Patience, by all accounts, is a virtue, and it’s now a requirement for Dolphins recent early and mid-round picks, who have found it increasingly difficult to crack the lineup quickly.
Rookie cornerback Cam Smith (Miami’s second-round pick in April) and running back De’Von Achane (the Dolphins’ third-round pick) didn’t get defensive or offensive snaps on Sunday against the Chargers, even amid injuries to running back Jeff Wilson Jr. and receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Smith played only special teams in Sunday’s opener. Achane was inactive for the game but said coaches told him that was a result of the August shoulder injury that sidelined him for two weeks.
Chris Brooks played ahead of Achane because the undrafted BYU rookie made a mark on special teams in preseason.
Last year’s third and-fourth round selections, linebacker Channing Tindall and receiver Erik Ezukanma, each played fewer than 20 snaps on their side of the ball last season, while logging special teams work. Now, Tindall appears fifth on the depth chart at inside linebacker early in Year 2.
But Ezukanma has finally cracked the rotation, as a No. 5 receiver and change-of-pace runner.
He played 19 snaps against the Chargers and lined up in the backfield on at least three of them. And he ran twice, for 17 yards, after rushing for 52 yards on two carries in preseason.
Ezukanma played running back as a freshman in high school and said this week that “to be able to get used to that all over again feels good.”
He has studied tape of 49ers Pro Bowl receiver Deebo Samuel, who has 125 rushes for 790 yards (6.3 average) in his career. McDaniel worked with Samuel in San Francisco. Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith was hesitant to say that Ezukanma is working in a Samuel-type role.
“I’ve watched Deebo since I was in college, the way he plays, breaking tackles,” Ezukanma said. “I feel we play similar. With me adding [running the ball] to my arsenal, I feel it will definitely be a help to watch more of his tape and highlights.”
Though he’s a wide receiver, he said rushing attempts are enjoyable because “it’s awesome always to touch the rock. I feel with the ball in my hands, I’m able to give the team one of the best chances to make plays and score touchdowns.”
What is it about his skill set that helps him run the ball? “Being elusive, being relentless, trying to break tackles,” he said. “I see edges of defenders. I don’t let one person tackle me.”
As a receiver, Ezukanma drew a key pass interference penalty late in the first half, setting up a Jason Sanders field goal.
“I ran the route hoping they would tackle me or try to stop me from trying to get the ball,” he said. “And that’s exactly what they did. It helped us score three points.”
Ezukanma said it was “great” to be able to contribute to a win after playing only 10 offensive snaps last season, all in the season finale. Receivers coach Wes Welker said Ezukanma had trouble lining up in the right position at times as a rookie, but that’s no longer the case.
“Through OTAs and the spring, [coaches] have been able to trust me with the playbook, and I’ve done everything I could to perfect it,” Ezukanma said. “Now they’re putting in plays for me to get the ball and putting me in different places so we can manipulate the defense.”
As for Achane, he said not playing Sunday was difficult because “I’m competitive. Me not playing football is hard.”
Smith said this week that Achane is “awesome” and Mike McDaniel suggested that being inactive won’t be the norm for the Texas A&M rookie. Achane was slowed by a shoulder injury during the final two weeks of August, but he wasn’t limited in practice at all last week.
Achane said coaches told him they were “trying to keep me healthy, make sure I was 100 percent. I understood where they came from. I wasn’t mad about the decision. They have my best interests” in mind. He said his shoulder feels “great.”
Achane said he has a command of the offense.
“From minicamp to now, you first come in, you feel like you’re reading a whole lot of Spanish,” he said. “Being here for four or five months, I have a good understanding. It’s easy for me now.”
Achane averaged 6.4 yards on 369 career carries at Texas A&M but said “the NFL is way different. Everybody is faster.”
As for Smith, he realistically stands no higher than fifth on the depth chart behind Xavien Howard, Kader Kohou, Eli Apple and Justin Bethel. If the Dolphins needed a fifth corner during Jalen Ramsey’s continued injury absence, it’s unclear if Smith would play ahead of August pickups Parry Nickerson and Kelvin Joseph.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has called Smith “a work in progress.” Smith made several nice plays on the ball during training camp practices but was beaten on a long touchdown in the preseason finale at Jacksonville.
Whether to use his impressive ball skills to gamble for interceptions is “definitely a fine line,” he said.
One of his takeaways from interacting with Fangio is “don’t try to stand out too much. Learn the ropes.” And handle his assignment.
Ramsey has been mentoring him. “As soon as a play is made, we talk about what I could have done different,” Smith said. “He will give me a new tool to use or try.”
Smith believes the summer snaps defending Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle will help him in the long run. “Considering they’re two of the fastest dudes in the league, they put me in check quick.”
And though he would love to play, he said he’s patient and “making sure when I’m called upon, I’ll be ready.”
THIS AND THAT
Left tackle Terron Armstead (back, ankle, knee), safety Elijah Campbell (knee) and tight end Julian Hill (ankle) were limited in Dolphins practice on Thursday, but Armstead was able to ditch his red non-contact jersey. The 50 other players on the Dolphins’ 53-man roster practiced fully.
Running back Raheem Mostert, who missed Wednesday’s practice and was given “preventative treatment” on his knee, said Thursday: “My knee is good. I know it was a big scare for a lot of people. There was nothing to worry about. They just wanted to give me a vet day, with my age, how many years I’ve played,.. they were trying to look out for me. I was telling them, ‘I don’t need a day off.’”
▪ Tyreek Hill cracked Thursday that he wants Dolphins fans to take over Gillette Stadium: “Just come out, be loud and boo the other team. Call [Patriots quarterback] Mac Jones sorry.”