One week into the preseason and Miami Dolphins’ fans have plenty to talk about. There was the stellar debut from rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Miami’s 20-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night. But shortly after the game came the arrest of Chad Johnson for allegedly head-butting his wife. Johnson’s release from the team came on Sunday leaving the Dolphins severely short-handed at wide receiver.
Miami sent Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears during the offseason and made no real key acquisitions at the position. Johnson even before being released, was coming off his worst year as pro. Miami did sign former Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Legedu Naanee who is coming off of a career-year which unfortunately was very pedestrian by league’s standards. Naanee caught just 44 passes for 467 yards a year ago with the Panthers.
The starters will without a doubt be Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. Hartline has good speed, but actually took a step back from his injury-shortened season of 2010 a year ago. Bess is a great third down receiver and has shown an ability to run after the catch. But aside from Naanee and the two starting receivers, the Dolphins are unbelievably thin at the position.
Miami drafted B.J. Cunningham and Rishard Matthews in April’s NFL Draft. But both picks were made in the late rounds and it is uncertain how much either of the two rookies will be able to contribute this season. Miami also signed undrafted rookie Jeff Fuller, who was Tannehill’s teammate at Texas A&M a year ago. The other five receivers vying for a roster spot with the Dolphins have a combined 14 NFL receptions making for a very competitive and possibly nauseating preseason.
Clyde Gates, who is in his second year in the NFL, has perhaps the best chance to emerge as a real threat for the Dolphins. Gates has blazing speed and served as a quality kick returner a year ago for Miami, but recorded just two receptions during his rookie season. With that speed, Gates could become the deep threat the Dolphins now lack with the loss of Marshall. Hartline has just four career catches of 40 yards or more and two of those came during his rookie season 2009 while Bess and Naanee each have just one for their entire career.
Of the four remaining receivers, Marlon Moore is the only one with a NFL touchdown. That actually came on a 57-yard reception from Chad Henne against the Oakland Raiders in 2010. But Moore was held without a catch in Miami’s first preseason game. Tannehill seemed to have a good rapport with Roberto Wallace and Julius Pruitt. Wallace was targeted five times making four receptions for 71 yards. The only misfire was initially ruled a touchdown reception before replay overturned it. Pruitt finished with six receptions for 52 yards including a 22-yard hookup on a beautiful back-shoulder throw from Tannehill. Chris Hogan is the other receiver hoping to land a roster spot; Hogan had a catch for four yards in Miami’s preseason opener.
Wallace has just six NFL receptions though, while Pruitt and Hogan have a combined zero. The good news for Wallace and Pruitt is that both have seemed to find favor with Tannehill. If Tannehill is able to win the starting job outright, that could weigh heavily in Miami’s decision on forming a final roster.
The NFL has become a pass-happy league, but the seemingly thin receiving corps may not be the demise of the Miami Dolphins in 2012. Tight end Anthony Fasano and H-back Charles Clay have both proven to be solid pass-catchers while Reggie Bush has the ability to be one of the best receivers in the NFL out of the backfield. Even looking back to recent Dolphins’ history and the AFC East championship campaign of 2008, Miami was virtually just three-deep at receiver with Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Camarillo and Bess.
To be fair, the 2008 team did have one the most accurate passers of all-time in veteran Chad Pennington and caught opposing defenses off guard early on with the implementation of the Wildcat offense. The rest of the NFL soon figured out the Wildcat, but the Dolphins managed to win enough games early to build a winning mentality. While first year head coach and former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin may not have the receiving corps he had in Green Bay, that doesn’t mean that he and his offensive coaches can’t be creative enough to win football games.
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