Former first-round pick Stephone Anthony: ‘I have to become starter’ for Dolphins

Stephone Anthony is trying to get his career back on track. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — Stephone Anthony was a first-round pick just three years ago and he’s only 25, but there’s a sense that he’s already running out of time.

The NFL is turbulent, and things change quickly. Anthony was one of the most promising rookies in the league for the Saints, then found himself shipped to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick last year and is fighting for a job this offseason. He’s battling a rookie, among others, for one of Miami’s starting linebacker spots and he knows it’s a critical point in his career.

“Before I can do anything else,” Anthony said, “I have to become a starter.”

That’s a key step toward righting his career, and he’s in a good position to do it.

While Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan can be marked down as certain starters, the rest of the Dolphins’ linebacker corps is wide open. Third-round pick Jerome Baker is likely to be in the mix, as well as undrafted scrappers Cayson Collins and Mike McCray and returning players Mike Hull and Chase Allen.

Anthony said he’s been taking snaps with the first- and second-team defense during Organized Team Activities.

He’s slightly leaner than last year, checking in at 6-foot-3 and somewhere between 235 and 240 pounds (as opposed to 245), but the most important thing is he’s far more familiar the Dolphins’ scheme than when he arrived.

Miami needed a linebacker when Lawrence Timmons deserted the team early last season and found an eager trading partner in the Saints, who had lost interest in Anthony when he wasn’t producing in their new defensive scheme. After opening with 112 tackles, two defensive scores and an all-rookie selection, he started three games in 2016 and was inactive last year while New Orleans looked to deal him.

Anthony played eight games off the bench for the Dolphins and totaled 15 tackles, plus some special teams work. He showed promise at times, but not nearly enough for the organization to exercise a 2019 option on him last month that would have paid him around $9 million.

General manager Chris Grier and vice president Mike Tannenbaum didn’t explain that decision to Anthony, but they didn’t need to.

“It was kind of what I expected,” he said. “I needed more snaps and there’s a lot that goes into it. But that’s not my job to worry about. My job is going to be to put my best foot forward.”

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next spring, which heightens the importance of the upcoming season. A good year will put him in position for a long-term deal with Miami or somewhere else. Otherwise, he’ll probably be looking at single-year, prove-it contracts until he shows he’s worth more than that.

One factor working in his favor this season is stability. Having done his best to catch up on the Dolphins’ defense last year, he’s now had a full nine months with the team. He’s been around for all of OTAs and minicamp, plus he’ll work through training camp and the preseason. He had none of those benefits last year.

“The biggest difference is the amount of time I have and the time I’ve spent trying to learn the system and getting myself comfortable with it,” Anthony said.

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke sees that as the only barrier to Anthony being a significant contributor. He said last week, “It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up… But he works really hard. He works really, really hard.”

Everything’s more routine for Anthony now, including his living situation. He took up residence in a local hotel for almost a month after being traded to the Dolphins last season, but now he’s settled. That makes life easier.

It helps to have perspective, too. Going from first-round pick to castoff and now trying to climb his way back to the top hasn’t been fun, but he’s learned throughout that journey.

“I think it’s just growth, honestly,” Anthony said. “I think it’s just being in the league, going into my fourth year, understanding the game, how this game is played from the college game and just honing in and packing that information in.”

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Dolphins rookie LB Jerome Baker says you won’t think he’s small once he hits you

Jerome Baker will make a run at claiming a starting linebacker job. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Jerome Baker’s heard it his whole life. Even when he was dominating youth leagues and high school football, everyone kept telling him he was too small.

And at every turn, he’s quieted those concerns. Ohio State and Florida went to battle trying to recruit him, and his time with the Buckeyes was impressive enough that the Dolphins took him in the third round of the draft with the thought that he could be a long-term answer at linebacker.

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They felt good about what he can do at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds with a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash, and Baker plans to show people once again that there’s nothing small about the way he plays.

“If you ask anybody that plays against me, they don’t mention my size at all,” he said. “Guys say it, but once I actually play against you, you really don’t even notice how small or big I am. It’s all good.”

Baker’s most appealing attribute is his ability in coverage, which would help the Dolphins shore up a deficiency that hurt them last year. He had 72 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three pass breakups for Ohio State last season.

Miami goes into the season with Raekwon McMillan, another Buckeye, returning at middle linebacker and Kiko Alonso a certain starter on the outside. Baker is competing for role against a group that includes Mike Hull, Chase Allen, Stephone Anthony and seventh-rounder Quentin Poling.

