Miami Dolphins’ special teams are now Walt Aikens’ show

Dolphins DB Walt Aikens celebrates after scoring a defensive two-point conversion on a blocked extra-point attempt by Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzaro in 2016. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2018.)

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

DB Walt Aikens

Height, weight: 6-1, 212

College: Liberty

Age: 27 when season starts

Experience: Entering fifth season, all with the Dolphins

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick in 2014

Contract: Re-signed to a two-year contract worth $2.7 million

Pro Football Focus rank: None

In 2017

Stats: Made seven tackles on special teams; downed five punts inside the 20-yard line

Notable moments: Had two special teams tackles and forced a fumble on a punt return at New England. The fumble was by Danny Amendola, who’s now a Dolphin, but the Patriots recovered.

Straight talk: The Dolphins say when they sliced up their salary cap, they quickly determined they could retain Walt Aikens or Michael Thomas but not both players who contributed heavily to their success on special teams the past few years.

By choosing Aikens, they went with a player a year younger and $1.3 million cheaper over the next two years.

By not choosing Thomas, they let go to the Giants the Pro Football Focus special teams player of the year, who twice contended for the AFC special teams Pro Bowl slot.

So now it’s Aikens’ show, with every indication that he’ll be named successor to Thomas as special teams captain.

“I think Walt is a guy that we’re going to see really step up in a leadership role this year,” coach Adam Gase said. “I don’t know if anybody can really replace Mike as far as his leadership goes and his ability to make plays was outstanding. He’s a tackling machine.”

There shouldn’t be much doubt what the athletic Aikens can do as well. He caught fire late in the 2016 season, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown and scoring a defensive two-point conversion on a blocked extra point.

Prospects for 2018

Aikens will need to be a leader on Darren Rizzi’s revamped special teams units. He seldom gets on the field on defense, which may continue to be the case in 2018.

Aikens has often worked at safety but admitted last year he was happy to be told he was moving to cornerback, his college position.

The Dolphins currently list him at both positions, but where his focus will be is murky because of all the changes in the secondary. In addition to the first-round pick being spent on S Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins get CB Tony Lippett back from an Achilles injury and will tinker with S T.J. McDonald at LB or as a hybrid player.

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All grown up, Kenyan Drake primed to ‘bust out’ for Miami Dolphins in 2018

Kenyan Drake could be the Dolphins’ best hope for a breakout season in 2018. (Getty Images)

(Note: Today begins our summer-long series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting key members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2018. We begin with a vital part of the offense who I think will have a big year, running back Kenyan Drake. — Hal)

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

RB Kenyan Drake

Height, weight: 6-1, 211

College: Alabama

Age: 24

Experience: Third NFL season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: Third-round pick in 2016

Contract: In third year of four-year, $3.3 million rookie contract

In 2017

Stats: Started six of 16 games; had 133 carries for 644 yards (4.8 average) and three TDs; also caught 32 passes for 239 yards and 1 TD

Notable moments: Ran 66 yards for TD vs. Panthers. … Had 120 yards vs. Broncos. … In home victory over Patriots had 114 yards rushing and 79 receiving.

Straight talk: Adam Gase probably meant it. Then again, maybe he was just trying to light a fire. Either way, while talking about Drake this spring, Gase said he was “a guy that’s really looking to bust out.”

If the Dolphins are going to improve over last year’s 6-10 record, it’s a must.

Drake knows it, too. You can tell by the way he’s carrying himself compared to when he arrived as a luxury third-rounder, a guy behind Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams on the depth chart whose primary contributions were going to come on special teams.

Now?

“Honestly, it was just about growing up one day,” Drake said. “Everybody has to take that step necessary to be the man that they want to be. Obviously, I’m nowhere near where I want to be, obviously, as a man, as a football player, because I feel like the sky’s the limit for me and for this team in general.”

Gase once half-jokingly said there were times he wanted to hurt a young Kenyan Drake, who might take a handful of steps forward and then “test me.” Thankfully, a couple of years of growth, added responsibility and the arrival of one of the true professionals in this sport, Frank Gore, give the Dolphins a wise choice as one of the NFL players primed for a breakout year.

“I think he’s matured a lot, whether it be (with) the playbook or just him personally,” Gase said. “When you’re in this league, after you get through that first year, in the second year sometimes there’s a little bit of a feeling-out process. You’re trying to figure out who you are.

