Miami Dolphins 2015 Training Camp Guide: Predicting Surprise Standouts & Winners of Key Positional Battles
Congratulations- you have made it through the offseason. As far as I am concerned, the season begins on July 30th when the Miami Dolphins report for training camp. With an incredible amount of buzz surrounding the team this offseason, courtesy of Ndamukong Suh, HBO’s Ballers, and Harvard University, the nation’s eye could be on the Dolphins in 2015. Before the team can take the field against Washington in the season opener, the depth chart will have to be finalized. This will happen through a series of positional battles that will make training camp very interesting for the coaches, players, and fans of the Miami Dolphins.
Left & Right Guard:
This will be the biggest battle of training camp. Let me preface this with an important matter of opinion- Evan Mathis would save the season. Seriously, if Miami could have Mathis starting with Billy Turner the team would be set. But my gut tells me the team won’t sign Mathis. I just don’t have too much confidence in a deal getting done. It is entirely possible, and I have heard nothing saying they wont sign the Pro Bowler, but I have to go with my gut. Of course, I would be elated if it happened, especially since we wouldn’t have to pick up his old contract now that it is a matter of free agency versus a trade.
Dallas Thomas gives Dolphins fans nightmares. He actually IS our nightmare. We wake up at night screaming his name, as he haunts our thoughts. The man is not suitable starter based on what we saw last season. Now it is worth noting that players can have a major turnaround. But I almost hope we don’t give Thomas the time on the field to find out. I believe that second year player Billy Turner could will start on the right side. His strength and aggression will serve him well blowing smaller players off of the line.
With Turner starting on the right side, the question becomes if Jamil Douglas, Jeff Linkenbach, or Dallas Thomas will be starting between Albert and Pouncey. With his finesse and zone blocking potential, I believe that Jamil Douglas fits perfectly on Miami’s line. If he can progress enough in training camp, I think that Douglas could be a good player for Miami as a rookie this season. Really anything is better than “On His Ass” Thomas. Yeah, I’m proud of that one.
Verdict: Billy Turner could start on the right side, and with enough progress Jamil Douglas could also be solid for the Dolphins. Just as long as it isn’t Dallas Thomas we could be in the clear. *Drops to knees and prays*
Rookie & Veteran Linebackers:
The Miami Dolphins have plenty of returning bodies and new faces at the linebacker position that are competing for roster spots in 2015. The major problem? None of them have proven anything.
While there is plenty of competition at the backup spots, the starting three for linebackers are somewhat set. Koa Misi is 100% starting at middle linebacker (Joe Philbin’s personal love interest), Jelani Jenkins showed enough as a rookie to start as the strong side linebacker, and Chris McCain should be able to hold down the weak side. The only players who could challenge McCain and Jenkins are Spencer Paysinger and Jordan Tripp. Paysinger is a veteran linebacker, which we know Kevin Coyle prefers to an unproven young player. Tripp is a small school player who has received plenty of looks after spending his rookie season as a redshirt. I expect McCain and Jenkins to start, but look for Paysinger and Tripp to receive reps as well.
The team also has three undrafted rookies in Jeff Luc, Mike Vigil, and Mike Hull. Jeff Luc is a stretch to make the team at inside linebacker due to Kelvin Sheppard’s presence. Sheppard has played for 5 seasons in the league and will be a solid backup for Misi. Unless Luc can show his abilities on special teams he will most likely be job-hunting this fall (much to the chagrin of Dolphins fans who declared him the franchise savior after being signed as an undrafted rookie in May).
Zach Vigil and Mike Hull stand a better chance of making the final roster as outside linebackers. Four players are locks: Tripp, McCain, Jenkins, and Paysinger. In 2014, Kevin Coyle kept six outside linebackers. That leaves room for two more, with Vigil and Hull likely filling those spots. This is highly dependent on their performance, but I expect the two undrafted free agents to be very much in the competition for backup outside linebacker positions.
