Miami Dolphins OTA Primer: Offensive Positional Battles

Ja'Wuan James (left) and Billy Turner working at rookie minicamp - Joel Auerbach

The Dolphins' OTAs are open to the media this Tuesday. Take a peek into the offensive positional battles that will be taking place all summer!

We are officially one step closer to the start of the regular season. Unfortunately, it isn't a very big step, but Organized Team Activities are here. Tuesday, in the first OTA session opened to the media, we get to see the Dolphins players run around in gym shorts and t-shirts, which doesn't sound very exciting (it's not) but when you haven't seen professional football in nearly four months then you take what you can get.

Fortunately, we can key in on a few interesting developments within these OTAs. There will be positional battles all over the field when the media gets it's first glimpse at the 2014 Miami Dolphins. Here is your prep sheet as to what to look for in these competitions for starting spots.

Offense:

Quarterback:

This position obviously belongs to Ryan Tannehill as management has hitched their wagon to him. This is no secret, but Tannehill is in a "put up or shut up" or year, the time where he poops or gets off the pot.

However, there may be a competition for the third quarterback position. Rookie QB Brock Jensen, whose blindside was protected by Dolphins' third round pick Billy Turner in college, has been brought in with the hopes that he could unseat Pat Devlin for the third QB spot on the roster.

This isn't an incredibly enticing battle, as it's not even for a back-up position, but having a young developmental QB is important.

Running Back:

This competition will determine how the snaps are divided among running backs. Knowshon Moreno, the former Denver Bronco who was signed to a one-year deal this offseason, figures to be the number one back who will handle the bulk of the snaps due to his ability to do it all (rush, pass block and catch passes effectively).

However, it should be interesting to see how Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, last year's featured backs, respond from their disappointing 2013 seasons.

Miller showed promise at times last season but his running style isn't very physical and he doesn’t fall forward for extra yards. Miller could thrive as a change-of-pace back in this offense, giving the defense an unexpected burst of speed after getting beat up by Moreno, who will be the bell-cow of the offense.

Thomas knows where he stands with this team, and isn't very good. This former second round pick averages under four yards per carry in his career (anything under four is considered bad). Thomas needs to have a strong showing throughout OTAs and training camp to keep his roster spot.

Marcus Thigpen is interesting to me because of the way new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor uses his running backs. Lazor loves receiving backs, and Thigpen is a prototypical receiving back (he's even rumored to be making the switch to receiver). Thigpen could very well see himself earning time on the field if he can grasp this offense and, like Thomas, have a strong showing in OTAs and training camp.
Damien Williams, an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma, was said to be impressive during rookie camp last weekend, but he is a long shot at this point to make the roster. Williams will need to outshine second year back Mike Gillislee, who was unimpressive in his few opportunities in 2013, or one of the aforementioned to earn a spot on the roster.

Wide Receiver:

Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace are safe and will be on the 2014 squad. They will also both be starters barring an unforeseen injury or amazing play from another receiver.

From there, though, the competition gets interesting. The Dolphins have made an obvious effort to bolster the back half of their receiving corps to ensure depth and provide Ryan Tannehill with viable weapons all over the field. Miami's receivers were bitten by an injury bug last year and only two receivers who were on the opening day roster were available by season's end.

The Dolphins signed Damian Williams, a former Tennessee Titans receiver, drafted Jarvis Landry out of LSU in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and added a few other camp bodies added to a now astonishingly deep receiving group.

The fiercest competition will be for the slot position where Landry, Brandon Gibson (the incumbent starter who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury), and Rishard Matthews will compete for the starting position . All three have extensive experience as slot receivers and all bring a different desirable trait.

However, Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey has said Landry won't be limited to inside work, and Matthews and Gibson both have experience as outside receivers. This, coupled with the idea that Lazor will be more willing to use different pieces in different spots (such as Mike Wallace in the slot), could mean that these receivers will likely be vying for playing time rather than a specific position.

The Dolphins will likely spend most of their time in three receiver sets with a tight end and a running back. This means that only one other receiver will regularly be on the field with Wallace and Hartline.

While there will be some sort of rotation, and four or five receiver sets, Matthews, Gibson, Landry, Williams and Armon Binns (a WR who was tearing up training camp last year before tearing his ACL) will be competing for a large quantity of snaps.

One thing is sure with this group, there will be a fierce competition which will make everyone better and provide a strong unit from top to bottom.

Tight End:

Charles Clay is the obvious starter after a career year which earned his a spot on the NFL's list of the Top 100 Players of 2014 (voted on by players). What happens behind Clay, though, is what is intriguing.

Michael Egnew, a 2012 third round pick, Dion Sims, a 2013 fourth round pick, and Arthur Lynch, a 2014 fifth round pick, are competing for likely only two roster spots.

Egnew's seat is the hottest as he has only caught seven passes in his career (all coming in 2013). Egnew has potential and exciting measurables but has never put it all together on the field. This training camp may be his last chance to prove he belongs in the NFL.

Dion Sims play was also a bit of a disappointment last year on a team that featured only one legitimate tight end threat. Sims was brought in mainly for his ability to block, but after a game-winning touchdown grab against the Atlanta Falcons, Sims play dropped off a bit.

Lynch, like Sims, was brought in mainly for his ability to block. This may lead you to believe that Sims is in trouble, and this may very well be true.

This will be a true competition, with the two top guys (outside of Clay) earning their spot on the roster.

Left Tackle:

Nothing to analyze here. Branden Albert signed a five-year, $47 million deal in the 2014 offseason to protect Tannehill's blind side and shave off some sacks from 2013's total of 58. Barring an extremely unfortunate (and season derailing) injury, Albert will be the starter at left tackle in 2014.

However, it will be interesting who the Dolphins work as the back-up left tackle. Billy Turner seems most logical, but having him become a capable left guard should be the first task on Turner's plate.

Left Guard:

Billy Turner, the aforementioned 2014 third round pick, is slotted to start at left guard. Turner, a North Dakota State left tackle, will be in for a huge shock when he has to go up against the likes of Randy Starks and other NFL defensive tackles. How Turner responds to the raised level of competition will be key to his development, but Turner's nasty demeanor and athletic ability on the football field has many believing he can handle the duties of an NFL left guard.

If Turner proves he cannot handle this position then Nate Garner, a career back-up and utility man along the line, will step in to provide solid but not spectacular play.

Center:

Once again, we know the deal with this one. Mike Pouncey will be the starter. However, Pouncey could still receive punishment for his role in the infamous "bullying" scandal that plagued the offensive line last season.

Sam Brenner is assumed to be the one who would step in at center if Pouncey is indeed suspended, but Brenner may face competition from Tyler Larsen, an undrafted rookie out of Utah State. Larsen is one of the steals of the undrafted free agent rookie class and may have found the perfect team to stick on to due to Miami's lack of depth at center.

Right Guard:

This is the most wide open of all the offensive line positions. Shelley Smith, a guard who has started eight of the 25 games he has played in, was signed this offseason to presumably occupy one of the guard spots. Smith is a strong run blocker, is good at pulling, has history with new OL coach John Benton, and fits the zone-blocking scheme that Miami runs well.

However, Smith's pass blocking is under par and could cost him a starting spot. Smith can get to the second level to block, but Hickey is obviously building a pass blocking line after last year's debacle of a line which almost got Tannehill killed.

Dallas Thomas, a 2013 third round pick, Nate Garner, Jason Fox and Sam Brenner could all potentially unseat Smith if they prove to be better at pass blocking and nearly as good at run blocking.

Right Tackle:

This spot is another one that seems as though it is set after the drafting of Ja'Wuan James in the first round of the 2014 draft. However, you never know how rookies will adjust to the NFL. James is a sturdy pass blocker, but his run blocking and overall technique as a tackle could use work.

Luckily, James will be playing at a position which he started 49 games at during his collegiate career. James adjustment should go smooth because he doesn’t have to change position (like Billy Turner).

If James proves he isn't ready for the NFL then Jason Fox, Nate Garner or Dallas Thomas would likely be the leading candidates to hold down the right tackle position.

Follow @DannyWeeumzNFL

 

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