EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — DeVante Parker is 6-feet-3, 212 pounds and he is fast and he is athletic and he can leap and reach over skyscrapers and there is now an expectation that when he has as good a chance at a ball as an opponent, that more often than not he will come down with the ball.
In the early stages of Parker’s career, that hasn’t always been the case.
And yet this season, the Dolphins are counting on Parker to be more physical, more assertive and more dominant.
“We want DeVante to catch one more of those 50/50 balls,” Miami offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said this week. “Let’s keep them over 50/50 balls. Throw them up 50/50 and let’s be a higher percentage than that. ”
Parker had a memorable win on a 50/50 ball in last Sunday’s victory at the Los Angeles Chargers, arguably saving quarterback Jay Cutler from an interception as he leaped over the shorter Casey Heyward and practically took it off the defensive backs’ helmet for a long gain.
“He made the huge one that got us kind of cranking and had a chance to make a couple of others that I think we’ll make before it’s all said and done; but it’s darn close,” Christensen said.
And so that’s the deal with Parker. He almost always leaves you wanting more.
There were at least two other occasions at the Chargers where Parker was the intended target on a ball he arguably should have won, but didn’t. Parker had four catches for 85 yards, but failed to connect with Cutler on five other targets.
Cutler isn’t afraid to take chances.
He’s clearly stated Parker doesn’t need to be uncovered to become a primary target.
“Not open at all,” Cutler says. “Covered. As long as there’s just one (defender), the ball’s going to go up to (Parker).”
Parker has said he will be more physical and aggressive in the air this season.
In particular, Miami would love to see Parker be a more effective red zone target on fades, given his size.
Last year, when Parker was almost never feeling healthy, it sometimes appeared he could have fought harder for a 50/50 ball.
There is always the risk of an interception on such a play and thus Cutler is truly trusting that Parker with either make the catch, or at least break up the play.
How does coach Adam Gase feel about Cutler and Parker taking all these 50/50 shots?
“I think I’m good with it when it’s a completion,” Gase said. “I think with DeVante, you feel like the percentages go up. It’s just not everybody’s forte. When you got guys that will fight for the ball, at worst you’re hoping for an incompletion.”
Gase notes, importantly: “There is a time and a place for it.”
Parker says he admires Cutler is the type of quarterback who is willing to “launch it up one time and see what happens.”
But in order for that plan to be a good one, Parker must show Cutler and his teammates that he will always fight for the ball and will come down with it, much more than half the time.