DAVIE, Fla. – During Tuesday's minicamp, Chad Ochocinco sprinted up the right sideline as fast as he could.
After the Miami Dolphins' newest receiver gained a step on cornerback Sean Smith, quarterback David Garrard threw a back-shoulder pass deep that forced Ochocinco to make a quick adjustment. Ochocinco spotted the ball, stopped on a dime and leaped over Smith while keeping his feet in bounds to make an acrobatic catch. It was one of several great plays the 34-year-old receiver made in Miami's first day of minicamp.
"He definitely has 'it,'" Smith said of Ochocinco. "I know a lot of people wrote him off. If you look at his numbers last year, they weren't productive. But he's out here, his routes are crisp and he's coming out of his breaks. He looks good. He's definitely going to be one of those guys who turns heads this year."
Although it's just one practice, Ochocinco was the best receiver on the field for Miami on Tuesday. It's been awhile since that was the case.
The six-time Pro Bowler spent most of his 2011 season on the bench with the New England Patriots. Ochocinco recorded a career-low 15 receptions for 276 yards. He fell as low as fourth or fifth on New England’s depth chart before finally being released June 7. It was the first time in the NFL that Ochocinco was ever cut.
Now, for the first time in a long time, Ochocinco has something to prove. Ochocinco was very business-like in his approach this week, and he looks determined to show his critics he still has something left in the tank.
"I'm getting back to what we're all used to seeing, the basic fundamentals of how I came to what I am," Ochocinco said. "I think I kind of lost that. Now, I'm looking to go back to Chad Johnson, just making it live again."
Sometimes it takes going back home to get back to your roots. Ochocinco grew up in Miami and went to Miami Beach High School. As soon as he was cut by the Patriots, he came back to South Florida to work out with his friend and fellow free agent Terrell Owens.
The receiver-deprived Dolphins worked Ochocinco out a few days later and signed him to a modest one-year contract. It’s a team he always rooted for growing up. Ochocinco cited “The Marks,” as in Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, and quarterback Dan Marino as some of his favorite players.
More importantly, the Dolphins are more accepting than the Patriots to let "Ocho be Ocho." He is charismatic and has a unique personality. At any moment, Ochocinco can say something funny, something from way out in left field. It's a big part of who he is, and the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick took that away from him. Ochocinco had the muzzle on his mouth from the day he arrived until the conclusion of the Super Bowl. It was an uncomfortable year to say the least.
But Ochocinco is back to having fun again in Miami. He's already chirping to the defense and his quarterbacks, which is something he was scared to do in New England. Ochocinco was that way earlier in his career, and that's when he was confident and played his best football.
"Chad thinks he's open on every play," said Garrard. "Even when it's the punt team [on the field], he's open. So it's been great. He will remind you that whoever he's got on him, he's open."
Smith said he wants Ochocinco to let his personality show this season, because that will help the receiver be more comfortable as a player.
"As a player and a teammate, I would like for him to go out and be him," Smith said. "Let it loose, and give it everything you got. If you have to talk when you play, talk when you play, as long as you back it up."
Ochocinco is winning over his new teammates and coaches in Miami. That's a great first step. No one has ever questioned Ochocinco's work ethic. He's always been a hard worker and showed up for Dolphins camp in great shape.
Miami rookie head coach Joe Philbin told a story this week displaying Ochocinco's dedication to getting back to his old form.
"Last Wednesday we had a team meeting and we called off practice to go and perform some community service," Philbin said. "This is my 10th year in the NFL and I have been around practices that have been canceled and I've never been around a player that wanted to practice, but Chad wanted to practice, so he’s been good. So far it seems that he is fitting in well."
At the end of Ochocinco's meeting with the media Tuesday, he said "enjoy the show."
Perhaps Ochocinco has something in store for 2012 that will surprise a lot of people.