The Miami Dolphins have played 14 games, and rookie wide receiver Erik Ezukanma has been a healthy inactive for every one of them.
Even in situations where a receiver is injured, practice squad options have been elevated to play over Ezukanma, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2022 draft.
Most of it has to do with the specific receiver position Ezukanma has been playing. He is down the depth chart at the Z position, according to wide receivers coach Wes Welker. Star receiver Tyreek Hill is the starter there and has been healthy going into every game.
In recent contests, slot receiver River Cracraft has been out with a calf injury. That has caused Miami to bring up either Freddie Swain, who was later poached by the Denver Broncos, or Braylon Sanders from the practice squad. The same goes for the Oct. 30 game at the Detroit Lions, when Sanders, an undrafted rookie, made his NFL debut over Ezukanma.
Welker spoke to the difficulties rookie wideouts face transitioning from the college game to the professional ranks.
“You’re looking at a sideline your whole career, looking at a picture of Bugs Bunny, and that’s your play,” Welker said. “To hear a play call in the NFL, we have some very long play calls.”
Welker, who came from the same college as Ezukanma at Texas Tech, pointed to the numerous things rookie receivers need to learn regarding alignment and opposing coverages.
“There’s so much to learn. There’s a process to it,” said Welker, who even highlighted how he had zero receptions his rookie season before earning five Pro Bowls in his playing career. “That’s why you see elite receivers become very good receivers in their second, third, fourth years, just getting all those reps understanding that the game’s different at the NFL level.”
Welker still likes Ezukanma’s strength, size, hands and speed and said he has made strides learning the playbook.
“There was a time there where it was hard to even get him to line up,” he said. “Now, we’re lining up right. There’s a progression to it, and everybody’s a little bit different. And Erik will get there, and I look forward, whether it’s this year or this offseason, to really work with him and really dialing it in.”
Welker also noted that most of Ezukanma’s practice reps come with the scout team, while those who will be up for game day are getting practice reps. His scout team reps are helping him fine-tune his technique.
The only rookie drafted higher than Ezukanma in the Dolphins’ past draft class, linebacker Channing Tindall, hasn’t seen defensive snaps in five consecutive games. He had previously played five in the Nov. 6 win at the Chicago Bears and two apiece in losses to the Vikings and Jets.
“We just feel like the guys that we’re playing give us the best chance at this point,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said. “He has veteran players in front of him that know and understand the defense a little bit better than he does. We’re continuing to work with Channing as we go.”
Boyer still likes various attributes of Tindall’s game.
“He runs well. He’s a physical player. He tackles well,” he said of the third-round draft choice. “Those are things that, obviously, we like that he does. We’re encouraged by that.”
Tindall has also been a consistent contributor on special teams.
Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard was surprised to learn he made his fourth Pro Bowl team, he said Thursday following the Wednesday night announcement.
“It’s an honor, though, to be a Pro Bowler, being consistent with it,” Howard said, “but I feel like there’s a bunch of plays I’ve left out there on the field.”
Howard said he feels his season has just gone “OK” as he has just one interception, two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown, and eight pass deflections while giving up a number of touchdowns and big plays in the passing game.
“I definitely have to do better and play better for my expectations I have for myself,” Howard said.
Dolphins safety Jevon Holland (neck) returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday drills, as did running back Raheem Mostert and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, who each received veteran rest Wednesday. Holland and Mostert were still limited Thursday on the team’s injury report
Left tackle Terron Armstead (toe/pectoral/knee) and wide receiver River Cracraft (calf) missed a second straight day, and tackle Eric Fisher did not participate in Thursday drills after he showed up on the injury report for a calf injury Wednesday.
Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb popped up on the injury report Thursday for limited participation due to a knee ailment, but he spoke to reporters at his locker following drills and appeared fine.
Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (hip) and outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips (toe) were limited again at Thursday’s practice, seen working out on the side. Wilson is looking to work his way back into the lineup after missing last Saturday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“Still taking it a day at a time,” Wilson said. “I’m going to take every day, attack it and see where we’re at.”
Also limited Thursday for a second straight practice were: defensive back Keion Crossen (knee), linebacker Duke Riley (ribs), safety Eric Rowe (hamstring) and tight end Durham Smythe (quadriceps).
For the Packers, left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee/abdomen) missed a second straight day of drills. Running back Aaron Jones (knee) was among players limited at Thursday’s session in Green Bay.
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