In less than two weeks, 90 players wearing a Miami Dolphins uniform will take the practice fields, all trying to make the final 53-man roster. Some of those players already know what their task will be, using camp to refine their skills for the regular season. Others will prepare mentally and physically to earn a job and prove that they belong in the NFL.
Here are some of the key position battles that I see developing in camp and continuing through the preseason.
1) 4th and 5th Wide Receiver Positions - The offseason has definitely helped strengthen this position with the additions of Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and the re-signing of Brian Hartline. These players give the Dolphins flexibility in their offensive scheme because of the skill set of the group and the athlete at tight end in Dustin Keller. The big question mark is who will emerge to complete this group and give second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill additional options on the edge?
Rishard Matthews is a virtual lock, in my opinion, for one of the two spots available going into training camp. He brings consistency, toughness to go over the middle and flexibility to play inside or outside. Also, he can be used on multiple phases of special teams and that is always a huge advantage. Armon Binns and Brian Tyms are two names to pay close attention to because of their solid play during OTA’s and mini-camp. Both have the talent to make this team and should challenge and push Matthews.
Newcomer Marvin McNutt also will factor in this competition and he’ll need to flash at some point in practice and carry that into the preseason games. Another name that should be mentioned is Chad Bumphis, but he figures to be a longshot to make the final roster.
2) Defensive End Opposite Cam Wake – This is a battle that will have an effect on the best player on defense, Cam Wake. If players like rookie Dion Jordan, Olivier Vernon or Derrick Shelby can emerge to alter how opposing coordinators scheme to slow down Wake, it makes this side of the ball that much better. Jordan has a lot of catching up to do, but his job early should be very simplistic; rushing the quarterback is what he does best and that’s what the Dolphins defense has been missing opposite Wake. I look for Dion to play in situations that play to his strengths and line up in multiple looks along the defensive front.
Vernon looks more like an every-down player entering his second season and is my favorite to start on opening day at Cleveland. He now has a year of experience and the upside is enormous. Shelby showed flashes of explosiveness last season and I’m curious to see his development during camp. I believe this staff has confidence in his ability, and like what he brings to the table. One other name to watch at this position is Vaughn Martin. He might be used somewhat like Jared Odrick, moving from tackle to end in certain defensive groupings, but he’s one to look for as camp gets started.
3) Kicker – This position should be very straight forward to evaluate and gauge as we move from training camp through the preseason. Dan Carpenter is the veteran — the big question is whether he can be consistent enough to hold off rookie Caleb Sturgis. Both will be put into pressure situation throughout camp and the preseason games, where coordinator Darren Rizzi will be watching very closely. The early call is where Carpenter has struggled over the last two seasons (50+ yards) is where the young, strong-legged Sturgis excels. This, simply put, is one of the most important decisions that head coach Joe Philbin will make during training camp and one he needs to get correct!
4) Cornerback - This offseason not only helped the Dolphins on the offensive side of the football, but it also filled a hole in the defensive secondary as well. The addition of cornerback Brent Grimes seems to have filled the void at one corner position. His skill set is exactly what the Miami defense has been lacking over the past couple of years, players that can turn the football over. Grimes plays the football in the air very well and can handle the opposing number one wide receiver. His attacking style is a welcomed sight and should help this unit, which struggled mightily last season, and his injured Achilles didn’t effect his quickness during OTA’s or mini-camp.
The other corner position is still undecided, but Richard Marshall looks to have the inside track at starting week one. Marshall is coming back from back surgery but looked healthy and moved around with ease during the offseason workouts. Veteran Dimitri Patterson and rookie Jamar Taylor should push Marshall at this position. One plan might even be to move Marshall inside in nickel or dime defenses and playing Patterson or Taylor at cornerback. Nolan Carroll should still be in the competition and rookie Will Davis can also play inside or out giving him more opportunities to get on the field.
5) Running Back - This might be a position by committee, but look for Lamar Miller to get the majority of the opportunities. Miller looks bigger and more like an every-down back coming into his second season. His speed sets him apart from the competition at this position and this staff is betting on his jump in production will be close or better that what Reggie Bush achieved last season.
Daniel Thomas needs to have a productive training camp and more importantly stay healthy. Head injuries have kept him off the field and his durability should be looked at closely during the pre-season. Rookie Mike Gillislee is a do-everything type of back and just might factor into the third down schemes if he can grasp the offense. Also, Gillislee catches the football with ease and has run-after-catch ability. Others that might factor in because of the multiple skills they possess are Marcus Thigpen and Jonas Gray. Thigpen can line up anywhere in the offense and Gray might be used as a short yardage/fullback type if the Dolphins are short on a roster spot and eliminate a true fullback from the offense.
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