Yesterday we focused on the battle that the Miami Dolphins will have in training camp at the wide receiver position. But there's a chance that what happens at the receiver position could impact how the tight end depth chart shapes up heading into the regular season. So it only makes sense that we turn our attention to the tight end race today.
There are a lot of different storylines within this position - just as there was within the receiver battle - to make the usually uneventful tight end training camp battle quite interesting. You got contract issues, injuries, rookies, and a converted wide receiver. What more could you want?
THE QUICK BREAKDOWN
Right off the bat, the first issue that arises is the long-term plans for the position. As it stands now, all three tight ends from the 2008 season are in contract years. Anthony Fasano and David Martin are both scheduled to be free agents following the 2009 season. Joey Haynos is as well, though he'd be an "exclusive rights free agent" - meaning if the Dolphins want him back after the season, they can get him cheaply and easily. Will the team's thoughts on the young tight ends influence which veterans make the team this season?
Further complicating matters is David Martin's recovery from offseason sports hernia surgery. Will he be ready when camp begins in less than two weeks? If not, will the Dolphins consider stashing Martin on the PUP list to begin the season?
THE NUMBERS GAME
So how many tight ends will the Dolphins keep? Most teams keep three - and odds are that's how many Miami will keep. However, with Ernest Wilford working at the tight end position a lot this offseason in an attempt to revive his career, it's conceivable that the Dolphins keep two tight ends - and Wilford, the "quasi-tight end," as the third. He would double as the fifth or sixth receiver as well - possibly freeing up a roster spot for somebody else to make the team at another position.
Like I said above, David Martin's health is a question mark. We don't really know how far along Martin is in his recovery from sports hernia surgery. We do know that he didn't participate in most, if not all, offseason practices. But he was an underrated asset to this offense last year. He made a number of key plays. His 440 yards receiving last year was the fifth on the team and his three touchdown catches were the second most in '08. He's also a versatile tight end. You'll remember that Martin lined up a lot at receiver following Greg Camarillo's season-ending injury last year. Simply releasing him outright probably isn't something the Dolphins are in a rush to do because the young receivers on the roster are basically unknown assets at this point. Putting Martin on the PUP to start the season would give the Dolphins some time to see what they have in the young guys while David gets 100% healthy.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
Anthony Fasano is a lock to make the team and start. I love the way he plays and I expect him to get even better following his first career season as a starter. His acquisition last offseason was highway robbery at its finest courtesy of Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland.
Joey Haynos is an intriguing guy. He had just two catches last year - one for a touchdown. But he's 6'8 and provides the quarterback with a huge target. The Dolphins are believed to be high on the kid. He'll be entering his second season now with one full year of NFL experience under his belt. It'll be very interesting to see how he comes along in camp and how the Dolphins use him.
John Nalbone was a fifth round pick out of Monmouth this year but is far from a sure thing to make the team. But there's a reason he was drafted as high as he was. He's got good size (6'4, 255) and speed (ran his 40 in the 4.6s) and produced as a pass catcher and run blocker at Monmouth. But he was uncharacteristically inconsistent catching the football during OTAs and minicamps this past offseason. And he's the kind of player you can slip through waivers and place on the practice squad for the year - giving him time to work with the team, learn the offense, and improve his game.
The undrafted rookie out of Central Washington, Jared Bronson, is said to be a very good athlete and was labeled a "sleeper" heading into the draft as a pass-catching receiver. But he'll be a long shot to stick around with two proven vets, a second-year player who the team likes, a rookie drafted earlier, and a former receiver who has NFL experience.
THE KEY BATTLE
The key battle here is really between all four "bubble" tight ends. But if I had to pick one, I'd say it's Haynos against Nalbone. Both are practice squad eligible. And I think that one of these two will indeed be placed on Miami's practice squad - assuming no team claims him off waivers. But the kicker here is that the winner of this position battle could actually be the player placed on the practice squad. Theoretically, the Dolphins could keep Fasano and Martin as their top two tight ends and then keep Wilford around as a WR/TE "swingman" - in which case the winner of this battle ends up on the practice squad. On the other hand, the Wilford experiment could fail and the Dolphins could keep Fasano, Martin, and the winner of this battle - meaning the loser winds up on the practice squad. Lots of possibilities here to consider.
If I had to guess right now, I'd say that Anthony Fasano and David Martin (provided he's healthy) both make the team again. I'd say that Joey Haynos has the inside track to the final tight end spot - meaning Monmouth's John Nalbone lands on Miami's practice squad.