Will changing dynamics of Miami Dolphins receivers be a jolt for DeVante Parker’s career?

DeVante Parker has yet to live up to his draft slot. (Allen Eyestone/The 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.)

WR DeVante Parker

Height, weight: 6-3, 216

College: Louisville

Age: 25

Experience: Fourth NFL season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: First-round pick in 2015

Contract: In fourth year of rookie contract, due to earn $3.4 million. Dolphins have picked up his fifth-year option.

Pro Football Focus rank: 53rd out of 116

In 2017

Stats: Started 12 of 13 games played; had 57 receptions for 670 yards (11.8 average) and one TD

Notable moments: Caught eight passes for 76 yards and only TD of the season at the Jets. … Caught six passes for 89 yards at Bills.

Straight talk: “It was not where I wanted to be. It’s as simple as that.”

That was Parker’s summation of his first three NFL seasons, blunt talk that matches what fans are thinking.

Had Parker been a third-round pick, his career totals of 139 catches, 1,909 yards and eight touchdowns would be viewed in an entirely different light. (Seattle’s Tyler Lockett, a third-rounder, has 1,816 yards and nine TDs.) Parker’s problems are that he carries the burden of being a 14th overall pick who has started only half of his team’s games, has only three 100-yard performances, has never scored more than one touchdown in a game and has never topped 750 yards in a season.

As the Dolphins once again are hoping this year will be the year for Parker, it’s worth pointing out that as they attempted to upgrade their receiving corps in 2015, having just parted with Mike Wallace, they actually did about as well as they could in the draft.

Six receivers were taken in the first round that year. Amari Cooper clearly was the best of them — he has been to two Pro Bowls, has 2,903 yards and 18 TDs — but he was snatched by the Raiders with the fourth overall pick.

Parker has been the best of the rest. Consider:

Kevin White, Bears (No. 7 overall): Limited to five career games because of injuries. Chicago declined to pick up his fifth-year option.

Parker (No. 14): 139 receptions, 1,909 yards, eight TDs.

Nelson Agholor, Eagles (No. 20): Close to Parker with 121 catches, 1,416 yards, 11 TDs.

Breshad Perriman, Ravens (No. 26): 43 catches, 576 yards, three TDs.

Phillip Dorsett, Colts/currently with Patriots (No. 29): 63 catches, 947 yards, three TDs.

Will this year be the “gigantic” year the Dolphins expected of Parker last year? Nobody is buying that until they see it. For now, it’s hard to tell if there are signs of change. Fellow receiver Jakeem Grant said Parker’s preparation this offseason is “way different” than last year.

“I think he definitely wants to go out there and prove to people he’s better than what people think he is. He’s not just a guy that continually gets hurt or whatever. … He’s going to be great. Without doubt, he’s going to be one of the top receivers in this league.”

For the most part, though, the Dolphins have attempted to tone down such rhetoric, with receivers coach Ben Johnson saying rather than making “these giant claims,” he’s taking the “one day at a time” approach.

When Parker was asked if he changed anything to cut back on nagging injuries, he curiously replied, “Right now I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing that’s been working.”

Has it been working? You decide. As for the Dolphins in 2018 …

“I don’t think there is any question what anybody feels he can do,” coach Adam Gase said. “I don’t even think it’s a potential thing. I think it’s a health thing.”

Prospects for 2018

The Dolphins protected themselves by picking up the fifth-year option on Parker’s contract. It’s worth $9.5 million but if Parker flops, Miami has the option of cutting him.

“To me, it’s been a different guy this offseason,” Johnson said. “He understands the urgency and how important this year is.”

It’s possible new life will be breathed into Parker’s career with the changing dynamics of the receiving corps. QB Ryan Tannehill is back. Jarvis Landry is not. In short, it’s highly unlikely any receiver on this team will have triple-digit catches like Landry did.

Instead, look for the Dolphins to spread the ball around among Parker, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson and rookie TE Mike Gesicki. Then, it’ll become a matter of how much Parker makes himself available to make the big plays the Dolphins have long expected of him.

***

Photos: Live from Miami Dolphins OTAs in Davie

Don’t be so fast to typecast Miami Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant as only a track guy in cleats

Will changing dynamics of Miami Dolphins receivers be a jolt for DeVante Parker’s career?

Miami Dolphins’ fortunes revolve around Ryan Tannehill’s knee, putting heat on ‘new person’ Laremy Tunsil

Miami Dolphins DT Jordan Phillips wants to be elite. How close is he?

Miami Dolphins’ T.J. McDonald could benefit from ‘stress-free’ training camp

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

Miami Dolphins’ fortunes revolve around Ryan Tannehill’s knee, putting heat on ‘new person’ Laremy Tunsil

Laremy Tunsil ‘played like a rookie’ in his first season at left tackle, one Dolphins coach said. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(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.)

OT Laremy Tunsil

Height, weight: 6-5, 318

College: Ole Miss

Age: Will be 24 this season

Experience: Third season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: First-round pick in 2016

Contract: In third year of his four-year, $12.4 million rookie deal

Pro Football Focus rank: 47th out of 81

In 2017

Stats: Started 15 games

Straight talk: Long after last season ended, coach Adam Gase was still counting up all the curveballs thrown the Dolphins’ way.

You can include Tunsil’s first season at left tackle among them.

The Dolphins thought they had a steal when Tunsil fell to them in the 2016 draft, and if they thought they could just plug him in at his natural position, left tackle, after a rookie season at guard, both the team and the player learned that wasn’t the case.

L.T. the LT still has some growing to do.

“There’s probably a lot of us sitting here that thought it would be an easy transition for him,” Gase said.

One of them isn’t Tunsil.

“I never assumed it was going to be easy,” Tunsil said. “Playing left tackle at the highest level of football, I never thought it would be easy.”

It wasn’t until the offseason workouts were ending that Tunsil truly opened up on his performance in 2017.

“It was a bad taste — a horrible taste,” he said. ” … I knew I could have been better. Now I’m here, a new season, a new person. Let’s get it.”

As last season wore on, Gase said he saw “a different side” of Tunsil, one in which he developed a better sense of professionalism. Tunsil knew things had to change to cut down on sacks allowed and penalties, including avoidable pre-snap infractions.

“At times I think he would tell you that he’s felt like a rookie and he’s played like a rookie,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said in December.

Tunsil didn’t offer a dissenting opinion. Asked what he took from his 2017 performance, he said, “It was a bad taste — a horrible taste.”

Even in the memorable Monday night win over the Patriots, things weren’t as they needed to be. Gase described Tunsil’s inconsistent play as “four good, one bad,” which won’t cut it going against elite pass rushers.

Despite an affable personality, there were stretches last year in which Tunsil kept to himself, declining interview requests in what could be seen as a sign of frustration. One exception was in early December, when he was asked how he could better deal with speed off the edge.

“Continue to get better with my practice habits and just work,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Prospects for 2018

The Dolphins remain optimistic Tunsil will be the player they expected him to be when he was drafted, so there’s a good chance he’ll be Miami’s left tackle for years to come. Improvement must come immediately, because he’ll be the main bodyguard for Ryan Tannehill and Tannehill’s surgically repaired knee.

One positive development this offseason was the acquisition of former Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton from the Bears and Packers, who should give Tunsil a Branden Albert-like veteran who can offer advice and support.

“That was something that I brought up myself,” Sitton said, referring to when he was negotiating to sign with the Dolphins. “I’ve always been that type of player, to give my knowledge or whatever to anybody that is younger than me, and especially going into Year 11 now, I’ve learned a lot, a lot thing. I think it’s your duty as an older guy to bring those young guys along with you.”

Tunsil says he’s ready to go.

“A new season, a new person,” he said. “Let’s get it.”

