Rookies Making A Big Impact

Posted Sep 19, 2012

Young players taking on bigger responsibilities.

Fielding a team stocked with rookies and first-year players is not something an NFL head coach takes lightly, but if those rookies prove they are ready for the pressure and the speed of the game it pays off.

Last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, eight rookies saw action in a game that was won convincingly by Miami, 35-13. Two of them were starters on offense – quarterback Ryan Tannehill and right tackle Jonathan Martin. Running back Lamar Miller and fullback Jorvorskie Lane made significant contributions as well, with Miller rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Over on the defensive side of the ball, Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby lined up at defensive end on certain rotations and defensive Kheeston Randall came in to give Paul Soliai and Randy Starks a breather on occasion. In fact, all three were on the field for one play in the second half that resulted in a one-yard run by the Raiders.

“We were watching the film the other day and Coach Kacy (Rodgers) looked up and he paused it when he saw O.V., Shelby, Paul and Kheeston all in the game at the same time,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “He was joking but he told them, ‘My heart was beating fast,’ but in all seriousness he had the faith to put the guys in there and they responded.”

Martin and Tannehill have been starters since the preseason so they are further along in their adjustment to the intensity level and some of the nuances of the professional game. Miller was inactive for the season opener at the Houston Texans on September 9th but was activated Sunday when second-year running back Daniel Thomas was held out with a concussion.

One thing that was in Miller’s favor was his familiarity with the field at Sun Life Stadium having played his home game on it at the University of Miami and the same held true for Vernon. Still, he wasn’t exactly sure how much he was going to be used behind Reggie Bush, who finished the game with 172 yards on 26 carries, so he made the most out of every opportunity.

“That just gives us more confidence and better opportunities for us to play so we’ve just got to take full advantage of it,” Miller said. “They figure that we can help the team win games and we have to reward that trust by going out there and playing hard.”

That effort has not been lost on the veterans on this team, from second-year center Mike Pouncey to Wake, and they welcome that contribution. What it means is that the development phase is being sped up for these players and their impact will be felt as this season progresses and into next season and beyond.

Pouncey continues to sing the praises of Tannehill and his poise out on the field, projecting that the signal caller will get better each and every week. He has to be on the same page with Tannehill in the protection calls and audibles, so he has the best vantage point. Pouncey also helps get Martin lined up properly and sees something special in him.

“He’s doing a great job,” said Pouncey, who started all 16 games last year as a rookie. “He’s a kid and he doesn’t say anything. He’s a rookie that keeps his mouth shut, he comes out and works hard and does what the coaches say. He makes a few mistakes here and there but that’s what you expect out of a rookie. As long as he just goes out there and keeps playing how he’s playing, playing through the whistle and playing as hard as he can we’re happy.”

Martin and the other rookies have formed a bond and share the same work ethic when it comes to practice and preparing for the games. The fact that he came from a pro-style offense at Stanford and was blocking for Andrew Luck definitely helped to make his transition to the NFL a little easier.

“I think without a doubt it helps because it’s all the same stuff,” Martin said. “It’s the same plays. Maybe the names are different but it’s the same concepts I’ve been taught the last four years so it definitely helps coming in.”

Randall knows that he can’t rest on his laurels from Sunday and needs to continue to learn from Starks and Soliai and Rodgers about what to look for in certain situations and how to beat the blocks. He has gained a lot from going against Pouncey, left guard Richie Incognito, left tackle Jake Long and the other offensive linemen in practice.

“That’s great because those three guys are physical and our whole line is physical and it’s something that they pride themselves on,” said Randall, who was drafted in the seventh round out of Texas. “Every day we’re out there in practice is a grind and it’s constant contact and they force us to use our hands and work on our technique and that’s great for us young players.”

Head Coach Joe Philbin has been encouraged by the production he’s getting out of his rookies and acknowledged that it’s something he and his staff can build on going forward.

“I think it’s great and it’s not necessarily by design that we’re going to get three rookies on the defensive line at the same,” he said. “But as we were watching the tape on Monday that occurred during the course of the ballgame. There are pictures on both sides of the ball of guys in there that are young and learning on the job, but we like the energy that most of those guys are playing with and hopefully we can see a progression from week to week.”
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