Monday, June 29, 2009

Meet the 2009 Rookies: Brian Hartline

June 24, 2009

When the Dolphins drafted wide receiver Brian Hartline in the fourth round of April's NFL Draft they not only added size and speed to their receiving corps, but they also reunited two Ohio State Buckeyes in the process.

Third-year wideout Ted Ginn, Jr., who competed against Hartline in high school track and football up in Ohio, had been the only former Ohio State player wearing Miami's aqua and orange and had to stare down second-year quarterback Chad Henne and second-year left tackle Jake Long by himself last year when the two former Michigan Wolverines were rookies. Now he has another Ohio State alum in Hartline to keep him company - and he also has a familiar face running pass patterns with him during practice.

The 22-year-old Hartline is about three inches taller than Ginn at 6-feet-2 inches and a little heavier at 186 pounds compared to Ginn's 180, and while he would be hard pressed to cross the finish line ahead of Ginn in a foot race, he can get behind many a defensive back. At Glen Oak High School in North Canton, Ohio, Hartline captured state titles in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles as a senior and used that speed to his advantage as a two-year starter for the Buckeyes before opting to leave school early and declare for the draft. His study habits and athleticism left a lasting impression on the Dolphins receiver he no doubt will most often be compared to – Greg Camarillo – during OTAs and the three-day mini-camp held in the middle of June.

"He's faster than me and he makes some big plays, he's definitely a skilled receiver and I'm excited to see what he can do for us this year," said Camarillo, who is entering his fourth season and coming back from a torn ACL that cut short his 2008 campaign. "He's a smart guy. He picks up everything real quickly and I think he knows that if he asks questions he can learn a lot faster."

Hartline has leaned on Ginn more for the off-the-field stuff as he transitions to life as a professional football player since Ginn went through it under a bigger microscope as the ninth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft. During the short time he was on the same field and in the same locker room and weight room as the veterans, Hartline stayed close to Camarillo and listened intently to receivers coach Karl Dorrell.

Some of Hartline's most beneficial lessons, however, came inside the practice bubble away from the rest of the team when veteran quarterback Chad Pennington put in some extra work with the receivers. This is something Pennington has done throughout his career, not only with the receivers but with the offensive line as well, and for rookies like Hartline and Patrick Turner, the third-round pick out of USC, these sessions are invaluable.

"I love playing for him. I think he's a guy that's very meticulous and knows what he wants out of his receivers," Hartline said. "Again he's a veteran so he can kind of give you some ideas about running some routes and even kind of coach you up because he's seen so much of it. So to me that's a definite plus playing with Pennington and also playing with Henne."

Prior to his freshman year in high school, Henne played running back and linebacker and has talked about how that background helped him and still helps him on the field because he is aware of the linebackers' tendencies in the passing game and can appreciate how the running backs react as receivers. For Hartline, he can relate – but in reverse as he started out as a quarterback his junior year in high school before switching to wide receiver midway though the season.

Michael Hartline is Brian's younger brother and he evolved at the quarterback position to the point where he is currently the starting quarterback at the University of Kentucky, but Brian credits his experience as a quarterback along with his overall athleticism (he also played baseball and basketball in addition to football and track and field) with preparing him to succeed as a receiver. Head Coach Tony Sparano has liked what he has seen to this point, specifically with how Hartline fits in with the rest of the receivers.

"As of right now, I like the way it is shaping up. I really do. I think we have added a little more speed to our group right now," said Sparano, who hasn't ruled out keeping as many as six receivers on the roster. "When you look at (Anthony) Armstrong, Teddy (Ginn, Jr.), Hartline; these guys from a speed standpoint out there and the way they run (is a plus). We have added a little more size to the group certainly. Hartline is a big guy; Turner is certainly a big guy out there, Brandon London, so we have some size and athleticism.

"I think a couple guys will be interesting competition and might perform the same jobs as we get on in this thing. You have guys like (Davone) Bess, Camarillo, and Hartline, all guys that can play in the slot and do some of those type things as inside receivers, so it will be interesting to watch how the whole thing shakes down. I like the way the group complements each other and however many guys we keep at that position, we will be able find a role for each one of them at the game."

Another role Hartline is comfortable playing is on special teams as a gunner. He has been quoted boasting how he "likes to crack heads," and as a redshirt freshman with the Buckeyes he delivered the Jack Tatum hit of the week against Indiana while on special teams. Sparano and his staff place a lot of emphasis on being able to excel on special teams and will consider a player's prowess on that unit when making the decision on who to play and who not to play.

So far Hartline has said and done all the right things in the eyes of the coaches and his new teammates, and he harkens back to some of the important lessons he learned from his different high school coaches, specifically his hurdles coach at Glen Oak, Chad Palmer. Every coach he has played for has left an imprint on Hartline's development and he is looking forward to gleaning as much as he can from Sparano and Dorrell, as well as offensive coordinator Dan Henning and the other coaches.

"Every trait that Coach Sparano has is a trait that I like to see in a coach," said Hartline, who finished his college career with 90 catches for 1,429 yards and 12 touchdowns and earned the Paul Warfield award as the school's outstanding receiver as a sophomore. "He's very meticulous. He knows what he wants and he and Chad Pennington really kind of mirror each other sometimes and I think they have a great correlation that again rubs off on everyone else. He has high expectations, loves competition and again that kind of facilitates the rest of the team."

Hartline's goals and expectations headed into training camp are to continue to improve as a receiver and to show enough to Sparano and the others form a versatility standpoint to warrant a spot on the final 53-man roster. At least if that happens he'll be able to hold up his end of the bargain when the war of words about the Ohio State-Michigan game commence.

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