“You’re starting to get older and you really realize this is a job and it’s different than college. I see a different guy in the way he prepares (and) knowing the situation he’s coming into this year. It’s been a good process to watch his maturity level on and off the field.”

Drake is fully aware of the big picture, acknowledging there are “people looking up to me.” Given his obvious physical gifts — speed and elusiveness chief among them — he’s in perfect position to stake his claim toward a handsome second contract with a solid 2018.

Prospects for 2018

Over the final five games, he rushed for a league-best 444 yards and averaged 4.9 per carry. He also had 150 receiving yards.

For what it’s worth, that projects to roughly 2,000 all-purpose yards.

Don’t underestimate the arrival of Gore, who might see more action than fans expect despite Drake being the featured guy. That actually should be beneficial for Drake — just picture him, with his quickness, being fresh in the fourth quarter as visiting teams are wilting at Hard Rock Stadium.

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Miami Dolphins to gather for training camp earlier than most NFL teams

The third week of July should mark Dolphins fans’ first look at top draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The Dolphins think they need a lot of work.

The NFL released reporting dates for training camp Thursday, which revealed that  the Dolphins’ rookies are scheduled to arrive in Davie on July 18 and veterans July 25.

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

Only the Baltimore Ravens (July 11) and Chicago Bears (July 16) are gathering earlier. And only the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints also are reporting as early as July 18.

The Ravens and Bears play in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 2 to open the preseason, which explains their choice of dates.

At the other extreme, the Los Angeles Chargers won’t gather until July 27.

The Dolphins, who were 6-10 last season, will get a jump on their AFC East rivals. The New England Patriots begin reporting July 22, the New York Jets on July 24 and the Buffalo Bills on July 25.

The Dolphins open the preseason Aug. 9 at home against Tampa Bay, whose rookies won’t report until July 23 and veterans July 25.

[Former Dolphin Chuck Klingbeil dies at age 52]

[TE Mike Gesicki signs to complete negotiations with draft picks]

[Cameron Wake describes what it takes to be successful]

[Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil moves past ‘horrible taste’ of last season, poised for comeback]

[Who wins a race between Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Kenny Stills?]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

Ex-Miami Dolphins NT Chuck Klingbeil, hero of Shula’s 300th win, dead at 52

Dolphins nose tackle Chuck Klingbeil celebrates during the 1991 victory over Green Bay in which he scored an unlikely touchdown to help give Don Shula his 300th victory. (Jim Spoonts /Allsport)

The name Chuck Klingbeil might not mean much to younger fans today, but the former nose tackle has a secure place in Dolphins lore for an improbable starring role in Don Shula’s 300th career victory, in 1991.

Klingbeil, who spent his entire five-year NFL career with the Dolphins ending in 1995, has died of unknown causes. He was 52.

Longtime fans will recall Klingbeil as the hero of a 16-13 victory over Green Bay on Sept. 22, 1991, when he fell on a fumble by quarterback Don Majkowski in the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that eventually gave the Dolphins license to give Shula his first (and only?) Gatorade bath in celebration of his milestone.

“What were the odds of all that, of me scoring? A million to one?” Klingbeil asked after the game, although he evidently thought his odds were no worse than even. Before the game, for no apparent reason, he told fellow nose tackle Brian Sochia he was going to score a touchdown.

“I was just joking around,” Klingbeil said. “But I did say it. That’s weird, isn’t it?”

Long before anyone heard of Cameron Wake, Klingbeil was a star plucked by the Dolphins out of the Canadian Football League. The season prior, he helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup by earning MVP honors in the championship game.

Klingbeil went on to start 65 of the 78 games he played for Miami, making 242 tackles and recording 7.5 sacks.

Injuries pressed him into duty against the Packers on an afternoon so hot and humid that the weather helped gift the Dolphins a win.

The strange sequence was set up by a 54-yard punt by Reggie Roby that went out of bounds on the Green Bay 2. With no one near him, Majkowski cocked his arm back to pass.

“But the ball didn’t go back with him,” Klingbeil said. “It stayed right where it started. When his hand moved, the ball just hit the ground, like a great big Christmas present.”

Majkowski was so sweaty, “The ball just slipped out of my hand,” he said.

