Monday, August 10, 2009

Miami Dolphins' rookie receiver Brian Hartline making an instant impact at camp


August 6, 2009

DAVIE — Many wondered what wide receiver Brian Hartline was thinking when he decided to leave Ohio State University a year early.

At times, Hartline was among them, although his concerns had nothing to do with his playing ability. He agonized over leaving what he called a "magical" place.

"Columbus, the nightlife, everything - it's a great place to be," he said. "It was tough to leave."

The Dolphins eased his doubts and dismissed those of the so-called experts by drafting Hartline in the fourth round in April. That was a couple of rounds higher than projected after he had only 21 catches as a junior. He has rewarded the Dolphins with an impressive first week of camp.

"He keeps amazing me every day," wide receiver Brandon London said.

Hartline entered camp hoping to have a big play each day. Tuesday, he had a leaping sideline grab over 6-foot-3 rookie cornerback Sean Smith. A day later, Hartline made a diving catch in the end zone on a Chad Henne bomb.

"That's part of camp; (coaches) say, "Make us watch you. Catch our eye,' " Hartline said. "That's the thing I'm trying to keep in mind each and every day and every play I get to the line of scrimmage - it could be that play."

His instant impact hasn't surprised coach Tony Sparano. Before the draft, he hit the road to visit campuses with General Manager Jeff Ireland and wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell.

At Ohio State, the Dolphins spent a lot of time with Hartline, who had only 90 catches in three seasons and was considered a far lesser talent than Brian Robiskie, who went to Cleveland in the second round.

Sparano and Co. watched a lot of film of Hartline's sophomore year, when he had 52 catches, 694 yards and six TDs.

His hands, quickness, versatility and football IQ sold Sparano.

"I thought he had some savviness to him," Sparano said. "We talked a lot of football with him, and it didn't take long to figure out he's a pretty smart guy."

Smart enough to know college football had run its course for him.

Ohio State, which reached the national championship game after the 2006 and '07 seasons, took a step back in 2008.

A quarterback switch from fifth-year senior Todd Boeckman to freshman Terrelle Pryor divided the locker room and changed the offense from a pro-style scheme to a spread, meaning less passing and less opportunity for Hartline.

He said he wasn't bitter, but despite the allure of campus life, he decided it was time for a change. Football aside, he had been in college for four years, had earned a degree in communications and also had a new bride.

"It wasn't like, 'I need to get out of here,' " he said. "I was ready to on with my life, keep learning, keep moving. That's all it was."

Now he is fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster, competing with the likes of London, 2008 practice squad member Anthony Armstrong and fellow rookie Patrick Turner.

Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess - Miami's top receivers last year - are locks for three of the five or six spots.

"I'm thinking back to Ohio State when we're carrying 110 (players)," Hartline said. "I'm like, 'Wow.' "

But he seems to have the right mentality to stick. In college, Hartline (6-foot-2, 186 pounds) was a demon on special teams. He twice won the Jack Tatum hit-of-the-week award at Ohio State.

"He covered kicks like a madman," Buckeyes receivers coach Darrell Hazel said Thursday. "He was a fearless guy."

Hartline said he hopes to show that in Dolphins camp.

"If you're on this team, you're going to be making some plays somewhere," he said. "And I intend on doing it. That's the mind-set I have."

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