It is no secret that the Miami Dolphins wide receiver unit is one of its deepest, but this depth brings competition for positioning in the overall pecking order. Although the group is deep and there are battles at every spot, it is still unknown what the depth chart will look like in week one. Third year receiver Kenny Stills missed Tuesday’s practice with a left calf injury and DeVante Parker is still sidelined from his offseason foot surgery. This left the door open for Rishard Matthews to make his case for an expanded role in his fourth year in the league. One member of the front office who sounds optimistic about Matthews is head coach Joe Philbin.
"He catches the ball with his hands and I think that's the number one thing - again, I know that sometimes sounds simplistic, but you guys have seen a lot football practices in your day and some guys are body catchers and some guys can really pluck the ball out of the air and I think that's one of the things that he does best is he catches the ball with his hands. He's big, he's physical and he's strong. What can he do better? Catch the ball that dropped in two-minute today. He's doing well." Philbin said after Tuesday’s practice. He continued praising Matthews; "…I think he catches the ball well and he has confidence, I've said that before, he believes in himself, which is a good trait to have as a player. I think he's tough. The roles are going to be defined as he continues to compete out here with the other guys for playing time. Obviously, he wouldn't have been here for as long if we didn't think he had some really good traits."
I believe the Dolphins will keep six receivers on the roster. Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and first round pick DeVante Parker appear to be locks to make the team. Matthews has a leg up on that fifth spot, but he has seven other pass catchers who are battling behind him. Earlier in the offseason rumors were swirling that Matthews was seeking a trade and that he had stopped attending voluntary team meetings. This does not bode well for him as Philbin has made it clear that he is looking for team players who put the team first. "…I think the biggest thing is you have to have guys that are team players and first and foremost want the team to succeed."
Although the receivers are fighting for their chance to make this team, not all of them will get an equal amount of chances to show their skill. There are only so many snaps and targets that a receiver can get in camp, and there are many pass catchers on this team that have shown enough skill to warrant an opportunity. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor acknowledges that there is an abundance of good pass catchers on this team.
"… I think we try to spend a lot of time in the meeting room together explaining the plays, watching the video so that they understand that this is why I got it. Sometimes I don't get it, but if I play fast and they jump me, the guy behind me gets it. What we've got to do is get the ball to the guys that can help us win as quickly as possible, as many times as possible and if we feel like there's not enough balls to go around… we'll see if we can schedule more games. I think we have to check with the players association, that's what I've heard.”
The NFL will not be expanding the schedule any time soon, so Lazor has the tough task of putting each receiver prospect in a position to maximize their potential, while at the same time giving much needed reps to the players who are currently penciled in as major role players for the upcoming season. It is Lazor’s job to come up with ways to get the ball in the players' hands, but he also acknowledges that the main goal is to win.
“It really starts with what do we need to do to win the game and matchups. I think in this league, especially when you get to passing situations, matchups are so critical. It really starts with that. There are times when after a week or two we might say this guy really hasn't touched the ball a lot, but we think we're a better team when he does get it some. And I think you've got to find a way to make sure he gets it. It's got to start with what helps the team win… We're all adults. We understand what we've got to do what it takes to win first."
There are currently 12 wide receivers on the roster, and although the coaches want to find ways to give all of these players a chance, the main goal will continue to be to do whatever it takes to make this a winning team. That is and will always be priority number one.
This story was written by Efrain Ramos. Follow him on Twitter: @EfrainRamos
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