There are moments during practice where Brandon Gibson's head is spinning faster than the football he's supposed to catch.
In the span of seconds the Miami Dolphins' new receiver must decipher if he's facing zone or man coverage, and adjust his route accordingly.
What's the hot route responsibility based on the defense? Is he running a stick or option route? Eight yards or 10?
Hesitate and you're too late.
Gibson, whom the Dolphins signed this offseason to a three-year deal worth $9.78 million, isn't just familiarizing himself with a new team, new quarterback, and new offense. He's also learning a new position, cramming this offseason to become an NFL slot receiver.
The Dolphins traded veteran slot receiver Davone Bess to Cleveland during the draft opening the door for Gibson to become the team's new third down target, therefore Gibson needs to hit the ground running during this week's three-day minicamp that wraps up the team's offseason work.
"We like the way he runs routes," coach Joe Philbin said of Gibson, who caught 51 passes for 691 yards and scored five touchdowns for the Rams last season.
"We thought he played big," Philbin continues. "We thought he competed for the ball well and he caught the ball well. He's not a double catcher. He caught the ball with his hands and we like."
Philbin claims he wants to move away from specialist roles like the one Bess filled since 2008. He prefers to have a receiver unit filled with players who can be utilized in all three spots, and moved around. Miami believes Gibson fits that mold.
"I can run any route out there," said Gibson, who is beginning his fifth NFL season.
But first he must learn the inside spot that have turned specialists like Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and his former Rams teammate, Danny Amendola, into household names.
Gibson openly admits he's struggling to identify some of the adjustments he must make based on the defense he's seeing. That trait is typically what makes slot receivers the most quarterback-friendly targets.
"He's a good player, but he's still adjusting to all the nuances of the offense," said quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "It is one thing to sit in the meeting room and learn it on paper, but all the adjustments, and hot throws are stuff you kind of pick up over time."
How long does the transition of becoming a slot receiver take? O.J. McDuffie, who filled the slot role for most of his eight seasons with the Dolphins, estimates it might take a season or two.
"You need patience, quickness, toughness and hands," said McDuffie, who caught 415 passes during his career. "The biggest thing is you've got to be smart. You've got to be able to see and read everything so fast in the slot."
McDuffie said watching the tight end work, examining how they adjusted their routes based on coverages, sped up his development. That's one of the tips he'd pass onto Gibson.
"My thing is, know what I'm doing. If I know what I'm doing I'll be all right," Gibson said. "I don't think I'm going to step right in and be perfect from day one. It's a learning process and I'll get better."
The Dolphins pursued Gibson this offseason because their film study showed he had all the traits needed to move the chains, and produce big catches. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Gibson led NFL receivers in first down and touchdown conversion percentage last season.
Gibson was targeted 75 times on first down or touchdown routes by the Rams, and he converted 43 times for a 57.33 percent success rate, which was narrowly ahead of San Diego's Malcolm Floyd (57.32 percent).
Just for comparison sake Bess, who has annually been one of the NFL's top third down converters, ranked 46th (38 receptions on 96 targets; 39.58 percent).
Philbin insists Gibson won't be pigeonholed as Miami's inside receiver. But for now he must pass the crash course designed to teach him what Philbin calls "the savvy that goes along with that position."
"You're in between the linebacker level, safeties dropping down, and you're going to have to read things on the run relatively quickly," Philbin said."We think [Gibson] is a guy that has that awareness to adjust to different coverages, which I think you have to do inside."Copyright © 2015, South Florida