Back before the start of Dolphins Training Camp (has it only been a month?), we looked at the team's upside potential; at how the new players most likely will contribute and who would end up as the starters at each position (given what we knew at the time); and some things that could go wrong and end up throwing a monkey wrench into the team's plans.
With camp in the rear view mirror, and only twelve days left until the season opener, I thought it would be interesting to recap that topic and see how many things have gone right - and how many things have gone wrong.
Listed below are the proposed "Upside (best case scenario)" starting lineups from the "Upside, Downside, Most likely" stories, for both Offense (part 1) and Defense (part 2), along with summaries of the "Most Likely", and the biggest potential issues/concerns/question marks heading into preseason.
I must say in advance that, after watching the last game against the Falcons, I was feeling a touch of "Chicken Little Syndrome" (CLS) myself. But after looking at where we were a little over one month ago, and where we are now, I'm feeling better.
What do you think? Are the Fins looking better, or worse, than you hoped they would be rolling into the season opener?
Projected Upside Lineup:
O-Line – (LT) Jake Long, (LG) John Jerry, (C) Jake Grove, (RG) Richie Incognito, (RT) Vernon Carey
QB – Chad Henne, RB – Ronnie Brown, FB – Lousaka Polite, TE – Anthony Fasano, WR1 – Brandon Marshall, WR2 – Julius Pruitt
"...it doesn’t have to be Pruitt, but as the #2 wide receiver, it would ideally be someone who can stretch the field. That means that, right off the bat, Camarillo and Bess are out. They are more reasonably #3 type slot receivers anyhow. So if we are hoping that a developmental guy will step up as a speed guy, Pruitt has the best combination of size and speed. He is 6’2", 206 lbs, with 4.42 speed. Of course Roberto Wallace has better size at 6’4", 223 lbs, but reports of his speed come in around the 4.53 range. And Ryan Grice-Mullen, running a 4.44 40 is about as fast as Pruitt, but smaller."
"The chances are slim that an actual undrafted or practice squad guy will step up and become a legitimate #2 speed WR. So we are probably looking at Hartline or Camarillo being the #2 WR, with Bess in the slot. Still, with Marshall as the #1 WR, this will create more opportunities in the passing game and the run game."
- "Development of players is always unpredictable. John Jerry may not even get into the lineup this year. Or a #2 WR with speed might not emerge.
- A bigger concern than either of these two spots would be QB. If Henne does not develop over last season, or actually regresses, there is no guarantee that Pennington’s shoulder is going to be ready to go, or that Tyler Thigpen will prove a serviceable option.
- ...injured veterans not getting back to 100%. Ronnie Brown; Jake Grove; Patrick Cobbs; Greg Camarillo, all are still question marks coming into training camp. Of these, Grove and Brown are the two most important, and both have replacements that are adequate, but their talent would be missed. The bigger concern would be Brandon Marshall. While no one talks about it much lately, he IS coming off of hip surgery, and for him to have a setback would be devastating. With Marshall out, the offense could quite possibly regress from last season, depending on the status of other developing and recovering players."
Where are we now?
- Okay, seriously... did ANYONE see Marlon Moore coming??? Well, it looks like we may have found our WR with speed, and it ain't Pruitt. Now we will see if he can help out in the return game as well.
- Boy did we luck out by re-signing David Martin! We lost Joey Haynos, but I think we still managed to upgrade the position over last season.
- I also didn't see the prolonged position battle at Center, but since Jake Grove is actually healthy, this just means that we have TWO good players at the position.
- Brandon Marshall, Ronnie Brown, and Patrick Cobbs all seem 100% healthy.
- The O-Line is still a question mark. What was assumed to be a major strength of the team going into camp has turned out to be rather mediocre and appears to be struggling in the run game. Hopefully this will work itself out quickly after settling on the starting lineup. John Jerry is turning out to be a pleasant surprise.
- Henne looks good, but he is going to take some more time to gel with his new receivers. I expect him to round into form quickly, and am not seriously concerned about him regressing at this point.
