The Miami Dolphins have officially closed their 2015 training camp, holding the final practice on Monday before packing up and heading north to practice with the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the two clubs' Preseason Week 2 contest. The final training camp practice was held in front of nearly 1,000 fans, who were treated to the return of wide receiver Kenny Stills.
Still had missed most of training camp due to a calf injury. It did not take long for Stills, for whom Miami traded this offseason, to knock off the rust. Suddenly, there was Stills, streaking down the sideline and catching a 35-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill perfectly in stride. Suddenly, there was Stills making a grab to move the chains. Suddenly, there was Stills doing it again. And again.
Suddenly, Stills seemed to be everywhere.
Stills clicking with Tannehill so easily on Monday is a great sign for the Miami offense this year. If Stills is healthy and has his timing with his quarterback already dialed in, the chemistry among the wide receiver group could mean the explosive offense for which fans have been clamoring for years could finally appear. Stills, Greg Jennings, Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews and, eventually, DeVante Parker could give Tannehill the weapons to take the Dolphins to the next step.
"I thought he looked good," Philbin told the media after practice. "Obviously he's been working hard, doing what he's capable of doing, but it's good to get him out here and work on the route concepts and the timing with the other receivers and the quarterbacks. It was good to have him."
"I think we've missed him," Tannehill said after practice, "just seeing what he can do. Actually, his highlight tape from college was playing in the weight room on the way out to practice today as we were warming up, so (it) got my excitement going a little bit and then just seeing him out here, it was great. We kind of saw what he can do a little bit. He had a big catch in 7-on-7, down the field. And then a big one there in two-minute."
Tannehill added, "We saw a flash of what he's known for - catching the ball downfield and not only that but we made an adjustment to a cover zero right there in the two-minute drive, and he was able to see the adjustment and make the catch for a big play for us."
Parker, Miami's first round draft choice this year, has been sidelined since having foot surgery in June. The surgery, which replaced a screw in the wide out's foot from an injury he sustained in college, has kept Parker from doing much of anything with his teammates, but on Monday, there was a small glimmer of hope: Parker was running.
It's a small step, but it is a step in the right direction. Asked when Parker would make a full return to the club, Philbin replied, "I think it's really a day at a time. That's step one. We don't want him to get out here with the other guys until he's ready to go. It's hard to put a timetable on that right now."
"He's just starting the running phase," Philbin explained when pressed if Parker would be able to play in a preseason game this year. "I think every day we'll learn a little bit more."
As for Stills, Philbin explained that they are not ready to say for sure if he will be able to practice with or play against the Panthers. "We'll have to see what his load is, how he responds to things. How he responds to this practice. Hopefully he feels great and can practice him a little bit more in Carolina. We'll have to see from there."
Philbin went on to explain what he is hoping to see from Stills over the next few weeks, and what he is hoping to learn about the wide out. "Play speed, getting in and out of the huddle, getting lined up, it's been a while since he's been out here actively with his teammates, fitting into the scheme, understanding the adjustments versus different coverages. It's great to sit in the meetings and it's great to learn from others. But experience is the best teacher when you get out there and do it yourself."
The Dolphins have Tuesday off before they conduct the two days of practices with the Panthers. Philbin, after Sunday's practice, explained his thinking in setting up the practices at Carolina, putting the team on the road for extra days. "As I told the team, we've got to get used to winning on the road. Let's be honest, that's going to be a key to our season, we've got seven out of nine games away from Sun Life Stadium to start the season. That played into it too when we saw the schedule, I think it just fits perfectly, schematically, I think it fits us on both sides of the ball. I think it's good for us on both sides."
The Dolphins and Panthers will kick off their Preseason Week 2 contest on Saturday at 7pm ET. The Preseason schedule will then continue with two games at Sun Life Stadium, August 29 against the Atlanta Falcons and September 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The regular season will kickoff on September 13 with the Dolphins on the road at the Washington Redskins.