But Landry’s dazzling 48-yard punt return in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons was a different story. When it comes to returning kicks, Landry didn’t bring much to the Dolphins in terms of college credits.
So to see Landry make a quick and tremendous juke to evade the first Atlanta player in coverage and then use his blockers before shaking free from Falcons punter Matt Bosher and gaining more yardage was something a bit more unexpected.
It also served to show that Landry clearly could contribute as more than just a wide receiver as a rookie.
“It was real exciting,” Landry said. “One of the things that Coach Rizzi and Coach Mouf (special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi and assistant special teams coach Marwan Maalouf) preach is just getting vertical right now. My big thing was just catching the ball first and trusting that my blocks would be set up and make one cut and get vertical. And that’s what I did.
“I can’t thank Coach Mouf and Coach Rizzi enough for giving me a chance, giving me an opporutnity to really do it after not having too much film of doing it. With that said, I thank them for the opportunity and they left it up to me to make a play. That’s all it was.”
The 48-yard punt return — the longest for the Dolphins in the preseason since 2011 when an undrafted rookie wide receiver by the name of Phillip Livas went 75 yards for a touchdown, coincidentally also at the Georgia Dome — looked more like the work of a seasoned veteran than someone who had a grand total of eight returns in his college career.
That’s eight punt and kickoff returns combined. Including a grant total of one in his final season at LSU.
But Landry did get practice time as a returner at LSU while serving as Beckham’s backup. And the Dolphins coaches and scouts quickly determined when they worked him before the draft that he had the skill set to become a good returner.
“We knew he didn’t have a lot of game experience,” Rizzi said. “When our scouts and front office people worked him out, we knew that was something he could do, although he hadn’t done it in games. We worked him out, we saw him do it in a workout. ... The range and the ball skills on a punt returner, you don’t need a long time to figure that out. It’s kind of one of those things (where) you either have it or you don’t. He’s a natural catching the ball. He’s got very, very good hands, so even if the ball is away from his body he does a pretty good job of securing it. And then watching him as an offensive player in the open field, you feel like if you can get the ball in his hands and get him in the open space, he’s got a chance to make a big play.”
It was an opportunity Landry embraced.
“I love it, I love it,” Landry said. “It’s one of those things I guess for some (guys to) raise their draft stock. For me it’s one of those things that I embrace. It’s one of those things that I only had in college for a while. I’m real into special teams. Wherever the team needs me, I’ll play.
“Being the number two returner at LSU and returning every now and then and finally getting the chance to do it in an NFL game was real exciting. Real exciting. Just the opportunity itself, try to take advantage of it.”
The punt return clearly was the highlight of Landry’s first NFL game action. He also had a 26-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter and one reception that ended up losing 1 yard.
Because of Landry’s draft status, there’s little doubt he’ll make the 53-man roster. The question is how much playing time Landry will get on offense and whether he’ll be given the chance to return kicks on a regular basis.
His college credentials combined with his performance in training camp suggest he may be too good not to use on offense. And the same might hold true for returns after what we saw Friday night.
The punt return was so impressive, in fact, that it had his teammates going wild on the sideline.
That return showed exactly why Landry could become a very good returner in the NFL.
“Number one is his ball skills,” Rizzi said. “He’s got very good ball skills, he’s got very good range. He practiced it all the time in college; he never really did it in games. It’s that game experience, like he got the other night, which is going to be very, very important for him.
“The other day was a start. When he gets the ball in his hands he’s a dangerous guy. He’s got a very good first step. He did a very good job of getting north and south the other night and not wasting a lot of time. He made one cut, first guy, made him miss, got north and south, he got a couple of great blocks and he was able to make a couple of guys miss. That’s important. It’s hard to teach a young guy sometimes to get going vertical right now. A lot of times they want to try to read it, and by that time they’re getting tackled. So far, so good.
“But it’s going to be decision-making. In the springtime, he fumbled a couple in the scrimmage. We’ve obviously got to keep the ball off the ground. Ball security is top priority. It’s a work in progress.”
No doubt, Landry hasn’t arrived yet. But he’s certainly off to a promising start.