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They were rookies last year. Wide-eyed. Hungry. Fresh out of college. Thrown into a strange environment with all new teammates and the type of pressure they had probably never experienced before.
How much could we really expect?
But now that has all changed. They have grown up to second-year players. On the surface, it may seem like only one year. But in the world of the NFL, it is an eternity.
Check out the Dolphins’ roster. Focus on the years of experience. As of this exact moment, you will find 17 players with a “2” under the experience column. That represents more than 20 percent of the roster.
Every one of them is being counted upon to be significantly better than they were the first time around; obviously some more than others. As you look further at those players, you will also notice that many of them form the nucleus of this football team.
The starting quarterback. The left tackle. A running back with electric potential. A defensive end hoping to add juice to the pass rush. The top kick returner. A couple of young tight ends. And a whole lot of depth.
Yes, it’s time for a second helping and these young players entering their second season may just hold the key to the success of this football team.
Joe Philbin on his second-year players: “I think the play speed and decisiveness is much different. Each player varies, but having a full cycle as an NFL Player, having a full offseason program and a chance to watch cut-ups of the previous season, has to make a difference. I think (these players) have a much better understanding and comfort level which should allow them to compete faster and harder.”
Translation: Philbin expects significant improvement in Year 2. And when you analyze this group of twentysomethings, it is clear that the Dolphins need for this to happen.
Here is who I see as the 10 most prominent second-year players:
• Ryan Tannehill: As has been written several times already and will be written many more times, Tannehill holds the key to this football team. We saw some good things as a rookie, but everyone is counting on a quantum leap in his second season.
• Tackle Jonathan Martin: Now starting on the left side, Martin must succeed for this offensive line to be solidified. Other than Tannehill, no second-year player needs to improve more. Martin has gained 15 pounds of muscle and appears primed for this significant challenge.
• Lamar Miller: He is running much more confidently in his second season and seems to have grabbed the early edge for the starting job. If he can prove to be the explosive back this team needs, imagine the possibilities.
• Olivier Vernon: Based on what I’ve seen early in camp, Vernon could be one of the most improved players on this team. He schooled Martin on a one-on-one drill a few days ago and that’s not easy to do. Vernon has a first step in his pass rush that you just can’t teach. “Last year was a learning year,” Oliver said. “I had to soak everything in and play my role. This year I’m just trying to get a feel for everything that will be thrown at me. I’m trying to be an every down type of player.”
• Michael Egnew: Lost in a fog a season ago, that fog has apparently lifted. But has it lifted in time? And to what degree? Egnew, a third-round pick, appears determined to make up for his shortcomings as a rookie. He is catching the ball much better in training camp and has a chance to contribute to this team. The next five weeks or so will tell plenty. “I expect to play this year,” he said. “I’ve gotten stronger. I’m absolutely ready.”
• Marcus Thigpen: Already established as a consistently good kick returner, Thigpen is now in the hunt for playing time at running back. He has many of the skills you are looking for; it’s now a matter of getting enough repetitions to prove himself.
• Rishard Matthews: Opened eyes on the second day of camp with a nice 70-yard touchdown catch from Matt Moore. There are openings for the fourth and fifth receiver spots and Matthews is clearly in the mix. A seventh-round pick, Matthews will need to excel on special teams.
• Armon Binns: In a very similar situation as Matthews and could, in fact, be battling Matthews for a roster spot. Has excellent hands and some big-play ability. Will need a strong preseason to make this team.
• Josh Samuda: Could be a valuable piece in the offensive line puzzle because he can play both guard and center. Will get plenty of opportunities to solidify his spot on the roster with five preseason games.
• Josh Kaddu: With a lot of depth already at linebacker, the odds will be difficult to overcome for last season’s fifth-round pick. The fact that he was waived and brought back tells me the coaches see an apparent upside. Kaddu is one of the many players who need to make a significant impact in training camp.
Check back with A.C. In the A.M. tomorrow when the column takes a look at the Dolphins pass rush and the impact Dion Jordan and Olivier Vernon could have.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.