But his full-time job now is catching passes instead of throwing them, and Naanee has gotten progressively better at that particular skill after getting a late start.
Naanee set career highs with 44 catches and 11 starts in 2011 and he’s hoping for even bigger things as a new member of the Miami Dolphins
“It was obviously exciting,” Naanee said about the 2011 season. “Each year you try to build and build and expand your game and your role with the situation you’re in. I feel like being here, it gives me a chance to do that as well and I’m excited about it.”
Naanee signed with the Dolphins as a free agent in the offseason after spending just one season with the Carolina Panthers.
He had joined the Panthers after playing his first four seasons in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, where he found himself pulling mostly backup duty in a receiving corps that included Pro Bowl regular Vincent Jackson, along with Malcom Floyd and former Dolphins starter Chris Chambers.
Naanee started only one game his first three seasons in San Diego before taking advantage of Jackson’s holdout in 2010 to start nine games.
Naanee actually caught one fewer pass in 2010 (23) than he did in 2009, but his average of 16.1 was 6 yards better.
In his one season with Cam Newton and the Panthers, Naanee’s average went back down to 10.6, although he caught nearly twice as many passes as his previous career high.
In both San Diego and Carolina, Naanee had the chance to play alongside a Pro Bowl receiver — Jackson with the Chargers and Steve Smith with the Panthers.
“I think it helps in both situations,” Naanee said. “I didn’t see a negative in it at all. Being around those two guys, they’re two completely different receivers, you get to learn two different approaches to the game. Me playing with those two guys is going to help my career tremendously.”
Hopefully for the Dolphins, those benefits will surface immediately.
While it’s still too early to try to project a starting lineup, Naanee should get himself ready to play a lot of football in 2012 because he clearly figures to be a big part of the new offense, an offense that is designed to spread the ball around to all the receivers.
Naanee, though, isn’t ready to make predictions when it comes to receiving statistics or what his exact role will be.
“That’s to be determined,” he said. “That’s what we’re working out here to find out.
“Right now I’m playing X, the weakside receiver, and just trying to do everything the coaches demand of me, be a leader, work hard and try to catch everything that comes my way.”
That became Naanee’s full-time job description in his sophomore year at Boise State after he went to the school as a quarterback.
In fact, he chose Boise State over more established programs like Oregon and Oregon State because those schools wanted him to switch positions.
Naanee eventually decided to make the switch on his own after he found himself stuck in a backup role.
“It wasn’t something that the coaches pushed on me,” said Naanee, who helped Boise State compile a 46-6 record in his four years there. “It was kind of more wanting to play, seeing we were having success and wanting to get on the field. I went to them and told them I wanted to switch to receiver.
“It was something I knew I could do and I wanted to get on the field. I made it a solid time my sophomore year where I had a chance to gain receiver skills and get better and better each year.”
Clearly, it’s a move that’s worked out for the best for Naanee, who set weightlifting records at Boise State for both quarterbacks and wide receivers.
It’s just been a bonus that he’s been able to throw a couple of passes in the NFL. Naanee completed a 21-yard pass to LaDainian Tomlinson while with the Chargers in 2009 and had a 27-yarder to Newton last season.
So if the Dolphins decide that having a flanker option is something they want to put into their playbook, they’ve got their passer with Naanee.
“Each system I’ve been in, I kind of have had an opportunity to do that,” Naanee said. “It’s still something I get a chance to do and that being in my background helps me get up for that job.”
But the real job is to continue to get better as a wide receiver. Naanee has been up to the challenge so far, and he has no intention of stopping now.