Today marks the first day of training camp for the Miami Dolphins. Below is a look into many unanswered questions that the team will be working to solve throughout training camp.
Between Vincent Taylor and Davon Godchaux, who will emerge as the primary rotational defensive tackle?
Ndamukong Suh is a force to reckon with and Jordan Phillips may be on his way to similar stardom. But that position is almost impossible to stay in for an entire game so there must be sufficient depth.
Godchaux and Taylor were both selected near the end of the 2017 NFL draft. It was intended that healthy competition would lead to improvement in both of their games but one must come out on top.
Godchaux has a quick burst but Taylor is a strong man with many admirable qualities. Throughout training camp, Matt Burke will be keeping a close eye on these two to see who should be used to spell out Suh and Phillips and who should get playing time on special teams.
Prediction: Davon Godchaux finishes 3rd on the depth chart while Taylor gets used to the speed of the game on special teams.
Who will be the main punt returner?
Jakeem Grant was supposed to solidify this role a season ago. He did not. After a season consisting of multiple fumbling mistakes receiving the kick, Grant will have to do much more if he wants to make the team.
The candidates include Jarvis Landry, Kenyan Drake, Bobby McCain, Jakeem Grant and Drew Morgan. Grant will go into camp as the leading candidate, as Gase wants to put his speed to good use.
Landry could take the job, but he is already heavily involved in the offense. Drake has good size and speed, but looks to do more damage on kick returns.
Prediction: Jakeem Grant’s breakaway speed gives him another opportunity to solidify his role as a punt returner.
With Jermon Bushrod at right guard, who takes over at left guard?
This has been a question all offseason. With Laremy Tunsil sliding to left tackle, he leaves a void at guard. The team signed veteran offensive lineman Ted Larsen to provide competition.
The players fighting for the spot include Larsen, rookie Isaac Asiata, Kraig Urbik and possibly Anthony Steen. Larsen assuredly has the most experience and can also play any of the three interior positions.
Isaac Asiata can be a huge factor in the run game as he has good strength in his arms. He very well could be the future at guard, but this season may not be the right time. Kraig Urbik is a journeyman but still can play efficiently. He will likely provide quality depth at a position of need who can be slid into the starting lineup if injuries were to occur.
Prediction: Trying to keep Mike Pouncey 100% healthy, they start camp with Steen at center and Larsen at LG. Throughout training camp, Asiata takes good control of the position, but Steen’s blocking is too good to keep off the field. So when games come, Pouncey starts at center and Steen at left guard.
How many receivers will make the team?
With Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker and Kenny Stills all locks to make the team, there is a big question as to who will complete that room. Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Taylor, Rashawn Scott and Drew Morgan are all likely fighting for two roster spots.
Carroo has looked improved throughout the offseason. With the assets given up in order to nab Carroo, it is likely he will get another chance to shine for the Dolphins. Grant’s punt return abilities could push him onto the roster.
Scott will start training camp on the PUP list, giving him a disadvantage as he will have less time to impress Coach Gase and company. Taylor seemed to be the steal of the draft as many saw him as a 3rd or 4th round talent. Perhaps his talent could give him a shot on the back end of the roster. Drew Morgan has received high praise from coaches and teammates as an undrafted free agent trying to make the roster.
The competition at this position will be strong and will likely come down to the last few days.
Prediction: Five receivers will make the team, including Jakeem Grant, Leonte Carroo, and the big three. Drew Morgan and Isaiah Ford will begin the season on the practice squad.
Will Bobby McCain come out on top at the Nickel cornerback position?
Throughout the offseason, it has been rumored that Michael Thomas will likely see some action at the nickel position in training camp. Jordan Lucas and Lafayette Pitts were rumored to have shots as well.
But the Dolphins did not stop there. Since the position has been a weak link for a while now, the team added veteran Alterraun Verner to the squad. Verner is 28 years old and has played the nickel and boundary cornerback position, but it is likely he will be looked at as a slot corner with the logjam of boundary corners on the team.
Bobby McCain was drafted to be a hard-hitting ballhawk in a smaller body, but he has not been able to fully live up to those expectations. He has not lost the job yet, but he certainly does not have it locked up.