All of the team’s linebackers are taller and bigger than Baker except for Hull (6-foot, 232 pounds) and Poling (6-foot, 235 pounds).

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Miami Dolphins decline 2019 option on LB Stephone Anthony

Stephone Anthony is now in a contract year. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The upcoming season will be a prove-it year for Dolphins linebacker Stephone Anthony.

The former second-round pick will play the final year of his contract and become a free agent after Miami turned down its 2019 option on him. Had the team exercised it, it would have put Anthony in line for a $9.2 million salary next season.

That would have been the highest 2019 cap number for any linebacker currently on the roster.

Anthony, a first-round pick by New Orleans in 2015, will have to fight to secure a starting job this offseason. The Dolphins already have Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso marked down as starters, and the third spot will be up for a competition. Chase Allen (four starts last year), Mike Hull (three) and newly minted third-rounder Jerome Baker all figure to be in the mix with Anthony.

The Dolphins acquired him in exchange for a fifth-round pick in September and played him off the bench in eight games.

“I think we got a good first look at him,” coach Adam Gase said in March. “I thought he did a great job in practice. The times that we got him into games, he did a lot of good things. We’re just going to kind of see how it plays out. I don’t want to promise anything to anybody. I think we’re just going to … Competition is going to be a good thing for us.”

Anthony, 25, was a PFWA all-rookie selection in 2015 before falling out of favor with the Saints. He had 15 tackles last year and goes into the upcoming season with a $1.5 million cap number.

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5 things Dolphins coach Adam Gase should do in season finale vs. Bills

Landry deserves a big day in the finale. (AP)

DAVIE—Because only one of the participants has something to play for, Sunday’s Dolphins-Bills game might be tough to watch. Miami coach Adam Gase has the power to change that.

Gase isn’t one for taking suggestions from the media, or for having a little fun during the game, and he seems like he’s intent on treating this game like any other from a play-calling standpoint. But if he’s willing to spice up the broadcast with a few creative moves, here are five ideas:

1. Treat it like a preseason game for Jay Cutler.
It’s not obvious why Cutler is even playing this week, though Gase said for sure he will start. He also left it ambiguous as far as how long he’ll be out there. The Dolphins should get as long of a look at David Fales as they possibly can, and the best way to do that is to get Cutler out after one or two series. Don’t wait for halftime or the score to get out of hand one way or the other. Get Fales in the game no later than the start of the second quarter.

2. Throw the ball to Jarvis Landry 20 times.
Gase said he’s hesitant to force feed any particular player for a statistical milestone because the last time he tried it, with Matt Forte in 2015, he was unsuccessful. Given how much the Dolphins have relied on Landry this year, he’ll probably get enough targets to reach the eight receptions he needs to set a new franchise record. Will that be enough to hold on to his slim lead for this season’s NFL receiving title? He’s got 103 now, followed by Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Brown at 101. Brown is out with a calf injury, but Fitzgerald and a few others are in range if they have a big day.

3. Get Cameron Wake out as soon as he gets a sack.
There are a few players Gase needs to protect from themselves. Wake would play every snap of this game if Miami left it up to him—so would Ndamukong Suh, Andre Branch and several others—but Gase shouldn’t let them. Wake should be in only for prime sack opportunities, and as soon as he gets one he should go straight to sideline. Double-digit sacks for the second year in a row would be a great accomplishment for him, and it’d be perfect if he got one in the first quarter to minimize physical wear and tear. This is a good game for Charles Harris and Cameron Malveaux to get their shot.

4. Play Stephone Anthony and A.J. Derby a ton.
The Dolphins gave up roster spots to acquire both of these players this season (plus a 2018 fifth-round pick for Anthony), but haven’t played them much. Derby made his debut at Kansas City last week with one catch for 11 yards on five targets in 28 offensive snaps. Anthony came aboard after the first game of the season, but didn’t get regular playing time on defense until mid-November. He played 41 snaps over the last two weeks and should get more Sunday. These are two players with a chance to be significant contributors in 2018, and everyone is eager to see what they can do in bigger roles.

5. Don’t punt.
No one other than Matt Haack’s family enjoys seeing Matt Haack on the field. Gase should show some guts and go for it on every fourth down unless Miami’s in field goal range or faces something absurd like a 4th-and-28 from its own 2-yard line. It’ll be fun to watch either way, the players will enjoy it and the crazy thing is it might even work. With no real consequences in this game, Gase might as well let loose.

