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Friday report: 20 nuggets from Practice 7 of Dolphins camp, including return job, CB battle, LB issues and more

Privately, the Dolphins would love if 5-7 rookie jitterbug Jakeem Grant can seize both the punt and kickoff return jobs, allowing them to reduce Jarvis Landry’s workload.

The Dolphins know Grant is quick, fast and elusive. What they don’t know yet is whether he will be prone to missteps with ball control or drops. They also don’t quite know how he will fare returning punts, considering he never did that at Texas Tech.

“He’s had days he hasn’t dropped any and a couple days where he’s dropped one or two,” special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said. “It’s not for lack of work. He catches punts before practice, during practice, after practice. The guy is really putting the work in.

“He definitely is ahead of where I thought he would be, for a guy who didn’t return punts in college. He’s his own worst critic. We’re anxious to get to next Friday in live action [at the New York Giants].”

As far as ball security goes with Grant, Rizzi said: “Those guys that are elusive, fast guys --- I’m not just talking about Jakeem, I’m talking about a blanket statement --- sometimes tend to get careless with the ball. We’re going to make that a major emphasis.”

But Grant’s speed and ability to quickly change directions excite the coaches.  “I know what he can do with the ball in his hand,” Rizzi said. “He’s proven it in practice…. I am not going to be surprised by anything.”

On returns, the Dolphins also are working running back Kenyan Drake and receivers Griff Whalen and AJ Cruz on return drills, but Cruz is a long shot to make the team and Whalen is very much on the bubble.

“All those guys are going to get a look in preseason,” Rizzi said. “Jarvis is not in the mix in practice because we know he’s a proven guy.”

Landry has been an effective returner so far in his career, with a 27.1 return average on 47 kickoffs and a 9.2 average and one touchdown on 61 punt returns. Conversely, Grant had a 24.9 average and four touchdowns on 87 kickoff returns at Texas Tech and did not have any punt returns.

• Grant had nine drops last season as a receiver at Texas Tech but Gase said “he’s been great as far as consistently catching the ball.”

• Drake, who sustained seven injuries in four years at Alabama, pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury after a long run late in Friday’s practice. Drake also pulled a hamstring late in minicamp.

Meanwhile, receiver DeVante Parker missed a third consecutive practice with a hamstring injury.  Running back Isaiah Pead (hamstring) remains out.

• Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sat out with a minor back issue, but the Dolphins don’t consider it serious and don’t believe it would have kept him out of a game.

• Running back Jay Ajayi returned after missing three practices with a knee injury, but Gase said he’s not 100 percent. He split first-team reps with Arian Foster.

• The Dolphins gave a rest day to defensive end Jason Jones, left tackle Branden Albert and linebacker Kiko Alonso. Laremy Tunsil started at left tackle in Albert’s absence and was beaten by Cameron Wake for a sack.

James Michael Johnson started at middle linebacker in Alonso’s absence, and linebackers coach Matt Burke said “JMJ has done a great job. He prepares better than anybody in the room.”

The Dolphins remain unsure how long Zach Vigil will be out with a back injury, leaving Michael-Johnson, Neville Hewitt, Spencer Paysinger and Mike Hull as the top backups.

So who’s the team’s fourth best linebacker? Burke initially deferred, then said Paysinger: “Every good team I’ve been on has that guy.  Knows all the linebacker positions. As a coach, that’s like heaven for a guy you can trust.”

Burke said Hewitt “flashes” but “he’s got to be more consistent.”

Burke said this year’s group of undrafted linebackers --- James Burgess, Tyler Gray, Akil Blount – are inconsistent.

“They flash some things where you say they’re kind of turning the corner,” Burke said. “And then they have an error. They’ve all had their moments. And all had times where I want to choke them to the ground.”

• Defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo said the first-team nickel corner job would be determined largely by performance in preseason. Bobby McCain and Michael Thomas are battling for the job, with Thomas also pushing Isa Abdul-Quddus at safety.

• Chimdi Chekwa opened with the starters ahead of Tony Lippett before departing with a sprained leg. Jordan Lucas said he left with a soft tissue issue with his leg but would be fine for Saturday’s practice. So cornerback remains a problem.

• Cornerbacks were beaten repeatedly in one-on-one drills with receivers. Griff Whalen beat McCain on a deep ball from Moore; Kenny Stills beat Rashaan Melvin on a deep ball from Tannehill; and Reshawn Scott toasted Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on a Tannehill throw.

• Defensive end Terrence Fede worked at defensive tackle with the second team. To make the 53, he would need to beat out Chris Jones or beat out Chris McCain and hope that Dion Jordan begins the season on NFI, sidelining him for six games.

• Drake looked very good, as a runner and receiver, before the hamstring injury. He could really help on third downs. But he’s got to stay healthy.

• Andrew Franks is still leading the competition for the kicker job and I suspect he would have to really tank to be at risk of losing this battle with Marshall Koehn.

• Andre Branch beat Ja’Wuan James for a sack. There were more pass protection issues today."

Defensive line coach Terrell Williams said Branch “is a guy that's a speed guy. He's got some edge rush ability. 

• Defensive end Jordan Williams picked off Matt Moore on a zone blitz. Also, Brandon Doughty was intercepted by Burgess after a pass bounced off Matt Hazel.

• Byron Maxwell had a nice pass breakup. Anarumo and the other coaches have been very impressed with him.

• Defensive line coach Williams offered this soliloquy on defense when asked if there is a gap in the middle of a Wide 9 defense, which Miami will use:

"There is no big gap. Here's something - and listen, you can report it or write it, whatever you guys want - I think sometimes when people watch football, especially on TV, they see things that aren't necessarily true. We know exactly what we're seeing, and there is no big gaps in the middle. The only difference between playing a 9-technique and a 6-technique - which means you're head up on a tight end - is one guy is a little bit wider, and now they just switched gaps.

“The off-the-ball linebacker now has the inside gap; the other guy has the outside gap. The Wide 9, there's no big deal about it. We just want our guys to play fast. You look at 'Wash's' (Jim Washburn's) history playing this defense - which he has done a good job (with) - they've played great run defense. It's not what people think. It's kind of an illusion a little bit. I hear about the Wide 9 and stopping the run. In (Ndamukong) Suh's last year in Detroit, they were in the top five in the history of pro football in run defense. You can stop the run, it's just about attitude. I don't care if it's 3-4 (defense), Wide 9, 6-2,  whatever it is, it's just about who's lining up and kicking the guy's butt in front of them."

Williams said the Wide 9  “gives them some angles as far as pass rushing, but it also gives them some angles in the run game as far as coming off and being physical with tight ends and tackles. We have the personnel to run that defense, and it's smart for us to do what our personnel is capable of doing."

• Williams offered this prediction: “I don't think we're going to have any problems stopping the outside runs. We're out there playing with guys that are big, physical guys, so they're forcing everything inside. We shouldn't have any problems stopping outside runs."

• Though Anarumo lost his defensive coordinator job, he said he was very happy he could return to his old job coaching defensive backs.

He said as soon as Xavien Howard returns from knee surgery – sometime in August -  “he’s going to get thrown into the fire. in the spring, he led us in interceptions. That’s stuff that just doesn’t happen. He’s a guy that has a knack for making plays on the ball. As soon as doctors clear, he’ll play.”

And compete for starting job right away? “Absolutely.”

• Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said defensive lineman Jason Jones "has been a nice surprise as an edge-setter, as an inside rusher."

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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