Stills returns to practice and Albert shows progress
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) To celebrate Kenny Stills' return to practice Monday with the Miami Dolphins, video highlights of his college touchdown catches were shown in the weight room as players headed for the field.
Stills didn't see the video, but was told about it by teammates.
''I heard that it's a long highlight reel,'' he said with a smile.
The speedy Stills caught 24 touchdown passes for the Oklahoma Sooners, and eight more in two seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Now the Dolphins are hoping to benefit from his ability to get open deep, which is why they traded for him in March and welcomed him back to the practice field.
Stills had been sidelined since Aug. 2 by a left calf injury that has hindered him since June.
''It's great to be back out there,'' he said. ''I've been itching.''
With the opening game less than four weeks away, the Dolphins seem to be getting healthier.
Top draft DeVante Parker has begun running as he recovers from foot surgery, and coach Joe Philbin didn't rule out the possibility he'll play in an exhibition game. And veteran left tackle Branden Albert took part in 11-on-11 drills for the first time in his comeback from knee surgery, lining up for three snaps Monday before heading inside for more rehabilitation therapy.
But it was Stills who made the most eye-catching progress. He said his calf felt great, and showed no lingering effects of the injury when he slipped behind the secondary in a seven-on-seven drill to catch a long pass from Ryan Tannehill.
"It's nice to have him back,'' Tannehill said. ''He's definitely a big-play receiver. Obviously his speed is tremendous, and his route-running ability - the smoothness he has coming in and out of breaks is probably the smoothest that I've seen. So when you add that to what we have from the other guys, it really opens up another connection for us.''
Stills rejoins a receiving corps that was revamped in the offseason and will be crowd when everyone's healthy. It also includes Parker, veteran newcomer Greg Jennings, Rishard Matthews and Jarvis Landry, who led Miami in catches as a rookie last year.
Will there be enough balls to go around? Stills said yes.
''We've got great guys,'' he said. ''All of us want to see each other do well. It doesn't matter who is getting the ball as long as we're winning.''
Stills is only 23 and wasn't even part of the Saints' starting unit for most of last season, but he made 63 receptions for 931 yards and three touchdowns. In Miami he replaces the departed Mike Wallace as the biggest deep threat on a team that has had trouble connecting on long passes in recent years.
Unlike the talkative, often disgruntled Wallace, Stills' isn't lobbying publicly for any particular role.
''That is above my pay grade,'' Stills said. ''When they put me in, I've got to make plays. I'm prepared to do whatever they ask me to do. I don't overthink it.''
Philbin declined to say how much work Stills and Albert will get during joint practices Wednesday and Thursday against the Charlotte Panthers in South Carolina. But Philbin is especially encouraged by the gradual return of Albert, which helps an offensive line unsettled at both guard spots.
Albert missed the final seven games in 2014 after rupturing the ACL and MCL in his right knee.
''It's all about getting him confident and back in a rhythm,'' Philbin said. ''Obviously he's a veteran player who knows how his body feels. We're going to see if we can continue to give him a little bit more work as he goes.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine