Miami Dolphins: The Two Most Interesting Training Camp Contests to Follow

Mike Ehrmann

The two most fascinating battles will take place at the defensive end position and throughout the linebacking corps. Read on to see why will these contests so engaging to follow.

 

The Miami Dolphins' training camp will be filled with fierce battles for starting positions at multiple spots, but none will be more interesting to watch than the defensive end competition for the starter opposite of Cam Wake and battles that will take place within the linebacking corps.

 

Defensive End:

 

This contest takes place between Olivier Vernon, a 2012 third round pick who had 11.5 sacks last season, and the 2013 NFL Draft's third overall selection, Dion Jordan, who played on only 338 defensive snaps last season.

 

Jordan wasn't able to start in his rookie season because of a lack of ability to set the edge which resulted from an inability to lift weights and get stronger which stemmed from a lingering shoulder injury.

 

A full offseason in the Dolphins program will allow Jordan to bulk up, but Vernon will be entering his second full offseason program with a spectacular, unexpected year under his belt and the confidence that a double-digit sack total brings.

 

Vernon won't give up his starting spot easily, so Jordan will have to make great strides this offseason to overtake Vernon, but we all know Jordan possesses the talent to do so.

 

If Jordan can't beat out Vernon for the starting spot because he still cannot effectively set the edge or Vernon just continues his impressive play from last year, what will the Dolphins do with him? Witnessing this third overall pick sit on the bench for a second year would really grind the gears of Dolphin fans (and would also result in the Jordan trade rumors reviving).

 

This is where the linebacker competition gets interesting….

 

Linebacker:

 

If the above mentioned scenario plays out and Jordan is not starting at defensive end, then the demand to have Jordan's talent on the field could warrant the part-time switch to linebacker, similar to Von Miller's role with the Denver Broncos.

 

Jordan has been committed to the DE position, but he played LB at times last season when he was asked to blanket New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (which he did successfully).

 

If Jordan were to make the switch to linebacker, which spot would this athletic freak fill?

 

The current linebacker situation is a bit hazy after poor play from WLB Philip Wheeler, average play from SLB Koa Misi, and inconsistent play from MLB Dannell Ellerbe, all of whom signed lustrous contracts with the Dolphins in the 2013 offseason.

 

Middle Linebacker:

 

Ellerbe, who is making the most out of the group (averaging just under $7 million per year), is assumed to be penciled in as the starter at MLB due to his large cap number and the fact that a linebacker wasn’t drafted until the fifth round of the 2013 draft.

 

Ellerbe played well at times last season, but his inconsistency effected the whole defense. With Ellerbe leading the Dolphins' defense, the unit gave up the most rushing yards since the horrendous 1-15 season of 2007 and surrendered at least 130 yards on the ground in 10 games in 2013.

 

Ellerbe was hampered by a shoulder injury for a large portion of the season, and while this is a good excuse, the NFL isn't interested in excuses which means Ellerbe needs to elevate his play if he wants to keep his position long-term.

 

Jordan could fill this position if the team feels that Ellerbe isn't physical enough to man the MLB spot, which would then allow Ellerbe to shift to WLB where is best suited. However, it is likely that Ellerbe will be the starter at this position.

 

Strongside Linebacker:

 

Misi was the Dolphins most effective run-stopping linebacker, which is why Misi was said to be an option to move to the MLB position to help end the woes mentioned above. Unfortunately, the same reporter who broke the story about Misi moving to MLB reported that Misi was unwilling to make the switch.

 

Don't forget that these reports were simply speculation and training camp will provide the true answer.

 

As it looks now, Misi will be able to retain his spot as the SLB and will remain a two-down linebacker who comes out on obvious passing situations. However, he may receive competition from Philip Wheeler for this SLB slot, who will receive fierce competition for the spot of WLB.

 

Jordan has the ability to man this spot, but that would require Misi to make the switch to MLB so Ellerbe could step into the WLB position.

 

Weakside Linebacker:

 

Wheeler is the linebacker who's starting spot is least secure. Wheeler led the Dolphins in tackles in 2013, but most of those tackles came after the ball carrier was at least five yards past the line of scrimmage. Wheeler was often out of place against the run which led to huge gains on the ground. Wheeler was also a liability in coverage, zone and man.

 

The one thing he did do well, however, was pressure quarterbacks. No, not sack them, as he only had half a sack on the year, but pressuring them. Wheeler wasn't bad at the A-gap blitzes that defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle frequently called and was often in the backfield in the QBs face.

 

Wheeler's ability to blitz may earn him playing time, but his inability to cover and tackle effectively (his missed tackle led to Giovanni Bernard's highlight run against the Dolphins) will likely cost him a starting spot.

 

Wheeler will be facing immediate competition from 2013 fourth round pick Jelani Jenkins and the aforementioned 2014 fifth round pick Jordan Tripp. Both are prototypical WLBs and fit the position better than Wheeler, but both would be a burden against the run. How well these two perform in camp is a big equation in all of this. If either Tripp or Jenkins is able to start at WLB, then this changes the whole dynamic of how this LB corps can be put together.

 

This is the area where Jordan could step in and immediately bolster the Dolphins linebacking unit and the defense as a whole. Jordan has the athleticism to cover the area that a WLB must be able to, but he also has the experience on the strong side that would allow him to be a viable run stuffer on the weak side.

 

Starting Scenarios:

 

  • DE: Jordan

SLB: Misi

MLB: Ellerbe

WLB: Jenkins/ Tripp/ Wheeler

 

  • DE: Jordan

SLB: Wheeler

MLB: Misi

WLB: Ellerbe

 

  • DE: Vernon

SLB: Jordan

MLB: Misi

WLB: Ellerbe

 

  • DE: Vernon

SLB: Misi/ Wheeler

MLB: Jordan

WLB: Ellerbe

 

  • DE: Vernon

SLB: Misi/ Wheeler

MLB: Ellerbe

WLB: Jordan

 

  • DE: Vernon

SLB: Jordan

MLB: Ellerbe

WLB: Jenkins/ Tripp/ Wheeler

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