Hunter Long has mastered the Rubik’s Cube to such an extent that he can solve a 3-D combination puzzle in less than a minute.
Unfortunately, adulthood and the NFL were a far more puzzling conundrum that plagued the Miami Dolphins an entire season to figure out.
“A year on and off the field is a huge growing phase for anyone to leapfrog. I learned a lot about myself and what I can do,” the 2021 third-round pick said, referring to his rookie season, a year where he played rarely and caught just one pass for 8 yards.
Many fans don’t realize it, but Long began his NFL career as a starter.
The rookie was on the field with the starting unit for the tight end season opener and played 18 offensive snaps in Miami’s 17-16 win over the New England Patriots.
It was a package-based work, but reviews may not have been favorable since Long had disappeared by the time.
Former Boston College standout Mike Gesicki lost playing behind Durham Smyth and Adam Shaheen, three experienced tight ends who were more familiar with Miami’s offense.
Because Long was not a Core Special Teams contributor, he was inactive for eight of the next 10 games. He eventually found playing time later in the season when injuries plagued Miami’s tight end unit, but Long acknowledged that what comes with being an NFL rookie, and the challenges of being an adult in the real world, overwhelmed him. .
“Staying normally and trying to handle the off-field stuff” [was difficult]Long said at the conclusion of Tuesday’s one-hour OTA practice session, which sets up next week’s mandatory minicamp.
“In college you don’t realize how much that stuff is taken care of for you. You got thrown out of here and [figuring it out] For myself,” Long said. “I move a lot off the field and it’s helped me on the field by being able to stop stuff.”
Whether he has overcome his growing pains and is ready to contribute to Miami’s offense has yet to be determined.
There is still work to be done, and there are clearly tight ends ahead of him on the depth chart.
But Long is playing his part by learning Miami’s new play-action-based crime spree, which will feature tight ends, appears to be in bulk.
His shoulder is wide, and it was not accidental.
“I most definitely bulked up. I haven’t gained much weight, but I have gained some muscle and lost some fat,” Long said. “I’m just trying to do what I can. I’m trying to attack this season and keep attacking it.
What inspired the physical transformation?
“Everyone sees his tape, and it’s on tape,” Long said, addressing his shortcomings as a blocker. “There are changes I thought I needed and I attacked that.”
So far Long hasn’t made any splash plays in the two OTA practice sessions that the media have seen this spring, but at least his head isn’t floating in the new information.
And he has gained some familiarity to his surroundings and to the team, unlike last season.
Gassie, Smyth and Tight Head always took Long under his wing, even though he realized he was potentially poised as his replacement, given that they were both imminent free agents.
Nothing has changed this year as Gassey is playing on the franchise tag, a one-year deal worth $10.9 million, and Smyth re-signed to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million.
The longtime tight end could be the heir to the throne if he can blossom, becoming the versatile, multi-faceted player he was at Boston College, leading the Dolphins to pick him 81st overall in 2021. But it may take some time, potentially more than your rookie season.
There is a feeling in the NFL that the tight end is the hardest position to learn as a young player, outside of the quarterback.
The reasoning behind this is that there are three distinct aspects of a task a player must master, and no other entity has that much.
Tight ends should run a route in and out of the line of scrimmage. Again, most are also responsible for run blocking and pass blocking like the offensive linemen.
Which is why it’s been two decades since the Dolphins had a tight end that made a significant impact in their rookie season.
That player was Randy McMichael, a former Georgia Dolphins selected in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft. McMichael caught 39 passes for 485 yards and made four touchdowns as a rookie.
He played 11 seasons, starting 150 games, and 80 of those came from the five seasons he spent with the Dolphins.
Charles Clay caught 16 passes for 233 yards and scored three touchdowns in his rookie season with the Dolphins in 2011. His career began in his third season, when he caught 69 receptions at a career-high converting them for 759 yards and six touchdowns back in 2013.
The 2011 sixth-round pick had a productive nine-year NFL career, and the first four of which were spent with the Dolphins.
Gasicki and Smyth, who were both starting picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, each got off to a slow start.
Gesicki caught 22 passes for 202 yards in 400 offensive snaps, which he handled as a rookie, but even he would admit that his rookie season was disappointing.
But Geskey has blossomed into a playmaker over the past two seasons, and Smyth, who caught six passes for 50 yards in 176 offensive snaps he played in his rookie season, found a functional in-line tight end complementing Geskey. worked as.
It was expected that Long could manage both the in-line blocker and pass catching threat roles – but to prove it, he would need to earn the respect of this coaching staff and carve a role for himself.
“My world hasn’t changed. I’ll come out and do what I can,” Long said when asked about the upcoming season. “How much I play, and when is up to them.”