O’Leary excited for 1st TD catch as Dolphin
MIAMI GARDENS — Nick O’Leary charged out of his crouch in the backfield, roared right, glanced back and reeled in a touchdown catch he’ll forever treasure.
Sure, the former Dwyer High School and Florida State Seminoles standout also scored in his previous NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium. But that 26-yard snag in the regular-season finale last New Year’s Eve, which helped the Buffalo Bills make the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and snap what had been the longest running non-playoff drought in North American pro sports, came against his hometown Dolphins.
Sunday’s 5-yard touchdown catch from Brock Osweiler, which accounted for the only score in the first half of the Dolphins’ 31-28 overtime triumph against the Bears, was for the team he grew up rooting for.
Shoved in the back as he reached the ball out over the goal line, O’Leary tumbled to the turf, rolled, bounced up and fired the ball into the air under-handed.
“I usually don’t get too excited about things, but I got pretty excited,” said O’Leary, who was immediately embraced by receiver Danny Amendola before other Dolphins mobbed him. “It was fun.”
O’Leary had three catches for 30 yards in the first half, and he hauled in another grab for 19 yards in the third quarter to capitalize on all four times he was targeted. It was a productive second game with the Dolphins for O’Leary, whose grandfather, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, watched from the stands as he did in December.
O’Leary didn’t have a catch in his Dolphins debut in Cincinnati last week, but Dolphins coach Adam Gase deemed O’Leary’s effort “outstanding” and said he did “a great job blocking” while playing 28 snaps — 41 percent of the Dolphins’ offensive plays, and just two fewer snaps than starting tight end Mike Gesicki.
O’Leary started Sunday against the Bears and made an immediate impact, catching a short pass to the left from Osweiler on the second play from scrimmage for a 14-yard gain.
“We were on scout team [together] a couple of times and we got a little connection. We hit it off,” said O’Leary, who was signed to the Dolphins’ practice squad Sept. 18 and promoted to the 53-man roster on Oct. 6. “It’s always good to get the ball in your hands at the beginning of the game.”
O’Leary, a sixth-round draft pick in 2015 who had 32 catches, 473 yards and two touchdowns in 35 games (12 starts) with the Bills prior to his release Sept. 1, said getting extensive action against the Bengals helped him feel comfortable in his first home game Sunday. His touchdown on the Dolphins’ second possession capped a seven-play, 54-yard drive that accounted for the only offense from either team before halftime.
“He does a good job with both run [and] pass protection and what our game plan was,” Gase said. “The tight end was not going to be involved as much and Mike [Gesicki] knew that going into the game and we probably thought we were going to go a little more two-tight end personnel. But it didn’t go that way ... we were able to do a lot of things with him in there.”
Receiver Albert Wilson said of O’Leary: “We knew when he came in that we were going to be able to use him.”
Tight end Nick O’Leary’s 5-yard touchdown catch on Sunday, which accounted for the only score in the first half of the Dolphins’ 31-28 overtime triumph against the Bears, was a special one for him.