Miami Dolphins training camp preview: Breaking down receivers
Which Dolphins receiver is ready to a larger role?
Davone Bess, left, Brian Hartline, lower right, and Chad Ochocinco head up a receiving corps that has been tabbed as arguably the team's weakest position. (File photos)
The production over the years hasn't been gaudy, and the names aren't sexy. The only receiver that has any sizzle is Chad Ochocinco, and he's 34 and coming off his worst NFL season.
But if you know football you're aware flashy names don't make west coast offenses good, and that receivers usually establish themselves when opportunity arises.
A few of the Dolphins' 12 receivers attending training camp will have an opportunity to carve out a productive NFL career for themselves. The next few months will tell us which wide outs are ready to seize the opportunity.
RECEIVERS: Starters – Brian Hartline, Chad Ochocinco and Davone Bess. Backups – Legedu Naanee, Roberto Wallace, Marlon Moore, Clyde Gates, Julius Pruitt, Jeff Fuller, B.J. Cunningham, Rishard Matthews and Chris Hogan
BY THE NUMBER: Last year was Bess' least productive year (51 catches for 537 yards and three touchdowns) in his four NFL seasons. Plenty of his drop-off had to do with quarterback chemistry issues, which limited his opportunities. But in 2009 and 2010 the former University of Hawaii standout caught 155 passes for 1,578 yards and seven touchdowns, and should return to that pace in 2012.
ON THE HOT SEAT: The Dolphins used a 2011 fourth-round pick on Clyde Gates, whose 4.31 40-time made him the fastest receiver in that year's draft class. The vision was for Gates to eventually develop into a deep threat, but so far he's fallen short of expectations, and it is clear his small school and limited football background has stunted his NFL development.
THE KEEPERS: Hartline and Bess are returning starters who have already proven themselves, and have the potential to do more. Ochocinco and Naanee should be safe if they stay healthy, and produce like they did during OTAs and minicamp. The rest of Miami's receivers are battling it out for one or two spots on the Dolphins' 53-man roster, and the one or two practice squad spots reserved for receivers.
BREAKDOWN: The Dolphins did not make a big splash in free agency, or during the draft to replace Brandon Marshall, who was traded to Chicago for two third-round picks. What Miami did was sign Ochocinco after New England released him late this summer, add Naanee to a one-year contract for the minimum, draft two receivers in the later round, sign a CFL standout, and one undrafted.
That course of action certainly lacks sex appeal, but that doesn't mean Miami's offense will because a number of the veteran receivers - Roberto Wallace, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt - have flashed upside from time to time. One of those players could potentially become the next Victor Cruz.
The Dolphins plan to utilize a receiver by committee approach; leaning on every wide out’s strengths. Bess will continue his role as Miami’s slot receiver, and Miami's defensive players say he's the team's most difficult receiver to cover in this scheme. The Dolphins believe Hartline, who averaged 15.7 yards per catch, can shoulder a heavier load than what he carried as the Dolphins No. 3 receiver the past two seasons.
Ochocinco’s play during the offseason program proved he’s still got some quickness left, but can he learn the offense, and re-establish himself as one of the NFL's premiere receivers? He's healthy, and his reputation as a hard worker should help him.
Naanee’s size and physicality should allow him to push for a starting spot. His route running specifically impressed Miami's coaches, but there's a chance his play could drop-off when pads come on.
The Dolphins are looking for receivers who rise to the occasion, and it is clear someone will be given the opportunity to carry Miami's passing game in 2012? Camp will determine who is ready to shoulder that load.