***

Photos: Live from Miami Dolphins OTAs in Davie

Don’t be so fast to typecast Miami Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant as only a track guy in cleats

Will changing dynamics of Miami Dolphins receivers be a jolt for DeVante Parker’s career?

Miami Dolphins’ fortunes revolve around Ryan Tannehill’s knee, putting heat on ‘new person’ Laremy Tunsil

Miami Dolphins DT Jordan Phillips wants to be elite. How close is he?

Miami Dolphins’ T.J. McDonald could benefit from ‘stress-free’ training camp

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

Miami Dolphins DT Jordan Phillips wants to be elite. How close is he?

Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

(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.)

DT Jordan Phillips

Height, weight: 6-6, 341

College: Oklahoma

Age: Will turn 26 early this season

Experience: Fourth NFL season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: Drafted in second round in 2015

Contract: Due to earn $1.3 million in final year of rookie contract; unrestricted free agent after this season

Pro Football Focus rank: 74th out of 122

In 2017

Stats: Started 11 of 13 games played; had 16 tackles, two sacks and three passes defensed

Notable moments: Had two tackles, one sack and one pass defensed vs. Broncos

Straight talk: Phillips says he wants to be a great player.

He says he wants to be elite.

Let’s look at the numbers and see if they’re trending in that direction, shall we?

We’ll begin by looking at the three interior linemen on the AFC Pro Bowl roster last year. Because if you want to be elite, you should compare yourself to them.

Geno Atkins of the Bengals had 46 tackles and nine sacks.

Jurrell Casey of the Titans had 41 tackles, six sacks and a forced fumble.

Malik Jackson of the Jaguars had 40 tackles, eight sacks, three passes defensed and four forced fumbles.

Reminder from above: Phillips had 16 tackles (a career low), two sacks and three passes defensed.

“I felt like I accomplished what I was trying to do,” Phillips said. “I had a better year, still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but showed improvement and that’s all you can ask for.”

Is it, really?

Maybe that average of 1.2 tackles per game seems low. Actually, for Phillips, it’s exactly that: average. In 44 career games, he has made 58 tackles, or 1.3 per game. He has never forced nor recovered a fumble. He has never made more than four tackles in a game.

This, while playing next to Ndamukong Suh, who allegedly was attracting the attention of offensive coordinators.

While we’re on the subject of numbers, let’s go back one year. Curiously, coach Adam Gase didn’t want to get into the subject of Phillips’ weight at the time, but Phillips did. He said he was trying to get down to 320 pounds after playing the 2017 season at 336.

His weight last spring: 335.

Phillips’ weight this spring: 341. (Perhaps the Dolphins decided that dropping weight wasn’t in his best interest. Perhaps they didn’t.)

At least last offseason, Phillips admitted he’d shown a “hot and cold motor” to that point. He recognized the need to be consistent. Coaches seemed to figure out which buttons to push with him and often pointed to his physical gifts and the gut feeling he was turning the corner. Gase said Phillips can be unblockable at times.

Such optimism wasn’t unfounded. Last season, Phillips had two good performances against the Patriots and one against the Broncos. He had an 8-yard sack of Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick that should have given the Dolphins a safety (the NFL later admitted the officials goofed).

But you know the rest. Too often, Phillips hasn’t been as visible and has displayed a curious attitude, such as saying “go ask the coaches” why he was relegated to backup duty last preseason, as if he were clueless and powerless about it. This offseason, when asked if he expected to see more snaps now that Suh is gone, he said, “I couldn’t tell you,” Phillips said.  “I mean if that’s the message you guys got, then roll with it, I guess.”

Prospects for 2018

There are reasons to think there’s a good chance Phillips will start alongside Davon Godchaux at defensive tackle. A contract year is one. The flashes he showed late last season are others.

