This Miami Dolphins coaching staff is doing a lot of things differently than former coach Adam Gase did, and it was confirmed Tuesday that personnel decisions at slot receiver will be one of those areas.
Gase raised eyebrows last July when he announced that Albert Wilson “is not a slot [receiver]. He’s an outside guy” - even though he played the slot a lot in Kansas City.
Gase and former offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen made a smart move in 2017 by shifting Jakeem Grant from the slot to the boundary, where he was a lot more productive.
But after parting ways with Danny Amendola in the spring and trading Kenny Stills on Saturday, receivers coach Karl Dorrell said Wilson and Grant will play a lot in the slot this season.
Even though Allen Hurns played in the slot quite a bit in Jacksonville, Dorrell did not mention him when asked who the team’s slot receivers are.
Wilson “is going to be a dynamic player than can play for us in the slot,” Dorrell said. “Jakeem is the same type of player. The previous staff did use him primarily on the outside. We’re going to use him both outside and inside. He’s done enough in his development to do some things outside very effectively. He’s such a dynamic runner with the ball in his hands that he’ll play in the slot as well.”
Here’s why the slot role is important in this offense: Per Pro Football Focus’ Scott Barrett, over the past decade, Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has targeted a wide receiver running a route from the slot on 26.4 percent of his total passing attempts. That leads all 65 quarterbacks with at least 600 pass attempts over this span and is well above the league-average rate of 19.9 percent.
And Wilson should thrive in that role. Last season, in his seven games before the injury, Wilson averaged 13.3 yards after catch per reception, which ranked first of 97 qualifying receivers.
The year before, with Kansas City, he averaged 7.6 yards after catch per reception, which was second of 89 qualifiers. He has also led the NFL in forced missed tackles per reception the past two years, at .36 and .35.
Among the 150 NFL receivers with at least 150 passes thrown to them since Wilson entered the league in 2014, Wilson leads all of them in yards after catch per reception (7.78).
Assistant coaches shared views on other issues Tuesday:
▪ Dorrell, asked why Hurns won a roster spot ahead of Brice Butler and Isaiah Ford: “It was a tough decision.... [Hurns] ...seems to be recovered from that [ankle] injury he had from [Dallas’ wild card playoff game]. His experience and knowledge and ability has helped him get to the point he is now.”
Dorrell declined to say whether Hurns would be the fourth receiver ahead of Preston Williams, who caught four passes for 97 yards in the first preseason game but just one for seven since. (He sat out Game 4).
“I don’t think there’s been any regression; Preston has had a really good camp,” Dorrell said.
▪ Running backs coach Eric Studesville insisted that no decision has been made about who would start at running back - Kalen Ballage could get that role over Kenyan Drake - or how carries would be split between the two.
The Dolphins kept six backs (including fullback Chandler Cox) because they thought one of them might be snapped up on waivers if released. “The reality is you need [several] guys,” Studesville said.
▪ Tight end coach George Godsey said second-year tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe are on “an upward trend. Michael had a good preseason in the run game and pass game. His conditioning is improving. [Smythe] is a different player from last year. He put on 20 pounds, really worked on his blocking.”
▪ Linebackers coach Rob Leonard, asked whether Raekwon McMillan (who missed nearly a month but is now back) is ready to assume a significant role early in the season: “I hope so. Raekwon is excellent off the field. I’m excited for Raekwon this season. Week to week, we’ll see where he is.”
▪ Trent Harris, a defensive end at UM, has been moved to linebacker by the Dolphins, in an edge rusher role.
▪ The Dolphins auditioned veteran offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb on Monday but he left without a contract. Webb has started 65 NFL games. Rookie sixth-rounder Isaiah Prince is the only tackle on the roster besides starters Jesse Davis (a former guard) and Julien Davenport (whose 16 penalties and 68 quarterback pressures allowed were most in the league last season).