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Miami Dolphins training camp 2018 primer: A to Z

NFL: Miami Dolphins-Minicamp Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins’ 2018 training camp will open this week, bringing the entire team together after the rookies reported last week. The start of training camp will mark the start of the run for Miami from the end of July through to the end of the regular season at the end of December - and hopefully into 2019 as Miami makes the postseason. This year, training camp will focus largely on the return of Ryan Tannehill from a knee injury that he sustained near the end of the 2016 season and has cost him the team’s last 19 regular season and one playoff game.

While Tannehill’s return will rightfully be the main story in this year’s training camp, it will not be the only story, and it will not be the only information you need to make it to the regular season. To get you ready for training camp, here is an A to Z primer for Miami’s 2018 training camp.

A: Adam Gase, head coach - This year, Gase appears to have his team for the first time. Now, will he be able to turn his team into the results he wants? Entering his third season, the national media seems to be pushing the idea that Gase could be on the proverbial hot seat this year after a 6-10 season in 2017. That does not seem to be the case around the Dolphins or in their local media, who all seem to realize the team lost their starting quarterback in training camp last year, then faced the weirdest season ever and somehow still made it to six wins.

B: Kalen Ballage, running back - Miami drafted Ballage in the fourth round this year, a move that should give the Dolphins a trio of runners, joining Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore, capable of handling the running game this season. Drake will be the starter, with plenty of carries for Gore, but do not be surprised if Ballage starts seeing more and more touches as the season wears on.

C: Cornerbacks - The position battle at cornerback may be one of the most interesting to watch this year in South Florida. Xavien Howard will be the top player at the position, but behind him, there will be a battle for the rest of the positions. Cordrea Tankersley, entering his second year, appears to have the early lead on the outside, but will be challenged by Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett. McCain, who Miami signed to a contract extension making him the highest-paid nickel corner, will also cover the slot, while Lippett looks to return from an Achilles tear that caused him to miss all of last season. Miami appears to be deep at cornerback this year, and it will be worth watching to see which of the three claims the second starter, and how the Dolphins will play the three positions when in nickel formations.

D: Davie, Florida - The Dolphins have called Davie and the Nova Southeastern University campus home since 1993. They will continue to hold camp and practices at the facility this year, though they are looking at possibly leaving the site by 2022, potentially moving to a site in Miramar or to Miami Gardens adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium.

E: Gavin Escobar, tight end - Miami appears to have four tight ends, Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, MarQueis Gray, and A.J. Derby. But the fifth player in the group is an intriguing prospect The Dolphins added Escobar this offseason, and, while his career seems to have pigeon-holed him as a blocking tight end with little upside now, he still could show something. Can Miami’s coaches get something out of Escobar this summer that makes him a player who needs to stick around in the fall?

F: Farewell Coach Tony Sparano - I have been working on this post all weekend to make sure I could get it to you today. The loss of Tony Sparano, who was working as the Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach after bouncing around following his 2008 to 2011 stint as the Dolphins’ head coach, hit me harder than would have anticipated. I had to find a place in this A-to-Z look at the Dolphins to add him. Rest In Peace coach, and thank you for giving it you all while you were in South Florida. It may not have worked out, but there is no denying that you were passionate and caring while you were here.

G: Mike Gesicki, tight end - The Dolphins used their second-round pick on a tight end, giving fans hope that the team would finally have a tight end receiving option that can open the middle of the field. Rookie tight ends do not typically have strong first years, but the Dolphins could be looking to Gesicki to buck that trend this year.

H: Hard Rock Stadium - The Dolphins have continued to make improvements to Hard Rock Stadium, which now will include tennis courts to host the Miami Open starting next year. Owner Stephen Ross has made the renovations to some of the parking areas around the stadium in order to keep the tennis tournament in Miami after it nearly left South Florida because of an inability to get improvements to Crandon Park in Key Biscayne - the tournament’s home for 32 years - completed. There will be changes to game-day parking this year because of the tennis courts, but the team does not believe it will impact fans. The team has also focused on improving parking for the fans, with more areas paved and redesigned to be able to get cars in and out easier before and after games.

I: Interior defensive line - The defensive tackle position will be one of the most discussed for the Dolphins this year after the team released Ndamukong Suh. A generational talent at his position, Suh will be a large loss for Miami. That said, the Dolphins seem to have a plan in place to not have one player replace Suh, but rather have a group of players set to make an impact. Jordan Phillips and Davon Godchaux will lead the way, but Gabe Wright, Akeem Spence, and Vincent Taylor should all be factors in the rotation. Defensive end William Hayes could also factor into the defensive tackle rotation, with all of them looking to be able to replace Suh - though none of them should be expected to be Suh.

