The NFL is finally here! Well, training camp that is. As the Miami Dolphins open training camp this morning, the excitement of the thought of football-filled Sunday's is seeping out the pores of NFL fans.
Training camp brings about optimism and hope. In years past, those hopes crashed and burned along with the Dolphins' season and turned to rage. But, "wait till next year" is the slogan of Dolphins fans, and we are at that time again where our hopes are once again bubbling over that the franchise will be saved from it's long stay in the pit of mediocrity.
Training camp is a long, opportunity-filled process during which anything can happen. Many questions will be asked and answered while the Dolphins coaching staff attempts to build a championship team over the next six weeks, but here are a few pre-camp questions to ponder while the process plays itself out.
5. Will Jarvis Landry earn the starting slot role?
Landry has drawn nothing but admiration during offseason workouts, but this rookie can this rookie keep riding his wave of momentum into training camp and ride it all the way to a starting spot?
Landry was one of my favorite picks in the draft despite the fact that I had been preaching that Miami didn't need to add a receiver for weeks up to that point. Landry doesn't have the greatest measurables, but this former LSU standout just knows how to play the game of football.
Landry will find his way to first team repetitions in training camp, the question what will he do with the opportunity (and will he do it better than Rishard Matthews or Brandon Gibson?).
4. Will Koa Misi rigidify the Dolphins' lackluster linebacker corps?
Misi has been confirmed to be the starting middle linebacker, barring an unforeseen inability to make correct calls, from Head Coach Joe Philbin on Friday. For Misi, this training camp is huge as he will need to get used to the duties of a MLB such as lining people up, identifying formations and making calls & checks.
Misi has earned nothing but praise from the coaching staff, who said his move inside was more due to their yearning to see more of Misi. Misi, a former college defensive end who is the biggest linebacker on the team at 6'3", 257 pounds, has a physical presence that defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle obviously covets and respects. "When Koa hits you, you stay hit for awhile."
I believe Misi at MLB will make the linebacking corps better because not only is Misi a bigger presence on the inside of a defense that allowed 1,998 with Dannell Ellerbe at MLB. Ellerbe's switch to outside linebacker puts him in a more natural position which puts the defense is a better position to be successful.
The Dolphins will still likely have trouble with scat-backs and tight ends, but Misi in the middle should tighten the screws on the leaky run defense from 2013.
3. Will an offensive line which features five new starters be able to gel and play at, at very least, an average level?
This question has a few sub-questions. How will the Dolphins replace Mike Pouncey? And will the right side of the line hold up?
I believe that current right guard Shelley Smith will be the Week 1 starter at center, but there will be copious experiments that take place before then. Sam Brenner, Daryn Colledge and Nate Garner could be options at right guard if this does take place, but if Smith's switch is uncomfortable for anyone in any way then all three could will be candidates to fill in at center.
Undrafted free agent centers Tyler Larsen, Evan Finkenberg and Samuel Longo each have excellent opportunities to earn roster spots this training camp due to Pouncey's injury. They will need to perform when the pads come on in training camp as this is when they are truly tested.
When will the Dolphins figure out the center situation? This is a huge question as the more time the coaching staff spends experimenting the less time the line will have to come together as a unit and get used to playing with one another.
As for the right side of the line, I don't trust that Ja'Wuan James will evade the struggles that so many rookie face. I'm also unsure about Smith at either right guard or center. Smith is a huge risk in my opinion. He could either be a great zone-blocking scheme guard or a fluke who started only eight of the 25 games he's played in his three-year career.
The combination of those two question marks makes me very uneasy. This is a real boom or bust scenario, and it's likely that the Dolphins will get a little of both from this duo (if, of course, Smith doesn't slide over to center).
But back to the original question...
It will be interested and telling to see how the line holds up against the Dolphins defensive line which is filled with talented, large, mean men.
Will Dallas Thomas still look good when Randy Starks is able to use full force when the pads come on? The same question applies to Ja'Wuan James with Cam Wake. If either or (cross your fingers) both of these two starters can't handle the camp pressure then they will lose their jobs and Billy Turner will have an opportunity to step in.
The most likely scenario is that the coaching staff will give this current line, once they find a center, every opportunity to gel as a unit. Don't expect a line-up change unless one of the second team linemen are playing phenomenally well and his first team counterpart is a detriment to the first team line.
2. Who will be the starting running back?
Lamar Miller, who will start camp as the starting running back, won't be sharing many first team snaps as Knowshon Moreno will start training camp on PUP as he continues to rehab after a recent knee scope. Moreno will factor into the competition when he is healthy, but as it stands now the Dolphins' starting RB role is Miller's to lose.
Daniel Thomas could have a resurgence in his final attempt to prove he is not a bust. Thomas is the biggest back on the team, and while that doesn't necessarily fit into this wide zone running scheme that the Dolphins will run often, he could find a niche as a short yardage/inside zone specialist.
Thomas has reminded me a bit of Houston Texans RB Arian Foster a bit in his years in Miami, and he will be playing under the same offensive line coach, John Benton, who implemented the scheme that made Foster a star. It's not impossible that Thomas finds similar success as Foster in this offense.
Mike Gillislee isn't likely to factor into this battle unless he can find some consistency when the pads come on. Gillislee is coming into his second year though, so it's possible that things start to click for this former Florida Gator who had good production one of college football's toughest conferences.
I can't wait to see how Damien Williams shakes up the competition and if he will force the coaches to give him some first team looks. By now my infatuation with Williams is well-known (and it's not a last name bias). Williams will play with a chip on his shoulder due to the way his college career ended and will be hungry to earn more.
Right now the starting running back job is Miller's to lose, but anything can happen in training camp....
1. Will Ryan Tannehill take the next step in his development?
Will Tannehill take the next step? This question has been asked all offseason, and had the implosion of a final two games in 2013 not happened then my answer would immediately be yes.
The Dolphins, as a team, failed to step up to the challenge of winning one out of two games to make the playoffs for the first team of the year. As the leader of the offense, and team for that matter, Tannehill must be the one to shoulder the load of the losses and take responsibility for the mere seven points that were put on the board.
But when you look at the progress he made from year one to year two, there's no reason to believe that he couldn't/shouldn't duplicate that growth in his third year. After all, Tannehill is still a young QB who came into the league raw after starting only 19 games at QB in his collegiate career.
This training camp will be interesting because we'll get to see how Tannehill grasps the new offense of coordinator Bill Lazor , how Tannehill's athleticism will be utilized and how Lazor will work personally with Tannehill to improve the little things in his game.
Remember, Philadelphia Eagles' QB Nick Foles started his prolific 2013 as a back up after losing the competition in training camp. I'm not saying that Tannehill will end up on the bench to start the season (sit down all you Matt Moore supporters), but that training camp is not the ultimate decider on the season's fate.
Will Tannehill take the next step? This question will not be fully answered until a few games into the regular season, but training camp will give us a good idea of his command of the Dolphins' new offense (from both leadership and learning perspectives) and other strides he hopefully has made.