Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant is already getting used to receiving orders from Tua Tagovailoa, with the rookie quarterback having displayed zero hesitancy in undertaking a leadership role on the team this offseason.
Behind the infectious smile and universally-hailed personality is a stern competitor embracing expectations as the man to lead a new era for the Dolphins over the next decade and beyond.
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The Alabama product is unlikely to start against the New England Patriots in week one and may have to be patient for his chance as he learns behind the experience of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Nevertheless, what’s been clear to see in training camp is the mindset of a man eager to ensure he is ready when the time comes to make his bow.
“He’s very smart, elusive, accurate, everybody knows of course he has a big arm, but man I absolutely love his personality,” said Grant in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports. “Down to earth guy, smooth guy, loves to laugh, love to joke and he’s also a leader.
“There’s been plenty of times where I’ve got reps with him and he’s like ‘alright Jakeem we’ve got to speed this up, we’ve got to go’ and things like ‘man I’m coming to you, just get open I’m coming to you’ and so it’s been times like that where I know he’s going to be a promising player in this league.
“I’m going into my fifth year and he’s just a rookie and he’s telling me ‘hey Jakeem, I need you to be here or there’ and I’m like ‘hey man I know, I’ve been doing this for a while now, I know exactly where I need to be’.
“For him to get on me as the quarterback and as a young player, I think that he’s definitely not scared to take that leadership role and go out there and tell guys when they’re wrong even if they’re a 10-year vet.”
It’s testament to the charm and popularity alongside his exquisite talent that such assertiveness so early on is applauded by a teammate.
Winning over the locker room can often be one of the most daunting and defining challenges faced by a young quarterback entering the league, but the first-round pick’s introduction appears to have been seamless.
The presence of Fitzpatrick has no doubt aided the transition from college and afforded Tagovailoa the added luxury of time to ease himself in following his recovery from last November’s hip surgery and amid a learning period disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Those @_TheDreamIsHere Extendos 🔥 pic.twitter.com/kRxdAYzhX6
New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has been another key figure to not only Tagovailoa, but also Grant as the Dolphins adjust to a new-look scheme.
Gailey took over from Chad O’Shea in January in his first NFL job since serving as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets between 2015-2016. Prior to then, he had been head coach of the Buffalo Bills (2010-2012) and Georgia Tech (2002-2007) either side of a spell as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. The 68-year-old is back in the role he occupied for the Dolphins from 2000 through 2001.
“He’s very smart, very intelligent,” said Grant. “Old school coach, going to critique you about everything which I love.
“There was a day where I was supposed to be plus four from the numbers and I was probably like plus three so all I had to do was scoot over an inch and he was like ‘that inch matters in this game’. And I’m like ‘come on coach, I was just a little piece of grass short’.
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“Once he told me that I was like ‘I love it’.”
Grant is vying for increased reps as a receiver on the Dolphins offense in 2020 having flourished as a return specialist over his first four seasons, the latter two of which ended early due to injury.
Gailey’s high expectations of him in training camp have arrived as added motivation and a sign of the opportunity to present himself as an asset in the open field.
“He absolutely loves speed,” Grant added of Gailey. “Going back and looking back at all the guys he played with and all the guys he loved, he loved speed so I’m like ‘me and coach Gailey are going to get on a lot!’.
“There’s been a couple of times where I’ve messed up and he’s been like ‘Jakeem, you’re better than that’ and I’m like ‘you’re right’, I’ve got to have more focus and do this or that.
“When he does that, that even puts me in overdrive to go do stuff above and beyond, get those extra walk-throughs, get those extra film studies. He expects a lot of me. If I’m inside, outside, he expects me to know everything.”
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At 27, Grant is the joint-oldest receiver on the Dolphins offense alongside DeVante Parker and now one of the most experienced players on the roster.
Besides demonstrating his pass-catching abilities and devastating speed, he is also keen to shoulder the responsibility as one of the leaders on Gailey’s unit.
“Just going out there, I have to be consistent and just show coach Gailey that I’m a guy he can count on and that’s what I’m doing right now, showing him that there’s nobody like me on the field,” he said.
“What if Fitz goes down and somebody else has to be that leader for the offense? I want to step in and be that role so that’s exactly what I’m training my body to do, my mind to do.”
Grant is no stranger to the audition process when it comes to coaching changes, having played under his fair share during his time at Texas Tech.
Such was the case in 2019 as he saw Adam Gase succeeded by Brian Flores, who brought a new and, for Grant, familiar approach to Miami.
“I love the way coach Flores coaches,” he said. “Real military vibe, kind of reminds me of my mum. She had a military vibe, my uncles are in the army so I definitely had a military vibe. I love it.
“I picked up off it, coach Flo always wanted us to do more and he was going to stay on us. He would give us a pat on the back if we did something great. It we did something good or amazing he would never let us get big headed or anything like that, that’s what I love.
“He always wanted more from us. He’s going to always make you and push you to your breaking point to get the best of you out.”
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