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Miami Dolphins: Where do we stand?

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Going into training camp this season, there were a some pretty interesting questions being asked about some of the challenges being faced this season by the 2010 Miami Dolphins.   Questions like, "How will Randy Starks handle the move to NT?", "How long will it take Miami's top two draft picks, Jared Odrick and Koa Misi, to crack the starting lineup?", and "Will Chris Clemons be able to handle the role of starting FS?".  How these questions are eventually answered will play a significant part in determining how the entire season will play out for the Dolphins.

While we are only into our second week of training camp, some of the answers to these questions are starting to take shape.  We can take a look at how some of those questions are being answered… and what new questions have come up.

With the loss of Jason Taylor and Joey Porter this past offseason, where will the Defensive pressure on opposing quarterbacks come from?

What we have learned so far:

Cameron Wake looks like the real deal.  According to reports, he is picking up where he left off last season with his ability to rush the passer, but has also gotten better against the run, and is doing well when asked to drop back in coverage.

Mike Nolan's blitzes are coming fast and furious these first few days, but consider this an experimental phase.  Even though he has brought pressure from just about ever position, Tony Sparano wants Nolan to pare down the exotic blitz packages to a smaller set of the ones that work best.  This will limit the number of things the players need to focus on as the team begins to settle in on a starting lineup, and define the Defensive game plans.

The D-Line has rapidly shaped up into a fearsome front!  What was a big area of concern a couple of weeks ago, with questions about moving Randy Starks to Nose and losing Philip Merling for the season, has started to look like it will be one of the most impressive units on the team. 

Randy Starks has drawn praise from every direction, with his ability to play dual roles - he is strong enough to take up two blockers in typical NT fashion, but is also quick enough, and athletic enough to shoot the gaps and create a pass rush on passing downs. He is currently being viewed as an upgrade to the position by Sparano.

And at DE, we suddenly have some incredible quality depth.  Kendall Langford has played well the past two seasons, but reports from camp are saying that he is even stronger and faster than he was last year.  And Marques Douglas and Charles Grant, two front office FA pickups made after the loss of Merling, have both come in and shown the ability to play the position at a starter's level.  Add to that the fact that Jared Odrick has been running with the starters, and has already shown the potential to lock down the starting spot, and you have a solid rotation of impact playersfor Nolan to use while switching in and our of  different fronts.  This should keep the line rested and hungry!

What we are still trying to figure out:

Paul Soliai - initially we heard that he was very much improved; lighter, faster, stronger (just add a cape and you have a super hero).  But I haven't really heard much about him since the first couple of days of camp.  It will be important for him to be able to step into the NT spot to spell Randy, since Starks will be playing an even bigger role than Jason Ferguson did by playing some in passing situations.  Just because he isn't starting, doesn't mean that Soliai isn't expected to be an important part of the Defense this season.

How many snaps per game can Randy Starks handle in his new role?  There has been some question early on here, that Randy is getting winded in his new role quicker than last year.  Shouldn't be a problem, since Ferg only play 25-30 snaps a game, and Randy should be able to blow past that mark easily.

What about the rookies, Koa Misi and Jared Odrick?  Will they get up to speed quickly enough to start?  Will they be as good as expected?

What we have learned so far:

Misi and Odrick look like they are being groomed to start immediately.  But even if they do not start right away, they will both see significant playing time.  Both have been good in camp, although Odrick has gotten more notice.  Odrick is almost a lock to start when the season starts if he keep progressing at his current rate.  Misi seems to be holding his own, but not really standing out.  For a rookie, this is actually quite an accomplishment in itself, considering that he has been inserted into the first team as a starting OLB.  While Misi might not be "flashy" with big plays, neither has he looked lost or out of place.

For both rookies, coming in and playing different positions than they had played in college, and running with the first team D, I would say that they are already exceeding expectations and can only get better.

What we are still trying to figure out:

Nothing really.  They are rookies and we will have to wait and see how they develop through the rest of camp.

How will the Secondary look?  The Free Safety spot has been a major source of concern.  With no moves made in free agency, the Dolphins elected to go with second year man, Chris Clemons.  Will Clemons be able to man the position, and will he be an upgrade over Gibril Wilson from last season?

