For the past couple of months there have been many debates over which training camp battle would be the most intriguing to watch. Many people did and still believe that the battle for the starting QB role is the most intriguing, however with the way Ryan Tannehill has been playing at practice and because of David Garrard’s injury, it seems to be getting clear as to who will start come week 1. The true battle lies within the wide receiver core; A band of young, talented, yet unproven players who have yet to play at the level of a starting wide-out (excluding Davone Bess of course). This competition has been turbulent throughout training camp, and none of us really know who will make that 53.
Before we get into the in-depth-analysis portion of this article, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. First: Chad Johnson. Many people were angry at the fact that he was head butted off the team, including me (but that was because he was funny on hard knocks, not because he was good or anything) This widened the hole for other receivers to step up their game and compete for a starting job, but more from that later. Second: Davone Bess is the only wide receiver on the team that is a lockdown, sure thing starter on this team come week 1. Third: Brian Hartline will not be cut, and is almost guaranteed his starting job if he’s healthy.
The reason for why this article is called "inceptionized" is because I have broken down the group of receivers into three separate levels, each group deeper than the previous. Let's take a look.
This level consists of only two guys: Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. Neither of these players will be cut or traded come week 1, and as stated above, both of them are almost guaranteed a starting spot, but only if healthy. The reason for why neither of these players will be cut is because both have them have proven what they can do, and because both of them would excel in the West Coast Offense. Obviously Davone Bess will play slot & Brian Hartline will take that "Number 1" spot, so who will fill up that third starting position…will it come from the second level? We have to go deeper.
Level two is made up of those wide receivers that might have what it takes to be a consistent starter in this league, but have yet to prove it. Marlon Moore, Legedu Naanee, Clyde Gates, and Roberto Wallace are the four players who happen to fall into this dream state (Am I pushing it?) Let’s start with Legedu Naanee. The 5-year vet has been showing off his tremendous blocking skills throughout camp and has been quite the safety valve when it comes to third down stituations, this coming off reports. It wouldn’t hurt to have experience at the realm, but can Naanee’s experience surpass some of the other contestants?
Roberto Wallace, the man that has only played 8 years of football, is one of the few players on the entire team that has coaches craving for him to take that next step. What he needs is that extra kick to get him from level two to level one. (I am pushing it) Like assistant general manager Brian Gaine said to him on hard knocks: He has the speed, he has the size, and he has the athletic ability…. so what’s stopping him from being elite. Last Friday Wallace caught 4 passes for 71 yards, each catch going for about 13 yards. After the game Wallace said he felt a lot more "comfortable" out there. Hopefully Wallace can go up from there, because the only thing stopping him from being elite is himself.
The last two players on this level are Marlon Moore and Clyde Gates. Marlon Moore seems to be a good wide receiver, but like Wallace, he hasn’t taken that next step, and he’s working with a lot less physically. However his special teams play is something that might get him on the 53 man roster. Clyde Gates…what is there to say about Clyde Gates? He has racecar speed, but yet he’s a mediocre kick returner & a mediocre receiver. Honestly, Clyde Gates might not even belong on this level, and he is certainly one of those players that may be cut. Unfortunately, Jeff Ireland "handpicked" Gates in last year's draft, so his pride might get in the way from cutting his guy.
Level three is consisted of five players, four of them being rookies: BJ Cunningham, Julius Pruitt, Rishard Matthews, Jeff Fuller, and Chris Hogan. Unfortunately, it seems to be that none of these players will end up making the final 53. Practice Squad? Of course. Definitive Roster? Unlikely. Starting with the draftees; BJ Cunningham and Rishard Matthews. Neither of these players have made a strong enough impression to the coaches and the rest of the team that they belong on the roster. I’ll give credit where credit is due however; BJ Cunningham did have his moments where he flashed in camp, catching short yet effective passes from Ryan Tannehill. Sadly though, that's not enough.
On to the UDFA’s. Jeff Fuller, a 6’4" stud out of Texas A&M. Just like Roberto Wallace, he has the size & strength to eventually be dominant in the league. One thing working for Fuller is his relationship and chemistry with Ryan Tannehill. Both Tannehill and Fuller made records connecting with each other in college, but will that bond continue? Probably not. Fuller hasn’t outshined anyone at camp and has rarely made his mark on the field. There is a very very slim chance that Jeff Fuller makes this team.
The only non rookie that is part of this level is Julius Pruitt. Coming into camp, media members like Omar Kelly might have overhyped Pruitt just a bit. Fortunately, Julius has made quite an impact at camp; catching long touchdowns, hustling on every play, and even making a difficult catch in the red-zone last Friday against the Buccaneers. Quite frankly, Pruitt should be switched out of this level and replace Clyde Gates because not only have his receiving skills improved, but his special teams attributes have been widely noticed as well. Perhaps "This is how we Pru-itt" will make that rare jump from level three to level one. Only time will tell.
The final, yet somehow most intriguing wide receiver is up next: Chris Hogan. Before Tuesday, if I mentioned the name Chris Hogan most of you would have thought about a sandwich, now when I say Chris Hogan people praise the second coming of Wes Welker. Can this Hogansanity end already? Seriously, a run in the mill receiver happens to get open against second and third team defenses at PRACTICE and fans are already demanding that he needs to make the 53. Settle down, perhaps if he makes an impression tonight against the Carolina Panthers we can have this discussion, but please, if Hard Knocks tells you that the world will end tomorrow, do yourself a favor and DON’T BUY INTO IT.
This competition will certainly become quite heated as the days go on. Their are eleven guys fighting for a spot, and there are only about three spots left open. Who will finally wake up and enter that first level? Will it be the phsycial specimen Roberto Wallace, the 5-year veteran Naanee, the speedster Clyde Gates, or even the Cinderella story of Chris Hogan? No one knows for sure, but the battle will only get more exciting from here.