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Former Dolphins draft pick poised to return to prominence after barely playing in 2020

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After transitioning from a 15-game starter as a rookie to a seldom-used backup in 2020, Dolphins offensive lineman Michael Deiter conceded that he felt a bit dispirited for a short time last season.

“Damn, I used to play a lot and now I don’t,” he admitted thinking briefly.

But that feeling was fleeting: “I didn’t get too caught up in, ‘Damn, I’m never going to play again.’”

And now Deiter stands very much in the mix for the Dolphins’ starting center job, at the very least on equal footing as former Baltimore Ravens starter Matt Skura, if not ahead of him. Former Saints backup Cameron Tom also is competing.

Dolphins coach Brian Flores said last month that Deiter is competing for playing time, not merely a roster spot.

“I can’t sit here and say I was with the ones today and I’m the starter,” Deiter said after the first day of Dolphins training camp at the team’s new facility adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium.

“It was good to get back out and be taking a lot of snaps. But it’s not redemption. At the end of the year, maybe it will be redemption. Hopefully I can be a good center for the Miami Dolphins.”

Starting, if it happens, “would definitely be significant.”

A third-round pick in 2019, Deiter played nearly every snap as a rookie (except one December game when he was benched) and allowed six sacks (third most among NFL guards) and 44 pressures, which was second most.

Overall, Pro Football Focus rated him 80th among 83 qualifying guards.

After the Dolphins acquired Ereck Flowers in the 2020 offseason, the Dolphins informed Deiter he would move to center, where he hadn’t played since 2016 at Wisconsin, while still getting some reps at backup guard. Deiter backed up Ted Karras at center last season.

“I was super receptive [to playing center] and very comfortable,” he said. “I started at Wisconsin at center my first two years. It wasn’t like it was something totally brand new to me. I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t angry. I was just excited they thought I could play another position well enough to help us out.”

The biggest adjustment from guard? “The toughest thing is it’s a little more mentally. You are doing a lot more talking, making sure everyone is on the same page. A lot of the guys look to you, like ‘what’s the call?’”

He said he believes he has “good qualities of a center — smart, tough, dependable.” He has studied tape of former Cowboys center Travis Frederick, who retired last season.

After starting 15 games at guard as a rookie, Deiter played only 23 snaps last season — all at guard in the New England game — and performed capably that day. Flores was effusive in his praise of Deiter afterward.

Going from starting in 2019 to barely playing in 2020 “was definitely weird, almost felt like I was redshirting type thing,” he said. “I was ready to go in whenever. Just wanted to make sure if I played, it wasn’t a huge drop-off” from Karras, who signed with New England in March.

RECEIVER UPDATE

The Dolphins began training camp without receiver DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, who are both on the physically unable to perform list.

Parker has an injury issue that isn’t considered serious, according to a team source. Williams continues to work his way back from November foot surgery.

Also, receiver Will Fuller left practice a bit early — walking alongside a trainer — but did not appear to be limping.

Receiver Albert Wilson was dynamic Wednesday, catching a 63-yard bomb from Tua Tagovailoa for a touchdown late in practice.

Wilson — who opted out of playing last season due to family concerns about COVID-19 — admitted he wasn’t up to par physically in 2019, less than a year removed from a significant hip injury.

After ranking among the league leaders in yards after catch in 2018, he fell to 95th in that category in 2019 while dealing with a hamstring injury and the aftermath of the hip issue.

“Like night and day,” Wilson said of his speed and shiftiness compared to that 2019 season. “I’m completely healthy. I feel like I can do anything. I’m back to normal.”

After skipping last season, “I didn’t realize how much I would miss football. Just being out here playing since I was 6 to stepping back from it, I definitely realize how much I loved the game. I’ve been training the last year and a half. When the season was going [last year], I was training every day.”

Wilson said the touchdown pass was a “beautiful ball by Tua.”

THIS AND THAT

Besides Parker and Williams, two other Dolphins also were placed on the PUP list: linebacker Elandon Roberts, who’s working back from a serious December knee injury, and offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, whose absence is related to a conditioning test and an injury issue.

Players on the PUP list can be removed at any time during training camp.

Rookie offensive lineman Larnel Coleman was placed on the COVID-19 list, meaning he either tested positive or was exposed to someone who did.

The Dolphins signed guard Tyler Marz, who has played in six NFL games, with one start for Tennessee in 2018.

Linebacker Benadrick McKinney accepted a big 2021 pay cut from $7.75 million to $3 million.

The final two years of McKinney’s contract were eliminated and he thus will become an unrestricted free agent next March. McKinney had been due to make $8.75 million in 2022 and $9.5 million in 2023, but none of that was guaranteed.

McKinney’s 2021 cap number was sliced from $7.2 million to $3 million. That extra $4.2 million in cap space gives the Dolphins $8.7 million in space.

Tight end Mike Gesicki, who dealt with shoulder problems last season, said “I got it fixed up,” and he has been fine since April.

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