What we have learned so far:

All initial reports from coaches, media, and teammates are that Clemons is more than just adequate in his new role and the Dolphins starting FS... which automatically makes him an upgrade over last season (we don't really need to dredge up that whole painful discussion once more, do we?).

The biggest knock on Clemons, according to Sparano, was that he wasn't vocal enough to direct the secondary last year, but he seems to have gotten over any "shyness" he may have had.  Sparano now seems happy with his leadership back there and Clemons certainly has the range to play center field.   If Clemons can prove to be in position more often than [that guy from last season], and tackle better than [that guy from last season], then I have a feeling that his speed can help him make up for many sophomore mistakes that might come with getting comfortable in the role.

What we are still trying to figure out:

The CBs - Vontae Davis is a lock.  But other than that, it is hard to predict where everyone will end up.  Sean Smith has appeared to struggle so far.  Granted, both he and Davis have struggled a bit when asked to cover Brandon Marshall, but the consensus seems to be that Davis is the more natural, more aggressive corner, and makes fewer mistakes in coverage.  I don't think this will be a big problem for Smith unless his run ins with Marshall begin to erode his confidence.  Otherwise, I expect Smith to start, with Will Allen playing the nickle position.  But now this kid Nolan Carroll is coming on like gang busters, and with Will Allen still somewhat limited, it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff finds a way to get Carroll involved.  I think Jason Allen is #5, and could be the odd man out in spite of his Special Teams contributions.


Who will end up manning the Guard positions on the O-line?


What we have learned so far:

The only thing I have learned so far, is that Tony Sparano is the "mad scientist" of NFL Offensive lines!

Is it possible that we have taken a step backward here?  As of the end of last season, our O-line was considered a strength, in spite of the injuries which forced a greater combination of different starting lineups than practically any other team in the NFL.  Coming into this season, we knew that we would have to replace Justin Smiley at LG, as well as settle on a starting RG, but I think most of us considered Grove a given at C, and with the addition of Ritchie Incognito, it seemed like we only had one line position up in the air.

But today?  The only spots I would feel comfortable betting money on who will be starting would be the Tackle spots.  I think Grove will win out and Center, but it would probably benefit the powers-that-be for Joe Berger to win the spot.  He is younger and cheaper, and Grove has struggled to stay on the field for an entire season.  And now they are talking about how much improvement the youngster Andrew Hartline is making playing the Center spot.

The good news is that both Donald Thomas and John Jerry look serviceable, as well as Incognito, so I think that the best two of those three will end up with the starting role.

Nate Garner is probably going to be relegated to a utility role because of his versatility in being able to play any line position.

What we are still trying to figure out:

EVERYTHING except Right and Left Tackle!



What we have learned so far:

Well, it looks like Brian Hartline is Sparano's choice to pick up the starting spot opposite Marshall, but will a lot of camp left, and quite a lot of competition at the position, anything could happen.

We know Marshall is starting #1 WR, but Sparano likes Hartline as #2 - largely due to the fact that Hartline is the Dolphins' best WR from last season, in terms of Yards After Catch.  But also because Hartline is currently the fastest WR from among himself, Bess and Camarillo.

However, there are some speedy youngsters that are out there competing and getting a little bit of attention.  While Julius Pruitt has gotten a few mentions from Sparano, it is Roberto Wallace who has seemed to be creating the most talk among the longshots.  Wallace is not only big (6-4, 225), but he timed an average time of 4.53 in the 40 at his Pro Day.  He actually ran a 4.41 with the wind.

And Patrick Turner has finally shown up, reportedly making some fantastic grabs against coverage.

So WR, a position of weakness for us last season, is suddenly starting to look pretty stocked so far this camp.

What we are still trying to figure out:

KR/PR - Kory Sheets was our future!  Well maybe not, but he was beginning to look like he might be our future at kick returner.  With him out, we are hoping one of the young guys like Nolan Carroll or Julius Pruitt can step up, because we are otherwise back to Bess and Cobbs.