“Blown away”: Pili, Brooks, Hill discuss making Dolphins roster as undrafted rookies

Brandon Pili was “blown away” when he learned he made the Miami Dolphins’ initial 53-man roster.

Chris Brooks thought about what “a blessing” this was.

Julian Hill felt “honored they decided they want me to be one of the pieces” here.

Making an NFL roster for the first time stirs blissful emotions, but those emotions seemingly are heightened for those who make it as undrafted rookies.

The Dolphins have had several undrafted rookie success stories over the years, including cornerbacks Nik Needham and Kader Kohou most recently.

Pili, Brooks and Hill all hope to join that group of multiyear Dolphins contributors.

Pili and Brooks got the news that they made the 53 when they walked into a team meeting on Tuesday and Mike McDaniel announced that those in the room were on the team. Hill got word from tight ends coach John Embree.

Hill, the rookie from Campbell, is one of only three tight ends on the 53-man roster, joining Durham Smythe and Tyler Kroft.

Besides his pass-catching skills (he averaged 17.3 yards on 38 receptions at Campbell last season), Hill’s physicality also impressed the Dolphins. He’s not a novice as a blocker.

“I love the trench warfare,” said the 6-4, 251-pound Hill, who played quarterback in high school but wasn’t pursued as a tight end by Power 5 schools. “I love getting physical. That’s what allows me to buy time to develop in the long run. I have a willingness to block.”

Standing in front of his locker stall, Hill admitted that he felt he was a long shot when he signed with Miami: “Definitely. As soon as I walked into that meeting room, I understand I’m at the bottom of the depth chart. I knew it was an opportunity. That’s all I needed.”

But there is no sense of security now, either. “It’s an interview every day,” he said.

Pili, who grew up in Alaska, persevered through the oppressive heat of a Dolphins training camp, at a grueling trench position (defensive tackle), and made the Dolphins’ roster out of USC.

“Happy and appreciative they gave me the chance,” Pili said. “I couldn’t believe it. I knew I worked for this. I knew I had the talent. I had to get out of my own way, get out of my own head.”

Pili said Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler and Raekwon Davis have been “like the big brothers I never had. They stay on me, help me with technique. Coach Austin [Clark] is a great coach.”

Brooks -- who averaged 4.5 yards per carry in four years at California and 6.3 in one year at BYU (last season) -- seemed like the biggest long shot of the three entering camp; he was behind four veteran backs and rookie second-rounder De’Von Achane.

But Brooks impressed throughout camp; in three preseason games, he rushed 22 times for 104 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and caught three passes for 39 yards. And the Dolphins opted for Brooks over Myles Gaskin, who signed with Minnesota on Wednesday, a day after Miami released him.

Brooks on Wednesday laughed about the Jaguars public address announcer crediting Dolphins cornerback Eli Apple - who also wore 33 in preseason - for Brooks’ touchdown in last Saturday’s preseason game.

During training camp, did Brooks ever wake up thinking, ‘I’ve got five running backs ahead of me. How am I going to make the team?’”

“No,” he said. “Once you look too far ahead, you get really anxious and nervous. It was, ‘What can I do today to get better and how can I learn from those guys?’”

Brooks looked at it this way: “Not getting drafted, it’s an opportunity. I can either take advantage of it or let it go to waste. I chose to take advantage.”

Hill said that “coming into the NFL, I thought my [best] skill was physicality,” adding he’s trying to develop his other skills “to be great as well.”

Dolphins undrafted success stories in the past often had cultivated relationships with Dolphins coaches through the pre-draft process. As an example, then defensive coordinator Josh Boyer reached out to Kohou multiple times last spring, and that helped Miami land him after the draft.

In the case of these three undrafted rookies, Brooks said he had no contact with any Dolphins coaches or officials before Miami made him an offer after the draft.

Before the draft, Pili had kept in communication with defensive line coach Clark, who coached him at Southern Cal a few years ago. Clark’s advice was “to be low maintenance.”

In Hill’s case, “as the draft got closer and closer, that’s when the Dolphins became interested. I thought it was a great fit. I always had my eye on the Dolphins. I like the system. I like coach McDaniel.

“Getting a chance to work with coach Embree, who he’s coached in the past [including Pro Bowler George Kittle], it’s a no brainer.”


General manager Chris Grier offered background information on the Dolphins’ two trades - dealing Dan Feeney to Chicago for a 2024 sixth-round pick and trading Noah Igbinoghene to Dallas for cornerback Kelvin Joseph:

“We signed Dan here to be our backup center,” Grier said. “...Chicago reached out, and so he has an opportunity to go play. I guess they’ve had some bumps and bruises on the offensive line. So for us, Dan did a great job here. He’s got some personality as you know, with the mullet and mustache. He’s a good dude. I was happy for him. He’s from Chicago, so it worked out for him.

“And then in terms of Noah, Vic Fangio here as we’ve been going, we’ve been kind of looking for another nickel player. And so I did some searching around, talked to Dallas, and then they called and they asked about Noah because they need some help on the outside, I assume. We don’t really go into each other’s needs.

“But for us, the chance to add Kelvin as a guy that can play inside and out but has played the nickel and did in the preseason here well – and he’s played special teams, which was something we needed.

“It was tough. Noah has worked hard here since he’s been here. He’s had ups and downs, but he’s a competitive kid. I’m so proud of him. He won us a game last year with a big pick on Sunday night to end the game [against Pittsburgh]. And making the transition from receiver to corner is not an easy thing for a kid. He was so young, I think 20 years old when he got here.

“We were both a little sad leaving, but I’m very happy for the opportunity for him because they really wanted him, so I’m excited for him. And we’re excited to have Kelvin.”

▪ After trading Feeney, the Dolphins now have no natural backup center.

Guards Liam Eichenberg and Lester Cotton will handle backup center duties behind Connor Williams.

Cotton said Wednesday that he has never played center in a game in his life but practiced at center in OTAs and has worked on the side at center over the past five weeks.

“It takes getting used to,” Cotton said. “Starting to feel” more comfortable at it.

Here was my Wednesday live blog with all of the Dolphins’ roster moves - including 10 practice squad signings - and quick hits from Chris Grier.