Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: A battle at wide receiver

I told you we'd begin whipping out our "training camp primers" to discuss and debate some of the key storylines to monitor once camp kicks off.  And I'm a man of my word.

The wide receiver position is going to be a very interesting position to watch this year.  You got a combination of guys who are virtual locks to make the roster but still have to step up their production as well as guys who are squarely on the active roster bubble.  Throw in some rookies and a 2008 starter coming back from a serious injury, and the question marks at the position quickly pile up.

THE QUICK BREAKDOWN

Virtual locks to make roster: Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo
Likely to make roster: Patrick Turner, Brian Hartline
On the bubble: Brandon London, Anthony Armstrong, Ernest Wilford
Long shots: Brennan Marion, Chris Williams

THE QUESTIONS

There are two questions that jump out right away.  One - is Greg Camarillo healthy enough to make the roster or does he have to begin season on the PUP list?  If he did, that would potentially free up another roster spot.  And that brings me to question two - how many receivers will the Dolphins keep on their 53-man roster?  Five is the norm.  But the Dolphins usually dressed only four on gamedays in 2008 - and dressed only three once Camarillo went down for the season.  So it's clear that this regime doesn't necessarily think you must keep five receivers.  And keeping six - as many think Miami will - is far from a sure thing.

THE NUMBERS GAME

What makes this position such an interesting one to watch in camp is because it will have ramifications on the entire roster.  If the Dolphins do the unconventional move here and keep six receivers on the 53-man roster, you have to begin to wonder which position will lose a roster spot.  And that brings me to Ernest Wilford - everyone's favorite free agent bust from a year ago.  We know that Wilford has been working as a tight end this offseason in addition to receiver.  You could conceivably make a case that Wilford making the team as the 6th wide receiver would allow the Dolphins to keep only two true tight ends on the roster - with Ernest playing the role of 6th WR/3rd TE.  However, doing that would mean that the other five roster spots at wide receiver would come down to seven players.  And there's no guarantee Wilford will even perform well enough in camp to merit making the team at any position.

Placing Greg Camarillo on the PUP list to begin the season would free up a roste spot.  However, he participated in the team's final minicamp far more than anyone thought he would - proving that he might be very close to 100% as we head into training camp.  If that's indeed the case, there's no way Greg gets stuck on the PUP list.

Some people are wondering about Brian Hartline, the team's 4th round draft pick back in April.  Some think that the Dolphins could try to stash Hartline on the practice squad to begin the season.  However, to do that, the Dolphins would have to waive him and allow the other 31 NFL teams a chance to claim him off waivers.  He could also be plucked from the practice squad at any time by another NFL team (the only stipulation is that the player must spend the remainder of his season on the 53-man roster).  So it's a risky proposition to try to stash him away like that.

The Dolphins also reportedly like Hartline's verstility a lot.  They've used Brian at every receiver position and receivers coach Karl Dorrell said "the one thing I like about Brian is his versatility."  That probably explains why he was drafted higher than many thought he'd go.  Coupled with Brian's special teams contributions, I find it unlikely that Hartline doesn't make the 53-man roster out of training camp.

WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

It's likely that Ted Ginn and either Davone Bess or Greg Camarillo will be starters to begin the season.  This is a big year for Teddy, too.  You'll remember that during non-contact OTAs and minicamp, head coach Tony Sparano made it a point to say Ginn has looked "dominant" at times in practice.  That has to translate to on-field production once the pads go on and practice goes live.  Bess remains the Dolphins best receiver working out of the slot thanks to his agility, quickness, hands, and fearlessness.

Look for Patrick Turner to make a splash as well in the right situations in 2009.  The third round pick out of USC has impressed everyone who has watched him perform this offseason.  He has shown "vacuum-like" hands and is reportedly running very good routes.  His combination of size and hands should make him, at the very least, a viable redzone threat immediately.

THE KEY BATTLE

If I had to pick one head-to-head battle for a roster spot, I'd say it would be between Brandon London and Anthony Armstrong.  London has been highly regarded among Dolphin fans and scouts alike for some time.  It's believed that nearly half of the league put in a waiver claim on London last year when the Giants attempted to sneak him through waivers and onto their practice squad.  The Dolphins, though, had top waiver priority thanks to their dismal 2007 season.  London was active on gameday for 14 games but mainly contributed as a special teamer.  However, he did make one critical diving catch on third down against the Jets that kept a touchdown drive alive.  His combination of size, speed, and catching ability has kept London's ceiling very high.  However, the selection of Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline (one a big receiver the other a special teams contributor) could make London expendable.

Meanwhile, the receiver who opened the most eyes this past offseason was Anthony Armstrong.  He consistently made big play after big play during OTAs and minicamps.  Tony Sparano said that it go to the point where the quarterback was actually targeting Armstrong and looking for him to make a play.  He's got tons of speed and seems to have improved his route running.  But he's very thin (5'11, 175 pounds) and has no NFL experience.  Of course he  did spend last season on Miami's practice squad - so he should be very familiar with the offense.  However, he has to produce on the field during practices when the hitting is live as well as during preseason games if he hopes to stick around on the 53-man roster in '09.

THE PREDICTION

I think that Ginn, Camarillo, and Bess will all be on the team.  I expect both rookies - Turner and Hartline - to make it as well (though I wouldn't be shocked if Hartline found himself on the practice squad).  I also think there's a distinct possibility that the Dolphins keep six receivers to open the season - with that final spot going to either London or Armstrong.  And if Armstrong can make a couple big plays during the preseason, I really think he could sneak onto the roster as the sixth receiver.

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