By: Jason Sarney
A group of Miami Dolphins drafted, and undrafted rookies introduced themselves to South Florida media on Friday, and consistency was the theme. The brand-new professional football players fielded questions and each and every answer seemed extremely similar from the new group of teammates. The common denominator in nearly every response, regardless of question, were the words “team," "teammates” and “learn.” Even though these players’ college days are over, it is very evident their time in the classroom may just be starting.
Leading it off was 7th round selection, running back Gerrid Doaks of Cincinnati. Right off the bat, when asked about the differences of college and the NFL and even what he expects as a rookie heading into the league, his answer was interesting. “When it comes down to just learning, playing football, it’s pretty similar; but I’m just trying to come in and learn everything and get to know my teammates as best as possible.”
He was then asked what was some “impressive” aspects of practice that he saw today, in a valiant effort from a report to get some “juice” from a rookie.
Doaks said, “I wouldn’t say anything specific. I’m just trying to come in and like I said, learn the playbook, get comfortable with being here and learning all my teammates and how they play, just trying to get to know everybody and become a better teammate.”
Learn. Learning. Teammates x 2
It was at this moment; a light bulb went off for me. This is perfectly planned, and perfectly needed.
As the following is purely speculation on my part, I attribute the answers of this press conference and each player that followed to a very important acquisition. Anne Nolan, the newly hired Senior Director of Football Communication is formerly of the New England Patriots. A team notorious and famous even for tight-lipped press-conferences and rarely, if ever, showing team cards.
Cards could be as simple as tipping the hand to a particular offensive strategy, a nuance to a team meeting, or anything that can give the other 31 clubs a peek inside the inner core of a franchise. If this speculation is close to accurate, we can expect very Belichick-ian responses from coaches and players alike moving forward. Doaks seems to have aced this orientation, as it’s pretty obvious NFL teams as well as the league as a whole, welcomes new players and advises as well as “orientate” them to their new profession…or potential one.
In the next few questions, Doaks went on to graduate school with his answers. When asked the type of running back he is, he recited a masterclass of a response. “I’m just trying to be a back that can do anything the team needs, really. I’m not going to limit myself, so I’m just trying to help the team.”
Moving on through the schedule the next student, er, player up was the first rookie selected in 2021 by Miami. Alabama star wide receiver, #6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle. Waddle, like Doaks, seemed to move away from self-praise and direct answers to the team. He was asked about the reunion with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and it seemed like a bit of a dance around it, much like him avoiding a cornerback.
“I’m just excited to just really be a part of the team and be a part of the organization. I’m just learning new things and going out there to compete, honestly. The call was great. I’m just trying to compete and just learn and fit in.”
Team. Learning. Learn. This is now a pattern, and it’s becoming a trend.
Further building on this consistency reporters pulled on the Alabama thread, mentioning other former Tide teammates like Raekwon Davis and their communication, or potential of it in this process. Waddle said, ““Yeah, just being around all of the new guys has been a great part of this weekend. Getting to know everybody, getting familiar with everybody, being in the facility, of course.”
He added, “we’re all just learning. It’s our first couple of days and we’re honestly just learning and trying to learn and really be in the right place and be in the right spots.”
See what I’m getting at?
In perhaps the funniest and best “get” of the process, Palm Beach Post reporter, Joe Schad, broke through. In a valiant effort to get something we could use outside the script, so-to-speak, Joe asked Waddle about the popular name “Jaylen” among athletes, yet a variety of spellings. Schad wisely hypothesized that this phenomena is due to NBA legend, Jalen Rose. Waddle’s response seemed to be a bit freestyle, like his YAC-ability.
“Yeah, as far as the name, my mom did name me after Jalen Rose. I don’t know how you knew that. That’s kind of weird.”
1 Point for Joe. Touchdown for Waddle.
Just when the Zoom room of reporters seemed to have outsmarted the rookies thanks to Mr. Schad smashing the ice, the football Gods sent us Hunter Long in…who could outsmart Bill Gates and probably make Elon Musk look like a fool. Long, the Boston College, Rubix Cube solving computer genius seems to be locked in on what the Dolphins mantra is.
He was asked about his NFL-readiness and instead of self-promoting why he belongs in this league, he stuck to the “plan.” “I’m just here ready to work and improve and do my best to get better,” said the tight end. Part of the tight end game of course is blocking, and that is a task that seems to be no short-sighted responsibility for Long.
“I’m here to improve all parts of my game and honestly, I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do. I don’t know if I can answer that directly, but I’m willing to do whatever they ask me to do; and whatever they want me to work on, I’ll continue to work on.”
You try out-smarting him.
Long realized the honor and prestige of donning these colors, and when asked about a person or a moment that stood out to him at his first day, he kept it in a vault, as expected. “I’m not going to answer that. Honestly, the coolest thing for me was just putting on the helmet for the first time. I have so much work to do, and I know that, and that’s what I’m going to do leading up to the season; but it was a cool small first step of my NFL career today, putting on the uniform and helmet for the first time, even though it was just a practice.”
Moving down the line literally, lets meet offensive lineman and Chris Grier UMass alma mater mate, Larnel Coleman.
Coleman followed suite in his answers, and when asked initial about his experience, the company line was feed right back, and I ate it up.
“It’s been going amazing. Just getting out there and being with the team, being with my teammates and whatnot, it is an unbelievable experience and everything. I’m really happy to be here, really happy to keep learning and keep improving.”
Then Coleman was asked about the offensive line as a whole, along with fellow rookies in the room, and the Minuteman gave a response in seconds. “Honestly, we’re all improving day by day. We’re taking each minute, each moment, just one step at a time. Right now we’re just focused on the current moment and getting better each day.”
What wont be clockwork, is the guesswork of all of us, and coaches preparing for the Dolphins as position flexibility will be a major factor to watch for once again in South Florida. “Everybody has been switching each position, just trying to get the best feel for us and whatnot. Everybody has been everywhere.”
Even when Travis Wingfield lobbed an alley-oop of a basketball question to the former hooper, asking if he has been challenged to a game of B-ball, Coleman was still vague under his laughter.
“Nothing just yet. Maybe soon.”
Well-played, Larnel. Well played.
Undrafted cornerback Jaytlin Askew was introduced as well as a fullback full of personality, Carl Tucker.
Askew was asked about his special teams’ potential and the theme continued. He said, “I just take it one day at a time, just continue to stack days, continue to learn, be in my playbook, learn from the great coaches here, and take everything one day at a time and enjoy the process while I’m competing every day.”
In an example of a name to fit a position, Carl Tucker mentioned his potential inclusion in a special club called “The Muscle Club,” which was the moniker given to the TE room by coach George Godsey. Tucker elaborated with some personality saying, “I think I fit in pretty well. I wouldn’t say I’m heavy set, but I’m a pretty buff guy.”
Ok, we went a bit off the rails…
Getting back on track, another “team-answer” was on the way when Tucker was asked about hitting in pads versus early walk-through type practices. “It’s definitely a perfect opportunity for me to of course be smart and take care of teammates and everything, but also at the same time, get better at the other things that don’t include heavy physicality, like with route-running and stuff like that.”
Collectively, this group seems to be on the same track, wavelength, and in terms of the classroom, the same exact page.