DAVIE (CBSMiami) – As the Miami Dolphins continue preparing for the upcoming season, much of the attention surrounding the team has been on the offensive changes under new coordinator Bill Lazor.
The offensive line has been overhauled and will begin the season with five new starters as the only returning player, Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, will miss anywhere from four to eight games after having hip surgery in June.
An area of the offense that is widely considered a strength is the wide receivers.
The position has plenty of depth and features a pair of very talented starters in Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Behind them is Brandon Gibson, who was having a great 2013 before he needed season-ending surgery after tearing the patella tendon in his left knee.
Aside from those three who are basically locks to make the team, Rishard Matthews, rookies Jarvis Landry and Matt Hazel and free-agent signing Damian Williams are among those competing for spots on the final 53-man roster.
The talent level amongst the receivers is extremely encouraging and hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
Even with all the skill at the position, coaches have been challenging the unit both on the field and off as they continue learning the new offense.
“I think it’s a smart group,” said head coach Joe Philbin following Thursday’s practice. “And we’ve been challenging them schematically and that’s part of the design of training camp…we don’t want to overload them with information they don’t need.
“But we’re kind of pushing the envelope in regard to the installation, how many pass concepts we want to have in there, how many different formations we want to have in there, how many shifts and motions, how many tempo plays we want to snap without a huddle.”
It’s not just the coaches that are challenging the group. Veteran players like Brian Hartline know that you can never be satisfied and grow complacent when things are going well.
“We’re nowhere near where we want to be,” explained Hartline. “You can see it coming along. You can see guys, myself included, playing better, playing faster. We’re still working on timing. We’re still working on getting in and out of the huddle faster, getting lined up faster, maintaining our tempo through the heat. That will come with time.”
While Hartline’s roster spot is all but guaranteed, he sets a good example for the receivers on the bubble by working extremely hard and showing that they should never take anything for granted.
A team is only as good as its backups, and as the Dolphins saw last season with Gibson, reserve guys are just a play away from someone getting injured and being thrust into action.
Keeping that in mind, Hartline has confidence that Miami’s receiving corps is strong from top to bottom.
“I think that we’re able to have guys jump in and hopefully not miss a beat,” said Hartline. “I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, but I think’s the overall goal. We have a great competition going in the wide receiver room to be blunt, and guys know that.
“Competition breeds better play so I think to me, it’s a good situation.”
Miami used two of its eight draft picks on receivers and both rookies have been impressing. They took Landry, a standout from LSU, in the second round and then used a sixth round pick on Matt Hazel, a lesser known prospect out of Coastal Carolina.
Landry is expected to make the final roster while Hazel is one of the bubble guys, but both have been making a strong case for why they should be on this team.
“I think Jarvis has a skillset beyond his years,” Gibson said on Thursday. “He’s intelligent, catches the ball well and he’s always looking to make people miss. That’s something I don’t think you can really teach. He just has it in him. He’s a good talent.
“I think [Matt] Hazel’s a smooth route runner,” Gibson added. “He’s going to get better each and every day. I’m looking forward to seeing the other younger guys, too.”
Expectations remain high that the receivers will be a strength of the Dolphins this season. That being said, coaches will continue pushing them and have them testing their limits regardless of how great they may look during training camp.
“Let’s figure out what they’re capable of doing and those type of things,” said Philbin. “I think overall they’ve done a good job of that, but there’s still room for improvement.”