Klingbeil cradled it like a baby as officials’ arms shot straight upward. Scared he’d be penalized, Klingbeil didn’t dare spike the ball.

The play kick-started the sluggish Dolphins and Dan Marino, who had heard boos earlier. A 40-yard pass from Marino to Mark Duper set up the winning 31-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich.

Although Klingbeil’s time in Miami eventually ended because of a shoulder injury, he remained a powerlifter who could squat 700 pounds. His hopes of a comeback ended when he was rushed to the ER one night and diagnosed with a hole torn in his esophagus. He became an assistant coach at Michigan Tech.

Even on the day of his career highlight, Klingbeil could sense he’d accomplished something with a lasting impact.

“Being Coach Shula’s 300th win, that makes it even sweeter,” Klingbeil said. “It’s exciting to be a part of history.”

[TE Mike Gesicki signs to complete negotiations with draft picks]

[Cameron Wake describes what it takes to be successful]

[Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil moves past ‘horrible taste’ of last season, poised for comeback]

[Who wins a race between Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Kenny Stills?]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

All Miami Dolphins draft picks are signed: TE Mike Gesicki gets 4-year deal

Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki signed Monday to complete negotiations for this year’s draft class for Miami. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The Dolphins just wrapped up offseason workouts and scattered for some R&R, but they’re also primed to get down to business.

They signed second-round pick Mike Gesicki, a tight end, Monday, meaning all eight of their 2018 draft picks are signed and set for the start of training camp late this summer.

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

Gesicki’s four-year deal is worth approximately $6.6 million.

Gesicki, from Penn State, was acquired to give Ryan Tannehill the downfield threat at tight end the Dolphins have lacked. He caught 129 passes for 1,481 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons as the Nittany Lions’ starting tight end and is a physical presence for secondaries at 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds.

“He’s aggressive to the ball and he can make plays,” coach Adam Gase said. “He’s a big man that can run and has really good hands. It’s been fun to watch him kind of develop and trying to learn this offense. He puts a lot of time into it. He’s trying to be one of those guys that can play fast.”

Gesicki said he and fellow rookie Durham Smythe, who were hotel roommates during the offseason program, spent many nights quizzing each other about the playbook. He said his primary concern was having coaches and teammates think of him as a player who “knows his role, his assignment and I want him on the field. I want him to make a play for us.”

[Cameron Wake describes what it takes to be successful]

[Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil moves past ‘horrible taste’ of last season, poised for comeback]

[Who wins a race between Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Kenny Stills?]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

MarQueis Gray: Don’t underestimate Miami Dolphins’ crowded, diverse TE corps

MarQueis Gray is helping mentor the Dolphins’ two rookie tight ends. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — If there’s one player who could have done a double take at the Dolphins’ draft, MarQueis Gray is the guy.

It surprised no one when Miami took Mike Gesicki in the second round, but the real twist came two rounds later, when the Dolphins did a double take of their own, nabbing Durham Smythe — another tight end.

Yes, Gray was watching.

No, he says, he wasn’t sweating.

“We just got two new guys,” Gray nonchalantly said. “I’m not a stranger to it. I’m undrafted. I’ve been in competition all six years I’ve been in the league. So I didn’t really think too much of it.”

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

Despite seeing Julius Thomas depart, Gray finds himself in a crowded room. Besides those three, the Dolphins also have Thomas Duarte, a former-seventh round pick in 2016; plus veterans A.J. Derby and Gavin Escobar, who were plucked off the waiver wire.

Although Gesicki might have the inside track because of his pedigree and the downfield threat he presents, he is a rookie, so the Dolphins have a long way to go toward settling on a starter.

In previous seasons, Gray said, “I either had a head guy that has been assigned or they brought in some all-star guy, like they did last year. For us to have an open spot this year is pretty rare. You are competing.”

Competing, but also teaching. Gray said all the tight ends have been splitting first-team reps, which can only compound the questions he gets from the rookies. He welcomes it.

“I didn’t have any choice,” said Gray, 29. “I’m the oldest guy in the room, I’ve been in this playbook the longest with Thomas. So anytime those guys have questions, whether it’s on offense or special tams, I’ve got to be the one to step up and help them.”

Gray’s primary message: “Just be able to get the formations down and everything else will come. So they’ve done a great job so far this offseason and it’s going to continue to grow during camp.”

Both draftees have impressed Gray.

