The Miami Dolphins broke camp late last week and there are still some battles going on in practice. Training camp started with eyes focused on the WR spot, the RB spot, the CB spot to name a few. After 3 weeks some of those battles are more clear, some are a bit surprising, and some were a bit disappointing. Here is a position by position look at the battles that were, weren’t, and still undecided.
The Big Battle: Brandon London Vs. Anthony Armstrong Vs. Brian Hartline
The Outcome: BORING
The Dolphins went into camp talking a possible 6 roster spots on the line. Anthony Armstrong had turned heads during the Phins’ OTA’s and the question was could he make the 53 man roster this year and knock London off the team. 2 pre-season games in and a slew of dropped passes during TC and Anthony Armstrong is gone. Brandon London is still not a lock for the team but 4th round Brian Hartline seems to be 99% guaranteed a 53 man active spot.
Hartline’s play during practice earned him two starting episodes in PS 2 & 3 opposite Ted Ginn. What was supposed to be a battle for a roster spot is now a 3 man race to see who starts at number 2. Hartline, Davone Bess, and Greg Camarillo are the competitors and it is any ones game. The odd man out of this competition is 3rd round pick Patrick Turner who at times has become lazy in practice and has made little impact in the PS contests. While he is in no danger of being cut, being upstaged by a WR taken after him should be an eye opener. As for London, he still is making strides on the special teams and is hanging on to the decision of the team to keep 5 or 6. 6 and he makes it. 5 and he is looking for work.
Prediction: Brandon London’s special teams play will keep him a Miami Dolphin.
The Battle: There wasn’t supposed to be one
Outcome: Very interesting
At the start of training camp there was no battle at the RB spot. It was simply Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and Patrick Cobbs at RB and Lousaka Polite as the FB. Done, done, and Done. Now, Lex Hilliard who was destined to repeat as a practice squad player has raised some eyebrows and suddenly he is being called a lock to make the team by some in the south Florida media. Hilliard is a downward rolling bolling ball who to put simply is caught in a numbers game. Do the Phins keep 4 running backs or two FB’s? If so, Hilliard is in. Like London, he could be the odd man out simply because the Phins don’t have the positions to hold them.
Last season Hilliard sat on the practice squad and wasn’t touched. His play this summer has shown that he can take the hits of the NFL and a PS slot this year will likely be short lived as another team will likely pick him up.
Prediction: The Phins will find a place for Hilliard and he will be an inactive member of the final 53.
The Big Battle: John Nalbone Vs. Joey Haynos Vs. David Martin
The Outcome: Quiet
The Dolphins TE’s were a four man race before TC started but the 4th guy decided not to even show up. He doesn’t deserve his name mentioned here. That left rookie John Nalbone fighting for a roster spot with Joey Haynos and David Martin. Early on I predicted that Martin would be cut and that still may happen. However none of the TE’s have done much to stand out. Martin has been getting a lot balls thrown his way but has only brought in a few. Likewise for Joey Haynos and Nalbone. In the case of Nalbone, he appears more and more likely to land on the PS where he likely won’t be touched.
Prediction: Joey Haynos will make the roster and David Martin will likely stay as well. Nalbone will go to the PS if he clears waivers.
The Battle: None
The Outcome: Nothing surprising
The Phins QB situation was simple, Chad, then Chad, then Pat. Pennington has seen some struggles but he tends to try more things in pre-season than he would in a game. Kind of getting a feel for what he can and can’t do and what his receivers can and can’t do. Tony Sparano calls Pennington “season ready” and CP will only see one series against the New Orleans Saints.
Henne on the other hand has looked good at times and bad at times. The problem is that he just doesn’t get the game time he needs to develop. He needs to be more cerebral in his approach and stop trying to do too much too quickly. Henne is making strides but he is trying to force the ball where it doesn’t need to go. He needs to allow himself to control the tempo rather than the tempo controlling him. Pat White has looked like a first year QB. He is too quick on his feet in the pocket meaning he dances too much. Something Henne did in PS game 3. White has a strong arm but until he settles down and let’s the game slow down, he won’t be able to consistently be effective as a QB. Which is something no one should expect from a rookie. White posesses the tools to play at this level but he will have to become an NFL QB first and that is something that is difficult for most rookies and something that should not be expected.
The Big Battle: Shawn Murphy Vs. Donald Thomas Vs. Donald Thomas’ health.
The Outcome: Fingers Crossed
The Phins are set at both tackle positions, at center, and at LG. For depth the Phins have some young guys getting better. A solid pick-up in Joe Berger allowed the team to move Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe in a trade. The potential shown by rookie Andrew Gardner allowed the team to feel confident while letting a guy like Brandon Frye develop as well. The big question going in to camp was who would play the RG position?
The Phins had penciled Shawn Murphy into the spot, that lasted about 3 practices. Not Murphy’s fault who is much improved over last years inactive status. The return of Donald Thomas moved Murphy back. Thomas has battled 3 injuries since being drafted last season. A Lisfranc fracture, a torn chest muscle, and a shoulder injury. Back from them all, Thomas is playing where he left off last year. He will need to stay healthy but the improvement of Murphy has quieted some of the concerns at the position.
Prediction: No real roster battles are going on outside of the final few spots that the team will carry. Those guys are back-ups and outside of their families, many fans don’t have an opinion or preference one way or the other. They are all playing pretty evenly. If your looking for a final push this might be fun to watch but the outcome won’t be earth shattering.
