At the start of the Miami Dolphins' 2012 training camp, we took a look at several of the key position battles the team would have throughout camp. Last night, the Dolphins hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first preseason game for both teams. Despite dropping the game 20-7 to the visitors, the Dolphins were able to bring a little better perspective to some of the position battles.
The first position battle is the quarterback position. The three man competition unexpectedly became a two-man battle last night, when it was announced presumed number one quarterback David Garrard had suffered a knee injury, and would most likely miss 2-4 weeks. With the Dolphins looking to name a starter at the position next week, Garrard's injury effectively ruled him out of the battle he was leading.
Now, the team will be trying to choose between last season's starter Matt Moore, and rookie, top-ten pick, Ryan Tannehill. With Garrard already rulled out, the game opened with the Dolphins receinving the kickoff, and Moore heading out to take the first couple of series. While he never looked horrible out there, Moore didn't exactly look comfortable either. He had passes that skipped in front of receivers, and just did not seem to command the offncse, something he was able to do last year.
When the rookie got his chance, playing the majority of the second quarter, and all of the third, Tannehill did not disappoint. After a three-and-out on his first series, which featured ineffective runs on first- and second-downs, followed by an obvious nervous first pass, RT17 settled into a rhythm and began moving the offense. Where Moore seemed to stall at times with the first team offense, Tannehill was able to move the second stringers, including leading the Dolphins to their only score, a touchdown pass to Charles Clay.
While the Week 1 starter at quarterback may not have been decided last night, the team took a major step toward finding the number one guy. WIth Garrard essentially eliminated, Tannehill took advantage to at least demand more reps with the first team and, likely, serve as the starter in next week's preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. If he is able to move the first team like he did the second team tonight, or at least equal the performance of Moore this week, Tannehill should be able to claim the Week 1 top position.
Whereas the quarterback position cleared up some this week, the safety position may be just that much more muddled. While it's common knowledge by now that Reshad Jones is the starter on one side for the team, the other safety position is wide open. Chris Clemons got the start, and maybe the best thing I can say about it is, there's not a whole lot to say about Clemons. Overall, the team defense struggled why he was on the field, but there really wasn't any change between him on the field or off.
The Dolphins also were thought to be looking to get Jimmy Wilson into the battle for the safety position, but the sophomore cornerback-tunred-safety gave up what was probably the highlight play of the game. Buccaneers quarterback Dan Orlovsky dropped back and bombed a ball deep over the middle. Wilson made a break on the ball, getting his hands clearly on the ball. But somehow, he essentially handed the ball back to the Bucs wide receiver Tiquan Underwood while the two were in the air, letting Tampa gain 46 yards and setting up first-and-goal, and, ultimately, the second Tampa touchdown.
The lackluster play at esafety last night really means something has to change, or someone really needs to step up. I would not be surprised if Tyrone Culver, who has been working as Jones' primary backup, moved over during practice this week, and maybe even started there in the next preseason game.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
If the safety position battle did not clear up, the wide receiver competition may have become even more difficult to track. Starting receivers Davone Bess, Chad Johnson, and Legedu Naanee combined for two catches, with a third reception changing into a drop as Johnson let it go right through his hands. But, none of the starting wide outs were in the game very long, turning the contest over to the second and third strings.
After the top three receivers, and starting tight end Anthony Fasano, left the game, Julius Pruitt, Roberto Wallace, and tight end Charles Clay put on a show. Pruitt had a game high six receptions, while Wallace led the team with 71 yards receiving. Add in Clay's touchdown, and the second string guys really stepped up. The team also saw Michael Egnew, B.J. Cunningham, Jeff Fuller, and Chris Hogan get in on the pass catching game. Seemingly the only receivers to not have solid stats were Johnson and Marlon Moore, who were both targeted once, but did not make a grab, and Clyde Gates and Brian Hartline, have both been slowed by injuries this training camp.
The Dolphins wide receivers have been disparaged as one of the worst groups in the NFL, but they did not play like that last night. If Tannehill or Moore can continue to spread the ball around, including targets to the tight ends and running backs (Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, and Jerome Messam were all targets last night for at least one pass), the Dolphins could have a dangerous group of receivers.
The problem becomes, with the team able to spread out the receptions so well, and so many different players stepping up, who do the Dolphins lose when cuts start? Naanee, Johnson, and Bess seem like locks. Hartline should hold on to a roster spot, although he could be looking at an injured reserve stint if he doesn't get cleared soon. That really means the Dolphins are looking for two, maybe three, wide outs from Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt, B.J. Cunningham, Jeff Fuller, Chris Hogan, Marlon Moore, Rishard Matthews (who looked really good on special teams), and Clyde Gates. That's a mess that still needs tome to sort itself out. Hopefully after next week's game, we will have a better idea of how the Dolphins will figure out the wide receiver mess.
This is more of a recent addition to our position battles tracker. With the depth chart released back on Monday, former starter Vontae Davis found himself buried in third. Davis got some playing time, lining up on the boundary in nickel position as Marshall moves inside. But, when he was playing, Davis still seemed too slow and out of shape, the same player we say in the Hard Knocks. There was no real change to the status of this battle, and Davis is running out of time, after this game.
What battles did I forget?