J: Jerseys - The Dolphins tweaked their uniforms this year, cleaning up some things from their 2013 logo change. The main adjustments were to darken the orange some (almost back to coral?) and to remove the marine blue from much of the uniform - especially from the numbers which will now be back to the traditional white numbers outlined in orange. The NFL is also expected to allow teams to use throwback or alternate jerseys three times a year, up from two times previously, so the Dolphins could use their 1960s-era throwbacks more this season.

K: Kids - The Dolphins a couple of years ago opened an area at the end of public training camp practices where children 12-and-under can get autographs from the players. Make sure you inform the people at the will call window that you have a child that you want to send over to the designated area, and they will make sure you know when to head over there.

L: Linebackers - Miami’s linebackers will be scrutinized this year, especially after underperforming last year. Raekwon McMillan will be discussed later, but he should be the middle linebacker this season. Kiko Alonso, who was asked to do too much last year, should be played as the team’s run stopping defensive end, and the team has asked him to play more instinctual after obvious issues with him trying to think through every scenario last year - interestingly, the Dolphins website now lists him as a middle linebacker, despite moving him outside last year. The third starting linebacker will be a battle between Chase Allen, Stephone Anthony, and rookie Jerome Baker. Miami needs the linebackers to step up, both against the run where the Wide-9 defensive end alignment makes them vulnerable, and against the pass, where coverage of tight ends will be a big item to watch. Thankfully, the Dolphins could use...

M: Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety - The Dolphins’ first-round choice could be a key member of the defense this year. He has been practicing as a nickel cornerback, boundary cornerback, and free safety, giving Miami a ton of flexibility in how they lineup and how they cover opposing wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. He was absolutely the ideal pick for the Dolphins, and this summer they will be looking for the best way - the best multiple ways - to utilize Fitzpatrick.

N: National Anthem - The Dolphins made news last week with the possibility of suspending players who kneel during the National Anthem this year. It feels like more was made of the possibility than was really necessary, as the Dolphins never said they would suspend a player, but that the possibility was there if it became necessary. The Dolphins included the protest in the “conduct detrimental to the team” portion of their annual conduct policy submitted to the league, and that section does include fines and suspensions up to four games. The Dolphins were likely just trying to find the right way to meet the vague guidance the league had previously announced where the league would fine the team, then the team could decide what they would do to the player. This gave the Dolphins options without tying them to anything. Meanwhile, the NFL announced they were halting any policy on the National Anthem as they continue to negotiate a comprehensive deal with the NFLPA - and they announced it just hours after the news broke about Miami’s inclusion of it in their discipline policy.

O: Offensive line - The Miami offensive line is a story seemingly every year, and this one is no different - except that the story appears to be they have finally solved their issues. Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James will still man the left- and right-tackle positions, respectively, but the interior of the line is basically new. Left guard will be manned by four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton, who signed with the team in free agency this year. Right guard will feature Jesse Davis, who was a solidifying player last year all over the line and will now lock into a specific role this season. And, at center, the Dolphins will replace Mike Pouncey, who was released and signed with the Los Angeles Chargers, with Daniel Kilgore, for whom the team traded, bringing him to South Florida from the San Francisco 49ers.

P: Pass rush - Every year, it feel like Miami has a dominant pass rush, only to see it not materialize in the regular season. Cameron Wake gets double-digit sacks, but everyone else struggles. If Wake, who is now 36-years-old, is going to continue to be dominant, he is going to need Robert Quinn, Charles Harris, and Andre Branch to step up. The Dolphins have the right players to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but those players have to perform.

Q: Quarterback battle - Ryan Tannehill is the starting quarterback for this team, but behind him is a three-way battle for the backup position. David Fales appears to have the early lead, having shown coaches what he can do in Week 17 last year. Brock Osweiler, with whom head coach Adam Gase worked in Denver, could stake a claim to the position as well. Finally, Bryce Petty was added off waivers this offseason, but appears to be an extreme longshot to make the roster. Other than cornerback, this may be the most interesting position battle to watch this summer. And, speaking of Tannehill...

