By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer
Finally, the 24-year-old sparkplug of a receiver appears to have found a home with the Arizona Cardinals.
That relationship started last offseason with a phone call, when Dortch was almost headed to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. The Cardinals brought Dortch in for a workout and signed him. He spent most of last year on the practice squad but got a chance to work with the starters this past offseason because of injuries at his position.
With DeAndre Hopkins out for the first six weeks due to a PED violation and Rondale Moore (hamstring) and Antoine Wesley (groin/hip) injured, Dortch has been part of Arizona’s regular receiving rotation.
He has definitely taken advantage. Through the first two games, Dortch leads the Cardinals in receptions (11) and receiving yards (118) and is tied for fifth in the NFL in yards after catch (98). In Arizona’s epic comeback victory on Sunday against the Raiders in Las Vegas, Dortch had a team-high 29-yard reception and a five-yard catch for a touchdown.
The 5-foot-7, 175-pound receiver showed what he could do during preseason play, posting 14 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also had six punt returns for 104 yards, including a long of 55 yards.
Dortch said he has benefited from developing a relationship with Cardinals receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, the only coach who worked him out when he declared for the NFL Draft three years ago after his final season at Wake Forest.
“I tried to break this kid, and he would just not quit,” Jefferson said about Dortch’s private workout. “Watching film on him, this guy was like 5-foot-nothing, but he was making plays all over the place. And that’s the thing that sticks out to me about him: He plays bigger than he actually is. And he has very sure hands.”
The New York Jets originally signed Dortch in May 2019 after he went undrafted. He spent time on the Jets’ practice squad his first year in the league, along with some time on the active roster and practice squad of the Carolina Panthers.
The following season, Dortch went to training camp with the Rams after being added to the team’s practice squad late his rookie year, but he was released during final roster cuts. Dortch signed with the Falcons‘ practice squad at the end of the 2020 season. He was released the following year, eventually landing with the Cardinals.
Now in Arizona he gets to work with the coach who saw something special in him in college.
“It’s been great,” Dortch said about working with Shawn Jefferson. “He’s been like a father figure to me. He’s one of the guys that gets on you, but you know it’s for a good reason so you don’t take it personal. He’s also played the game, so it’s just easier to take it from him because he knows what he’s talking about. He’s lived it.
“When you have guys that have played the game, ran routes and have been tackled and sweated, they just understand the body and what it takes to get to this level. So of course, the respect level goes up and you listen to guys like that. It’s very important to have guys on your coaching staff like that.”
This Sunday, Dortch will see a former college teammate on the opposing sideline when the defending Super Bowl champion Rams come to town (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX). Rams backup quarterback John Wolford helped Dortch put up big numbers at Wake Forest. Dortch finished with 89 receptions for 1,078 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his final season with the Demon Deacons. Overall, he scored 19 touchdowns in 20 games played at Wake.
“He’s dynamic,” Wolford said. “He’s got incredible hands, great body control and just a killer mentality. Couple that with his elite traits, and that’s why he’s shown what he’s capable of at the NFL level.”
Dortch said the key for him this season has been gaining a more intimate knowledge of the playbook through studying and reps this offseason and developing a better rapport with quarterback Kyler Murray.
“It’s definitely growing,” Dortch said about his confidence. “Kyler came out when I came out in the same draft class, so we can relate in that area. It’s just been fun trying to learn the ins and outs with the offense. Running with the ones and building connections with those guys.
“With Kyler, I respect his game and he respects mine. I want him to know that every time he throws my way, I’m going to come down with it. I feel like every quarterback here knows that.”
Along with building confidence playing with Murray, Dortch has built confidence in himself that he can play at this level.
“During OTAs, I was just able to take more reps,” Dortch said. “It was just me and Rondale out there. Last year it was Rondale, Christian Kirk and then me [in the slot], so I kind of had to watch in the shadows. Now, getting the actual reps, matching up and running the routes has just made me play a lot faster.
“It’s important, just building a trust around the team and the coaches and showing the world who Greg Dortch is and what I can do. This is my fifth team. I’ve bounced around a little bit. I haven’t really gotten a chance to show what I can do. So, just to be able to show that, it felt good.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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