Dolphins camp report: Forget rep, Marshall’s a sweet catch

Aug 14th, 2010 | By sportsnews | Category: Sports

Dolphins: Love and hate | RapidReports | Training camp tour | Bleacher Report

DAVIE, Fla. — This one move caught the coach’s eye more than any Brandon Marshall has made so far as the newest receiver for the Miami Dolphins.

Marshall was traded to the Dolphins by the Denver Broncos in one of the blockbuster deals of the offseason this past April. He brought with him a load of baggage, and not the Louis Vuitton kind.

So when Marshall made his way through the team’s facility for the first time in a meet-and-greet, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano witnessed something he didn’t quite expect.

“The first time in the door, he walked up to all of his teammates and introduced himself,” Sparano said. “Sometimes with players that come with his stripes, they don’t really do that. They’re waiting for players to go to them. Not Brandon. He went to them all.”

That was a good sign. Keeping it that way will be even better. The Dolphins not only traded two second-round picks to get Marshall, but they also gave him a $47 million contract extension, including $24 million in guaranteed money. The football talent says he will be worth it. The off-the-field issues cloud that thinking.

Marshall seemed to stay in the news in a bad way in his first four seasons in the league, all with the Broncos. A big, tall, athletic receiver, Marshall caught over 100 passes in each of the past three seasons, which should have cemented him as one of the league’s bright, young stars.

The problem: He caught more flak than passes.

Whether it was the litany of off-field problems with the law — from domestic issues to a DUI arrest to being in the limo when a teammate was killed by gunfire sitting next to him — or his spats with Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, Marshall has always seemed to be in the news.

That earned him a label, one he will have a tougher time shaking than any defensive back:

Problem child.

I have to admit when I met Marshall at the Pro Bowl last February, I thought he would be rough around the edges, that his no-talk act during that week was another case of a diva receiver who was every bit as surly as his reputation.

What I found was a smart, engaging man who was anything like the reputation.

I actually like the guy. There, I said it. I’m not saying I condone anything he has done, but sitting down and talking with him is enjoyable — even if I had to admit to him that I was wrong on the prediction I made to him last February that he wouldn’t be traded and also get paid.

He got both of his wishes.

Battered and beaten for his misdeeds, Marshall is now trying to repair his image. In a 20-minute sit down at the Dolphins facility this week, he was candid, opinionated, remorseful and mature.

It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who earned the label knucklehead in Denver.

“We all make our mistakes,” Marshall said. “It’s about how you react and get back up. Unfortunately, we play a sport where we’re supposed to react before we think. Some of those things hurt me off the field. Instead of sometimes sitting back and thinking, I was reacting. That’s what makes me good on the field. Unfortunately, it hurt me in the past a few times off it.”

Sparano said the Dolphins did an extensive investigation of Marshall before making the trade. They came away convinced they should make the deal.

And the truth is this: While he has had some legal issues, including some domestic disputes, all charges, except for a 2007 DUI, were dropped.

“As days go by, as years go by, we all grow,” Marshall said. “I have grown. The biggest thing that’s different now is that I had to get rid of some people in my past that were killing me, someone close to me, someone who has been around since middle school. That turned for the worse and I let it happen. Once I got that baggage off of me, it made me a totally different person.”

Marshall married this summer. He seems like a new man. His teammates rave about him.

“It was kind of cool to see he wasn’t the preconceived guy you might have thought him to be,” Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said. “People paint a different picture than what he really is. The guy is phenomenal. He coaches all the other receivers, from the 10th guy in the room to the second guy.”

“What’s his label?” Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “Not a good teammate? The way he’s come in here, he’s already impressed. We don’t look at him that way.”

Marshall admits he wasn’t always a good team guy in Denver. He said he never should have punted the ball last summer during a practice, instead of giving it to a ball boy, and never should have swatted a pass away instead of trying to catch it. That led to a suspension from McDaniels.

“When I went home I was like, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’” Marshall said. “But people don’t know what happened before that, that I had a meeting with Josh McDaniels and some of the things he said to me. But my immaturity got the best of me. Kids looking up to you, wearing your jersey, seeing that wasn’t a good example to set for them.”

The friction between McDaniels and Marshall lasted throughout the season, always on the verge of kindling a full-blown fire. It didn’t help that Marshall wanted a new contract and Denver balked. It didn’t help that Marshall didn’t like the way the team handled his comeback after hip surgery in March 2009.

Through it all, he still managed to catch 101 passes, including an NFL-record 21 in a loss to the Colts. The 101 catches gave him 307 in three seasons, cementing his place as one of the league’s best receivers.

For the Dolphins, a team that struggled to throw the football last season and have seemingly been on a search for a go-to receiver since Mark Clayton left, those numbers were enough to warrant a trade, baggage and all.

So far, he has been what Miami expected and more. His work ethic has impressed. His ability to make those around him better has helped the offense. And his big-play ability will draw doubles that will open up the offense.

Marshall isn’t a burner down the field, but in 2007 he gained 15.5 per catch when Jay Cutler was throwing him passes. That number went down to 11.1 last season in McDaniels’ dink-and-dunk offense, which has some re-thinking the idea Marshall is a vertical threat.

“Last year, I broke down my catches and I was catching the ball at 4 or 5 yards,” Marshall said. “We didn’t stretch the field at all.”

The Dolphins plan to do more of that with big-armed passer Chad Henne. Marshall, Hartline and Davone Bess give the Dolphins a nice trio of receivers.

“This year, I will be the No. 1 receiver in the league,” Marshall said. “On the field works hand and hand with off the field. You can’t be who you want to be if off the field isn’t right. Now that I have things in order, I wake up every day and I’m excited to come into this building. I want to be on the field. This is the time for me to go to the next level, separate myself from the other guys in the league.”

The fans are certainly excited to have him. LeBron James might be this area’s top acquisition for a pro sports team this year, but Marshall is a close second. He has been one of the darlings of camp. The fans go nuts with every catch he makes. His No. 19 jersey is already a hot seller.

“It gives me goose bumps,” Marshall said. “The fans are embracing me.”

I asked Marshall if he feels reborn. Like most athletes in new surroundings, coming from troubled pasts, he said the expected: Yes.

This is one player I actually believe.

“The perception is reality,” Marshall said. “In this day and age, you have the media and bloggers, where people can say whatever they want. Sometimes they take things and blow them out of proportion. I’m not saying I was totally right in every situation. The guy that I was written about, and written to be, was just taken to another level. The people who truly know me will say I am a stand-up guy. That’s all that matters, the people close to me, the people in this locker room, the people in this organization. All that stuff just made me a smarter guy, a wiser guy. It made me who I am today. I am not perfect. I still have a lot of work to do.”

If first impressions are any indication, he’s off to a heck of a start.

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