On a team widely predicted to rank among the worst in the league, the Dolphins have at least one position where they appear to have more NFL-worthy players than a 53-man roster can typically accommodate.
And wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell said that could lead to some very difficult decisions when teams trim their rosters from 90 to 53 by Aug. 31.
“It’s going to be really tough,” Dorrell said Sunday, after the Dolphins’ fourth training camp practice. “When you have a situation like I have, that’s what you want anyway. You want it to be tough. You want to make sure that you’re putting pressure on the guys that were already here to keep them getting better and improving on their skillset. Then you want the young guys to be talented enough to be able to push those guys and if anything, maybe even overtake them at some point too.”
Many teams keep five receivers, but it’s easy to envision Miami keeping six.
Barring trades or injuries, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant are automatic to be here. Allen Hurns is a clear front runner for a spot. If Hurns makes it - which is not guaranteed - that leaves Brice Butler and impressive rookie Preston Williams competing for a sixth spot, with Isaiah Ford potentially factoring in. And the Dolphins see upside in former Raiders practice squad player Saeed Blacknall, who caught a TD pass Sunday, and Stanford’s Trenton Irwin.
The Dolphins like Butler’s size (6-3) and route running. But they’ve also been intrigued by Williams, the Colorado State rookie who caught another touchdown pass Sunday and has flashed for three months.
“Preston has a really unique skill set of speed and size and length,” Dorrell said. “He can bend really well. Almost 6-5, but can routes like he’s 5-8. That’s very unique for a guy his size. He presents problems because he can do all the little things and he can stretch the ball deep. He needs to continue to get better with his skill work and learning our offense.
“It’s always harder for a first year college player to play an NFL offense because their systems aren’t anywhere close to where an an NFL system is. It’s a lot more volume, a lot more information. There’s a lot more study time he has to do. He’s doing really, really well in picking up that stuff.”
Dorrell shared thoughts on some of his veterans:
▪ On the decision to sign Hurns: “Allen had some really, really good years at Jacksonville.
He brings a lot of experience, and you can’t ever say that’s not an important factor because it is. And secondly, he is a crafty skill set receiver that understands coverages. He understands how to separate versus man and to do things versus zone. He can react to things just a little bit faster than a guy who’s been in the league one or two years. Does he stretch the field as a burner? [No], but he can do the intermediate and short routes and the things he has been asked to do in his career, he can continue to do those things at a high level.”
▪ On Butler: ”He and DeVante are roughly the same size. Brice understands how to separate and win and use his size to his advantage.”
▪ Dorrell said Parker, who has looked very good through summer practices, has worked on doing a better job high-pointing the ball - and there has been progress there.
“But there are a lot of other things that I want him to be good at, as well. If he’s going to be a dynamic player in this league, he’s got to be multifaceted in a lot of different ways. He’s accepted that challenge.”
▪ On Grant, whose involvement in practice continues to increase after last December’s foot injury: “He’s kind of surprising us and doing the things that we already saw him do in his past. But to fit himself in our offense and to be able to do some of the things that we’re asking him to do, he’s been doing those things pretty well.”
▪ On Wilson, whose participation is being carefully monitoring as he returns from last season’s hip injury: “He’s doing well too. From where he was late in the spring to where he is now, he’s getting on the field. He’s kind of where actually Jakeem was in the spring, just kind of gradually picking up the pace as we go. He’ll be ready to go in due time.”
▪ On Stills: “Kenny is kind of our versatile player where he can play inside and out. He has the speed to do that. He’s accepted that and he understands what we’re trying to get out of him.”
Overall, “what needs to be said,” Dorrell said, “is we have some guys that are at different size levels. You guys have mentioned Preston at 6-foot-4-and-a-half. He’s a big kid. Obviously DeVante is a good kid. We just have a good range of players from big to small and all different speeds and different skillsets. So it’s fun. For me, as their position coach, it’s a fun problem to have. It really is.”
Though this decision will ultimately rest with Chris Grier and Brian Flores, does Dorrell worry that the Dolphins might simply not have 53-man roster space for a talented young player because they’ve signed so many veterans?
“Not right now, because it’s early,” he said. “But because there’s a lot of depth at this position, there’s no question that should come up, and it’s a good thing. It’s one of those hard decisions you make whether to do that or not.”