Dave Hyde: Waddle's first, fast impression is what this Dolphins rebuild needs more of

Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Football

The cheeky ease with which the kid started — in a place that’s haunted the Miami Dolphins — matters in a good way. Everyone knew Jaylen Waddle was fast. Was anyone sure he’d be this quicksilver fast in turning NFL heads?

His first NFL play was a 17-yard catch. His first NFL touchdown showed a mix of fast and furor. His first NFL game ball went to his mother, showing he was raised right.

Everyone knows time is the big test. But there’s a special place for the rookies who don’t need a process or patented patience to announce their arrival.

“It’s great,’’ Waddle said of his day, with a go-to word he kept going to. “Every win is going to be great. But first one in a big game, it was a great atmosphere and playing against guys you know on the other side, so it was great.”

Bill Parcells’ Dolphins era wasn’t as great as the lines he left. One was how, “puppies bite or they never will.” There has been so few puppies biting in this Dolphins rebuild, this was something to watch.

Cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, the 30th pick in 2020, wasn’t activated for what was to be a big-step-forward second season. He’s 21. Sure, there’s time. But after not playing much his first year, this wasn’t he way to start the second.

Everyone misses. That’s the rule of the draft. The bigger question is who General Manager Chris Grier hits on. That will tell where this rebuild goes, since most of the heavy lifting is done.

There hasn’t been another rookie who came out of the gates from practice to preseason to the career opener like Waddle in the past three years.

Raekwon Davis, a second-round pick, began to emerge in the latter half of his first season, an impressively fast track for a defensive tackle.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s first start in Arizona last year remains his best start. We’re 10 starts in for Tagovailoa, too, including a lackluster day in New England where he was outplayed by his Alabama understudy, the Patriots’ rookie Mac Jones. There’s time. There are questions, too.

Christian Wilkins, Grier’s first move in this era, has become a decent NFL defensive tackle in his third season. Not great. Not a Davis-style handful. But the kind of productive player good teams need.


The offensive line? A 3.2-yard rushing average says it didn’t do much. It’s full of Rebuild Kids, too, draft picks from the past three years. It also missed left tackle Austin Jackson, who was put last week on the restricted COVID-19 list before being activated at the last minute.

An obvious distrust of back-up Greg Little meant rookie Liam Eichenberg started at left tackle despite working at right tackle and left guard all summer. He looked like he hadn’t played left tackle since Notre Dame. A sack. A couple holding penalties. But he did OK considering the difficult situation he was put.

Here’s the bottom-line: More Waddles, less who-are-they is needed. Waddle’s first game wasn’t some great surprise. It confirmed what he did this summer and why the Dolphins made him the No. 6 pick. The jolt of electricity seen on that first catch. The speed and playmaking in a 30-yard catch. The 3-yard touchdown catch and dive for the pylon.

He dropped a ball, too, which he also did on occasion in summer practices. So he’s not perfect. But he’s impactful. You saw the flash of fun he brought to what’s been a slow-footed offense in recent years.

Some perspective, too. Waddle’s four catches for 61 yard is notable. It probably doesn’t crack the pantheon of Dolphins great debuts. Dan Marino threw three second-half touchdowns in a midseason game in 1983 to announce his arrival in a 38-35 loss to Buffalo.

Zach Thomas had nine solo tackles and a sack in 1996. Jason Taylor had six tackles, three solo, and a sack in 1997. Richmond Webb and Keith Simms anchored the left side of the line for 177 rushing yards and no sacks against New England.

One game isn’t a conclusion. It’s a statement of what can be, though, as those names show. Waddle’s statement comes with that glowing word he kept using even in describing his touchdown.

“It was great,’’ he said. “it was a great play call.”

One kid starred Sunday. One kid was inactive. We’re coming out the other side of the rebuild. But for it to work as planned the idea is clear. They need more Waddles.

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