But Phillips will have to earn it, and if coaches sense his motor is running cold, they have options. Akeem Spence saw ample first-team duty in the spring. He started 11 games for the Lions last season. And he had better numbers: 39 tackles, three and one forced fumble.

This will be a position to watch this preseason.

***

Photos: Live from Miami Dolphins OTAs in Davie

Don’t be so fast to typecast Miami Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant as only a track guy in cleats

Will changing dynamics of Miami Dolphins receivers be a jolt for DeVante Parker’s career?

Miami Dolphins’ fortunes revolve around Ryan Tannehill’s knee, putting heat on ‘new person’ Laremy Tunsil

Miami Dolphins DT Jordan Phillips wants to be elite. How close is he?

Miami Dolphins’ T.J. McDonald could benefit from ‘stress-free’ training camp

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

Miami Dolphins’ T.J. McDonald could benefit from ‘stress-free’ training camp

Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald celebrates after a stop on Dion Lewis of the Patriots. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

(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.)

S T.J. McDonald

Height, weight: 6-2, 223

College: USC

Age: 27

Experience: Sixth season, second with Dolphins

Acquired: As unrestricted free agent in March 2017

Contract: Received a four-year, $24.1 million contract last season

Pro Football Focus rank: 59th out of 120

In 2017

Stats: 8 games played, 45 tackles, one interception

Notable moments: Made nine tackles in Dolphins debut, vs. Carolina in November. … Intercepted Trevor Siemian on first possession of Denver game. … Made seven tackles in home victory over New England.

Straight talk: Even though he made an instant impact when inserted into the lineup midway through last season, T.J. McDonald walked away in January thinking about what could have been.

“Not being able to help my team in the first eight weeks definitely was hard — the hardest part of the year for me,” said McDonald, who served an eight-game NFL suspension stemming from a DUI arrest. “Then coming back, being in a new scheme, hopping in the middle of something — it was just a little different.”

He wondered what it would have been like if he had a full season next to Reshad Jones, another hard-hitting safety who’s a Pro Bowl talent. He was already looking forward to the 2018 season, when he could “hit the ground running.”

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Matt Burke said he’d consider using McDonald more often in a hybrid safety/linebacker role. The wrinkle, Burke pointed out, is if you slide McDonald into the box, someone has to be back there filling the spot he vacated.

Then, two things happened that further muddied the picture.

First, the Dolphins drafted Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round, fueling speculation he could be that someone filling the vacant spot and triggering a move of McDonald to linebacker.

Finally, when coach Adam Gase was asked about all this, he flat-out said, “T.J. is playing safety. If we have to make adjustments somewhere. … He’s not moving to linebacker. He’s going to be a safety and then we’re going to figure out a way to get our best 11 players on the field.”

So a year ago, the Dolphins and McDonald were in getting-to-know-you mode and today, there’s still an element of that. What’s clear is that Jones, McDonald and Fitzpatrick are among the 11 best defensive players, so one option is a three-safety formation, which also would eliminate guesswork as to who will be the third linebacker next to Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan.

“There may be some three-safety packages where they’re all on the field together,” Burke said. “There may be times where T.J. and Reshad are a better grouping for us or Minkah and Reshad are a better grouping for us or something else. I don’t know. I think our challenge, again, as a coaching staff, is to get the best feel for how to utilize those guys best — what each of their strengths are — so when we get into a game-plan situation, ‘Hey, this guy is better at doing this,’ or, ‘We can put all these guys and maybe use this guy this way,’ or that sort of thing.”

McDonald contributed in 2017 but measured his words in assessing his play.

“Eh,” he said. “My first game back, that was the most comfortable I was, just because I was playing off of adrenaline and so excited to come back.”

But McDonald, who made nine tackles in that game against the Panthers, hedged when asked if he felt uncomfortable as the season wore on.

“I was playing more stress-free” early, he said.

Prospects for 2018

Since the Dolphins have two divisional games in the first month of the season, they might be exceptionally vanilla in August to avoid tipping their hand, but a storyline to watch in camp will be how this three-headed safety rotation plays out.

