DAVIE – Injuries aren’t supposed to cause a starter to lose his job upon his return to the field. But if wide receiver DeVante Parker finally makes his 2018 debut on Sunday against the winless Raiders, will there be enough balls to go around given how well the receiving corps has clicked in this 2-0 start?
Parker, who has been nursing a broken finger since the preseason, was supposed to be the man after the Dolphins dealt three-time Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landy -- the NFL’s leader in receptions last season with 112 -- to the Browns for a couple of late-round draft picks last summer.
In his absence, the dynamic diminutive duo of Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant have rendered Parker’s absence a moot point. He was clearly ready to return for last week’s 20-12 victory over the Jets, but coach Adam Gase didn’t want to disrupt the offensive flow from Game 1’s 27-20 victory over the Titans.
Gase has another decision to make this week and thus far he has been non-committal despite Parker’s eagerness and full return to practice. At 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, Parker possesses the prototypical size and athleticism that the speed-burning, diminutive dynamic duo of Wilson (5-7) and Grant (5-6) do not.
Former favorite target of Patriots great Tom Brady, slot-man Danny Amendola, is 5-11 but has already become a go-to guy for Ryan Tannehill with a team-leading 8 catches for 58 yards in two games. Let’s not forget the 6-1 Kenny Stills, who averaged 14.6 yards-per-catch with 6 touchdowns in his first season in Miami last season and already has 6 catches for 123 yards (team-leading 20.5 YPC) and 2 touchdowns.
Gase is a firm believer that his running backs, in this case, Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore, also must get looks from Tannehill. See Drake’s 7 receptions for 35 yards, and Gore’s victory-securing 19-yard, third-down conversion last week.
Tight ends are for another story but much is expected from rookie Mike Gesicki and did anyone expect A.J. Derby to snatch a 19-yard TD dagger that gave the Dolphins a comfy 20-0 halftime cushion last week?
So where does Parker fit in?
“Any time you’re able to get a talented player on the field we’re excited about it,’’ offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Thursday. “There will be parts of the game where things are designed to got to him. Now maybe coverage will dictate the ball goes somewhere else, but he’ll have plays just like the rest of them do.’’
Gase and Loggains know that Parker, who set a franchise record for rookie receivers with 19 yards per catch (494 yards) in 2015 but only averaged 11.8 yards last season (57 catches with 1 TD), gives Tannehill an easier target due to his length.
“The length; we’re not the tallest group of receivers, but I wouldn’t say we’re small either,’’ Loggains said. “Most of them are put together pretty well. Albert and Jakeem are both thick guys; they’re strong and that’s the thing [Parker] has. He’s big, but he has length.’’
Wilson and Grant have a fine box going, in which they have to throw $100 into if either gets taken down in the open field by an opposing defender. That has been the knock on Parker, his inability to shed tacklers or YAC.
“He’s one up on me so far,’’ Grant said, reminding reporters how Wilson torched Jets cornerback Buster Skrine last week and raced by everyone on his game-breaking 29-yard catch-and-run TD.
In his own right, Grant, a sixth-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2016, is feeling more comfortable since Gase shifted the lifelong slot receiver to the outside last season, the spot Parker is expected to be reside, along with Stills.
Besides his 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 1, Grant has seven catches for 65 yards for an 11.3 average gain, as well as four carries for 15 more.
“Just when it’s been beaten into my head that all short guys are in the slot, the next thing you know I’m in the slot [early] in my first year and my second year I’m on the outside, so I love being on the outside,’’ Grant said. “Short? I didn’t care. I though being short was basically an advantage. I got a lot of things guys can’t do. Jump, quickness, speed; anything a tall person can do I can do.’’
Like a Swiss Army knife, Gase has employed the elusive Wilson all over the field, from the Z, slot, outside flanker to a Wildcat running back, and the former Chief has responded with 6 catches for 68 yards (11.3 YPC) and 15 rushing yards on 4 totes.
Wilson, who wants to race the confident Grant for charity to prove who’s the fastest Dolphin, signed a three-year deal worth $24 million in the offseason, and at the time wasn’t sure where he would fit into a crowded receiving room.
“I knew what I had to offer wherever I went. I decided to come here and they put me to work,’’ said Wilson, a former running back and quarterback at Port St. Lucie High, who is just one carry shy of matching his career-high total of five carries with Kansas City in 2015. “We have so much talent in the receiver’s room, and I’m not even speaking about the talent in the tight ends and running backs room.
“We can stretch the field vertically and horizontally and make the defense play the whole field. It’s especially hard to do that at this level.’’
As a young boy skating for the Texas Flyers, Grant really wanted to be an in-line skater until his mother saw him juke out four skaters in a game of Sharks in the Middle.
“The next day she put me in [Pee-Wee] football. The rest is history,’’ smiled Grant, who has been clocked at 4.38 in the 40 to Wilson’s 4.43. “Everybody knows who’s going to win. Albert knows. He doesn’t want to do [bet me], for sure that’s money for me. That’s my boy. It won’t be by a lot or a blowout.’’
Gase said that Parker is in a “good place right now,’’ mentally and attitude-wise and that it’s always, “nice to have as many different body types as possible; it makes it harder on the defense.’’
Parker met with the media Thursday and generally, when the Dolphins public relations department allows injured players to speak, they usually get on the field that week.
Parker, not wanting to rock any boats, said his finger is completely healed and is eager to play.
“I’m just ready to get back out there, whenever that chance is,’’ Parker said. “Everyone has their different traits that they bring to the table and coach is going to find some way to utilize that and find ways to pick defenses apart.’’
The clock is ticking. Will Parker play Sunday, or does Gase go the way most NHL coaches go and not break up a winning combination?