Playing football without pads isn’t really playing football. Anyone who made the transition from backyard baller to pop-warner (youth) player can tell you it is a whole new game once the pads come on. Without pads, the linemen can not really play. And with out pressure, the QB is just playing 7 on 7. No one is really tackling the running back and blocking is a non-factor. It is really hard to gauge what you have in a team if not outright impossible. So, I can appreciate the existence of OTA’s (football to talk about in May and June) yet, the function for fans is almost non-existent.
As much as I welcome news about Harris destroying or Drew Morgan lighting it up, or even news about how well Devante Parker is running, I know (right now) they are relatively meaningless. In less than a month the true test is coming. The sweltering heat and humidity of South Florida in August, the sharpening of iron on iron as the offense and defense take on each other, when the training camp battles become real battles for a life many dream of but few achieve. In the mean time we, as fans, can only sit back and hope no one gets injured or in trouble between now and then.
Oh, and prognosticate about what is to come...
Hollywood’s Camp Battles Highlight!
For me, the biggest questions on the team subsist in the trenches. Thusly, so do the biggest camp battles for playing time.
There is Ndamukong Suh, and then there is everyone else. Ok, that’s true of most of the league, so it isn’t a knock on any other player on the Dolphin’s roster. Next to him the Dolphins are hoping (banking on) Jordan Phillips to become the full time starter they drafted him to be three offseason’s ago. However, the Dolphins spent a pair of picks at the back end of the draft on DT’s. Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor are young scrappy and hungry, and they’re not throwing away their shot. Add Lawerence Okoye to the mix and the DT spot is definitely a group to keep an eye on, especially if Jordan Phillips continues to lack the consistency his athleticism and size dictates he should have. Miami’s run defense was atrocious last season, improved defensive tackle play can help that.
The top 4 guys are probably set in stone. Wake, Branch, Harris, and Hayes. For a 5th, Terrence Fede still a pretty solid bet to make the roster due to his position flexibility (he can slide inside to DT). So where is the battle, right? The starting spot opposite Wake! Yes, Branch can start, they learned as much last season and paid him like a starter this offseason. Wake is 35, they didn’t know they had Harris yet, it makes sense. But if the rookie is as good as OTA’s advertised... it’s going to be hard to make a case to keep the young gun on the bench. Especially if Harris can start sniffing out run plays in the backfield like he did in college. Anything to help that Run D! (Expecting a good dose of William Hayes for that reason as well) Bottom line... Can the rookie beat out the newly contracted vet?
Both RG and LG appear to be up for grabs this summer. Miami is a lock at both RT and LT with James and Tunsil manning those spots respectively. WHEN HEALTHY, Mike Pouncey has the Center position locked down. In between those guys? It’s as good as anyone’s guess. As of the end of OTA’s you have Larsen at LG and Bushrod at RG. Both of them are experienced vets of the game. Bushrod is in his second year at RG after ten years at LT. Larsen has played all across the interior OL and started his career as a key back-up for a couple of teams before getting a chance to start.
Behind Larsen Miami currently has Isaac Asiata, the teams 5th round pick and “steal of the draft”, as many prognosticators had him off the board in the 3rd round. And behind Bushrod, Anthony Steen a second year Dolphin and former UDFA, Steen saw time at both OG and C last season as well. He performed adequately when called upon and with excellent hustle. As of this writing, a month from training camp, (less for rookies, more for vets), I could probably flip a coin for either battle and have a the same likelihood of being right.
So this one has been talked about a lot this offseason, primarily because people finally figured out last year that our linebackers were absolute trash. Like, Vance Joseph must have seen this immediately and was like...”get me someone, anyone”... Enter Kiko. Then the LB’s coach becomes the DC? Enter Timmons. Enter McMillan. Suddenly there becomes a real possibility that Miami is starting three linebackers that weren’t on the team when Adam Gase and Co. arrived on the scene in Davie. That’s identifying a weak spot on the roster. -cough- Run Defense! -cough-
The real battle here is McMillan versus Misi for the 3rd starters spot. Misi’s greatest accomplishment is that he is solid. He is solid at a couple positions, but never above average anywhere he is placed. McMillan has a chance to prove to be at least close to on par with Misi, and be much less of a health risk. If the rookie is close, the team needs to play the rookie. And hell, it would be really nice to have at least ONE back-up linebacker we are positive can ACTUALLY play linebacker. Add that to guys pushing our special teams aces, Hewitt and Hull, and the Dolphins Linebacker room turns into a battle royal this July.
Jay Ajayi is cemented in as the starter. Whoopee! We know the J-Train well by now, though the news he is looking better in passing reps can only be beneficial to Miami down the road. However, behind him, you have Damien Williams with a tag. And second year player Kenyan Drake. Here is where some people seem to be misinformed in their thinking. Jay Ajayi is considered a bruiser of a RB at 6’ 229lbs. And Damien Williams is just a fast twitch lightning rod with decent hands... at 5’11 228lbs...WHAT?!?!?!?
Yeah, Williams is really that big. Probably why it isn’t completely insane when he is used as FB or in goal to go situations. Kenyan Drake... 6’1 216lbs, that’s not exactly a little man either, though he by far has the most straight line speed of the three. Behind them, a lingering list of UDFA thumpers vying for the 4th spot on the roster. It very clearly looks like Miami is stocking up to play some smash mouth football. The interesting part throughout camp will be the struggle between Drake and Williams for snaps and the No.2 spot.
Skill position players got a lot of love at OTA’s 2017; from Parker to Morgan and Xavien Howard to Tankersly. They will get their moments at training camp as well. However, the battles I have been talking about haven’t gotten a chance to heat up yet. They will, because as sure as the humidity in Miami, and in the words of House Shula, “Summer is Coming!” .