Five years ago,
Through six games this season, Bess is branching out in offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s system while at the same time trying to shake his national perception as just a slot guy. When he was getting his start as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, Bess would have welcomed any national praise, so he hasn’t let that slot moniker used by writers and analysts bother him too much.
“You can’t look at it like that and to be honest with you, it doesn’t have an effect on the way I approach the game or play the game,” said Bess, who is 299 yards shy of passing Hall-of-Famer Paul Warfield for eighth place in franchise career receiving yards. “I know that I’m more than that and I know what I’m capable of, but I understand that they’ve got a job, too, and that’s what their job is, to put titles on people. I’m not mad about it because at the same time they’re recognizing my talents.”
Once the Dolphins decided to trade Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears during the offseason, the perception of Miami’s receiving corps changed and as training camp progressed it became clear that Bess was going to have to play more prominent role. He had been a solid No. 2 to Marshall, combining for 165 receptions in 2010 to pass Mark Clayton and Mark Duper for most combined receptions by a duo in team history.
So far under Sherman and Head Coach Joe Philbin, the receivers have been treated exactly like Philbin promised when he was hired, which is without a No. 1, No. 2, or a No. 3 but as a group. To that end, Bess has lined up wide to the left and wide to the right in addition to lining up in the slot and has produced all over the field.
“He’s a football player,” Philbin said. “I know that’s kind of a broad-based term, but he’s a guy that we feel like can make plays and needs to be on the field for us at this stage where we’re at offensively. Whether he’s inside, outside, we love his competitiveness. We just feel like we’re a better team when he’s out there. That’s why you’ve seen him in maybe some different spots.”
Bess has reeled in 28 passes for 388 yards and is averaging 13.9 yards per catch thanks to his ability to run after the catch, so he is catching the eye of opposing defensive coordinators. Count New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan in that group as well.
“A lot of times in the past he was brought in really as primarily a slot receiver and now he’s a legitimate starter,” said Ryan during his conference call with local media. “His role isn’t that much different than the role that Jeremy Kerley has currently for us and I think they’re similar type players. Both of them are explosive guys out of breaks and real competitive guys as well.”
If he stays on his current pace, Bess will surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career and will fall just four catches short of his career-high 79 in 2010. He couldn’t be happier with his role and has significantly helped in the development of rookie quarterback
Sherman has worked with some of the best and most skilled offensive players throughout his 12 NFL seasons as a head coach, coordinator and position coach and puts Bess right at the top. He continues to be impressed with how the former Hawaii receiver gets the most out of his talents and physical abilities.
“He is a good example for the younger guys. He works extremely hard at what he does,” Sherman said. “He is a small man with a big heart, and he plays big. He makes some big plays for us. He's made some huge third-down catches for us over the course of our six-game season so far.
“There is a lot to him that I like. There’s nothing that I don’t like about him, and that’s a challenge, trust me. He comes to work every day the same, every single day. I have a lot of respect for him as a father and as a husband. He talks about his wife and kids a lot. He is a good person. I enjoy being around good people. He’s a good man.”
This Sunday against the Jets on the road at MetLife Stadium, Bess hopes to outdo Kerley in a pivotal AFC East showdown and provide yet another reason for Sherman, Philbin and everyone else tke notice.