During the offseason, we’re looking at some former Red Raiders in the NFL and talking about their futures with partner SB Nation blogs. This week, we chatted with Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider about Jakeem Grant. Enjoy.
1. What role do you think Grant will play this upcoming season?
Kevin Nogle: I think the Dolphins are expecting him to take a couple of steps forward this year. They really want him to be a punt returner, and he did it some last year, but having not done it at Tech, he was not sure-handed enough on returns for the team to fully trust him back there. That led to Jarvis Landry spending more time back there as a punt returner in deep field situations than Miami probably would have liked. This year, they really seem to want Grant to take over that role - along with kickoff returns - and they are giving him every chance to do it. The coaches have estimated that, between private workouts with punter Matt Darr in Lubbock, organized team activities, and minicamp, Grant will have fielded over 1,000 punts before training camp. Hopefully that leads to step forward number one.
They are also looking to find ways to get him more involved on offense. In OTAs, he was lining up out wide, despite his size suggesting he would be limited to a slot type of option. He is likely going to be buried on the depth chart with Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Leonte Carroo ahead of him, but I think the coaches really want to see packages where he is out there on offense and getting a shot to have the ball in his hands.
"They’re working me inside and out," Grant told the media earlier this month. "Basically, it helps me learn the playbook inside and out, because I know what the inside receiver does. That helps me know exactly what I’m doing on the outside. With them moving me around from inside to outside, it helped me tremendously. I feel more comfortable and I don’t have to think about ‘What do I have on this route?’ I can just play as fast as I can.”
2. What is the locker room feeling around him?
KN: I think the fact that Darr changed his plans when Grant texted him, then paid for his own plane ticket and hotel room, rather than Grant paying for it - which Grant did offer, but Darr just did it - tells you a lot about how the team works as a whole and how Grant is viewed. He seems to be pretty popular in the locker room, both because of his personality and the fact that he has been willing to put in the work since getting to the Dolphins.
3. What do the coaches think about him?
KN: Probably about the same as the rest of the locker room, though I think they were disappointed in his rookie year. It might not have been necessarily anything Grant could have done to change it, it was just a rookie being asked to do things maybe he did not do in college, or a rookie getting used to the speed of the NFL game. This year, they do seem to have a plan for him, so he has at least made some sort of impression on them.
Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi seemed impressed with the improvement Grant has already showing, saying during the offseason workouts, "He has not caught every single [(punt), but he has certainly looked much improved. The nice thing right now in camp is we have two punters – a righty and a lefty – which I’m not going to say was purposeful, but it’s great to have a guy from each side and getting as much work as possible. He’s out there every day. He was a little disappointed … He just looked at me like I was crazy because our JUGS machine – when it’s wet at the end of practice, you can’t shoot the JUGS – and he was looking at me like, ‘What are we doing?’ because he had been doing it every day. He has been catching a ton of balls. (He) looks a lot more comfortable back there. Again, we’ll see how that progresses moving forward. But (he is) certainly a lot more comfortable than he was a year ago. He’s certainly still a work in progress, but looking good.”
Head coach Adam Gase - who is also the offensive play caller for the Dolphins - added last week about Grant's progress as a receiver, “I think he’s made some huge strides throughout the spring. I know we were trying to figure out what was the best spot for him. We’re just trying to get him to play as fast as he can. He’s done a really good job of diving into the playbook, spending … You can tell when a guy spends extra time because some of the little mistakes that you would see as a rookie, you don’t see as much anymore. He makes some really good plays. It just comes down to consistency and just consistently making those catches – not only the hard ones but it’s those easy ones that can get you sometimes as a wide receiver where you think you’ve got it but the next thing you know, you have an easy drop and that kind of creeps into your head. When he has those days where he doesn’t have anything on the ground and he’s in the right spots and he knows he did everything right, those are the days you just want to try to keep building off of and see if you can get two, three, four in a row to where you can really start making some leaps.”
4. What's his relationship like with the other receivers?
KN: The receivers as a group seem like a really close unit. They always seem to be giving each other tips and suggestions. I haven't heard of any issues between the group as a whole, and they do want to see each other succeed, because it would make the team succeed.
5. Do you think he has a long-term future with the Dolphins?
KN: I think it depends on his ability to become a returner. The Dolphins drafted a receiver this year, seventh-round pick Isaiah Ford from Virginia Tech, so there is some pressure on Grant. I think he is probably safe for this year, but I do not think it is a certainty. If he can establish himself as a weapon on special teams, with some sort of role on offense, I do think he could have a decent career with the Dolphins.