Kickoff return a secret weapon for Dolphins

Miami's Kenyan Drake is averaging 38.9 yards per kickoff return, including a 96-yard touchdown in Week 9 and a 78-yard return last week against the 49ers. Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

DAVIE, Fla. -- There are many reasons for the Miami Dolphins' six-game winning streak. But one of the under-the-radar contributors has been its stellar kickoff return unit, which is third in the NFL at 26.9 yards per return.

A pair of rookies -- tailback Kenyan Drake and receiver Jakeem Grant -- have led Miami's kickoff return team to some big plays this season. Grant averages 24.4 yards per return, and Drake is averaging 38.9 yards per return, including a 96-yard touchdown and a 78-yard return last week.

Drake’s average would lead the NFL if he had enough returns. He has just seven this season.

"I think there’s a little bit of that sense of if we can create a crease, one of those two guys will hit it," Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said this week. "I think back to watching how Devin Hester used to be, where that group would always feel like 'If we just give him a chance, maybe he’ll make something happen.' Those two guys aren’t quite there as far as his level. He’s probably the best that has ever done it."

Dolphins special teams coach Darren Rizzi credits the consistency of the nine blockers up front, which includes players such as Walt Aikens, Michael Thomas, Spencer Paysinger, Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt. For the most part these core players -- along with the two rookie returners -- have been together all season.

"I think one of the things that goes unnoticed, I think all of the credit goes to the guy with the ball in his hands," Rizzi said. "If you look at that particular (78-yard kickoff return by Drake) on Sunday, we had nine guys or 10. ... we had 10 guys working their tail off. If you pause that -- as a coach, it made me proud."

The Dolphins have gained 221 more yards on kickoff returns than their opponents this season. It has provided an opportunity for Miami to flip field position, which is valuable in close games.

Here are some other notes Friday for the Dolphins:

  • Receiver DeVante Parker missed his third straight practice with a back injury. He did some light jogging on the sideline during the media portion of practice Friday and spent time on the exercise bike. The Dolphins will wait until game day to determine his final status.

  • Linebacker Jelani Jenkins returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two practices with hand and knee injuries. Left tackle Branden Albert (wrist) and rookie guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) both practiced for the third straight day, which is promising for the offensive line. Tunsil said he expects to play Sunday against Baltimore.

  • Sunday’s game marks the start of three road games in the next four for Miami. The Dolphins also have to play at the Jets in Week 15 and in Buffalo in Week 16. If Miami (7-4) hopes to qualify for the playoffs, it must win more on the road. The Dolphins are 2-3 away from Hard Rock Stadium this season.