The competition for roster spots, starting jobs and playing time is in full swing at Dolphins training camp, and there's perhaps no position where the battle is more heated than at wide receiver.
The Dolphins have 11 wide receivers in camp after the signing of former University of Miami standout Allen Hurns last week, and six of them are established players — Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Brice Butler, Jakeem Grant and Hurns.
"We do have some depth at this position," offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea said. "I'm very excited about it. It's very competitive. We have a really good group, a solid group, one that every day I walk out into the field, I'm real excited about. I think we have a skilled group. I think we have guys that have different skill sets and I know the quarterbacks are really starting to gain a lot of confidence in these guys. A lot of that is because of their work ethic. They have good intangibles, they work hard and they try to do what we ask them to do, and that's all we can do at this point — keep getting better and improving."
Between them, the six established veterans have 29 years of NFL experience, 389 games played, 191 starts, and 894 receptions.
The wide receiver group also includes second-year player Isaiah Ford; first-year player Saeed Blacknall, who was claimed off waivers from the Oakland Raiders last week; and rookie free agents Preston Williams, Reece Horn and Trenton Irwin.
The group offers different styles and sizes, from the smaller but speedy Wilson and Grant, to the tall and athletic Parker and Williams.
"It's pretty deep," wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell said of his group. "I'm excited about it. I like our young talent with the young guys that we brought in. I think when we added Allen a couple of days ago, that's a good veteran talent that he's here, along with the other guys that were older that were already here, so it's a good mix. It's a good mix of guys that are trying to fight for some spots."
As they're doing at just about every position, the Dolphins have been cross-training their wide receivers, lining them up at different spots at the line.
The idea of to create interchangeable parts.
"What we've told the receivers is we're going to clean-slate this, and we're going to utilize this where we think you can help the offense," O'Shea said. "Whether it's inside or outside, whether that's true of Jakeem or Albert Wilson or DeVante playing inside some, we're going to use those guys in a multiple-position role, so we definitely haven't pigeon-holed them into any position. We truly haven't. You saw (Sunday) we lined up our outside receivers inside, some of our inside receivers outside, so we're going to try to have that mind-set that really says, 'You guys need to learn our offense conceptually. You need to understand the big picture and be able to get lined up at all spots.' "
Three of the veterans in the group — Grant, Wilson and Hurns — are coming back from injuries that ended their 2018 season at various stages.
Wilson has been limited to individual work so far in training camp as he continues to work his way back from a hip injury sustained in October; Hurns has yet to take part in team drills, but that has more to do with the fact he just joined the team than his foot injury in the 2018 season; and Grant has impressed his coaches with how he's come back from the foot injury he sustained last November.
"All of those guys are kind of transitioning at different levels back from injury," Dorrell said. "I'm pleased with their efforts and how they're trying to get back. They're all at different stages about where they're at, but Jakeem, he's doing really well. He's really kind of surprising us and doing the things that we already saw him do in his past, but to fit himself in our offense and to be able to do some of the things that we're asking him to do, he's been doing those things pretty well.
"Albert is doing well too. From where he was late in the spring to where he is now, he's getting on the field. He's kind of where actually Jakeem was in the spring, just kind of gradually picking up the pace as we go. Albert is doing that and he's in that mode right now. He'll be ready to go, I think, in due time as well. Allen is actually recovered. He's full ready to go. Obviously he's trying to get himself back in playing shape and tuning up his game. It's good to have a good veteran presence like him."
The Dolphins usually have kept four or five wide receivers on the 53-man roster, and that number has stretched to six on occasion.
Either way it shakes out, the Dolphins coaching staff will have some tough decisions to make at wide receiver, though that's not a bad problem to have.
"When you have a situation like I have, that's what you want anyway," Dorrell said. "You want it to be tough. You want to make sure that you're putting pressure on the guys that were already here to keep them getting better and improving on their skill set. Then you want the young guys to be talented enough to be able to push those guys and, if anything, maybe even overtake them at some point too. It's really good competition in the group."