The Big Battle: Connor Barth Vs. Dan Carpenter
The Outcome: Yaaawwwnn
The Dolphins weren’t happy with the kicking of Dan Carpenter who entered TC un-opposed. The Phins brought in Barth to compete and the media seemed to believe that it was for real. Barth did nothing wrong but Carpenter took it as the challenge it was intended for and made his case connecting on longer field goals and deeper kick-offs. The Phins wasted little time in Barth who was released after PS game 2.
The Big Battle: Everyone who wasn’t starting
Outcome: Still going on and it’s getting good
The Phins have Jason Ferguson and behind him, well, that is the problem. Paul Soliai is looking much better than he has since behind drafted but he still doesn’t look ready to take over full-time. Outside of Soliai there is no one else. On the DE front there has been some battles ongoing between Tony McDaniel and the other back-ups to Kendall Langford. Then, something happened that threw a wrench into it all. Phillip Merling got demoted and then switched, the battles are just beginning.
Kendall Langford has a lock on the LE position and behind him is Phillip Merling who was moved from the right side. In his spot now stands Randy Starks who is having a very solid pre-season. Behind Starks is emerging Tony McDaniel and Lionel Dotson who shows flashes but is still too raw. The three of them have the lock on the right side but the switch of Merling is a tell tale sign that the Phins are getting a bit irritated with the practice habits and production out of the top 2nd round pick in last years draft. After Merling the Phins will have to make a decision on Roderique Wright and Ryan Baker. Baker won’t make the team as the numbers are not in his favor and it’s unlikely that Wright has done enough to warrant a spot either.
Prediction: Wright and Baker will be on the streets in a week while Starks will keep the starting RE job. McDaniel and Dotson will make the roster and Merling better start playing or he could be looking at an uncertain future after this year. He is a game day player which for now is his saving grace.
The Big Battle: Matt Roth Vs. Jason Taylor
The Outcome: Never got started
This was supposed to be good. A more aggressive Matt Roth taking on the returning champ in Jason Taylor. To this day, no one knows for sure what is going on with Matt Roth and his mysterious groin injury. The talk is that he will be placed on the PUP list and won’t play until 6 weeks into the season while some speculate that IR will be where he ends up after his PUP eligibility expires. Others believe the Phins should just trade or release him. Either way, Jason Taylor looks far different than the JT who played with Washington last year. He has regained his upfield pushing ability and is making a lot of strides in collapsing the pocket opposite Joey Porter.
In the middle everyone seems surprised about the emergence of Akin Ayodele. Everyone except Tony Sparan0. Ayodele has been the physical leader on the defense and his play is overshadowing the returning Channing Crowder. With Ayodele coming out his shell, Crowder is looking better as a result and the two are teaming up for a solid pass rushing duo and run stopping machine. They still have a ways to go against bigger Olines and more bruising backs but for a change, Crowder is making contact at the line instead of 5 yards down field.
The real battles are being fought behind the starters. Quentin Moses is showing some signs that he is starting to get it and with Matt Roth unavailable he has a better than not chance of making the roster. On the other side of the field, Williams Kershaw and Erik Walden are battling for the spot behind Joey Porter and it’s an important role. With Porter’s age and injury history, the winner will likely some playing time at some point in the season and that is going to be crucial. Right now, the edge is likely going to go to Kershaw who is flashing some heart. Walden as well is playing much better than most expected but one of them will likely be left out. Left out because of Cameron Wake.
Wake has shown some flashes of why he dominated in the CFL earning defensive league MVP honors two years in a row. Still Wake is listed last on the depth chart and despite the million dollar contract he signed, this regime cares little for money. Wake still has a week to show he has what it takes.
Prediction: One of Walden and Kershaw will be gone, likely to the PS. Cameron Wake should make the roster as the Phins will give him some more time to develop. That isn’t a season ticket though. Only an invitation to the start of the season.
The Big Battle: Eric Green Vs. Vontae’ Davis Vs. Sean Smith
The Outcome: Not much of a contest
Eric Green was signed to the roster in free agency much more as a veteran security blanket in case the draft didn’t fall the Dolphins way. Vontae’ Davis and Sean Smith fell into their laps and Eric Green struggled from day 1. His release after PS game 1 came as no surprise and left Davis and Smith in a battle for the starting spot opposite Will Allen. Sean Smith took care of that early and despite the fact he missed the Carolina game with and undiagnosed illness, he has shown the skill set that has star written on it.
For his part Davis has began to settle into the role of an NFL CB. His open field tackling is very solid and he seems to get better each week on his coverage and footwork. Still, his biggest drag is his attitude which has cost the Dolphins field position. Perhaps the biggest shot to that ego is Sean Smith. Like Patrick Turner on offense, Vontae’ Davis is being overshadowed by someone taken after him in the draf. This is something that Davis needs and it will likely make him better.
Today, Davis is listed as the guy behind Will Allen and that is likely where he will stay until the Dolphins see fit to move Davis into that starting role. Nathan Jones appears to have the back-up job behind Smith locked up as well. Beyond that, it’s a question of who wants it more. Will Billingsley has been a highlight reel of things not to do in TC but is starting to get a little better, likely too little too late. Jason Allen still struggles but his forte could be as a nickle corner where he can roam a little more like a safety while still playing the CB position. From this spot Allen can use his physicality more than his head which still seems confused on the field.
Prediction: Jason Allen and Nathan Jones both make the roster and the Phins will look to the waiver wire for casualties to replace Billingsley and Joey Thomas.
The Battle: None
The Outcome: None
This was a simple plan. Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson are the starters and Tyrone Culver and rookie Chris Clemons are the back-ups. Nothing has changed.