McDonald said he arrived at Dolphins camp feeling he had to prove himself and had only eight games in which to do it. After the season, he said he was looking forward to starting fresh.

“Just having a clear head,” he said.

***

Photos: Live from Miami Dolphins OTAs in Davie

Don’t be so fast to typecast Miami Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant as only a track guy in cleats

Will changing dynamics of Miami Dolphins receivers be a jolt for DeVante Parker’s career?

Miami Dolphins’ fortunes revolve around Ryan Tannehill’s knee, putting heat on ‘new person’ Laremy Tunsil

Miami Dolphins DT Jordan Phillips wants to be elite. How close is he?

Miami Dolphins’ T.J. McDonald could benefit from ‘stress-free’ training camp

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

Frank Gore will be 35, but here’s why Miami Dolphins don’t really care

Ex-Hurricane Frank Gore, then with the Indianapolis Colts, runs against the Dolphins. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(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.)

RB Frank Gore

Height, weight: 5-9, 212

College: Miami

Age: Will be 35 at the start of the season

Experience: Entering 14th season, first with the Dolphins

Acquired: As a free agent from Indianapolis

Contract: Due to earn $1.1 million this season

Pro Football Focus rank: 17th out of 58

In 2017

Stats: Rushing — 961 yards, 3.7 average, 3 TDs. Receiving — 29 catches, 245 yards, 1 TD

Notable moments: Carried 36 times for 130 yards at Buffalo. It was the most carries ever by a running back 34 or older

Straight talk: With Damien Williams leaving and Kenyan Drake still arriving in terms of the big stage, the Dolphins made a wise move in bringing Frank Gore back to Miami.

Gore will be 35 this season, but it was predictable that coach Adam Gase warned against getting too caught up in that, of course.

“It’s irrelevant,” Gase said. “He’s a different dude.”

Don’t believe it? Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star, in a column criticizing the Colts for letting Gore walk, revealed that in that game in Buffalo in which Gore had 130 yards, he broke a thumb. The Colts suggested season-ending surgery to insert a pin.

“I’m a football player,” Gore said. “I’m playing.”

Indianapolis’ next game was a Thursday nighter against the Broncos, so four days later, Gore was at it again, accounting for 67 yards from scrimmage. It’s that kind of drive that has allowed him to play 112 consecutive games, most by any active running back.

By keeping in terrific shape, Gore has managed 12 straight seasons with at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage. The only backs with more carries than his 3,226 are Emmitt Smith (all-time leader at 4,409), Walter Payton, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis. None has a better per-carry average than Gore’s 4.4.

With his stocky build and powerful legs, Gore has been an effective inside runner. He tied for 10th in the league last year with 49 carries for first downs, so perhaps third-and-1 will cease to be an automatic passing play. Not to mention that when Ryan Tannehill does throw with Gore in the game, not only can Gore catch, he’s exceptional at pass protection. 

Gase and Gore were together in 2008, when Gase served as an offensive assistant on the 49ers.

“It’s been 10 years since we were together,” Gase said. “I mean it seems like forever. The guy looks exactly the same.”

Prospects for 2018

While the Dolphins are counting on Drake to be the featured back, Gore isn’t being brought in strictly as an aging mentor to the young guy.

“We’ll figure it out,” Gase said of the workload. “This is no different than what we were kind of doing with Damien and Kenyan last year. I mean it’s a long season. We got caught in a couple of situations last year where Kenyan was the only guy we had and he had to take the majority of the carries. Really, that’s not what we want over a 16-game season. That’s going to be tough. We’ll make sure that we spread this thing out well. We’ll use both of those guys the right way.”

***

Photos: Live from Miami Dolphins OTAs in Davie

Don’t be so fast to typecast Miami Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant as only a track guy in cleats

Will changing dynamics of Miami Dolphins receivers be a jolt for DeVante Parker’s career?

