Joey Haynos was starting to get used to life in Wisconsin.
The former Maryland tight end had been living in Green Bay since April, after signing with the Packers as an undrafted free agent and being placed on the team's practice squad to start the season.
Weekdays were spent at the Packers' training facility, lifting, attending team meetings and running the opposition's offense during practice. Haynos was like any other member of the team, save for game days when he and the other practice squad members would sit in a booth at Lambeau Field in street clothes.
But in late September, Haynos' life on the practice squad came to an end.
"[My agent] actually sent me a text message," Haynos said. "I was in a meeting in Green Bay. He said 'give me a call as soon as you get a chance. It's going down with Miami.'"
"It was sort of a whirlwind, meeting with personnel people and coaches," Haynos said. "It was hectic. The good thing was it was during a bye week, so that way I sort of got acclimated a little slower. Everybody wasn't focused on a game that week. But [Miami head coach Tony] Sparano's been great. I even talked to [Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Bill] Parcells a little bit. He told me what he expected of me and told me I had a good opportunity."
Before Haynos signed with Green Bay, the Dolphins were interested in bringing him into camp as an undrafted free agent. Miami tight ends coach George DeLeone noticed Haynos at the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February. He was struck by his size, route-running and pass-catching ability. DeLeone said he "liked the guy the minute I met him."
"We studied a lot of film of him at Maryland. I probably watched and graded about seven games of him at Maryland," DeLeone said. "Being around him, we knew he was very intelligent and could process information very well. Although he was tall and lanky, he's really kind of fluid running routes and catching the ball. His strength is running down the field. He has good body control for a big guy and can really catch the ball well.
"He's got some work to do from a strength standpoint, although he came from a really good strength program at Maryland. He can develop; his upper body can get bigger and stronger in years to come. We thought there was an upside there. Most importantly, his effort, his work ethic and his intelligence [are assets]. Anyone [who's] around him for 10 minutes can see he's a very bright, football-savvy guy. That's what we liked about him right away."
Since joining the Dolphins on Sept. 24, Haynos has appeared in four games and has been inactive twice. He's mostly played on special teams but has also seen some action on offense.
Haynos said his first regular-season game -- a 29-28 loss to the Texans -- was somewhat surreal.
"We were in Houston and the worst part was leading up to it," Haynos said. "The preseason helped with this, but every once in a while you think, 'Wow, this is the NFL, I'm in a huge stadium in front of 60,000 people or whatever, and this is awesome. ... You sort of just overhype things in your mind, but once you get out there you're just playing football."
In the seven-plus weeks DeLeone has coached Haynos, several of the observations he made in Indianapolis have been confirmed. While he's honest about Haynos' long-term prospects in the league, DeLeone likes what he's seen.
"We needed a developmental tight end and we're building a program here," DeLeone said. "This team was 1-15 last season. With coach Parcells and coach Sparano, we're trying to develop a culture and work ethic with young players who have the right attitude. We thought Joe was one of those guys. Coming from coach [Ralph] Friedgen's program at Maryland, we know he's well coached and knew how to take hard coaching.
"It's day-to-day in this league. You're here one day, gone another. But we do think Joey has real good upside relative to his ability to get more physical and ability to get stronger. With his attitude and intelligence, we think there's some hope down the road."
Haynos is enjoying life in Miami. He got a short-term lease on a three-bedroom apartment in Fort Lauderdale -- a definite upgrade from the duplex he and fellow Packers practice squad member Brennen Carvalho, a rookie offensive lineman, rented in Green Bay.
He's adapting to post-college life, although the fact that his grandparents, Mike and Helen Nolan, live 15 minutes away has prevented Haynos from "eating spaghetti every night."
Most importantly to Haynos, his career has gotten off to a solid start. He signed a two-year deal with the Dolphins, but is quick to acknowledge that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. Still, after going undrafted and working his way from practice squad to active roster, Haynos knows that while there's work to be done, he's in a good spot.
"I'm still not satisfied. I've got a lot of work to do to get where I need to be," Haynos said. "I want to be a starter in the NFL. I'm third string right now, but I'm in a great situation in a great city, learning from great tight ends on a team on the rise."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun