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Five Intriguing Camp Battles

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Travis Wingfield checks in again this week, previewing training camp by examining 5 key positional battles to watch.  Check it out:

Rookies are already getting settled in and the vets report in just four days. That's right folks, that beautiful smell in the air is the dawn of the football season approaching at light speed. Every year, the day after the Super Bowl, every single football fan dies a little bit (with the exception of those who were victorious). Well, that population is back with the return of football. All camps will be opening sometime within the next week and some have already begun. So let's cut the grass at the facility at Nova University, paint the end zones, and discuss what we can expect to see at camp and in the pre-season over the next month.

Receiver Slotting (numbers 2-5)
First, let's set things straight. Chris Chambers is the best receiver on the Miami Dolphins. It can be debated all day whether he's a legitimate number one, but he's the best Miami has to offer. Who will precede him as the other starter and in the slot? That's where camp could get interesting. There might have not been a more impressive receiver in the mini camp sessions than Derek Hagan. Derek had a very nice college career at Arizona State but was hampered by a bad showing at Senior Week. After falling to the 3rd round of the 2006 NFL draft, he had a sub par rookie season with the Fins. He did however show a sense of breaking through late in the year, most notably so when Cleo Lemon came into the game vs. the Jets on Christmas night and Derek caught 3 passes for 35 yards in the 2nd half. Hagan will be battling veteran Marty Booker for the starting spot opposite Chris Chambers. Booker has been a solid target for the Fins since coming to the team in 2004 but has shown displeasure with the move to Miami numerous times since the trade. Should Hagan beat out Booker, I see a trade or possible release of Marty prior to the start of the season. This all leaves us at Ted Ginn. Ginn will likely be the number 3 receiver, running the flank when Miami uses three wide sets. Chambers will be moving around from the X to the Z receiver and Ginn's speed will be used on the edge.

Now we get to look at the 5th receiver spot. There are a few players battling for the spot which includes Az Hakim, P.K Sam, David Sutton, Michael Malone and Kerry Reed. I believe it comes down to Hakim and Sutton unless something drastically changes in the training camp sessions. Hakim was a homerun target and a good return man for the Rams during the "greatest show on turf" era. He would also provide a backup return man should Ginn suffer an injury at any point in the season. Sutton has earned several fans after his performances turned in at off-season workouts. Sutton was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Dolphins this spring. Sutton played at 3 colleges in his career, finally ending at the University of Texas El Paso. Who will win the battle for the last receiver spot on the Dolphins? I have to go with Az Hakim for his experience, special teams ability, and big play potential.

How will the receiving core shake out? Here's how I see it.

  1. Chris Chambers
  2. Marty Booker
  3. Ted Ginn
  4. Derek Hagan
  5. Az Hakim
Left Guard
As much as this topic is debated, it could all be moot point once the season arrives. The reason being is that there is an all-pro guard up in New York who is not happy. Veteran Pete Kendall is showing frustration with the Jets in not getting him a long term deal and in turn he has expressed interest in leaving. Miami looks to be a hot landing spot for Kendall, who would solidify a questionable line. Hopefully, for the Dolphins, Kendall lands in Miami, but who will play left guard if Kendall can't get in aqua and orange?

Drew Mormino opened camp with the first team back in June. Quickly thereafter, he was yanked in favor of veteran Chris Lewinski. Lewinski spent time in Minnesota before he was cut after winding up in Mike Tice's dog house. He was brought in to provide depth on the line, but now he could be pushed into a starting role. Mormino was a center at Central Michigan and played on the same line as Joe Staley. Mormino just signed his deal last week and will be in camp on the first day.

Where's the smart money? I'd like to tell you Pete Kendall, but if that's not the case, look for Lewinski to be the starter.

Backup Quarterback
This could be the most interesting battle in all of camp. Rookie John Beck will battle Cleo Lemon to be the backup to Trent Green. Lemon started one game last year and played in bits and pieces of two others. He was more effective than Joey Harrington in each of his appearances and some Miami fans want to see what they have with Lemon. Lemon is definitely a solid player to have on the roster to fill depth at the quarterback position but I'm not sure he could hold the fort if the starter missed a significant amount of games. The smart money would be on Lemon to open the season, but don't be surprised if John Beck is promoted to the number 2 at some point mid-season. Beck is mature, smart, accurate and has a cannon for an arm. He has all the tools to be a good NFL quarterback and is undoubtedly the future of this team. I'll stay with Lemon to open the season but not for long; the backup job will be Beck's by the bye week.

Cornerback Slotting (number 2 and nickel)
Is Jason Allen a bust? Are Travis Daniels and Andre Goodman healthy? Can Will Allen be a number one corner? These are all questions that need to be answered and this position just might be the biggest area of concern on this Dolphins football team. Will Allen is the number one corner, bar none. He tackles well and can run with any body but he struggles when the ball is in the air. Who will be the starter opposite of him? Jason Allen was supposed to compete for the spot but I'm not giving him much of a shot after his mini camp showings. Travis Daniels was playing on a hurt ankle all of the 2006 season and it showed. Daniels played well in 2005 after replacing public enemy number one, Reggie Howard. If Daniels is healthy, I give him the leg up over Andre Goodman, who will play a solid nickel position. I still prefer to have Daniels as the nickel because of his build and physicality, but he moves to the edge by default. If he's healthy, Travis should have a nice year.

How will our cornerback depth chart look? This is what I've got:

  1. Will Allen
  2. Travis Daniels
  3. Andre Goodman
  4. Jason Allen
Punter
I know, I too found it odd that I would be talking about our punter in this article, but with the departure of Donnie Jones, someone's going to have to kick footballs for the Dolphins this year. Brandon Fields is the rookie competing and he is a beast of a punter. Fields is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 235 pounds. In his 12 games at Michigan State this past season, he averaged 43.3 yards per punt and placed 16 balls inside the 20. Ryan Flinn is the competition. Flinn punted for the Packers in 2005 but didn't play in the NFL in 2006. I have to go with Brandon Fields here and it's likely that Flinn will be cut. The Dolphins won't carry two punters and they used a pick on Fields so the job is his to lose. I still dislike the trade of Donnie Jones because essentially Miami traded Jones for the rights to draft Fields.

With all this said, the most important thing is that football is back. Football fans wait 6 months for this time of year and it has finally arrived. The Fins could be a good team this year or it could all blow up and end up with a top 5 pick. It all starts Saturday when practices begin; that's when we start to find out what kind of football team we have in South Florida. This is Cameron's first go at head coach in the NFL, he needs to step in right away and earn respect and trust from his players. First impressions are always very important; Cameron needs to establish his legacy right away in Miami. Training camp is upon us Dolphins' fans.