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Hartline Shows No Signs Of Rust

Posted Sep 18, 2012

Fourth-year wide receiver enjoys fast start.

Anybody who wasn’t familiar with Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline sure is now after his performance in last Sunday’s 35-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Sun Life Stadium.

The fourth-year speedster out of Ohio State turned in a career performance with nine catches for 111 yards and was targeted 12 times by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Hartline had shown flashes of that potential during his first three seasons, but nobody expected him to break out in such impressive fashion after missing the entire offseason and all but one training camp practice.

“I told him, I said, ‘You’re going to screw everything up for us because everybody is going to miss minicamp, OTAs and preseason and think they can play. He’s kind of a coach killer in some ways because of what he was able to do,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “But I’m pretty excited not just that he was on the field, but the opportunities he had he took advantage of those opportunities, so that was good. It was good to have him out there.”

Hartline couldn’t wait to test himself over four quarters after finishing off the season opener at Houston strongly in the second half. He had only returned to practice the Monday before the Texans game and knew that first hit was going to tell him a lot about where he was physically.

So after absorbing a pretty hard hit on his first catch at Houston in the fourth quarter on a 7-yard route – one that drew a 15-yard facemask penalty on Houston’s Kareem Jackson, Hartline popped right back to his feet. He knew he didn’t need to have any reservations going forward and had no qualms about having his number called from the get-go.

“To come out and play a complete game and do it from start to finish, I think that was just another thing to check off,” Hartline said before today’s Touchdown Club luncheon at Bokamper’s in Miramar. “You get in a zone for sure, but it’s not like basketball. It’s not like you can just grab the ball on your own. Your zone relies on the O-line blocking, the quarterback making good throws and the running back picking up his protection. There is so much that goes into the play and you don’t want to be selfish but you also want to let the quarterback understand that you’re feeling good and you’re a guy he can lean on.”

Tannehill figured out that quickly against the Raiders on the opening scoring drive as he connected twice with Hartline for a combined 36 yards. By the end of the first half, Hartline had been targeted six times and caught four of those passes for 56 yards. He added five more catches for 55 yards in the second half in the role of the go-to receiver.

Head Coach Joe Philbin was careful not to heap too much praise on Hartline for the same reason as Sherman, so as not to validate missing OTAs, training camp and the preseason. But he did like the fact that Tannehill and Hartline seem to be on the same page despite minimal practice reps.

“It really makes me smile, you can tell, and I’m encouraged and excited about Tannehill’s growth with the team, the offense and his command of the offense,” Hartline said. “It’s easy to communicate with him and he’s a guy that really listens to the receivers and not just the coaches. He really just plays the game and he’s not too worried about what’s right or wrong, he’s just playing football and letting guys play around him. Everything’s real encouraging with him and I’m excited for this Sunday against the New York Jets. There are times he’s going to bail me out and there are times I’m going to bail him out.”

By working so well together with Tannehill against the Raiders, Hartline got to experience his greatest day at the position since being taken in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. His previous career-high for receptions was five on five different occasions and for yardage was 98 yards against Tennessee on November 14th, 2010.

Trust between the quarterback and his receivers is crucial to the success of any offense, which is why Sherman harps on what he believes to be Hartline’s greatest strength in the passing game.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen him do, and again this is based on tape from last year, is when he is called upon to make a play, he makes a play,” Sherman said. “That’s a tremendous asset and something that we desperately need from him. When his number is dialed up and the ball is in his area, he is going to go get it.

“There was one throw to him down the sideline (against Oakland) on the first drive where Ryan took a couple of hitches to make the throw and it came out late, and he came back to the ball and made the play. I thought that it was going to either get knocked down or possibly picked and he came back to the football and made a real nice play on the ball. So I think it’s his ability to make plays that is Brian’s best asset.”

The third time that Hartline faced the Jets in his career was on a Monday night in 2010 (September 26th) and he caught five passes for 84 yards in a close 31-23 loss. If he can duplicate the performance he had against Oakland on Sunday, his notoriety will certainly increase.
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