Prediction: Bobby McCain loses the job (and roster spot) to Alterraun Verner, who has a Pro Bowl on his resume. Michael Thomas serves as a backup at both safety and nickel corner.
With Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens possibly switching to a cornerback position, who will be the direct backups to Reshad Jones and Nate Allen?
As previously mentioned, Thomas will be seeing time at nickel corner. Walt Aikens on the other hand has not been able to make a name for himself at safety, so coaches are strongly considering moving the collegiate cornerback back to his natural position. His size certainly can be used better at that position.
That leaves Reshad Jones and Nate Allen as the only two pure safeties guaranteed to make the roster (excluding T.J. McDonald). So who do we have?
Well the team signed undrafted free agent Maurice Smith this season and A.J. Hendy from last season. Hendy made it to the gameday roster in 2016 and seems to have gained the coaches trust. Both have good size for the position, standing right at 6 feet.
Both of these players have a good shot to round up the safety position, with Aikens and Thomas likely still seeing time as backups. All four players (Thomas, Aikens, Hendy and Smith) will likely contribute heavily on special teams.
Prediction: Until T.J. McDonald returns, both Hendy and Smith will make the roster. Thomas and Aikens won’t play much safety, but they are insurance options. When McDonald returns, he will start, Allen will backup, and either Smith or Hendy will be sent down based on their play over the first eight games.
Will Byron Maxwell take full grasp of his starting position?
As I stated earlier, there is a logjam at the boundary cornerback position. Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, Tony Lippett and Cordrea Tankersley all have true ‘lockdown’ capabilities. But all are still looking to establish themselves as such. They lack consistency.
I expect Howard to be on the cusp of Pro Bowl talk this season, so I see Maxwell fighting for the second cornerback spot. Lippett and Tankersley will be breathing down the veteran’s neck all training camp.
Prediction: Given the experience of Lippett and Tankersley, Maxwell establishes himself as the team’s number two cornerback. But both Lippett and Tankersley perform better throughout the season and make a difficult (but beneficial) decision for Matt Burke.
Will Julius Thomas and Ryan Tannehill connect as expected?
So far this offseason, the chemistry between quarterback and tight end has been difficult to find. Tannehill has never truly been able to throw to his tight end when under pressure. But Thomas brings a much different skillset than any of Tannehill’s previous tight ends.
Expectations are high for Julius Thomas, like perhaps double-digit touchdowns. But we must start from square one, and that is Thomas and RT figuring out how each other work.
Ryan Tannehill does favor the middle of the field (or at least he has in the past), so it is quite possible that the two will find their groove throughout training camp and do some damage throughout the season.
Prediction: Ryan Tannehill has a go-to target, but it is not Thomas. But the two link up for a multi-score game early in the season, and from then on, defenses will respect Thomas and RT will look to him in the endzone and short yardage situations. Their chemistry gets gradually better from here until the last game of the season.
Who will be the go-to receiver?
Jarvis Landry has taken this honor over the past few seasons. But Tannehill will have no weak arsenal this season, thus allowing him to look beyond the middle of the field for his outside receivers.
Devante Parker is due for a breakout season, having not lived up to his draft hype from two years ago. Kenny Stills has the ability to take the rock to the house nearly every time he touches the ball.
Prediction: Devante Parker emerges as the go-to 3rd down receiver. He will become a lethal redzone threat. He will become a lethal vertical threat. He will be knocking on the Pro Bowl door. He will garner loads of targets. He will bump Juice Landry to the number two passing option (no. 3 in the redzone) and Devante Parker will become on offensive stud.
Can Matt Burke control a locker room and manage a defense efficiently?
A season ago, there was much praise for Vance Joseph. He was well-respected throughout the entire organization and held himself very well.
Fast forward to 2017 and Matt Burke is the new defensive coordinator. After a season of watching Joseph run the defense, Coach Burke feels ready to take over and he certainly has the trust in the locker room.
Many of the players like him, which should make his transition an easy one. Not to mention, he does not plan to change much from the defense last season. There was sufficient improvement last year and Coach Burke wants to continue that development into this next season.
Prediction: The defense picks up where it left off last year and Coach Burke leads a squad that looks to be among the top of the league in many defensive categories.
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