Another NFL offseason has proven itself to be an inescapable black hole for stars or potential stars.
But not all get devoured like Aaron Hernandez, Titus Young, etc., leaving behind nothing except another unceremonious story to read. They shouldn’t eclipse those players that use the hottest time of year to shine the brightest in the fall.
And running back Mike Gillislee, with his down-to-earth demeanor, seems poised to do just that with the Dolphins as they begin training camp in Davie on Sunday.
Gillislee has gotten tons of praise from Miami’s staff so far in rookie minicamp and OTAs. It comes as no surprise to a franchise that knew he wouldn’t take this opportunity for granted because he didn’t at Florida.
“Man, it was a blessing,” Gillislee said in an interview with Dolphins.com. “I always said I always wanted to come to a Florida team, but I never really thought I’d have the chance. I thought I was going to go somewhere far, but that third day (of the NFL draft), I was just crossing off the teams that needed a running back, and I knew that the Dolphins had a running back and they didn’t need one, so I had them crossed off, too, but when I saw a 954 number called, it just shocked me. Then, two minutes later I was a Miami Dolphin. It just brought tears to my eyes.”
Gillislee has no reason to doubt himself, and he doesn’t. The fact that he was drafted in the fifth round is a blessing to someone who wasn’t slated to go in any round until his senior year. He “was nowhere on the radar” as Florida coach Will Muschamp put it just days after the draft in late April.
It didn’t matter that once unheralded SEC running backs Arian Foster (undrafted out of Tennessee) and Terrell Davis (sixth round out of Georgia) were an afterthought coming out of college. In the end, it didn’t matter if or where they were picked, it was where they played in college that helped them defy the odds.
Gillislee’s impression after the first day of Dolphins rookie minicamp on May 3?
“It was fast, just like the SEC,” Gillislee told the Miami Herald.
SEC defenses knew Gillislee was coming last season, and he still rushed for 1,152 yards on 244 carries (4.7 yards an attempt) and 10 touchdowns. Muschamp wanted desperately to transform the Gators into a power-running team, and Gillislee delivered. Now, the Dolphins need that as second-year coach Joe Philbin continues to implement his West Coast offense in Miami.
“He earned his stripes there,” Philbin told the Herald in May. “When his opportunity came, he took advantage of it well. We liked his productivity. We thought he had a good combination of size and speed.”
Gillislee, who will wear No. 35 for the Dolphins, figures to see the field early and often due to his skill set. General manager Jeff Ireland has praised the 5-foot-11, 208-pound running back for his abilities as a pass-catcher and pass-protecter. Gillislee had 16 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown in his final year with the Gators and was exceptional in blitz pickup. His ability to keep second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill upright on third downs will give him the nod at times over Lamar Miller, known more for his speed, and third-year back Daniel Thomas, who’s coming off multiple concussions and two disappointing seasons.
But Gillislee should also get a chance to prove himself as an effective runner. Though Gillislee (4.55 40-yard dash at the combine) doesn’t possess the 4.4 straight-line speed of Miller, he does complement him with better lateral quickness and power. Mix that with the good vision and burst he’s shown his new team this offseason, and Gillislee should be able to produce in the Dolphins’ zone-blocking scheme.
There’s sure to be a comfort level for the DeLand native, playing with three fellow Gators: center Mike Pouncey, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and kicker Caleb Sturgis. And there’s a comfort level that team management has with Gillislee, too.
While the attention of other players is diverted to things unrelated to football this time of year, the Dolphins’ staff can rest assured that a humble Gillislee is focused on the blood, sweat and tears that fall on the field, not the streets.
Miami will be playing an extra preseason game this season, playing the first of its five games against Dallas on Aug. 4 in the Hall of Fame Game. The Dolphins’ first regular season game will be at Cleveland on Sept. 8.