Dolphins surprise at receiver and the thinking behind it. And Armstead back, coaches dish

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Trent Sherfield didn’t have the second-day draft status of Lynn Bowden Jr., or the fourth-round draft status of training camp sensation Erik Ezukanma, or the $22 million contract of Cedrick Wilson Jr., or the 27 career touchdown receptions like Mohammad Sanu or even the seven touchdown receptions that highlight Preston Williams’ NFL resume.

But Sherfield had something else that has allowed him to seemingly seize the Dolphins’ No. 3 receiver job: reliability and trust, built during the time that he played for this Dolphins wide receiver coach and Dolphins head coach in San Francisco.

Though Wilson had been considered the Dolphins’ No. 3 wide receiver heading into the season, it was Sherfield who played far more offensive snaps than Wilson on Sunday against the Vikings (52 to 15).

Sherfield, who’s making $1.03 million this season, has 10 catches for 88 yards, compared to four receptions for 40 yards for Wilson.

It’s a surprising turn of events, considering Wilson comes off a breakout season with Dallas (45 catches, 602 yards, six touchdowns) and signed a three-year, $22.8 million contract this past offseason.

But Wilson’s fate seemingly changed when the Dolphins acquired Tyreek Hill 11 days later.

So why is Sherfield playing ahead of Wilson?

“It’s like I tell the guys all week,” said receiver coach Wes Welker, who coached Sherfield with the 49ers last season. “Whoever is doing the best in practice, knows their assignment, is on top of everything, that’s who we are going to play at the time. Ced has made a lot of strides in the past [few] weeks. I see him getting a lot of playing time and touches moving forward.

“It’s always new learning the system. All the guys in my room — whoever gives us the best chance to win will be on the field. It could be Ced, it could be Trent, it could be River [Cracraft].”

Sherfield — who has modest career numbers (47 receptions, 515 yards, two touchdowns) — managed to outlast more familiar names to carve out a role in the deepest position on the team.

Bowden, Williams and Sanu were cut; none are on 53-man rosters. The Dolphins have high hopes for Ezukanma, but he hasn’t played a down.

Meanwhile, Sherfield has logged 209 offensive snaps — after playing 265 in 17 games for San Francisco last season. Wilson, who missed one game due to injury, has played 86 offensive snaps this season.

“I know what type of player I am. I know what I can bring to the table,” Sherfield said.

“That goes into offseason preparation and making sure I come in prepared and know my assignments. I do a pretty good job of it. That’s something I take very seriously, the offseason preparation and working on my craft so when I come in for training camp or OTAs, I can make the statement I need to make.”

Sherfield, who went undrafted out of Vanderbilt, caught 19 passes for 210 yards as an Arizona rookie in 2018 — his career highs in both categories. He caught nine for 87 in 17 games and one start last season for the 49ers, where coach Mike McDaniel was offensive coordinator.

Is he opening eyes as a receiver around the league?

“Absolutely,” Sherfield said. “I don’t think that will ever stop.”

His best receiving skill? “I think everything — route running, catching, being in the right spot. The No. 1 thing is being quarterback friendly, being trusted by the quarterback to be in the right spot, that they will throw it to me and it will be caught.

“I pride myself on not being one-dimensional guy. I’m good at catching, I’m good at route running, I’m good at blocking, the whole thing. When you get me, you’re getting the whole package.”

ARMSTEAD BACK

Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead - who missed all of the Vikings game and most of the previous week’s Jets game with a toe injury - was spotted at practice on Thursday for the first time in a month. There’s hope he will be able to play on Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Christian Wilkins, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a hand injury, also returned to practice.

Jaylen Waddle, who was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a shoulder injury, was wearing a red non-contact jersey at Thursday’s practice.

Missing from Thursday’s practice: cornerback Keion Crossen (knee) and linebacker Sam Eguavoen (undisclosed).

Austin Jackson - who is on injured reserve with an ankle injury that has sidelined him for five games - also was not seen at a third consecutive practice after practicing twice last week.

COACHES WEIGH IN

Nuggets from the Thursday session with some Dolphins assistant coaches:

Rookie receiver Ezukanma hasn’t played a single snap, but Welker said: “I would be OK with Erik being out there if he had to play one position. We could have him ready for that.

“Where we are right now with the depth and guys in the room, the opportunity hasn’t presented itself for Erik. For him, it’s continuing to learn that system and be on top of all the assignments and learn every single position. When the opportunity does come up, he will be ready for it.”

What was the thinking behind closing the disparity in snap counts behind edge players Melvin Ingram (26) and Andrew Van Ginkel (23) against the Vikings?

“Certain guys have qualities a little better than the other,” defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said. “We try to put those guys in positions to do things they really do well. We are very comfortable with either one of those guys playing.”

Jason Sanders is 0 for 3 on field-goal attempts of 50 yards or more this season, after making 14 of 21 of those types of kicks before this season.

Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman said last Sunday’s miss “was the first one that was a bad ball, a bad hit. When we send him on the field, we expect to get points. That kick was a rarity in my opinion. It doesn’t matter what you do during the week. You’re judged on game day.”

Offensive coordinator Frank Smith, on tight end Mike Gesicki catching six passes for 69 yards last Sunday (in Durham Smythe’s absence) after making nine catches in 12 targets for 101 yards in the first five weeks:

“Earlier in the year, when we were trying to get him the ball, there was an issue, whether it was pressure on the quarterback or not at the depth at the right time,” Smith said. “Mike maximized his opportunities last week, and we’re looking forward to trying to continue to do that. It’s a culmination of all the hard work he’s put in. You see glimmers in his blocking as well.”

Did Brandon Shell’s play at right tackle last Sunday — which was better than Greg Little’s play at left tackle — leave the Dolphins with a decision to make at right tackle if Austin Jackson isn’t ready to come off injured reserve this week against Pittsburgh (8:20 p.m., NBC)?

Smith didn’t answer directly, noting: “We’ve been pleased with Brandon.”

Shell can be elevated once more from the practice squad this season or can be signed to one of two open spots on the Dolphins’ 53-man roster.