Even as the season winds down, the Dolphins clearly remain a roster in transition, evidenced by the six new players brought in last week and the three more brought in on Tuesday. It is all a continuation of the season-long plan to unearth as many long-term pieces as possible. You don't explore, you don't find.
So many teams have their rosters on hold these days, maybe adding one or two players over the final month, but six players added on the first week of December? And three more in the second week? You just don't see it very often.
See, this has been Team Opportunity since the doors of training camp first opened, players coming and going at what has to be a record pace. How you got here means little. What you do with this opportunity means everything. This is why, even after 13 games, there are players only now emerging who just weren't part of the mix when the season began four months ago, players intent on making last impressions with strong finishes.
I like to call them "The Late-Risers" and here are five of their stories in no particular order:
- Running back Patrick Laird: When training camp began he was about as low on the depth chart as you can get, an undrafted rookie out of Cal who, to be brutally honest, didn't seem to have much of a chance. But then Kenyan Drake is traded to the Cardinals, Mark Walton is waived and Kalen Ballage goes on injured reserve and the fourth man in line suddenly has moved to the front. Laird started his first game last Sunday against the Jets and played well, putting together runs of 16 and 15 yards late in the game while also catching 4 passes for 38 yards and looking very comfortable in the process. "Played a solid game," coach Brian Flores said of Laird. Who knows where his career goes from here. But Laird coveted this chance and now he's got it. We're likely to see a lot of him over the final three games.
- Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel: The rookie out of Wisconsin spent much of this season on injured reserve, but was activated a few weeks ago and has gradually earned more playing time. On Sunday against the Jets, he was in on 35 of the 71 defensive snaps, his most extensive playing time, and got his first career sack. The Dolphins see a player in Van Ginkel with a large upside, his pass rushing skills an obvious strength the coaching staff hopes to build upon. His versatility is especially attractive with Van Ginkel able to play as a stand-up linebacker or a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment. "This is a guy who works extremely hard and has earned those snaps," Flores said. "He's improved each week." Exactly what The Late Risers are hoping to hear.
- Wide receiver Isaiah Ford: This is a story of patience, preparation and perseverance. Taken by the Dolphins in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. Missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury. Since then he has been waived by the Dolphins three different times and signed to the practice squad in each instance. He entered last Sunday's game with 2 career catches for nine yards. Then everything changed when both DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson left with concussions. Ford at long last had the opportunity he had sacrificed so much for, and responded with six catches for 92 yards, including an impressive 25-yard catch and run late in the game. Talk to his teammates and you hear about a player so smart even Ryan Fitzpatrick admits, "there are times when I ask Isaiah about the offense." Needless to say, he is plenty smart enough to realize what these last three games can mean to his career.
- Wide receiver Mac Hollins: One of the six players that arrived just last week, Hollins could be in line for some significant playing time with the uncertainty of both Parker and Wilson. He did play some against the Jets, 10 plays to be exact, and was the target on a pass play that resulted in a 38-yard pass interference penalty. Hollins arrives with a respectable resume, a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2017 out of North Carolina whose career highlight was a 64-yard touchdown catch against the Redskins in his rookie season. He was waived by the Eagles on Dec. 3rd and Team Opportunity signed him the following day. At 6-4, 221 pounds, Hollins has the size to be a mismatch, something the Dolphins hope to exploit over these final three games. Like so many others on this team, he is playing for an invite back next season.
- Safety Adrian Colbert: He arrived less than a month ago, claimed off the practice squad of the Seattle Seahawks because the Dolphins were terribly thin at safety and needed immediate help. Colbert has certainly provided that. Not only did Colbert start his second straight game last Sunday against the Jets, but he was one of only a few players to be in there on every one of the 71 defensive snaps, which tells you how far he's come in such a short time. A former seventh-round pick of the 49ers in 2018, Colbert battled ankle injuries earlier in his career, but now he is embracing this fresh start and who knows how far the experience he is now gaining can take him? Some big plays on the back end of the defense over the final three games could cement a roster position heading into next summer's training camp.