R: Ryan Tannehill, quarterback and Raekwon McMillan, linebacker - The signal callers for both the offense and defense in 2017 were lost early in training camp/preseason last year. Tannehill returns to the offense and will be looking to pick up where he left off at the end of the 2016 season, when he partially tore his ACL, an injury that ultimately led him to miss the entire 2017 season. McMillan appeared set to assume the starting middle linebacker as a rookie, only to tear his ACL on kickoff coverage on the opening kick of the first preseason game. Miami needs both players to return and reclaim their roles if they are going to rebound from a disappointing 2017.

S: Scrimmage - The Dolphins will again host a free scrimmage at Hard Rock Stadium this year. The scrimmage will take place on August 4 at 11 am. Information about tickets for the scrimmage - and all of training camp can be found...

T: Tickets - Tickets for the public practices are free, but need to be reserved in advance. There are only 2,000 seats available, so make sure you get your reserved early. Head to the Dolphins’ training camp site for more information and to make your reservations.

U: Undrafted Free Agents - The Dolphins seem to always have some undrafted free agent make an impression in training camp and the preseason, then land on the 53-man roster when the season starts. Who will it be this year? Early favorites seem to be linebacker Mike McCray, kicker Greg Joseph, or defensive tackle Jamiyus Pittman. Other UDFAs signed by the team this year are running back Buddy Howell, tackle David Steinmetz, center Connor Hilland, defensive end Claudy Mathieu, defensive end Quincy Redmon, defensive tackle Anthony Moten, linebacker Carson Collins, cornerback Johnathan Alston, cornerback Jalen Davis, and long snapper Lucas Gravelle.

V: Vertical passing game - Since 2012, there has been so much talk about how Ryan Tannehill is a bad deep-ball passer, despite stats that indicate he really is not bad at it. It all came from the inability for Mike Wallace and Tannehill to connect on deep passes, but when it is a player like Kenny Stills, Tannehill seems to be just fine with the long ball. This year, without Jarvis Landry, Miami should be looking to go deep, especially with Stills, Albert Wilson, and Jakeem Grant all able to use their speed to stretch the field. Miami average 6.3 yards per attempt in 2017, 28th in the league. In 2016, the Dolphins were tied for fifth in the league at 7.8 yards pers attempt. Expect to see Miami open it up more with Tannehill under center.

W: Wins - The Dolphins won 10 games in 2016, then fell back to 6 wins last year after losing Tannehill. Will they be able to respond this year with Tannehill back? The return of Miami’s quarterback has two be worth at least 2-3 wins right?

X: Xavien Howard, cornerback - Last year, there was a lot of preseason talk that Howard could become a true shutdown cornerback. He had a stretch late in the year where that did happen, but now the Dolphins need the third-year cornerback to put that together for the entire season. There has been some Pro Bowl talk about Howard, though it is not wide spread yet. Can he have that kind of season?

Y: Sam Young, tackle - A lot will be made about the Dolphin’s starting offensive line this year, but the sixth member of the five-player group should be Young, who will work as the swing tackle. Young will have the expectation that he can play left- or right-tackle in an emergency situation, as well as being able to come in and play as a tackle eligible to give Miami a sixth offensive lineman. He is a versatile depth option that could be invaluable to Miami this season.

Z: Z-receiver - The Dolphins have to see better production from the Z-receiver this year, which means they have to see DeVante Parker provide better production. Jarvis Landry being in Cleveland now puts more pressure on the rest of the receiving corps to step up, and Parker is supposed to be the team’s feature receiver, lined up as the Z. Will he stay healthy this year and finally breakout?

Bonus. The schedule for the public practices this year is:

Thursday, July 26 - 8:30am
Friday, July 27 - 8:30am
Saturday, July 28 - 8:30am
Sunday, July 29 - 8:30am
Monday, July 30 - 8:30am

Wednesday, August 1 - 8:30am
Thursday, August 2 - 8:30am
Friday, August 3 - 8:30am
Saturday, August 4 - 11am - Scrimmage at Hard Rock Stadium

Monday, August 6 - 8:30am
Tuesday, August 7 - 8:30am

Monday, August 13 - 8:30am
Tuesday, August 14 - 8:30am

2018 Dolphins Preseason Schedule

Week 1 - Thursday, August 9 - 7pm
vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 2 - Friday, August 17 - 7:30pm
@ Carolina Panthers

Week 3 - Saturday, August 25 - 7pm
vs. Baltimore Ravens

Week 4 - Thursday, August 30 - 7pm
@ Atlanta Falcons