Dolphins Run Deep At Wide Receiver

Posted Jul 31, 2014

Wide receiver just might be the deepest position on the Dolphins roster, and it’s going to make for some tough decisions for the coaches.

Brian Hartline is about to enter his sixth season with the Miami Dolphins and he was asked after practice Thursday whether this is the deepest group of wide receivers he’s been a part of since coming into the NFL.

There was no hesitation in his reply.

“Depth-wise, absolutely,” said Hartline, who has led the team in receptions the past two seasons and continues to prove one of the best fourth-round picks in Dolphins history. “We’re able to have guys jump in and jump out and hopefully not miss a beat. We have a great competition going on in the wide receiver room. Guys know that. They should know that. Competition breeds better play. To me, it’s a good situation.”

The Dolphins’ depth at wide receiver really is not up for debate, either, because the facts and numbers speak for themselves.

Heading into the offseason, the Dolphins roster already included established veterans like Hartline, Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson; Rishard Matthews was coming off a 41-catch season; and Armon Binns was expected back after a promising start to training camp last summer was interrupted by a season-ending knee injury.

The Dolphins beefed up their depth by signing in free agency former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Damian Williams, a former third-round pick, and then added Jarvis Landry (second round) and Matt Hazel (sixth) in the draft.

As if the Dolphins didn’t have enough options, kick returner Marcus Thigpen was turned into a full-time wide receiver after playing mostly running back the previous two seasons.

“It’s a lot of guys in there,” Thigpen said. “It’s major competition. I’m just trying to do as best I can with the role that I’m given right now. It’s a tough battle, but I’m going to keep fighting.

“It’ll definitely make us better. You see the young guys come in and just as good as the older guys. (I’m) just watching everybody and just picking up some things from them because it’s new to me. But just watching those guys, us pushing each other is definitely going to make us better.”

Wide receiver just might be the deepest position on the Dolphins roster, and it’s going to make for some tough decisions for the coaches when it comes times to put together the 53-man roster.

The team kept only four wide receivers on the initial 53-man roster last year, and it’s difficult — if not downright impossible — to envision a similar scenario unfolding this summer. In fact, there’s a far greater chance the Dolphins would keep six wide receivers than they would keep only four again.

Williams says he looks at the intense competition for roster spots at wide receiver as a benefit instead of as a negative.

“I think that it actually kind of fuels it,” he said. “If you’re a competitor, you want to go up against the best guys. You don’t want to be in a group where it’s just no competition because it’s not pushing you. For me, I think I can’t do anything but get better whether I make the team or not. Just being out here working with these guys, competing against them, knowing that those guys all should be playing somewhere on Sundays, it can only help.”

The Dolphins wide receivers have gotten off to a good start so far in training camp, with the exception of Wednesday, which Head Coach Joe Philbin said “wasn’t their finest hour.”

Like everyone else on offense, they’ve been busy trying to learn a new scheme, one that asks them to learn all the wide receiver spots.

“They’re doing a good job,” Philbin said Thursday. “I think it’s a smart group. We’ve been challenging them schematically and that’s part of the design of training camp.

“We don’t want to overload them with information that they don’t need, but we’re kind of pushing the envelope in regard to the installation, how many pass concepts we want to have in there, how many different formations we want to have in there, how many shifts and motions, how many tempo plays we want to snap without a huddle. Again, get them thinking, get them out there, let’s figure out what they’re capable of doing and those type of things. I think overall they’ve done a good job with that, but there’s still room for improvement.”

Each of the newcomers has had his moments so far in camp, in particular Williams and Landry.

The rookie from LSU, in fact, has been one of the most impressive players in camp and he actually drew attention Wednesday when he dropped a pass — because he had been catching everything thrown his way.

“The fact is he’s very diverse, he’s very well coached,” Hartline said. “His intellect is like a third-year player, which is expected. It’s the NFL, you’re supposed to communicate at a high level, and he does. He executes as a high level. To have him as part of our group, he definitely makes the group stronger.”

In addition to their strong wide receiver corps, the Dolphins have a budding star at tight end in Charles Clay. So quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have a lot of options in the passing game.

“We all want to make plays,” Gibson said. “We want to be the guy that gets the ball, gets down the field and scores touchdowns. We’re fighting and competing, and that’s what’s best for the team.”
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