Regarding Gesicki: “He’s been making plays. I see why we got him in the second round. He’s a big-time athlete and he’s going to help us out a lot.”

Regarding Smythe: “Oh, man. They talked about his run-blocking and he’s been doing a great job of it, but he also can get open and make those tough catches.”

Are people underestimating Smythe as a threat?

“I believe so. They’re underestimating everybody, really.”

Gray shouldn’t be underestimated. Even though he was a quarterback at Minnesota, at 263, he’s the heaviest of the tight ends and respected by the Dolphins for his blocking ability so much they gave him a two-year contract through this season. It wasn’t for his receiving ability; he caught just one pass for 10 yards last year.

Bottom line: The tight end competition will be one to watch in training camp.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can do everything, really,” Gray said. “I mean, line up in the backfield. Play fullback. Line up in the slot. Line up at receiver. Tight end. We’ve got a lot of diversity in our room and that’s a real good thing to have.”

World Cup a ‘slam dunk’ for Hard Rock Stadium, Tim Robbie says

Miami Dolphins’ Cornell Armstrong mentored by Pat Surtain, Bobby McCain

Miami Dolphins’ Isaiah Ford holds first post-injury press conference

Jarvis Landry: I didn’t really have a good relationship with Ryan Tannehill (NFL Network)

[Which undrafted rookies have impressed Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke so far?]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

Miami Dolphins’ home a ‘slam dunk’ for World Cup in 2026, says Joe Robbie’s son, Tim

Hard Rock Stadium is illuminated in colors saluting the tri-country bid involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)

DAVIE — There’s no guarantee that South Florida became a World Cup destination Wednesday.

But it’s about as close as you can get.

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, overwhelmingly voted to bring the World Cup back to the United States in 2026, choosing a joint bid with Mexico and Canada for the 2026 tournament. North America received 134 votes to Morocco’s 65.

The Dolphins’ home of Hard Rock Stadium figured prominently in the winning bid, and although Miami was bypassed when the World Cup came to the United States in 1994, South Florida’s soccer community is brimming with confidence it won’t be jilted again.

“I think it’s a slam dunk,” said Tim Robbie, former general manager of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers whose father, Dolphins founder Joe Robbie, built the stadium with World Cup matches as a dream. “The only impediment the last time, in ’94, was the Marlins. That prevented us from getting games because of baseball. Now that there’s no conflict, I think it’s a lock that we’ll have games in South Florida.”

The “United 2026 bid,” as it was called, involves 23 hopeful stadiums in 23 cities in North America, but 60 of the 80 matches — including everything from the quarterfinals on — will be in the United States. FIFA expects to select 16 sites in 2020 or 2021. 

The highest-level match Hard Rock Stadium is seeking is a quarterfinal or third-place match. Areas that bid for the final all have considerably larger venues than Hard Rock’s capacity of 67,518 for World Cup matches.

The 2026 tournament will have 48 teams instead of the current. 32. Although host countries traditionally receive an automatic berth, the tri-country bid is a first and FIFA has not determined if all three countries will be extended that courtesy.

From South Florida’s perspective, it can’t hurt Hard Rock’s odds that the new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation is Carlos Cordeiro, a Miamian.


‘Obviously Miami is very special to me, being my hometown.’ — Carlos Cordeiro, new president of U.S. Soccer


“Obviously Miami is very special to me, being my hometown,” Cordeiro told reporters on a conference call from Russia, where this year’s World Cup kicks off Thursday. “In fact, the beaches factor prominently in some of our slides.”

Although Cordeiro said narrowing down the candidate stadiums in the United States from 17 to 12 “is going to be very, very hard,” the biased view among South Floridians is that one choice should be easy. Tom Mulroy, a longtime soccer promoter and member of the bid committees for both 1994 and 2026, said his wife woke up to find him crying on the couch.

“She goes, ‘Are you all right?’ ” Mulroy said. “I said, ‘We just got the Cup.’ ”

Lionel Messi (right) celebrates his goal for Barcelona against Real Madrid at Hard Rock Stadium in July. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Mulroy, who plans to attend his ninth World Cup final this summer, has no doubt South Florida will be chosen now that the Marlins have their own ballpark. Comparing ’94 to now, Mulroy said, “FIFA said, ‘You’ve got two stadiums and you’re offering us the Orange Bowl instead of that stadium? Stick it in your ear, my friend.’ They ain’t gonna stop it now. I fully in my heart believe we will get games in that spaceship that landed (Hard Rock). That’s one of the best places in the world to watch a soccer game.”

