DAVIE, Fla. — Dustin Keller is a rock-solid 6-foot-2, 255 pounds. He has no gut at all.
One wonders how this is possible. Along with gobbling up balls as a tight end for the Miami Dolphins, Keller’s other passion is gobbling food.
But we’re not talking about scarfing down hot dogs or pizza. Keller has a distinguished palate.
If you don’t believe that to be the case, just ask editors at the New York Times. When Keller was with the New York Jets, he wrote a food column the past two years for the paper’s NFL blog “The Fifth Down.”
It wasn’t that long ago the native of Lafayette, Ind., was no expert on cuisine. But then he met Erin, who would become his wife.
“My wife got me started on all these restaurants in New York,” Keller, a first-round pick by the Jets in 2008 from Purdue, said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida. “Honestly, when I got to the Jets, I was culinary ignorant. She had lived in the city for three or four years before I lived there and every single time she got a paycheck, she would spend it all on those great restaurants going out to eat. You might say I got a good feel for it. I will try anything now.”
After a few years of sampling Manhattan’s most notable restaurants, word got around about Keller being a foodie. Keller said one of his agents got involved and soon he was enlisted by the Times to write a column entitled “I Eight One,” a play on his jersey No. 81.
Keller wrote about visits to top restaurants, including his favorite, Peter Luger Steakhouse. But he also offered tips in columns on healthy tailgating dishes and on having overcome being scared of sushi.
It wasn’t one of those deals in which Keller simply talked into a tape recorder and somebody at the Times put together his thoughts. He sat down at a computer to write his stories.
“There was a lot of fixing by them of grammatical errors,” Keller, who signed with the Dolphins last spring as a free agent, said with a laugh. “But it was really my doing.”
To get an authentic restaurant experience, Keller sought to eat without being recognized and he was generally successful. Even though two years ago he caught a team-high 65 passes for the Jets, it helped in anonymity that he did his work wearing a helmet.
It might be easier to ask Keller what he doesn’t like. But he did offer a short list of his favorite foods.
“I love Asian fusion, I love Mexican food, a little bit of everything,” Keller said. “But you definitely can’t beat a great steak.”
As for writing a food column for a South Florida media outlet, Keller said he doesn’t have any offers yet but would be interested. He admits, though, it doesn’t help that the Dolphins are based in Davie, more than a half-hour drive from notable restaurants in Miami.
“I actually lived in Manhattan,” Keller said of his Jets years. “I know there’s a lot of awesome restaurants in Miami, but I won’t be there as much.”
For now, Keller is mostly focused on making an impression with the Dolphins. He’s looked good so far in training camp, including catching a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill in last Monday’s controlled scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium.
“He’s an asset for us,” Tannehill said. “Going against linebackers and safeties, he’s athletic. He can go get the ball. He has strong hands. He understands man zone, when to sit, when to run. He’s a huge asset to us in the pass game.”
One key question, though, is whether Keller can return to his previous form. He caught 45 or more passes in each of his first four seasons until dropping to 28 in an injury-riddled 2012.
Keller played in just eight games. He missed four early in the season with a hamstring injury, ending a streak of having played in 65 straight games to start his NFL career. Then he missed the season’s final four games due to an ankle injury.
“I don’t have expectations as far as numbers go,” Keller said of this season. “Of course, there are some things that I would like to get personally, but it is more so a team goal. I just want to go out there and do my job the best I can and when guys see it on tape, they think the same thing.”
The Dolphins have little doubt Keller can regain his previous form. They didn’t seem to care much when incumbent starter Anthony Fasano bolted to Kansas City early in free agency.
Miami then scooped up Keller. He opted to sign just one-year deal, paying him $4 million.
“He’s got those instincts we like,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. “We like his route running abilities. We like his diagnosis (of) coverage pretty well on releases. He understands leverage a particular defender is utilizing against him. All of those things, he kind of has that craftiness you like to see in receivers, and he works the middle of the field well.”
Keller also does some good work with a fork in his hand.