Dolphins' Amaya specializes in making an unexpected impact
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By David J. Neal
MIAMI - When rookie free agent safety Jonathan Amaya said he will do anything to make the Dolphins roster, he means it. He has done it. Tell Amaya all he has is a walk-on's chance to make the roster and he has to impress quickly, and that"s fine with him. He has done that, too.
Amaya went to the University of Nevada as an afterthought even among walk-ons and left after being a four-year starter who played everything but offense. Ther e's no advanced calculus involved in why the Dolphins promptly signed Amaya after he went undrafted, but rather simple football addition - hunger plus heedlessness plus ability to hit to hurt - and a desire for more special-teams mayhem.
"He's probably the best hitter we've had in here in a long time," University of Nevada assistant coach Ken Wilson said. "Jonathan hit so hard for a little guy 6-2, 190 pounds, that our equipment guys put a linebacker's neck roll on his shoulder pads because he would knock himself dingy in practice."
Ask Ryan Mathews. That's the Fresno State running back the San Diego Chargers wanted so badly at No. 12 overall, they tossed the Dolphins a second-round pick to swap positions in the first round and the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Mathews and Amaya came together during last season's Fresno State-Nevada game. Amaya got up for the next play. Mathews' next play was two games later, after his concussion retreated.
"It wasn't even a big powerful hit," Amaya said. "I was coming from a long way away. It was third-and-20, maybe. They were running a screen to Ryan. I caught him in the open field. We met heads up. Two bigger-sized dudes things happen."
Wilson said, "He did that a lot. It wasn't a big deal to him, but it ignited our team."
Score before the hit: 17-14, Nevada. Final score: 52-14, Nevada.
Mathews probably wished Amaya had stuck with baseball, his other sport at Diamond Bar (Calif.) High.
"I didn't get any offers coming out of high school to play football," Amaya said. "I was a baseball guy, center field and pitcher."
The San Francisco Giants drafted him in the 40th round, but Amaya figured being taken that late, he might as well go to college. He sent out videos to several schools out west. Like an undrafted free agent, all he wanted was the shot he got from Nevada.
"Probably by the fourth or fifth game of his true freshman year, he was starting for us," said Wilson, whose first description of Amaya was "smart."
Amaya played cornerback and safety, but in a system that didn't require much man-to-man coverage from him. What surely caught the Dolphins' attention as much as his speed - 4.43 seconds in the 40 at his pro day - was his special teams play.
During the draft, the Dolphins spent picks on players who not only could play special teams, but also actually had done so in addition to their regular position. As Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said after the draft, that removes the uncertainty about whether a player can or will do that duty.
"He can return punts, kickoffs; he can be a gunner on the outside," Wilson said. "He can block field goals. He did everything for us on special teams. He wants to be in the middle of everything. He gets mad if you take him off the field, especially for special teams."
That's often where you find players like Amaya if they take advantage of the one thing he asked for at Nevada and is thankful he got from the Dolphins: a chance.
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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): AMAYA AND DOLPHINS