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It’s so easy to overlook Brian Hartline. He doesn’t have the speed of Mike Wallace, the versatility of Charles Clay or the young legs of Jarvis Landry. He isn’t boastful like some receivers and you get the feeling he doesn’t mind residing in the background while others get the majority of attention.
Brian Hartline kind of sneaks up on you – as a person and a football player. But just when you take him for granted, just when a defense focuses its attention on the other side of the field, Hartline will do what he does best: Catch passes, make important plays, level a defender with a key block and do enough of the little things to win games.
If you’re looking for consistency, there is no better player on the Dolphins offense than this six-year veteran out of Ohio State. If Hartline does this season what he has done the past two seasons – catch passes for at least 1,000 yards – he’ll become the first Dolphins receiver to put together three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Go through the years. Think about all the talent the Dolphins have had at receiver. Paul Warfield. Mark Clayton. Mark Duper. Nat Moore. Irving Fryar. An impressive list indeed. But none of them had a three-pack of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
I asked Hartline about that after a recent practice. In typical Hartline fashion, he tried to deflect the praise. “Any time you do something special that’s never happened before for a franchise, it’s something special,” he said. “But that seems like so far off. We’ve got training camp to get through first.”
This is a story of a player who wasn’t supposed to be big enough or fast enough or, yes, talented enough to carve together a long career in the NFL. But now, after years of putting together some impressive numbers, nobody can realistically diminish Hartline’s value to this team.
When the Dolphins had few other alternatives, Hartline was the go-to guy and saw more than his share of double coverage. When Mike Wallace arrived last season, things changed and Hartline adjusted. Now, with his fourth offensive coordinator in six years, Hartline is adjusting again.
There are more quality receivers around him than ever before. More big play alternatives. More depth. More competition. But this is a player who never looks over his shoulder unless it’s for a long pass, a player who enjoys the competition and now relishes a new, more diverse role in this offense.
“We are doing a lot of things we haven’t done in my previous six years here,” said Hartline. “I look forward to getting into this offense. It’s challenging mentally. It’s something you can learn and master.”
Hartline is healthy, has a nice contract and seems to have all his priorities in order. Ask him the one catch he’ll never forget and he’ll point to an 80-yarder at Arizona a couple of years ago. “Only because I’ve seen the picture of it so many times,” he says.
Hartline believes deep down there are many more memorable catches ahead. At 27 years old, he is in his peak years where his mind his sharp and his skills haven’t wavered.
“When you start in this league, it’s like your athleticism is through the roof and your mental state is at the bottom and, when both meet together, that’s probably your peak years. That’s probably where I’m at right now.”
Finally, after signing another autograph, answering another question and enduring another practice, I wondered if this was all still fun for Hartline. “It depends what day you ask me,” he says. “But, truthfully, it’s all about winning. When you win, it’s always fun.”
He paused and looked out toward an empty practice field. “We need to do more of that here.”
Hartline, as always, is ready to do his part.
(On Friday, AC in the AM takes a look at Friday’s preseason opener at Atlanta)
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