Tomorrow, the Miami Dolphins will begin training camp for the upcoming season. New general manager Dennis Hickey has attempted to place his signature on the team by his dealings, and soon, fans will get to see it all come to fruition. Much as already been written and said about the moves Miami has made this year, but with minicamps and OTAs in the books, we have a better, albeit still incomplete idea of what this team has to offer. In part one, we looked at the free agency period. Part two looked at the draft. The third and final segment is a preview. We will look at the top training camp battles and who should win them.
Battle #1: Starting Cornerback
Brent Grimes is the starting cornerback on one side, but there will be a real competition for the other starting position. This battle will mainly be between Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor. Will Davis, Walt Aikens, and everyone will be taking a backseat to this one, unless they have a tremendous camp. Jamar Taylor had a rough rookie campaign, due mainly to injuries. I think by now, most fans have heard the story. It sometimes gets lost that when players, especially rookies get behind in training camp; it's very difficult to catch back up. It's almost impossible during the season. Taylor was injured and was unable to get those precious training camp reps. As result, he saw very limited action as a rookie. Due to this, people forget that Taylor was a pretty talented prospect. He was expected to be a first round pick in 2013 before medical concerns caused him to fall to the 54th overall pick. He has all the tools to be a top tier cornerback, but lacks experience. This is basically like another rookie year for him. Cortland Finnegan is the wily veteran that has proven to be a top tier player over the course of his career. However, he is coming off of two sub-par seasons in St. Louis. If he can turn back the clock, just a little bit, he should prove to be a good addition to the team. But he has to prove those seasons were a fluke and he is nearing the end of his career.
My Expected Winner: Jamar Taylor
I believe Taylor will step it up in camp and show why he was such a highly regarded prospect. He was performing well in OTAs and minicamp, getting the starting nod over Finnegan when Finnegan was rested by the coaching staff. It will be a huge addition for the defense if he wins that spot, because it will allow Finnegan to move inside to the slot.
Battle #2: Slot or Third Receiver
Before his injury, Brandon Gibson was on pace for a career season. He was developing into a reliable playmaker option from the slot for Ryan Tannehill. After his injury, Rishard Matthews flashed some potential as the slot receiver. He had a career game against Tampa Bay, with 11 catches, 120 yards, and 2 TDs. But after that, he was inconsistent. He made some big catches in the victory against the Patriots. Other times, he didn't do anything. But he showed much improvement for a second year receiver. The Dolphins drafted Jarvis Landry this past draft with the hopes he could become a playmaker for Tannehill. Add all of that up and you have a ton of uncertainty regarding the third receiver. Gibson is the proven veteran, but how he will play after the injury? Matthews plays tough and has shown an ability to make some plays, but can he deliver on a more consistent basis? Landry is the high draft pick, but how much will he contribute as a rookie?
My Expected Winner: Brandon Gibson
I fully expect Jarvis Landry to end up as the third receiver by 2015. However, Gibson has the inside track right now. Gibson is a proven veteran and was starting to become a big time factor before he was hurt. Most importantly, Tannehill was showing trust in him. The two players were showing a rapport and that always helps. I expect all three to make the team and work in the rotation, but Gibson will start the season as the #3 guy.
Battle #3: Running Back
Miami's running back situation is in rough shape at the moment. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are the incumbents and Miami signed former Bronco Knowshon Moreno to challenge them for a starting spot. All three have assets they bring to the table. Miller has the speed and explosiveness; Moreno is the better all-around back; Thomas has the size and power. None are that great however, and someone needs to emerge as ‘the guy'. Can Miller be an every-down back? Will Thomas FINALLY put it all together and play consistently? Can Moreno still be productive in a different offense?
