rookie Greg Joseph for the Dolphins kicker job, played soccer growing up and said “I didn’t want to play” football as a freshman in high school. “I was forced into it,” he said. “My parents said give it a shot” — just as Sanders’ brother did.

The Dolphins added North Carolina State cornerback Jonathan Alston to the list of 12 previously disclosed undrafted rookies to sign contracts with the team. Alston, 6-0, moved from receiver to cornerback as a senior last year and responded with three interceptions.

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