The Miami Dolphins are expecting changes to the special teams unit in 2016. Specifically with newcomer Jakeem Grant who has the most on his plate heading into training camp. How far this Dolphins unit will go in 2016 depends on how well the rookies and players new to returns will pick it up.
The Dolphins are in a transition from last seasons return game were Jarvis Landry was the main returner. Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake are said to be the main replacements for Landry, questions as to who will also be with them as replacements will pan out this coming training camp. Special teams coach Darren Rizzi has stated he wants to have multiple returners in conjunction with the new kickoff rule. One area that looks consistent is the kickers, punters and possibly long snapper as well.
Here is a look at the new kickoff rules were speculation is that rather than just handing the other team a spot at the 25 yard line with a touchback kick, teams might want to try to pin the corners or try a mortar lob like kick. How this ties into Special teams coach Darren Rizzi’s plan to use multiple returners is not appertain at this stage.
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"* Forcing all 10 coverage players on the kickoff team to start while standing still at the 35-yard line, rather than getting a five-yard running start as they do now.* Requiring eight players on the return team to line up closer to the spot of the kickoff.* Banning certain types of blocks.* Treating a kickoff that travels more than 25 yards like a punt that can be downed, rather than like a free ball as is now the case.* Eliminating the K-ball, which is harder to kick.via Michael David Smith profootballtalk.nbcsports.com"
He was drafted mainly for his return skills and potential. (see my other full story on him) The last time the Dolphins took this course of action in the draft was in drafting Ted Ginn
RB out of Alabama from 2012-2015 who stands 6-1 weighing 210 lbs, Kenyan also had kick return duties were he had 505 yards on 19 returns averaging 26.6 yards with 1 touchdown, only one return was from a punt that went for 19 yards. He served as the back up to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry while doing quite well for himself even averaging more yards per carry 6.4 to 6 yards even.
He is on this list from having some past return duties and was used in that manner during OTA/mini-camp were he did sustain an injury. Drake unfortunately strained his hamstring during a punt blocking drill on the next-to-last day of mini-camp, he has stated it is not “major,” and is quickly healing, also adding that he should be fine for the up coming start of training camp at the end of July. He has also made a statement on injuries stressing the importance of how you bounce back from them.
Kenyan speaks from experience on injuries as this makes his 7th separate injury coming out of 4 years of College, one has to wonder how he would have fit with Dallas picking him paired with Tony Romo. All kidding aside he does fit the bill and his stats show it for a back up, even with all his injuries he has only played less that ten games for one season. He seems to have a potentially strong receiving game out of the backfield were his average yards per reception were on par with Jakeem Grant’s 12.9 yards to Drake’s 12.4, having good receiving skills is why he is in place on the special teams unit with punt and kick returns.
Kicker from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the 21-year-old kicker entering his second season as a Dolphin had a fairly good first season although reports have stated he needs to work on consistency, he made 13 of 16 field goals missing 2 from the 40-49 range and one from 50+. During OTA/ mini-camp he has been connecting on some long field goals mostly in the fifty yards range and missing some further out although the range was there, the last play of the off-season program culminated with him making a 52 yard field goal.
Kicker from Iowa with 2 full seasons 2014 & 2015, with only one game played in 2013 making a lone extra point. The undrafted rookie really has his work cut out for him at this point were his only notes from the off-season program is missing a field goal from 36 yards out while the guy he is trying to unseat Andrew Franks had the distance on one from 64 yards out but missed wide. He does have an interesting attribute having placed the NFL Draft Combine’s fastest 40-yard dash ever for a kicker with the time of 4.61, if kicking doesn’t pan out he might be able to convert to offense. His College stats are 86 of 92 extra points made for 93.5%, also 28 of 36 field goals made for 77.8%, with 8 punts for 327 yards with a 40.9% average.
Punter out of Tennessee, the 23-year-old punter entering his second season as a Dolphin also had a fairly good first season were he played every game and had 92 punts for 4380 yards averaging 47.6 yards per punt with the longest being 70 yards. As of now there does not appear to be competition for Darr from any reports, also there was no coverage from off-season programs it could be a case of no news is good news.
Long snapper out of BYU the 37-year-old long snapper is entering his 12th season as a Dolphin, making him the longest tenured player on the Dolphins. The undrafted long snapper is as good as they come for playing his position, in which he has never missed a start over his long tenure, he just doesn’t make mistakes as well being only responsible for two fumbles over this time while recovering two himself.
Long snapper out of San Jose State from 2012-2015. The undrafted long snapper has found a place on the Dolphins practice squad. John Denney is getting up in age at 37 and having the young rookie could give him a spell at times during off-season activities, there has been no word on if John Denney is ready to call it a career.
There will be some interesting battles on special teams with the kick and punt return spots, special teams coach Darren Rizzi has stated he wants to have multiple returners. The long snapper and kicker spots are being decided. There are new rookies in Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake center stage making a bid to earn spots, the same thing happened last season when Andrew Franks and Matt Darr came out on top. Matt Darr had replaced 8 year Dolphin Brandon Fields who averaged just under 40 yards a punt during that span from 2007-20014 he actually had the most yardage stats overall during some of that lean time for the offense.
The Dolphins have done well utilizing undrafted free agents particularly in the kicking spots were other teams like Tampa Bay have used 3rd round picks to do so. If John Denney were to be ousted due to cost cutting, saving around 1 to 1.5 million it would be a drastic mistake.