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Five Miami Dolphins who need to play over final two games

A..J. Derby arrived a month ago and has yet to play. (Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Dolphins coach Adam Gase isn’t willing to concede that the playoffs are out of reach. While he’s technically correct, it would take a seriously unlikely sequence of events all going Miami’s way for this team to sneak into the postseason at 8-8.

Some might say it’s unrealistic.

(That’s code for I would say it’s unrealistic. But let’s keep that between us.)

If this season’s outcome is essentially inevitable, the final two games against the Chiefs and Bills should really be utilized for next year’s purposes. These are better than preseason games. The Dolphins can test out some younger players off their bench against starting units for two teams that have high stakes in these games.

Here are five players Miami really needs to get on the field Sunday at Kansas City and in next weekend’s finale against Buffalo:

1. TE A.J. Derby
Get this: Dolphins coach Adam Gase claims this guy can not only run, but he can catch—and block. Wow, really? “Yes,” Gase said. Man, that’s just great scouting right there. “Yes,” he said again. But seriously, there had to be something Miami liked about Derby, who was a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2015 and had 19 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns in nine games with Denver this year. He’s 26 and checks in at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds. He hasn’t played a snap since coming to the Dolphins, and it’d be worth finding out if he’s got anything to offer for 2018.

2. WR Jakeem Grant
Gase’s quest to establish someone has the fourth receiver behind Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker has come up empty so far. He’s tried Grant, Leonte Carroo and Rashawn Scott. The best of that bunch has been Grant, who faces some challenges at 5-foot-7, but has exceptional speed. He had a brilliant touchdown catch against New England’s Malcolm Jenkins, but he also dropped one would-be touchdown pass in that game and another against Tennessee early in the season. Grant’s gradually gotten into a small but more consistent role lately, something that was two years in the making, and he deserves an extended run these two weeks.

3. LB Stephone Anthony
There’s no question the Dolphins need to address the linebacker unit again this offseason, but they do have some young talents they like. Chase Allen was an undrafted free agent who did enough to not only make the team, but start in the opener. Anthony is another. He was a second-round pick in 2015, but fell out of favor with the Saints, allowing Miami to scoop him up for the low, low price of a fifth-round pick. He’s young (25), and the Dolphins have really liked what they’ve seen in practice. They should turn him loose with a full workload for a couple games so they know exactly what to work on with him in the coming offseason.

4. DE Charles Harris
Whether the Dolphins needed a defensive end badly enough to justify taking Harris at No. 22 is debatable, but he’s been good and looks like he’s on track to be an excellent pass rusher in the long run. He started last week when Andre Branch sat out with a knee injury and could get the start again Sunday in his hometown. Harris has only one sack this year, but he’s been very effective getting to the quarterback while getting about 50 percent of the defensive snaps this year. If Branch is still hurting, there’s no need to put him through the paces of the final two games. This would be a good reward for Harris’ season of keeping his head down and doing everything the staff wanted.

5. DT Jordan Phillips (without Ndamukong Suh)
Phillips claimed in the recent offseason that he was at a crossroads and was adamant about redirecting what had previously been an underachieving career, and it appears he’s made good on that promise. Despite an uneven preseason, he pushed through injuries this year to impress the coaching staff with his work on and off the field. The next step for him would be to prove he can be a force even when he’s not playing next to Suh, which makes every defensive tackle look good. Suh played 113 snaps the last two weeks, and that could certainly be dialed back. He doesn’t have to sit out altogether, but it’d be good to see more of Phillips out there with one of the rookies in a situation where he has to be the monster.

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Dolphins LB Stephone Anthony making an impression for next season

Stephone Anthony could get increased playing time the next two weeks. (AP)

DAVIE—One under-the-radar talent who could make an impact for the Dolphins over the final two games, and possibly beyond, is linebacker Stephone Anthony.

Anthony was a late-September trade acquisition from New Orleans who didn’t appear much in games his first two months, but the team is impressed by his work on the practice field and has upped his playing time lately.

“I’m trying to stay consistent in my work and show up every day,” Anthony said. “It’s an audition for everybody. We all need to come out and put some good ball on tape and just get the sour taste out of our mouths.”

Anthony played 32 percent of the snaps at Buffalo, his most extended run of the season other than the Denver game, and could be in line for more time in Sunday’s game at Kansas City.

With the playoffs a huge longshot for the Dolphins, the remaining games give them a chance to test out players like Anthony against opponents who have a lot at stake and are still playing their starters.

