Dolphins’ McDaniel talks possibility of Hill and Waddle on returns, Shaheen trade

Chris O'Meara/AP

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel on Wednesday morning left open the possibility of using his top offensive players as return specialists during the 2022 season.

The first-year head coach was asked before the first of two joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers whether he would be “willing” to use wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle or running back Raheem Mostert as returners.

McDaniel deadpanned: “I’m willing to do anything at any given time at any given moment.”

Later asked in a follow-up question whether there was an open competition at the returner spots, McDaniel said: “There’s an open competition everywhere. Shame on me if I’m anointing for no reason. We have a lot of people that have the ability to return the ball in the punt and kickoff game. During the season we plan to utilize everyone that makes most sense for the team.

“Remember, special teams yards are yards. Same as defensive yards given up. Same as offensive yards gained. So, we’ll use our players to best move the ball down the field to score touchdowns or stop other people from moving it.”

In the team’s first depth chart released Monday ahead of their preseason opener Saturday night, Mostert and Hill were listed as starting kick returner and punt returner, respectively. Waddle was listed as the backup at both returner spots.

After trading All-Pro return specialist Jakeem Grant to the Chicago Bears last season, the Dolphins failed to find a replacement in 2021. Waddle and Jevon Holland split duties as returners but the Dolphins averaged 17.4 yards per kick return and 6.6 yards per punt return, which ranked 31st in the NFL.

For the first three seasons of Hill’s career, he was often used as a punt returner with the Kansas City Chiefs. From 2016 to 2018, Hill, returned 84 punts, averaging 12 yards and scoring four times. He also returned 14 kickoffs, averaging 27.4 yards and scoring once. However, Hill, who was named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team as a punt returner, hasn’t returned a kickoff in the past three seasons and only two punts since 2018. He didn’t return a punt last season, but general manager Chris Grier told reporters in March that Hill expressed an interest in returning kicks as a Dolphin.

Mostert, who began his career as a kick returner, hasn’t returned a kick since the 2019 season. For his career, he has averaged 24.2 yards per kick return.

McDaniel on Shaheen trade

McDaniel commented on the Dolphins’ trade of tight end Adam Shaheen for the first time, saying the depth at tight end allowed the team to execute the deal. The team on Tuesday announced it traded Shaheen and a 2023 seventh-round pick to the Houston Texans for a 2023 sixth-round pick.

“Different opportunities come across your board,” McDaniel said, “and Chris [Grier] is outstanding about communicating and talking about everything. Bottom line was, to Adam Shaheen’s credit, he’s a well-thought-of NFL player, as he should be. And to our tight end rooms’ credit, we thought that we could afford investing in the future draft capital because we felt pretty good about that position as well. ... We were happy for Adam. We were happy for the Dolphins.”

The Dolphins are expected to keep at least three tight ends — Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long — on their 53-man roster and could keep a fourth — whether it be Cethan Carter or John Lovett — to primarily contribute on special teams.

Bitter memories

When Dolphins defenders took the field for what was overall an impressive morning practice against the Buccaneers offense, they were not only excited to face another opponent for the first time in training camp. They had vivid memories of the last time the two sides faced each other, in a 45-17 Tampa Bay win exactly eight months to the date of Wednesday’s practice.

“When we were back at home, I already knew about it,” cornerback Xavien Howard said after practice. “That was on my mind 24/7. It still is. So I feel like that brings a little bit of fire to it. I feel like if you want to get motivated, you can watch that game, the people that were there last year, and they see what they did to us.”

The Dolphins defense had the edge for much of the morning against quarterback Tom Brady and a Buccaneers offense featuring three new starters on the offensive line and practicing without top wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who were sidelined with injuries.

“We’ve been waiting on this day,” said defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who registered a likely sack and batted a pass in 11-on-11 drills. “We feel like we got embarrassed last year. We’ve got to go out there and do better this year. It was a good practice against them and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”