Projected Upside Lineup:
DL - (DE) Jared Odrick, (NT) Randy Starks, (DE) Kendall Langford
LB - (OLB) Cameron Wake, (ILB) Channing Crowder, (ILB) Karlos Dansby, (OLB) Koa Misi
DB - (CB) Sean Smith, (SS) Yeremiah Bell, (CB) Vontae Davis, (FS) Chris Clemons
"... Tim Dobbins [could] come in and win the starting spot next to Dansby; you could have another rookie in Reshad Jones come in and light up camp and start at FS; you could have the coaches decide that Odrick needs to be eased in to the role, and start Marques Douglas instead…the only truly established positions are Starks at NT, Langford at one DE spot, and Dansby at ILB."
"Crowder and Dansby will play most of the season at ILB. Dobbins will get some reps. Edds will only play in garbage time, or if Crowder and/or Dobbins get injured.
Both OLB spots are in question, but I think Wake will be okay. ...we will just need to rotate guys at both OLB positions, and I think Nolan can do that effectively between Wake, Misi, Moses, Anderson, and maybe Walden or McCoy.
Starks will excel at NT. ...he will be above average and solid at least. And Nolan will also probably give Soliai some opportunity to improve.
The D-Line is solid, even without Odrick. Just starting Langford, Starks, and Douglas in a 3 man front does not look bad. And you have Soliai, Ryan Baker, Lionel Dotson, and Tony McDaniel who can rotate in at either DT or DE. Odrick will play...
- Randy Starks doesn’t work at NT. The risk is not just that Starks will be inadequate at NT; it is also that by moving him we degrade the DE position.
- Our young CBs run into a sophomore slump. We are counting on Smith and Davis to take a step forward, because they were good for rookies last year, but NOT quite good enough to be a starting CB tandem in the AFC East this season, without improvement.
Where are we now?
- The rookies look good! Not great... but good. When you think about how often a rookie, even a high round pick, doesn't get in the field immediately, it just highlights the fact that these kids are really doing well just to be in the starting lineup 12 days before the first regular season game. And the fact that Ikaika Alama-Francis is pushing Misi means more about how well Ike is playing than how poorly Misi is playing.
- Charles Grant looks like a keeper! Randy Starks is playing at a high level and should just get better with experience at the position. And who left a wake up call for Paul Soliai? The D-Line, that had so many questions entering camp, is now looking like a core strength of the team.
- What's up with Crowder? Well, who cares? Looks like Tim Dobbins is filling in just fine, so Crowder may be losing his starting job even if he gets healthy and gets back right away. And with A.J. Edds going on I/R, Micah Johnson has come out of nowhere to look like he might be a great rookie Free Agent find.
- But the Secondary is still looking like a concern. Vontae Davis looks like he is ready to take the next step in improving over last season, but Sean Smith just doesn't seem to be making that same progression. It is still early, but let's hope the light bulb come on soon for this kid. The Fins really don't have anyone else on the depth chart with his level of talent, and with Will Allen STILL out from what was purported to be a "minor" procedure, the Dolphins are thin at CB. Luckily they got Benny Sapp in the trade with the Minnesota Vikings for Camarillo, but Sapp is a marginal starter at best, and the preference would be to keep him at the nickle position. If Will Allen gets back, things should be okay, but that is starting to look like a BIG IF.
- Clemons looks okay. A few rookie mistakes but considering how little playing time he got last season, it's understandable. If he continues to improve he will be serviceable back there at Free Safety, at the very least.
Overall, this team needs experience! But they actually appear to have even MORE talent at more positions than *I* expected in July when we first looked at how we hoped to see the team shape up. They aren't bad now... the have actually flashed excellence at times. And with the starting positions pretty well settled, I expect to see this team continue to make substantial improvement over the first part of the regular season as the players get more "in sync" and the coaches can start to open up the playbook a bit more.
So what do YOU think? Do you feel pretty good about your Dolphins rolling into the Buffalo game opener, or are you still feeling a little "CLS" hanging over your head?