Miami coach Adam Gase has said he won’t call it a season until the team is officially eliminated, but he could be inclined to play Anthony more anyway.

“He’s got a good grasp of the defense and he’s in the mix of trying to make plays all the time,” Gase said. “He’s involved in a lot of tackles. I feel like he brings really great energy to our defense. I love the way he practices. When he goes onto the field on Sundays, he’s a guy that you can tell he loves being out there and he’s excited to get to play.”

Gase and defensive coordinator Matt Burke have had nothing but good reviews for Anthony since his arrival. He has nine tackles in 88 defensive plays this season.

The change of teams was welcome for Anthony, who clearly had no future with New Orleans. The Saints took him with the 31st overall pick in 2015, but he fell out of favor this year.

He had an ankle injury in the preseason and never appeared in a game before the Saints dealt him to Miami for a fifth-round pick. Immediately upon landing with the Dolphins, Anthony said he was healthy and played against New Orleans in Week 4.

It was a relief to go to a new team, Anthony said, but his approach with Miami hasn’t been any different than it was with the Saints.

“My whole mindset has been to be myself and try to get better every day,” he said. “Whatever it was in New Orleans, it is what it is. My job was to come here and put my best foot forward.

“I’ve been the same guy, honestly. Perception was created about me that I was this or that, but truly I was just myself. I’m going to keep moving forward. I can’t control what people say about me.”

He does, however, have some input on how the Dolphins view him as they evaluate their personnel for 2018. A strong finish to this season would help his chances of securing a significant role going forward.

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Miami Dolphins from Clemson heartbroken over DeShaun Watson’s injury

Houston Texans rookie Deshaun Watson had 18 touchdown passes, including four in his final game this season, against Seattle, when he threw for 402 yards. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

DAVIE — The season-ending knee injury to DeShaun Watson robbed the Houston Texans of their electric rookie quarterback but also broke the hearts of Dolphins players who also attended Clemson.

“Devastated,” linebacker Stephone Anthony said Friday. “Devastated for not only a friend, but a brother of mine. It sucks.”

Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley: “Definitely heartbreaking.

“I reached out to him, told him I was thinking about him. He’s actually got a million people hitting him up. I just wanted to make sure I reached out to him. My parents did as well because he was real close to them. That’s tragic.”

Citing Watson’s character and work ethic, Tankersley and Anthony took solace in the expectation Watson will bounce back next season and pick up where he left off.

“Definitely,” Tankersley said. “He’s handled these adversities before. A very humble guy, a very dedicated guy.”

Tankersley recalled when Watson tore his opposite ACL his freshman year with the Tigers.

“And he was able to play the last game on a torn ACL,” Tankersley said. “We beat South Carolina. He had a chance to rehab that whole year and he came back and we went to the national championship after that. So he has a bright future ahead of him. It’s not over for him.”

How did Watson suit up with a torn ACL?

“I have no idea,” Tankersley said. “They braced it up, wrapped it up and gave him an IV and he just went to work. He balled.”

Via social media, Watson wrote, “My NFL brothers, thanks for all the prayers. … To the countless others who have reached out, I am humbled and can only say thank you from the depths of my heart. I play this game for you all and I am grateful for the love you have shown me, not only over the past 24 hours, but throughout this entire season.”

Watson had surpassed some numbers put up by Dan Marino as he began his rookie season in 1983. Tankersley and Anthony agreed that the injury should not stop Watson from claiming Rookie of the Year honors.

“People shouldn’t be held accountable for losing an award like that because of an injury,” Tankersley said.

Although many around the league were stunned by the performances Watson had, Anthony wasn’t one of them.

“It goes to show coach was right,” Anthony said, referring to Clemson’s Dabo Swinney’s bold prediction for Watson this season. “He said he’s going to be the Michael Jordan of this league, right? I think it’s a great start. You can’t start any better than he did.”

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Here’s one way to tell how very long it has been since Miami Dolphins played at home

A helpful guide for finding Hard Rock Stadium from the Dolphins’ training facility in Davie. (Thanks, Waze)

DAVIE — If you think the Dolphins are having a challenge time putting a decent drive together, consider the plight of two of their players on defense.

When Sunday morning rolls around, linebackers Rey Maualuga and Stephone Anthony will have a unique drive of their own — driving to Hard Rock Stadium for the first time.

Normally when the second week of October and fifth week of the NFL season rolls around, everybody has the gameday routine down pat. But nothing about this season has been routine, and nothing illustrates that better than the fact that two Dolphins don’t know how to get to their home stadium.

