The Miami Dolphins are currently holding their third, and final, Organized Team Activity for the 2014 offseason. This OTA is a four day set of workouts, however the media was allowed in for only yesterday's day one. The team will hold one more set of practices, next week's mandatory veteran minicamp, before breaking until training camp in July.
As head coach Joe Philbin explained, yesterday's workout focused on one area, primarily, "We did goal-line. We put that in. We did two-point plays. We did another little red zone installation. As I said to the team today, we're basically are just about ready to play a game."
The Dolphins practiced outside on Monday, despite the smoke from an Everglades fire that covered the field early in the workout. Team trainers did not feel the smoke was a health risk for the players, but coaches did keep a close eye on players with a history of breathing issues, like cornerback Brent Grimes, who has asthma.
The smoke did not slow Grimes, or the rest of the cornerbacks, on Monday, when they repeatedly broke up passes and forced quarterbacks to hold the ball a little too long (though they were called for pass interference several times as well). Cortland Finnegan, who signed as a free agent with the Dolphins this year, continues to flash during workouts as he looks to regain his Pro Bowl form after two injury-plagued seasons with the St. Louis Rams.
It may be Finnegan's work after practice that benefits the team the most, however. Finnegan has been working after practice with the younger members of the secondary like Jamar Taylor, showing them techniques and footwork to turn them into better players, even if it means Taylor becomes stronger competition for Finnegan in the battle to start this season. "We're all trying to get better," Finnegan said after practice when asked about the extra work. "You're only as good as our second-string and third-string, and those guys are one play away from being in the game. So any time we can get them up to speed on everybody's level, I think it builds for a better football team."
Taylor, while battling with Finnegan for the starting cornerback position, is also working as the second string nickel cornerback, behind Jimmy Wilson who appears entrenched as the top nickel while also serving as the primary backup for Louis Delmas at free safety.
The secondary's actions also resulted in a strong day for the defensive line, with four sacks tallied. Two of them came from All-Pro Cameron Wake, who was facing tight ends during much of the practice. Olivier Vernon picked up one, while Dion Jordan and Anthony Johnson split the fourth.
It was not all negative for the offense. Working on goal-line situations allows for touchdown opportunities, and the Dolphins were able to capitalize. Running back Orleans Darkwa and quarterback Matt Moore were able to get into the endzone one the ground, while tight ends Charles Clay and Arthur Lynch and wide receivers Armon Binns, Rishard Matthews, Stephen Williams, and Mike Wallace all caught scoring passes.
Matthews is still holding the top slot receiver position, though Brandon Gibson, the presumed starter at the position, is still sidelined rehabbing his ACL injury. Gibson was on the sideline during most of the day, as was defensive tackle Jared Odrick who has been rehabbing an undisclosed injury this offseason.
While the Dolphins did seem to want to put tight ends on Wake, the offensive line itself had an up-and-down day. Jason Fox, who signed with Miami this offseason, moved to the second-string left tackle slot after spending the last two OTAs as a right tackle. He struggled during the practice, which could be a sign that Fox needs some more time to adjust to left tackle, or it could be a sign that Miami is still in need of a backup for Branden Albert.
Second-year player Dallas Thomas continues to work as the starting left guard, ahead of rookie Billy Thomas, in what could be one of the more intriguing position battles of training camp.
The other major position battle to watch will be at running back, where the presumed starter Knowshon Moreno appears to be behind last year's starter, Lamar Miller. Moreno was working with the third- and fourth-team offenses on Monday, while Miller worked as the primary first- and second-team back. Moreno has been described as "pudgy" and out of shape. That could be a bad signal for the veteran, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season with the Denver Broncos last year.
I spoke with Kyle Montgomery from SB Nation's Mile High Report on Moreno, and whether him reporting to OTA slightly out of shape was unusual.
"I'd be a little concerned. Moreno's best year was 2013. That was also the year he came into training camp in phenomenal shape. I remember being impressed by his size and muscle mass just over a year ago.
"Wait and see how he comes into training camp. If it's still pudgy like you described, I would almost expect 2009-2012 output from Moreno, as opposed to 2013 where he showed up in shape in a contract year. But I would definitely give him another month. He may just be prepping for the workload ahead, anticipating losing 5-10 lbs. during camp."
That coincides with some of the reports about Moreno, that he should come to camp in better shape, and simply works himself into game-readiness rather than coming into the offseason program ready to go. It does, however, leave the door wide open for Miller, and the third-year back appears to be running through it at full-speed.
New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is installing an offense that appears to be bringing with it a lot of wrinkles. Every practice leads to multiple comments about the amount of motion the receivers are doing, and players lining up in new places, or with unusual packages on the field. On Monday, the team used a grouping with three tight ends, Clay, Dion Sims, and Gator Hoskins, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill finding Hoskins for the completion. Michael Egnew also continues to get involved in the offense, making a nice catch over the middle in traffic on a third-down play to extend the drive.
There was also a report that came out yesterday from NFL.com's Jeff Darlington that Wallace was excited about the new offense, using a play from last week's OTA as an example. Wallace explained he caught a touchdown pass on a play where he lined up in the backfield. Darlington went on to say, "Wallace says he is playing all over the field to start plays, sometimes in the slot, sometimes out wide, and yes, sometimes even in the backfield."
As is tradition with the Dolphins at this point, two more former players were at the workout, with Keith Byars and Mark Duper spending time watching the drills and giving players tips. Philbin also explained that Nick Buoniconti and Nat Moore visited the team at some point during the prior OTA workouts.
The team continues their OTA workouts, without the media, today through Thursday. The team's mandatory minicamp will be June 17-19.