Winning competitions is the name of the game in the NFL, and the 2016 Miami Dolphins training camp will be no different. This is the sixth installment of the "Training Camp Battle" series, and it will look at players that will be vying for starting positions or winning a role competition. I will provide links to the older installments as we move forward.
Jelani Jenkins vs. Neville Hewitt might be the first battle in the series where there is a presumed favorite. And yet, at the same time, the "underdog" in this battle is one of our collective favorites as a developing young player. Is it really cut-and-dry, or will this be a true competition? It'll be very interesting to see how Adam Gase and his staff sort through some of these competitions: do veterans become the automatic place holders until proven otherwise, or will it truly be "best man wins" no matter what?
Why Jelani Jenkins Will Win:
He's started 27 games for us in the last 2 years, not to mention he is heading into a contract year. Although injuries played a role, Jenkins' play in 2015 still declined compared to his "breakthrough" campaign of 2014. There's no question that the combination of earning a new contract and showing the Miami Dolphins (and everyone else in the NFL) will motivate Jenkins to prove that 2014 was the truth, not the outlier.
He's 24 years old and heading into the prime of his career. He has good size for a LB (243 pounds) who excels better in pass coverage than run stopping, and by virtue of having the size, can improve technique to use his strength better in run defense and play with better leverage.
Why Neville Hewitt Will Win:
In terms of the younger cohort of players, next to Tony Lippett, I'm the most excited about Neville Hewitt. It's entirely possible that Hewitt loses the starting position and receives ample snaps as a nickel LB. Considering how much NFL teams play nickel in the defensive landscape, Hewitt and Jenkins might even be on the field at the same time on occasion.
Nonetheless, Hewitt doesn't want part-time snaps, he wants to start at WLB. If anything, the recency effect is holding true, and we remember that terrific game he had Week 17 against the New England Patriots* last year. In pass coverage, PFF ranked him very highly (17th in the NFL) in 2015. His off-season goal was to get stronger. If he can put together a thicker frame and be able to shed blocks better, while maintaining his ability to cover, Hewitt could continue to steal snaps, if not steal the competition outright. He showed potentially elite coverage skills last year, in my opinion.
Considering his late season performance, plus Jenkins' subpar 2015 year, it could catapult him ahead in the race by the end of training camp. If we're already leaning towards letting Jenkins go after this year (barring an insane year by Jenkins), it might make sense to have Hewitt take more snaps. Hewitt, although he had more opportunity, also displayed more potential in his rookie year than Jenkins. Hewitt has been an underdog ever since he was an undrafted free agent, and he just strikes me as a guy who plays with passion and with a chip on his shoulder.
Both guys would seem to play a similar niche in the Dolphins defense: WLB and nickel. Jenkins probably has the edge in run defense, which likely lands him the gig. But I cannot rule out Hewitt, and the potential that I saw in 2015. Hewitt may ultimately have more athleticism, and have a better ability to match-up with TE's and RB's. Depending on where Alonso fits into the nickel package, Hewitt may see significant snaps due to the proliferation of nickel defense, even possibly teaming up with Jenkins.
At the end of the day, the competition is about the most snaps, and Jenkins likely gets the most snaps in the base 4-3. Hewitt might unseat Jenkins, but his best bet might be excelling in nickel situations. Anything can happen, and frankly, Jenkins hasn't shown THAT much to completely rule out Hewitt in this competition.
SUTTON's Probability: Jenkins 70%/Hewitt 30%
Let me know your thoughts in the Comments Section! Phins Up and a middle finger salute to all your stessors from the SUTTON family!