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Training Camp Primer: 5 defensive players I'll be watching closest

Well before I get into my latest "training camp primer," I did just want to highlight an article (actually a blog post) from the Palm Beach Post that talks about how hard of a worker Tony Sparano is.  It's a good read and it also provides some info about when training camp will begin for the Dolphins.  In the article, Sparano is quoted as saying:

My coaches know right now when we show up July 26, what we’re doing that first day of training camp.

So whether that's the report date or that's the first day of practice, it looks like Saturday, July 26 is a key date for all of us Dolphin fans!  Of course, it's also a weekend that I have another wedding to go to, but I guess I'll just have to deal with that issue myself.

Regardless, it seems like we are just over a month away from the start of training camp.  So let's talk a little bit more about what we are all going to be watching once camp kicks off.  Today, here are 5 players on the defensive side of the ball that I'll be watching very closely in camp/preseason:

Phillip Merling / Kendall Langford
Well, considering these 2 still aren't signed yet, I guess we need to cross that bridge first before we talk about camp.  However, I don't think either of these 2 will miss any camp time due to a hold out, so don't worry.

The reason these two are both on this list is simple: they are the 2 highest defensive draft picks by the Dolphins in '08.  Both play the DE spot in a 3-4 defense.  And both have the potential to be big-time contributors to the Dolphins in 2008 and beyond.  Their progress in camp will also go a long way towards determining the futures of several other Dolphin defensive lineman on the team.  Vonnie Holliday is probably safe for this season, but could be expendable if Merling and Langford really come on this year.  Matt Roth could see a limited role if these 2 rookies perform well in camp.  Rod Wright, though, is a player who could potentially lose his roster spot if Merling and Langford prove they can be key contributors right from the beginning.  So the development of these 2 youngsters will be something we all should certainly monitor.

Channing Crowder
Crowder will be a player to keep an eye on in camp for a couple of reasons.  First off, he's been limited all offseason long due to the knee injury that ended his season a little bit early in 2007.  And while he has been sitting out of team drills, it's been two new players brought in by this new regime that have manned the inside linebacker spots in Miami's 3-4 defense: Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor.  Right now, I'd say there's no guarantee Crowder will even start by September.  Do I think he will?  Yes.  But he's going to have to earn it, that's for sure.

The other interesting storyline involving Crowder is his contract status.  His rookie contract expires after this season.  And to my knowledge, the Dolphins haven't yet approached his agent about an extension.  What does his future hold?  Will he be in Miami in 2009?  I suspect if he plays well in camp, he could see an extension prior to the season opener.  But I also wouldn't be shocked to see Crowder remained unsigned well into the season.

Joey Porter
Last season was an obvious disappointment for Joey Porter.  His production dropped off and Dolphin fans all over bitched and moaned about his signing to a rather ridiculous deal.  He did, however, look more like the Joey of old over the final half of the season, likely because his knee was finally 100%.  And now Porter has put pressure on himself to prove to everybody that he still is an elite outside linebacker.  He's much happier with the system they will be running in 2008.  It's back to more of a traditional 3-4 defense under Paul Pasqualoni.  It's a system he's much more used to and effective in and is more "player-friendly."  Joey has also worked as hard as anyone has to get quicker and stronger while also working on his technique.  Call me crazy, but I personally have a strange feeling that Porter is going to explode for a big season this year.

Jason Allen
For obvious reasons, many of us will have our attention on this former first round pick.  And now that the coaching staff reportedly likes Allen's skills, it's hard not to get a little more excited than we should be about Jason's potential in 2008.  He's finally in a system that will allow him to stop thinking and start playing, letting his natural athletic ability take over.  Can he be the starter opposite of Yeremiah Bell?  Or will one of the others (Renaldo Hill, Chris Crocker) beat him out for the starting job?

Jason Taylor
I really hate bringing him up right now, but let's face it: all of us will be watching the JT situation closely as camp approaches.  Will he show up?  If so, will he be on time or will he skip some workouts?  If he is in Miami for all of camp, will he give the kind of effort we all expect to see from him or will his heart not be in it?  Has the lack of preparation taken a toll on his production on the field?  So many questions surround this one individual and, like it or not, we are going to have to talk more and more about Taylor as camp approaches and eventually gets underway.

So there's my list.  Let me know what you think below.

Also be sure to tell us which defensive players you will be watching closely once camp gets underway.