Naanee Picking Up Steam In The Passing Game

Posted Aug 7, 2012

Legedu Naanee’s cross-country NFL journey has been an interesting one, but if he continues to perform like he has so far in training camp then Miami could be his final stop.

Legedu Naanee’s cross-country NFL journey has been an interesting one, but if he continues to perform like he has so far in training camp then Miami could be his final stop.

Naanee, who after fours years in San Diego put together his best season in 2011 with the Carolina Panthers, emerged as a starter on the first depth chart released by the Dolphins today. His combination of size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and speed has made him a popular target for quarterbacks David Garrard, Matt Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill.

“I thought he struggled the last week of mini-camp,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “I didn’t think he was real strong right then and I think he might have had some injury or something he wasn’t telling anybody about, but he’s come back to training camp and really done an outstanding job. He’s been a great leader for the room. He does everything you ask him to do. He’s an unbelievable special teams player as well, so he’s a total team player from that regard. He’ll block. He’ll make the big catch. I’m very, very impressed with Legedu and what he’s accomplished so far. We still have got a ways to go, a lot of work to do, but he’s making progress.”

Just when it looked like Naanee was cementing himself as a go-to receiver with the Chargers after catching in 2010 by averaging 16.1 yards per catch, they allowed him to test the free agency waters. Carolina snatched him up early in training camp last year, signing the former fifth-round pick out of Boise State, and he caught on right away.

With rookie quarterback sensation Cam Newton throwing him the ball, Naanee reeled in 44 passes for 467 yards and one touchdown in 15 games, 10 of them starts. Those were all career-high numbers and he’s looking to top them with the Dolphins.

“Every season is a fresh start and being able to come to a new team with a new kind of focus, a new head coach and a whole new regime is a great opportunity,” Naanee said. “This is a whole new offense and I’ve never been in this type of offense so it’s definitely a fresh start and it feels good to kind of hone your skills from the ground up.”

Head Coach Joe Philbin likes what he’s seen so far in training camp.

“I think he’s doing well. I think he had a little bit of a lull there early on, but he’s really come on as of late,” Philbin said. “Sometimes the receivers’ production is a function of a lot of different things, especially when you’re in an installment where we’re still not at a stage of putting plays in and the offense to feature this guy or this guy against a certain coverage. We’re putting in concepts that we think we’re going to utilize during the course of a regular season and a post season and we want these guys to teach those guys and get them familiar with it.

“So he wasn’t quite there for a little period of time, and I’m not saying it was because of him necessarily. Sometimes when you get up there for a rep and you’re running an out breaking route and they’ve (defense) got a Cover 2 look, you’re probably not going to get the ball regardless of how well you ran the route. I do think he has come on as of late. He’s made a couple more plays and it looked like he made a couple today.”

Come Friday night at Sun Life Stadium, when the Dolphins host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first preseason game, Naanee will get another chance to impress Philbin and Sherman under the lights. He wants to continue to improve on beating the press coverage and not letting the defensive backs push him wide while he has been pleased with how he’s been catching the ball.

The presence of veteran wide receiver Chad Johnson has paid off for Naanee because he is learning a lot of different things and new route running techniques. He has paid close attention to some of the tricks Johnson employs in order to get open down the field.

“He’s helped a lot, just being able to ask certain things like where he tries to get to a DB’s blind spot and how he tries to do that,” said Naanee, who confirmed that he has handled punt returns, kickoff returns, punt coverage and kickoff coverage on special teams. “And he’s good in and out of his breaks, so being able to watch him and just learn from him is great. He’s a team guy so he helps us all out.”

If things go Naanee’s way, he’ll be the one helping out some of the younger receivers as well.
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