Steve Mitchell

Dolphins' Hazel Competing for More Reps

Miami Dolphins WR Matt Hazel will have his hands full when it comes to competing for playing time on the team's deepest unit.

Located in South Carolina just eight miles West of Myrtle Beach, in a town called Conway, Coastal Carolina or CCU, became a university in 1993.  It has since produced 9 NFL players.

Probably the most famous CCU alumnus in the NFL is Josh Norman, the shut-down corner previously with the Carolina Panthers and now the new $75 million dollar man for the Washington Redskins.  Other notable CCU alumni are receiver Jerome Simpson (49ers) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (Ravens).

But this story is about another CCU alumni selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 6th round  of the 2014 NFL draft.  I’m talking of course about receiver Matt Hazel.

Hazel was only a 2 star recruit coming out of high school when he accepted a scholarship from CCU.  All he did after that was to go on to establish a school record 183 receptions over his career, including a record 70, in 2013.  His 28 career touchdowns are 2nd in school history.

Hazel was the big fish in a small pond in college, but when he arrived in Miami, it was quite the opposite.  Hazel had to start from scratch and fight for every opportunity.  The hard work did pay-off, sort of.  In his rookie season of 2014, Hazel was not on the Dolphins active roster, but showed enough talent and determination to be placed on the practice squad.  Even though Hazel didn’t play in any games his rookie year, he was there every day at practice, watching veterans and learning what it takes to be a professional athlete.

By the preseason of 2015, Hazel showed he was ready for a bigger role.  He shredded DB’s in preseason games, catching 14 passes for 204 yards, including a touchdown.  Many thought Hazel was ready to take the next step but evidently Coach Joe Philbin didn’t.  At the start of the 2015 season, Hazel again found himself on the practice squad.  And there he remained for most of the season, working hard in practice, receiving praise from teammates but still not getting into any games.

But when receiver Rishard Matthews went down with a season ending injury, Hazel was thrusted onto the active roster and active for games for the first time.  Hazel played in the last 5 games of the season, and although he didn’t catch any passes, he got a taste of game speed, seeing how defenses played him and surely feeling more a part of the team.

Now in 2016 the Dolphins have receivers Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker and Kenny Stills, firmly in place as co-starters.  Also, the team recently signed veteran free agent receiver Griff Whalen and drafted receivers Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant.  If that isn’t enough competition, they also signed several undrafted rookie free agent receivers to add to the fight for a roster spot.

It is considered a given that Carroo makes the team by way of his 3rd round draft status, and Grant, a smurf sized receiver with grease lightning in his feet, also returns kicks, as does Griff Whalen.

This puts Hazel behind the 8 ball.  But he has been there before.  If the Dolphins keep only 5 receivers as most teams do, Hazel will have to shine in training camp and pre-season games like never before.

Even though we only have a small sample size of what Hazel can do, it cannot be denied that he has improved in each of his first two seasons.

If Hazel continues his improvement in year 3, the Dolphins could have another playmaker.  And you can never have enough of those guys.



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