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross recently pumped a half-billion dollars into stadium renovations, including a canopy, to help secure the 2020 Super Bowl and events such as the World Cup. Tom Garfinkel, president and CEO of the Dolphins, measured his comments to avoid sounding overconfident, but he’s clearly optimistic, acknowledging a “very positive” vibe he received while giving FIFA reps a tour.

“What I can say is with the stadium renovated now the way it is, I think it is truly a global entertainment destination,” Garfinkel said. “I think it’s one of the premier facilities not just in North America, but in the world, for soccer, for football, for concerts and other things. I think it’s competitive with any other facility from that standpoint.”

Miami scored well in numerous areas of FIFA’s report on competing cities. The one major area where it can’t stack up — and the reason we won’t see the semifinals or final in Miami Gardens — is stadium size. Competing for the final — which quadrennially is the most-watched sporting event on the planet — were stadiums in Dallas (92,967 capacity), Southern California’s Rose Bowl (88,432) and the reported winner, New York/New Jersey (87,157).

FIFA’s report noted that Miami is the eighth-largest among U.S. contenders in population (6.06 million), received a 4.3 stadium score (only Denver scored higher) and tied with a dozen others for the top score in accommodations (5.0). FIFA praised accessibility of Miami’s international airport, that the area is used to providing security for major events and made a special mention of “the tropical waterfront of Miami’s Biscayne Bay.”

Joe Robbie was the original owner of the Dolphins who dreamed of hosting World Cup matches in the facility originally called Joe Robbie Stadium. (File photo)

Pointing to massive weeklong fan fests surrounding Super Bowls and the Barcelona-Real Madrid match last July, Garfinkel indicated that World Cup matches, possibly spread over weeks, would involve similar party atmospheres, even for fans who don’t have match tickets.

“We’ll try to create great experiences for people and make sure it’s something that they remember for a long time,” Garfinkel said.

Mulroy noted that the announcement came despite escalating political tensions between the United States and its two bordering neighbors.

“I”m super proud we sat down with our neighbors and did it,” Mulroy said. “Because that’s what soccer’s about. It’s about two guys who don’t speak the same language kicking a ball around in a park, where neither are sure where they are, but they’re home, no matter what they look like. No walls. No border. Just a healthy sport.”

Tim Robbie is glad the future likely will add to his late father’s legacy.

“Obviously he’d be very pleased and very proud,” he said. “That was part of the plan from the very beginning, that it would host top international soccer. And of course the crown jewel of international soccer is World Cup matches.”

[Which undrafted rookies have impressed Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke so far?]

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[Marjory Stoneman Douglas football team visits Dolphins practice]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

‘It affects me’: Miami Dolphins’ Walt Aikens knows solutions with police aren’t so simple

Dolphins safety Walt Aikens, national spokesperson for the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities League, poses with PAL participants at the team training facility in Davie on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)

DAVIE — The more people want to boil down the anthem flap in the NFL to patriotism — are the players respectful of this country or not? — the more we see this issue is not, and probably never will be, so simple.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dolphins safety Walt Aikens walked into the team auditorium at the training facility to meet with the media. But he wasn’t alone. He was with a group of kids and Jeff Hood, CEO of the National PAL (Police Athletics/Activities League).

Aikens is not one of the kneelers. His connection to the larger issue can be traced to growing up in Charlotte, N.C., where he was a hotshot basketball player in PAL who also took a liking to football. Of course now we know which path life took Aikens, which is why PAL saw an opportunity to involve an NFL player in its program and Aikens saw an opportunity to give back. He accepted an invitation to become an official spokesperson for the organization.

“It was the best way to give back, me going back to these local communities and showing these kids that no matter where you are or where you’re from, you can always make it and there’s a positive way out of every situation,” Aikens said.

In a lot of ways, it’s the kind of story you can’t get enough of. But — going back to the original point — it’s also not so simple.

PAL’s stated goal is to bridge gaps between kids, police and communities. Anyone paying even the slightest attention knows how important, and how tenuous, that bridge looks today.

Which is why Walt Aikens, official spokesperson, has a bigger task on his hands than just encouraging kids to try real hard in school and in sports. Asked if kids today hit him with tough questions at a time when his peers are protesting social injustice, Aikens first said, “No, they’re kids.”

But he then went on to give you the impression kids are learning hard lessons younger and younger these days.

“And if they do know about it, I’m pretty open with my situation,” Aikens said, referring to a brush with the law in his younger days that could have been a trend if he let it. More on that in a minute, but first, it’s important to see the police through Aikens’ eyes. 

“Up until more recently, I’ve had a pretty good viewpoint of police,” Aikens said. “I’ve never been in any situation where it was just wrongfully an outburst, or something that was drastically crazy. My viewpoint was always good. Back in Charlotte, we have a nice group of police officers that a lot of them were my friends’ parents, so we grew up in that environment where I know his dad is a cop, but at the end of the day, that’s my friend’s pops. So, we always had a good relationship.”

Fully recognizing what he’d just said also raised a question, Aikens continued.

“When I said up until recently, I still don’t have a bad viewpoint. But we’ve seen what’s been going on in the media with police and people going on, beatings and all that stuff right now. It affects me. It affects me because I have police friends.”

Aikens cited the case of Brentley Vinson, a white officer in Charlotte who shot and killed an African-American man but was cleared by a prosecutor who provided evidence to rebut assertions that the deceased man had not been armed.

“He went to my college,” Aikens said of Vinson. “I know he’s a good dude and I know that he was doing what he needed to do in the line of duty. But it was kind of hard having mixed emotions coming from patrons and then coming from the police officers. It’s kind of hard when you have friends or family involved in that, but my viewpoint is still the same until otherwise.

“There are a lot of things you have to watch out for nowadays, especially being a young, black male in today’s society. It’s kind of tough. But at the same time, I just try to keep my nose clean, do what I need to do and get out of the way.”

The one time Aikens strayed from the straight and narrow involved a laptop he bought from a teammate. Aikens said he didn’t realize it was stolen, but regardless, the misdemeanor charge was enough for Illinois to dismiss him from the team, so he transferred to Liberty. Today, he uses that as a teaching tool when he talks to kids.

“I would just tell them we all make mistakes,” Aikens said. “I made a mistake my first ever time getting in trouble and it was my last. (I) didn’t make it a habit. Even me, I was in a nice, two-parent home and I made mistakes. I was young. I was a kid, but that didn’t describe my life. I didn’t let that define who I was as a person.

“So, when that happened, I just kept it moving. My pops told me when I initially got in trouble, he said, ‘What’s done is done.’ We’ve got to learn from it and move on. And I feel like that was the most impactful thing that you could say to me, because he wasn’t mad, he wasn’t yelling. He said, ‘I’m not mad or nothing. I’m more upset,’ and that really hit home like if you’re mad you can get over it, but if you’re upset, I felt like I let him down. I let my parents down. I just kept it moving. Like I said, I was hurt by it. I ultimately made the best out of my situation and I tell these kids that they can do the same in whatever situation they come from.”

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Miami Dolphins’ Walt Aikens regains confidence after it ‘kind of fell off’ from inactivity

Dolphins DB Walt Aikens celebrates after scoring a defensive two-point conversion on a blocked extra-point attempt by Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro in 2016. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — He never showed it on the outside. Among veterans on the Dolphins, few could rival Walt Aikens for the permanent smile painted on his face or the joy in his voice, in both good times and bad.

Tuesday, Aikens admitted appearances deceived. He’s the guy fans know as one of Miami’s best special teams players, but that’s it. Some know he’s listed as a defensive back, but through four NFL seasons, they’ve had little evidence to prove he actually is a defensive back.

Yes, that inactivity ate at him. More than he ever showed.

“I feel like I kind of fell off, confidence-wise, the past couple of years, but I’m coming back in, refocused, refreshed, full of confidence, full of energy, and just ready to ball out,” Aikens said.

The reason he lost confidence is somewhat predictable. Less predictable, however, is that Aikens says his drop in confidence spans more than just 2017, because he ended the 2016 season on a hot streak of huge special teams plays, including a defensive two-point conversion and a blocked punt for a touchdown.

It wasn’t enough for him.

“Just not being on the field as much as I would want to and just being labeled a special teams player for so long,” Aikens said. “I kind of got down on myself. I know I can ball.”