It’s forgivable — they joined the team after the last home preseason game, Aug. 17, and their original home opener was crashed by Hurricane Irma. And of course by Sunday they’ll know how to go. But at the moment …

“Go east on 595. Or west,” Anthony said. “It’s one of them, right? Am I close?”

Informed that you’d be guilty of a major delay-of-game penalty if he looked for the stadium on 595, Anthony called an audible.

“You’ve got to go south,” he said. “It’s halfway between here and Miami. I know that, right? I’m closer, right?”

Definitely.

A few lockers down was the other newcomer, Maualuga, who didn’t take a shot at it.

“I do not know,” he said. “I don’t even know if we actually drive ourselves during game day. I don’t know on game day what time we have to be there.”

Maualuga then quizzed a few other players — no, not Anthony — and received answers: Yes, the players drive themselves after spending the night in a hotel. And most arrive by 10:30 a.m. for a 1 p.m. kickoff. And, of course, there’s always Waze.

The home opener was supposed to be Sept. 10 against the Bucs, but that was moved to Nov. 19 thanks to Irma. Last week’s game against the Saints was a “home” game even though it was played in London.

Trivia: Sunday (Oct. 8) will be the latest the Dolphins play their first game in South Florida since Oct. 11, 1987, when a strike wiped out the original home opener before replacement players beat Kansas City 42-0 in the first-ever regular-season game at then-Joe Robbie Stadium.

As for this head-scratching 2017 schedule, Anthony said, “It’s different, but it was the hand we were dealt and we’ve got to make the best of it. We can’t make excuses for it. It’s our job to be ready.”

Linebackers Rey Maualuga and Stephone Anthony will at last get to enter Hard Rock Stadium through the home tunnel on Sunday, the second-latest true home game in team history. (Getty Images)

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Miami Dolphins LB Stephone Anthony says ex-Saints teammates ‘still my friends – off field’

Nate Washington of the Houston Texans is tackled by Stephone Anthony of the New Orleans Saints in 2015. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

DAVIE — Stephone Anthony always knew he’d be in Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

He just figured he’d be wearing black and gold.

Instead, the New Orleans Saints traded Anthony, a linebacker, to the Dolphins. And so, 12 days after the trade, he has a chance to play against the team that made him a first-round pick in 2015.

“I try not to let it bother me,” Anthony said. “I try not to look at it that way. Those guys, off the field, they’re my friends. And on the field, we’ll be competing against each other.”

Anthony was acquired after Lawrence Timmons went AWOL and was suspended by the Dolphins. Anthony was active for last week’s game against the Jets, although he didn’t play. Now that Timmons is back, it makes it that much harder for Anthony to get on the field, although the Dolphins did retain him when activating Timmons. Instead, Miami waived Justin March-Lillard, who was picked up by Seattle.

Anthony said he’s more the quiet type, so even if he does face his old team, there won’t be any trash-talking going on.

Anthony had never been to the UK and said he was looking forward to seeing Big Ben. He may still see it, even if it’s silenced while work is performed.

“That was one thing I’m looking forward to see,” Anthony said. “Other than that, let’s go get a win.”

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Miami Dolphins: New linebacker Stephone Anthony healthy, ready to play

Stephone Anthony should be good to go for Sunday’s game against the Jets. (TNS)

DAVIE—With the Dolphins light at linebacker in general and hurting even more so with Lawrence Timmons suspended, they need new acquisition Stephone Anthony ready as soon as possible.

Miami brought in Anthony, a 2015 first-round pick, from the Saints on Tuesday in exchange for a 2018 fifth-round pick. While the word in New Orleans was that Anthony was being held back by a high ankle sprain (making him inactive the first two weeks), Dolphins coach Adam Gase indicated that might not be totally accurate.

“He had a physical,” Gase said of Anthony’s arrival. “He was good.”

Anthony was dressed for practice this afternoon and is expected to be ready for Sunday’s game at the Jets. When asked if he’d be available for that game, Gase said coyly, “Mmm, possibly.”

That means yes.

As it stands, the Dolphins have five healthy linebackers including Anthony. Kiko Alonso and Mike Hull are obvious starters, and a third could be picked from among Anthony, Chase Allen and Justin March-Lillard.

Miami also has veteran Rey Maualuga, but he hasn’t been able to work regularly since signing last month. He injured his hamstring two weeks ago and did not practice today.

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