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New Dolphins go-to guy Brandon Marshall bonds with fans and teammates

A grueling practice in steamy weather had just concluded Saturday, and Brandon Marshall lingered at the fence behind the sideline, chatting with young fans as he signed caps, helmets and other Miami Dolphins souvenir gear.

Marshall appreciated the requests. Growing up in Orlando, he was an autograph-seeker himself.

"I've still got autographs from guys like Curtis Martin, Shaquille O'Neal, Cris Carter," Marshall said. "I can go on and on — Phil Simms and Brett Favre, when they were in the quarterback challenge in Orlando. I got all those guys. I love signing autographs for the kids, because that's something they'll remember for a long time."

As training camp begins, the Dolphins' new Pro Bowl receiver is bonding with fans and teammates as well, especially quarterback Chad Henne. Marshall caught two long passes from Henne during the opening practice Friday, drawing whoops from spectators.

Coach Tony Sparano resisted any temptation to whoop, but he smiled when asked what impressed him about Marshall in the first two practices.

"He does have great physical ability," Sparano said. "You don't always get a chance to watch a real topflight big receiver."

Sean Smith agreed. He was the cornerback burned by Marshall's combination of finesse and strength on both long completions.

"He showed me something new I'd never seen before," Smith said. "He's a vet. He has been around and showed me some new tricks out there."

That rare talent is the reason Miami traded two second-round draft picks to the Broncos in April for Marshall, then gave him a four-year contract extension worth an average of about $10 million a year through 2014.

In Denver, Marshall caught at least 100 passes each of the past three years and made the Pro Bowl in 2008-09, yet still wore out his welcome. He clashed with coach Josh McDaniels, and a long legal record leaves him one strike from a yearlong NFL suspension.

Marshall says he learned from his mistakes, and he has received an A in comportment since joining the Dolphins. Sparano praises Marshall's work ethic and leadership, as well as his skills.

"You'll see him with his arm around some of these young players, and he's talking them through some of the things he has done," Sparano said. "He has been unselfish. That's something I appreciate and have been impressed with."

For the Dolphins, Marshall's most important relationship will be with Henne, and it's a work in progress. Hip surgery in May curtailed Marshall's offseason regimen, and timing between a receiver and quarterback only comes with time.

"We've got a long way to go," Marshall said, "but the first game isn't until September. This is what the preseason is for. We have a lot of time to get it right."

Henne is familiar with the rewards of a rangy receiver — as a freshman at Michigan, he threw 15 touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards. In his first year as an NFL starter last season, Henne worked with an unimposing pass-catching group, and he's quick to recognize the 6-foot-4 Marshall as an inviting target.

"Brandon is very smooth," Henne said. "He understands how to run the routes, and he understands how to use his body. You can tell that you've got a really good guy out there that can glide and is very smooth throughout his cuts."

In the Dolphins' first two seasons under Sparano, they've been a run-oriented, ball-control team. Their wideouts totaled six touchdowns last season; Marshall had 10 in Denver.

Sparano has tweaked the playbook, eager to take advantage of his big offseason catch and improve on last season's 7-9 record.

"When we got Brandon," Sparano said, "I told the offensive coaches, 'I want you to put together all the things that this guy does well.' You go through the film, and all of a sudden you're at 40 or 50 plays. You watch him on tape at Denver, you see some of the things he really does well. Some of these concepts weren't completely in our offense, so we were able to take some of those things."

On a team lacking star power, Marshall has quickly become the face of the franchise. Because his familiar No. 15 was taken, he switched to No. 19, and it's already a popular jersey number with spectators at training camp.

When asked if he thought a lot of the fans were there to see him, he smiled.

"No, not at all," he said. "Jake Long, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams ... I wasn't the only guy."

But he is the Dolphins' new go-to guy — for autographs and more.