A hand injury suffered last week against the Cleveland Browns ended wide receiver Brian Hartline's season a month early, as the Miami Dolphins placed Hartline on injured reserve Saturday.
Hartline, who suffered the injury blocking former Dolphins linebacker Matt Roth on a play against Cleveland, did not travel with the team to New York and had surgery on his hand this week.
Rather than promote one of their three practice squad wide receivers to take Hartline's place, the Dolphins instead chose to sign rookie tight end Dedrick Epps to the active roster.
The Dolphins are expected to get Brandon Marshall (hamstring) back against the Jets, while Epps becomes the fourth tight end on the team's active roster.
Epps arrived at the University of Miami in 2006 as one of the top high school tight ends in the nation and spent his first two seasons with the Hurricanes as a backup.
Starting during his junior and senior seasons alongside current Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Epps caught 22 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns as a junior, while adding 19 receptions for 247 yards and three scores during his senior campaign. He finished his career with 49 receptions, 634 yards, and six touchdowns.
After going undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, Epps signed with the San Diego Chargers. However, he lost out on active roster and practice squad spots to two former Dolphins tight ends—Randy McMichael and Kory Sperry.
Waived by San Diego during final cuts, Epps was signed to the Dolphins' practice squad in mid-September. There he remained when Jeron Mastrud was promoted to the active roster and Mickey Shuler was claimed off waivers later in the month.
Epps will wear No. 81 for the Dolphins, as he has in practice since he arrived in Miami.
Losing Hartline is a big blow to the Dolphins' passing game, as he is the fast receiver on the Dolphins' active roster and has been one of Chad Henne's most reliable targets for much of the season.
The loss of Hartline will be softened by Brandon Marshall's return from a hamstring injury, although another setback would cause the Dolphins' receiving corps to be significantly depleted.
In Hartline's absence, expect undrafted rookie Marlon Moore to serve as the Dolphins' No. 3 receiver, with fellow undrafted rookie Roberto Wallace in the mix as well.
At tight end, it seems quite likely Epps will be active tomorrow against the Jets. While he joins the active roster as the fourth tight end behind starter Anthony Fasano and backups Jeron Mastrud and Mickey Shuler, and the Dolphins typically only dress two tight ends on game days, it would make little sense to promote Epps (and bump up his salary) just to have him inactive the next day.
Since neither Mastrud nor Shuler has shown anything as a No. 2 tight end (the pair have appeared in 10 combined games for the Dolphins and have zero total catches), there is no reason to not give Epps a shot on special teams and as Fasano's backup and see how he does.
While I don't expect Epps to do much of anything in the next month, I do expect to see him get some playing time. The Dolphins will need a boost in the passing game in Hartline's absence, but don't expect it to be from Epps.
As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.
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Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and is currently a programming coordinator for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.