This summer, coaches are testing the waters with Aikens in on defense. He saw a bit of action in last year’s finale, against Buffalo, and did well enough to warrant another look this month.

“We were kind of experimenting with a lot of different things in that game and that was one of the things that we talked about doing was trying to put a little package together to where he could play defense and just kind of give him that feel and see how he did,” coach Adam Gase said. “He didn’t have a ton of plays but he did his job. … He’s a really good tackler.”

Aikens’ role this summer has been, in his words, “safety, but being alert for anytime we need corners.” He’s more than content with either, because either job is better than spectating.

“He’s worked extremely hard to try to find that role on defense,” Gase said. “I know he wants to be a part of that.”

Aikens was acquired in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, which wasn’t all that long ago, yet he and tackle Ja’Wuan James are the only players left from that draft class. His consistent production on special teams led the Dolphins to give him a two-year, $2.7 million extension this offseason.

“This is home, man,” Aikens said. “So any other team was just a second option.”

Besides the money, Aikens heard Gase and defensive backs coach Tony Oden say he’d receive a shot at an increased role in 2018.

“Definitely,” he said. “That was a big part of staying.”

First, there’s still work to be done on special teams. With Michael Thomas joining the Giants, Aikens is now poised to become the Dolphins’ special teams captain while hoping 2018 brings a bit more than that.

“We’re just going to keep working on trying to find the best spot for him as far as our defense goes,” Gase said. “We know what he can do on special teams. Watching his film from last year, just when we went back and evaluated, that was special stuff that he was doing.”

Aikens hopes that when training camp begins, the coaches keep working to find that spot for him.

“It’s a lot that I ain’t shown yet,” he said.

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Ready, draw! Nightly pop quizzes help Miami Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki learn plays

Dolphins rookie tight end Mike Gesicki during organized team activities. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — If anyone is searching for that missing white board at the Dolphins’ training facility, the mystery can now be solved. Tight end Mike Gesicki made off with it after receiving permission that sounds only marginally convincing.

Tight ends coach Shane Day had suggested Gesicki get a white board so he and his hotel roommate, Durham Smythe, could review plays at night during the offseason training program. Rather than head to Target, Gesicki noticed there was a white board in the tight ends room.

“Hey, coach, can I have it?” Gesicki asked.

“I’m not using it,” Day said.

“So I grabbed it and brought it home,” Gesicki said.

While it’s entirely possible there’s also an Xbox in their room, the tight ends spend a chunk of most nights playing a little game on the white board.

“Calling it out quick and you draw it up,” Gesicki said of the Dolphins’ plays. “We’re just trying to simulate the huddle and simulate knowing everything on the fly and not just your job, but knowing everybody’s job.”

While that can only be a plus, the Dolphins would love for Gesicki to be able to do his job. He’s 6-feet-6 and 252 pounds. He caught 14 touchdown passes his final two seasons at Penn State. Put them together and it gives the Dolphins hope for a receiving threat at tight end they’ve lacked for ages, with the brief exception of Charles Clay.

“When the ball comes my way, it’s my job to make the play, whether it’s one-handed, two-handed, low, high or whatever it is,” Gesicki said.

Gesicki’s downfield ability hasn’t been on display often in practices open to the media, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill mentioned a one-handed catch from a closed workout.

“Honestly, I’m not worried about the production on field right now,” Gesicki said. “I’m not worried, ‘Man, I only had one catch yesterday. I didn’t score a touchdown today.’ Or anything like that because we’re sitting here and it’s June.

“We don’t have a game for another three months. What I’m most concerned about right now is just showing the coaches, showing the quarterbacks, the guys around me, my teammates, and trying to earn their respect that this kid knows what he’s doing, he knows his job, he knows his role, his assignment and I want him on the field. I want him to make a play for us.”

The white board helps make sense of the blur that often comes in the morning, when coaches dish out new concepts to absorb.

“You’re getting it 20 minutes once you come in,” Gesicki said. “You look through it and then you go out there. There’s a lot going on.”

But by the end of the week, players will scatter. OTAs and minicamps will be over. The players will be off until training camp.

Vacation? Hardly.

“There’s zero unwinding going on,” Gesicki said of his summer plans. “I promise you that. My foot is on the gas from now until February.”

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