After looking sloppy and sluggish during the Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Dolphins were much more crisp and efficient on Friday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Miami left their northern Florida rivals with a 27-3 victory, despite a slow first couple of series. But, did the night's performance clear up any of the team's position battles? Did it make any of them cloudier?
The line is still the weak point of the team. Personally, I think the line will be okay by the time the season gets here. The Dolphins still have three preseason games to try to get things right. Jonathan Martin is playing better than a lot of people realize. Is he going to be a Pro Bowler? No, but he does not need to be. He needs to be a solid blocker, and capable of simply protecting the blind side of Ryan Tannehill. Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey will be fine on the interior. Tyson Clabo at right tackle struggled some on Friday night, but he will be okay once the right guard position is solidified. At that spot, Josh Samuda struggled, opening the way for Nate Garner to take the top spot on the depth chart this week. Will he be able to hold on to it? Will Lance Louis, who is finally starting to practice after being held out while rehabbing from an ACL tear last year, be able to claim the spot? Or, will John Jerry, who has been out with a knee injury for the last couple of weeks, be able to reclaim his position on the chart when he returns?
The game against the Jaguars did nothing to clear up the state of the offensive line. Next weekend's game against the Houston Texans should be a good test for just what the Dolphins have with the five linemen, and will hopefully go a long way to solidifying the group.
The Jaguars game may have muddied the waters at running back a little. Lamar Miller is still the presumed starter, and is the odds on favorite to keep that spot. However, the coaching staff still will not rule out Daniel Thomas claiming that position. "Yeah, I would say it's pretty close, the running back competition," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said after practice yesterday. "I thought that Daniel Thomas did a really nice job in the game the other day. Certainly Miller has had his shining moments as well, and some of the younger guys have stepped up."
During the game, Miller had just two carries for six yards, along with one reception on three targets, also gaining six yards. Thomas carried the ball four times for 19 yards.
As much as fans see Thomas as someone who needs to be cut, he is making a valiant effort to at least stay in the competition to start this year. Will it happen? Most likely not. But, he's making it not as clear cut as everyone assumes it is.
No one really knows how this is going to work out. After Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson, the rest of the receivers depth chart is wide open. Brian Tyms and Chad Bumphis are continuing to be impressive, while Marvin McNutt continues to be inconsistent. After those three, Kenny Stafford, Andrell Smith, Jeff Fuller, and Keenan Davis all continue battle in an effort to stand out from the pack.
Yesterday, Rishard Matthews returned to practice after missing time due to injury, and immediately connected on a deep pass from Ryan Tannehill during one-on-one drills. Will he put his stamp on the fourth receiver position, a spot that looked to be his before the injury?
The Jaguars game did not really do anything to make the wide receiver battle any clearer. Bumphis is probably the best of the second group right now, going for 26 yards on two receptions, while Tyms is right there as well (2 receptions, 34 yards). This is a battle that may take all five preseason games before an answer is found.
I almost feel like the entire defense is set. Maybe a little bit of a battle between Jared Odrick and Randy Starks remains (assuming Starks can get healthy), or a battle between Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan if Jordan can prove he can be effective against the run, but really the battles on defense are all about depth.
With that, the cornerback position has a battle brewing for the starter opposite Brent Grimes. Given the tendency for three wide receiver sets in the NFL, this battle is almost unnecessary, but it still does exist. Will Dimitri Patterson or Richard Marshall claim the number two corner position? The Jaguars game really did not separate the two.
Marshall, who has slid to the third/nickel corner role, had one tackle and one pass defensed. Patterson defended one pass. In the end, there was not any separation between the two.
Two corners to watch, both of whom are having good training camps, are Nolan Carroll and Will Davis. Carroll, who like Thomas is someone a lot of fans want to see cut, is playing well both as a depth cornerback and on special teams. He should make the roster, with the interception, four tackles, and one pass defense he had against Jacksonville helping that cause, while Davis, who has been the hottest corner in practices, also came away with a pick Friday night, along with two defensed passes.
This may be the one position battle that is truly a battle (at least one that matters in terms of roster space). Will incumbent kicker Dan Carpenter hold on to his position? Or, will rookie Caleb Sturgis make the roster.
After the Jaguars game, Sturgis, who had missed a week of training camp thanks to a groin injury, at least declared this a battle, if not put himself into the lead. He was 2-for-2 on extra points, 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 58-yard blast, and kicked multiple balls to the back of, or through, the end zone.
If the practice of alternating kicking duties continues, Carpenter will have a chance to respond this week against the Texans, but Sturgis, whose entire four-year contract is less than Carpenter's $2.7 million salary this season, may have just slammed the door on Carpenter's chance to make the team.
What do you think of the position battles so far? Who do you see winning each of them? What other battles interest you? Let us know in the comments.