The Miami Dolphins completed their first week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Thursday, using three of their allotted 10 total days. The practices will focus primarily on getting players back into football shape ahead of minicamp and training camp, as well as ensuring everyone learns the team's new offensive and defensive schemes. Another important aspect of OTAs will be a chance to see some of the team's new additions on the field for the first time.
Getting on the field and impressing coaches is always an important first step for a player with a new team. Add in the simple fact that getting on the field at all is an accomplishment, and you have the situation facing cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. After missing his entire rookie campaign over the course of the 2015 season to the recovery of a torn ACL he sustained in a December 2014 practice at the University of Oregon, the Cleveland Browns released Ekpre-Olomu less than a year after selecting him in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.
"I think it was just something with new management," Ekpre-Olomu said of what went wrong in Cleveland. "They wanted to go in a different direction, and I guess I wasn’t in that direction. They gave me every opportunity to get to another team and be able to compete here, and I’m happy I’m here.”
The past year has been a rough one for a player once considered among the Draft's elite cornerbacks. “Over the last year there has really been ups and downs, definitely," Ekpre-Olomu explained. "Every single day you have to come ready to work and have to have the right mentality, because you have good days and then you have bad days. It’s kind of like everybody else. At this point, I feel like I’m healthy now and ready to go and (ready to) start trying to get better (and) get back to doing football stuff rather than doing rehab stuff every day.”
He continued, discussing his surgeries and what the doctors are telling him now. “I had two operations, both by the same doctor – Neal ElAttrache in (Los Angeles). At this point, he said that I’m perfectly fine and that he would have cleared me a couple months back but when I got to Miami, they wanted to make sure that I went through the offseason program and did all the stuff with the team before they decided to clear me. The doctors said that I’m perfectly fine and that he thinks that I just have to maintain it. Every day before guys get on the field, they’re doing some exercising and stretching for 15 minutes. I have to be out there 30 minutes early and do everything I can to make sure (I’m) ready to go every day. That’s the thing; you don’t want it to get stiff. You want to make sure that you keep moving every day and on your off days doing a little bit. But at the same time, (you want to) manage not doing too much.”
Speaking to the media after Wednesday's second-day of OTAs, Ekpre-Olomu discussed if he feels like he is approaching the same level with which he played in college, “I feel like I’m getting better. This is only my second day playing in almost a year and a half. I definitely have to learn the game all over again and get a feel for a new defense. But I feel like I’m not too far away from where I was, and I think it’s only going to get better.”
“I think it’s coming along great," Ekpre-Olomu added when asked about his change of direction ability following the injury. "We’ve been playing a lot of press-man (coverage) here, so I think I’m doing really good in that. Like I said, it’s day two. It’s day two (for me) in a year and a half, so I feel like I’m at the lowest that I am right now and by the time we get to minicamp, I’m going to be where I need to be.”
Ekpre-Olomu also discussed where he sees his strengths, and how he was used in college. “I think instincts, for sure. Playing multiple positions, I can do that. I’ve always been a good press corner so I think I can do that, as well. I mean getting back to his point, (my) short-area quickness is coming back, and I think that can be a strength for me. But at the same time, right now, I’m really just working on trying to improve everything, because I want to get better, and I know that I’m not at the point that I want to be.”
The Dolphins claimed Ekpre-Olomu off waivers when the Browns made their roster move, meaning Miami takes over his rookie contract, a four-year deal paying him an average of $450,000 per season. “They just said that they feel like, if I’m healthy, that I can be a guy that can help contribute and help the team win," he said of what the team told him when they first spoke to him after the waiver claim. "That’s all it really comes down to. I mean, nothing is given. I have to go out there and perform or else I won’t be here, just like everybody else in the secondary. You have to make sure that you come out every day with the right mindset and remember that you can’t take this for granted, because you are one of the guys that are truly blessed to be in your position and you have to keep working every day.”
The Dolphins most likely will consider Ekpre-Olomu a nickel option, covering slot receivers. He is, however, not being limited to that role in practice, "They have me working at both inside and outside. (I’m) just trying to learn everything and be a guy that they can play anywhere so that I can get on the field.”
“I think it’s great," he added, speaking about the open competition for all the cornerback spots on the depth chart. "As far as the secondary, everyone knows that every day counts. You’re not going to have your best day every single day, but at the same time, you know that everything is on film and as long as you are getting better, that’s all you can really focus about. You can’t worry about other people and what they’re doing. You have to worry about how you’re performing and how you can get better.”
The Dolphins traded for cornerback Byron Maxwell this offseason and drafted Xavien Howard in the second round and Jordan Lucas in the sixth-round of April's NFL Draft. The also have Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett, Chimdi Chekwa, Tyler Patmon, and Lafayette Pitts on the roster, all battling with Ekpre-Olomu for a roster spot and a high position on the depth chart.
The team gets back to OTA practices on Tuesday.