Miami Dolphins’ fortunes revolve around Ryan Tannehill’s knee, putting heat on ‘new person’ Laremy Tunsil

Miami Dolphins DT Jordan Phillips wants to be elite. How close is he?

Miami Dolphins’ T.J. McDonald could benefit from ‘stress-free’ training camp

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

Big bucks, big decision, big year for Miami Dolphins RT Ja’Wuan James

Ja’Wuan James (right) plays a key role in protecting Ryan Tannehill. (Allen Eyestone/The 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]

RT Ja’Wuan James

Height, weight: 6-6, 312

College: Tennessee

Age: 26

Experience: Fifth NFL season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: First-round pick in 2014

Contract: Was given fifth-year option by Dolphins, meaning he’ll earn $9.34 million this season

Pro Football Focus rank: tied for 17th out of 81

In 2017

Stats: Started eight games, then was placed on injured reserve Nov. 11 with a hamstring injury

Straight talk: When you think of Dolphins on the hot seat this year, names such as DeVante Parker come to mind.

But what about James?

After taking their time to think it over, the Dolphins granted James a fifth-year option even though it cost them $9.34 million and made him the highest-paid right tackle in the league.

In fact, James will make more in 2018 than all but 16 left tackles. And he’s the sixth-highest-paid player on this team.

Much of the focus has been on Parker’s inability to justify being taken in the first round. Less glare has been on James, the first-rounder one year earlier. It’s the nature of the positions, right tackle vs. receiver.

For what it’s worth — and I’m guarded in how much stock I put in Pro Football Focus rankings — James was rated as the 10th-best offensive tackle last season and fifth-best pass blocker.

Late last season, coach Adam Gase said he needed time to evaluate things before committing to bringing back James.

“We looked through all our options,” Gase said once the decision was reached.

Among the discussions, the Dolphins stressed the need for James to be more consistent. James got the message as he worked this spring with new line coach Jeremiah Washburn.

“Just using my technique every time,” he said. “That’s the hardest part, just doing the same thing, every time. No matter who you’re going against. Silent count. Whatever it is.”

Prospects for 2018

James’ performance will be vital toward protecting Ryan Tannehill and his surgically repaired right knee.

But first James has to stay healthy.

He has missed 17 of 64 games in his career, including nine games missed in 2015 because of a toe injury. This spring, James gave mixed signals as to how he was healing.

“I feel like I’m past it,” he said at one point.

But at other times, he sounded as if the hamstring still wasn’t where it needs to be. Example: “I’m focused on this hamstring and getting myself to 100 percent.”

There’s still time until training camp. Let’s see what August brings. 

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

When you’re hot: Xavien Howard trending straight up for Miami Dolphins’ secondary

Xavien Howard makes an interception against the Patriots. (Allen Eyestone/The 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]

CB Xavien Howard

Height, weight: 6-1, 196

College: Baylor

Age: Will be 25 this season

Experience: Third season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: Second-round pick in 2016

Contract: In third year of his $6.1 million rookie contract

Pro Football Focus rank: 92nd of 121

In 2017

Stats: Started every game; 48 tackles, one sack, four interceptions, 13 passes defensed

Notable moments: INTs came in bunches, with two vs. Broncos and two in the home game vs. Patriots

Straight talk: Can momentum that a young player has going for him late one season carry over into the next season?

The Dolphins certainly hope so.

Howard didn’t get off to the best of starts last year but displayed a key trait for a cornerback — he forgot about all that — to put up some stunning performances as the weather turned cold.

Howard recorded the first two interceptions of his career against Denver, then followed with two more against Tom Brady and the Patriots, which was even more impressive in two ways:

1. He’s the first Dolphin with multiple interceptions in consecutive games.

2. He played the Patriots game while puking his guts out on the sideline because of the flu. “I thought he was going to die,” said safety Walt Aikens, who should know because, in his words, “I was in the splash zone.”

