Dolphins rookie hopefuls square off in the first day of 2013 Rookie Camp. (Photo by Kristen Spillane)
The Miami Dolphins are making waves.
From a redesigned, sleek logo to updated Nike uniforms, the Fins are setting themselves up for a season of distinction fueled by the youthful, future stars of the South Florida gridiron.
On Friday afternoon, 55 rookies suited up in Dolphins practice gear and took to the field to prove their worth. In just three days, most of these young players have at best one chance to catch the eyes of the coaching staff and differentiate themselves as serious contenders.
Among Friday’s practice squad were 2013 NFL draftees cornerbacks Jamar Taylor (Boise State), Will Davis (Utah State) and Don Jones (Arkansas State), offensive lineman Dallas Thomas (Tennessee), linebacker Jelani Jenkins (Florida), tight end Dion Sims (Michigan State), running back Mike Gillislee (Florida) and kicker Caleb Sturgis (Florida).
The media favorite by far was first-round draftee, defensive end Dion Jordan out of Oregon, the third pick overall in the 2013 draft.
Still recovering from shoulder surgeries, Jordan and Thomas participated from the sidelines, running drills and workouts with trainers.
But beyond the nine draft picks, 19 undrafted free agents are also vying for the spotlight. As are the18 tryout players, experiencing NFL camp for the first time, and the 9 first-year players who have been in this position before, in last year’s NFL camps.
Among the rookie tryout players is University of Miami senior Darius Smith. The 6’2” 313 pound defensive lineman stands as a formidable contender, one of the biggest, strongest guys on the field.
Originally from New Britain, Conn., Smith has adjusted to the South Florida heat as best as any football player can after two seasons as a Miami Hurricane. But this is only the first of three days of grueling practice.
“I think the level at UM, when you’re running around, sweating, working hard, obviously this is professional so it’s a little harder, but UM does get you prepared for it,” said Smith.
“But the only thing that’s probably different is that things are a little more up-tempo, the mistakes you make will make or break you here.”
Yet with all the tremendous pressure that comes with rookie tryouts, Smith is only focusing on the positive and the controllable.
“I don’t feel that much pressure because it’s a learning experience, I try to enjoy football because that’s what football is for, to try to enjoy, you work hard, but enjoy it,” said Smith. “It feels great, man, I don’t know about everybody’s background but I know a lot of guys are talented, a lot of guys are “the guy” or the all-star back at their schools, everybody is out there competing, trying to make the team, working hard.”
Smith’s Hurricanes teammates have nothing but the highest regard for the Dolphin hopeful.
“Darius is a great guy to be around and a good football player. He is one of those guys that works really hard and is very humble. I think he can really help the team,” said University of Miami wide receiver Alex Irastorza.
“My goal is to work as hard as possible, of course, try my best to make the team if I can, and to learn a lot,” said Smith.
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was optimistic about the first rookie showing.
“Right now this is just rookie orientation so we’re focused on these players in the building and working with them in the weight room, in the classroom, and today on the field. I thought the energy was good,” said Philbin.
“There’s going to be a ton of corrections. We’ll get them in the meeting room, go over some of the mistakes they made, and hopefully get better tomorrow.”
Dolphins and Hurricanes alike are excited and hopeful for the 2013 season.
“I am excited to see what Mike Wallace can do. The Fins need a playmaker at the receiver position and I hope Mike can be that guy. I don’t know how I feel about the new logo yet, but I am sure I will get used to it over time, it’s not that much of a change from the old one. I honestly just want the Dolphins to start making the playoffs on a regular basis…then I will be happy,” laughed Irastorza, a Miami-native and lifelong Dolphins fan.
From high-potential rookies to big-name free agent pick-ups like Mike Wallace, the reinvented image of the Dolphins is only the first step in the team’s quest to contend in the AFC.
words and photo_kristen spillane.