My Expected Winner: Lamar Miller
Moreno showed up to minicamp out of shape and was nursing a knee injury that required minor surgery. He played with the 3rd and 4th team during minicamp. Miller got most 1st team reps with Thomas getting the others. I believe all three backs will make the team and Moreno will get plenty of reps during the season (unless Thomas surprises everyone). But I believe Miller will get the initial starting spot. The team wants him to succeed and I believe the light will come on for Miller this year.
Battle #4: Interior Offensive Line
With Mike Pouncey out for a few games, all three interior line spots are open for competition. Dallas Thomas appears to be the surprise of minicamp. He looks bigger, in better shape, and ready to compete. During OTAs and minicamp, he got all of the1st team left guard reps. But he isn't locked in by any means. Rookie Billy Turner could give him a run for the money at that position. Shelley Smith was the minicamp starter there, but may need to move to center to replace the injured Pouncey. Nate Garner is the jack-of-all-trades offensive lineman and he will compete for some spot. Sam Brenner got a few starts in 2013 and could battle for a starting spot. The Dolphins signed veteran Daryn Colledge, who could play either guard spot. Undrafted rookie Tyler Larsen can play his way onto the roster and even into the starting center spot. This will be very important for the Dolphins as they need to find the right mix and let them gel.
My Expected Winners: Dallas Thomas, LG; Shelley Smith, C; Daryn Colledge, RG
Dallas Thomas should be a great fit at left guard. He played there in college and coach Philbin expressed that he wants Thomas to settle in a spot. He's been getting the reps, so he should stay there. That will provide a long term solution to the left guard spot. I believe Colledge will get the starting right guard spot. With a rookie right tackle, Colledge can be the veteran presence needed to help him out of the rough spots. Smith will get the starting center spot because I believe he's better than the other options as this point. The coaches want him to get a starting spot, and this will be his best chance. I like Tyler Larsen's chances to make the team, but there wasn't much buzz about him in OTAs and minicamp. If he steps up, Smith may be forced to a backup role if he cannot beat out Colledge.
Battle #5: Second Tight End
Charles Clay came out of nowhere last season, playing like a top tier tight end for the Dolphins. He will be the starter at tight end. However, the depth behind him is very questionable. Michael Egnew has done nothing to warrant his high draft status. Dion Sims had a game winning TD against Atlanta, but was otherwise forgettable. Kyle Miller has done nothing. Rookie Arthur Lynch appears to be more of a blocking tight end than a receiving weapon. Undrafted rookie Harold ‘Gator' Hoskins has some potential, but is still a long shot to make the team. This is the most wide open competition in training camp. Everyone has ideas who might step up, but there is no leader in the clubhouse. Reports are that Lazor's offense will feature a heavy dose of tight ends, so the opportunity is there. Egnew got 1st team reps during minicamp, but is by no means a favorite to win the spot. Hoskins was getting some 2nd team looks in various packages. There were little to no reports of Sims or Lynch standing out and nothing on Miller.
My Expected Winner: Michael Egnew
I'm going to say that if Egnew cannot lock down the #2 tight end spot, then the winner of this job isn't currently on the Dolphins. Egnew needs to show 2 things in my opinion: 1) that he can become a receiving weapon he was drafted to be and 2) that he could step up and be the #1 guy if Clay got hurt. If he can't, then I'd expect the Dolphins to seriously pursue trade options, perhaps for a guy like Brent Celek or Zach Miller. Having said that, I believe Egnew will finally put it together. Former offensive coordinator tried to make lead out of gold and turn Egnew into a blocking weapon, even playing him at fullback. Reports are that Lazor is using Egnew in a more fitting role as a receiver. One of the minicamp practices ended with Michael Egnew catching a Tannehill pass for a touchdown. During his limited snaps receiving, Egnew has shown the ability to create separation and make some tough catches. He needs to fine tune his mental grasp of the game and the offense, and seems to be the type of player with the heart and desire to improve. This is a big training camp for Egnew and I believe that he will rise to the challenge.
These will be some interesting camp battles and hopefully, the winners will help push the Dolphins over the hump and into the playoffs.