Howard, who earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the Patriots game, said he realized it was time to start trusting himself and taking chances when opportunities arose.

“Not thinking,” said Howard, who relied on strength and his closing ability with the ball in the air to pick off Brady. “Just going out there and playing.”

“You could tell him that I said it’s about time,” Cameron Wake said.

Of course, 1 1/2 seasons isn’t a long time for a cornerback to develop (not to mention that Howard missed half his rookie year with knee problems). While double-digit interceptions is a bit much to ask of anybody in Year 3, continued growth is realistic for Howard and if that happens, a healthy second contract will start to come into focus.

“The more he plays, the longer he plays, the tighter the coverage is going to get … the faster he’ll get as far as being able to break up some of these passes,” coach Adam Gase said. “Guys get so frustrated with young corners or the kid themselves gets down on themselves because balls are completed on them. They get better with time if you stick with them and you don’t allow their confidence to waver.”

Prospects for 2018

Howard’s confidence should be at an all-time high entering the season.

Any concerns the Dolphins may have had over his extended absence in 2016 should have been erased by what he did against New England. Keep in mind, he required two bags of IV fluids and was drinking Pedialyte but still suited up and played extremely well, worthy of the Michael Jordan seal of approval.

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

Speedy, versatile receiver Albert Wilson brings intrigue to Miami Dolphins’ offense

Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson during organized team activities. (Allen Eyestone / 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]

WR Albert Wilson

Height, weight: 5-9, 200

College: Georgia State

Age: Will be 26 this season

Experience: Entering fifth season, first with Dolphins

Acquired: Signed as unrestricted free agent from Chiefs in March

Contract: In first year of a three-year, $24 million contract

Pro Football Focus rank: 33rd of 116

In 2017

Stats: Started seven of 13 games in which he appeared; had career highs of 42 receptions for 554 yards and three TDs

New Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Notable moments: Caught 63-yard TD pass vs. Raiders. … Caught 10 passes for 147 yards vs. Broncos for his first 100-yard game.

Straight talk: One of the more intriguing Dolphins acquisitions is Wilson, who gives the offense four players who have been timed at 4.45 or better (along with WRs Jakeem Grant and Kenny Stills and RB Kenyan Drake).

It will be up to coach Adam Gase, who loves to create mismatches, to maximize both the breakaway speed and versatility of these players.

Although Wilson grew up in our midst, attending Port St. Lucie High, what he brings to this mix is somewhat unknown. Is he the player who had just 279 receiving yards for Kansas City two years ago? The guy on the ascension after a 554-yard season last year? Or the one who reached his ceiling simply because it was a contract year?

Wilson can assume some of the Jarvis Landry duties, catching short passes from Ryan Tannehill and letting his yards-after-catch ability take over.

“He’s a guy that can take a throw behind the line of scrimmage and he can create a 70-yard touchdown,” Gase said.

Johnson said he was impressed by how quickly Wilson picked up Miami’s system when “he wasn’t really doing the same thing in Kansas City.”

Wilson had only three rushing attempts for 6 yards last season. That’s about to change.

“His speed is hard to ignore,” Gase said. “We saw first-hand how fast he is and what he can do, how he can stretch the field vertically. When you put the ball in his hands, he makes plays. I don’t think I’ve seen too many wide receivers where a team is actually handing the ball off to him and he’s running between the tackles.”

Prospects for 2018

If the spring is any indication, Wilson should make a seamless transition to Miami and be a nice complementary piece alongside the aforementioned receivers plus Danny Amendola and DeVante Parker. Doubly so, if defenses overcommit to any of the others when Gase throws a four-receiver set on the field.

During the spring, receivers coach Ben Johnson pointed out the versatility Wilson provides.

“It’s really triggered us to say he’s not limited in the slot, he’s not limited outside,” Johnson said. “He can line up in the backfield. He can do so many different things for us. His versatility is really, really showing up.”

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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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