The first day of the Miami Dolphins' 2014 Organized Team Activities is in the books, and the team has nine more days of the OTA workouts on the calendar. Yesterday's workout was sloppy at times, which isn't a surprise given this is the first real practice of the year for the team.
And I say "real" meaning guys wearing shorts and helmets and no contact.
The first OTA of the season is, of course, exciting. It means we are getting toward football season and have actual on-the-field information to discuss. It is, however, the first OTA of the season, and everything will change between today and the start of the season. Nothing that happened yesterday is set in stone, and everyone will continue to develop for 2014.
But it sure is fun to discuss.
The first thing that seemed to be noted by just about everyone was the increase in size in Mike Pouncey and Dion Jordan. Every reporter in attendance seemed to mention those two at some point, looking at how strong they look, even going so far as saying Pouncey looks ready to take the field for the regular season right now. Jordan, who was 248 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2013 was 265 pounds yesterday, and was described as looking like a defensive end.
While most of the focus was on the players on the field, it was a former player who also caught the eye. Dolphins legend, and former defensive end, Jason Taylor was at the workout, and could be for a few more. Head coach Joe Philbin said Taylor is with the team purely as a volunteer, continuing, "I think he’s going to be around a lot in the OTA’s. He’s approached us about working with the defensive linemen. I don’t know if there could be a better mentor for our young players than Jason Taylor."
For a player like Jordan, who is working to develop into a 4-3 defensive end, having Taylor on the practice field should be a huge bonus.
Only one player was absent from the workout, as running back and returner Marcus Thigpen is dealing with a back injury and was presumed to be in the team facility receiving treatment. Brandon Gibson, Jared Odrick, Tariq Edwards, Brian Hartline, and Arthur Lynch all spent at least part of the practice working on the sidelines doing rehab work for undisclosed injuries. Gibson, who is returning from a torn patella tendon last year, did participate in individual drills with the receivers, but not the team drills.
The first OTA also featured some of the position battles and changes that we have all been expecting. Linebacker Koa Misi spent the day at middle linebacker, moving Dannell Ellerbe outside with Philip Wheeler. Opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes was free-agent signee Cortland Finnegan, with Jamar Taylor and Will Davis serving as the second team.
On the defensive line, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon manned the top level defensive end positions, with Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks at defensive tackle. How Odrick rotates into the defensive tackle mix will be interesting to watch once he is healthy. Rotating Jordan into the defensive end position will, likewise, be a very watched position this preseason.
The top offseason need for the Dolphins was the offensive line, rebuilding a unit that features four new starters this year after allowing 58 sacks a season ago. The initial starting lineup was manned by Branden Albert at left tackle, Dallas Thomas at left guard, Pouncey at center, Shelley Smith at right guard, and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle. The biggest competition looks to be between Thomas and rookie Billy Turner at the right guard position, as both player rotated in and out of the lineup throughout the day.
As for the passing game, the Dolphins did something already this year they seemed to fear last year - move Mike Wallace around the formation. After signing as a free agent with Miami in 2013, Wallace was stationed on the right side of the offense, and essentially stayed there for the season. It was noted a few times of the amount of moving around all of the receivers were doing, both in getting lined up and by going in motion, including Wallace.
The team also lined tight end Michael Egnew split out as a receiver several times during the day.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill did throw an interception during the practice, and missed Wallace on a deep ball at least one time, overthrowing him. Those are not reports fans want to hear, given the struggles with the long pass the team had last year, but, again, it was one pass on the first day of practice, so it is not overly worrisome.
The Dolphins also returned to the fast paced practices they ran during Philbin's first year with the club. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was asked after practice about that tempo:
“When you hear the word tempo being spoke about, there are probably a couple of different meanings. One of the meanings when we say tempo to our guys, we talk about from the break of the huddle until the snap of the ball. I think what you saw today, I believe you were there at practice, most of the day we were in huddle. Even when we are in a huddle, we talk about playing with a certain tempo when we break the huddle until we snap the ball."
Lazor continued, speaking about Tannehill:
"The quarterback has got to play at game speed every day in practice. The receivers will catch up to him. The quarterback has got to play at game speed, and that’s the first thing we are trying to do with Ryan from the very beginning, play at game speed every day and what does that feel like? The only way to learn it is to do it.”
Head coach Joe Philbin also spoke about the tempo of practice:
"We want to see an offense that plays fast with tempo. We want to see an offense that does a great job taking care of the football and we want to see an offense that’s explosive. So those are really the parameters. That hasn’t changed and it’s not one individual. It’s not mine, it’s not Bill’s, it’s not Dan Campbell’s or Ken O’Keefe’s, it’s the Miami Dolphins offense and in fairness to Bill this is day one of seeing eleven players on the opposite sides."
The team returns to the field today, then has an off day Thursday before the third day of the three day OTA on Friday.