Verdict: Chris McCain, Koa Misi, and Jelani Jenkins start. Tripp, Paysinger, and Sheppard make the team as backups. Mike Hull and Zach Vigil will have to make the team as backups and special team contributors.
Brent Grimes will start as the primary cornerback. Yes, Brent Grimes is a deity. He is not human. We have been over this. ALL HAIL OPTIMUS GRIMES.
Jamar Taylor is expected to be the team’s outside corner opposite Grimes, which leaves the nickel (third cornerback who often covers slot receivers) currently vacant. Miami has brought in plenty of competition for the spot this offseason. In a comical twist almost as good as dropping and signing Josh Freeman within 48 hours, the Dolphins added two more McCains to the squad, Brice and Bobby. Brice McCain was a free agent acquisition from the Steelers, and Bobby was a draft pick out of Memphis. Based on his veteran experience, I expect Brice McCain to start at the nickel cornerback position, and third year player Will Davis to serve as a role player. Davis could earn the starting role, but I believe he will get playing time as a rotational piece both outside and in the nickel.
Verdict: Grimes and Taylor start outside, with Brice McCain at the nickel. Will Davis, Bobby McCain, and Zack Bowman will serve as rotational players.
Speed has always been a killer. Speed killed in the 1970s for Mercury Morris and the Dolphins. Speed killed in the 80s for Darrell Green and the Redskins. Speed killed in the 90s for Barry Sanders and the Lions. Speed killed in the 2000s for Chris Johnson and the Titans. Speed will continue to kill in 2015 for Miami with Lamar Miller starting at running back. Well, it actually killed for Darrell green from 1983-2002, because he is immortal. The dude could still run a sub 4.5 40-yard dash.
The Dolphins were lucky to find Jay Ajayi sitting pretty in the 4th round due to injury concerns, and made him their pick. Ajayi’s injury concerns are not immediate, but have more to do with his longevity. In 2015, he will be on the team, and will contribute with his lethal combination of power and speed. He has to learn to make better reads and to be more decisive. If that can be done (which I think it will), Ajayi could be a huge piece for the Dolphins this season.
Next up is the man named Williams who wears number 34. I know, it’s super cool. How often can a fan dig through their closet to find a jersey that is relevant AGAIN. Damien Williams showed the Dolphins plenty in 2014, and has earned himself the second running back spot for the upcoming season. With Ajayi and Williams helping Miami’s three-headed backfield, our attention shifts to the number four spot, and what it will take for another runner to make the 2015 roster.
Miami needs a kick returner, as the coaching staff will want to avoid any Jarvis Landry injuries. That being said, it will come down to LaMichael James and Mike Gillislee to impress on special teams. Whichever player shows more as a returner will make the team. But both certainly will not. This storyline will play out mostly in preseason games and the joint practices with Carolina, but it will be interesting to see which runner Miami selects as the kick and punt returner for this season.
Verdict: Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi, and Damien Williams will make up the team’s ground attack this season. LaMichael James or Mike Gillislee will make the 53 as a kick/punt returner. I believe it will be James, but it is impossible to know until practices really heat up. Which doesn’t take long given the fact that it is August in South Florida. I am sweating from the thought alone.
When Josh Freeman was initially cut it seemed certain that Miami’s final roster would feature just two quarterbacks (Tannehill & Moore) heading into the season. Now that Miami has pulled a full-on Nick Saban flip flop and resigned Freeman, questions still linger about the team’s decision regarding quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
Now the battle is between McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and the ex-Buc Freeman. Freeman’s career has taken a nosedive, and reports out of Dolphins’ OTAs have shown inconsistency and inaccuracy from the journeyman. Bethel-Thompson has plenty of upside, and would make sense as a practice squad player.
Verdict: Josh Freeman gets cut (again) and Bethel-Thompson stays on the practice squad.
Top Surprise Performers:
Training camps in the NFL always feature two things: Overachievers and underachievers. It’s as sure as death and taxes. So, here are players I think will shine in training camp, and some who I believe will disappoint fans on the practice field.
So far, reports of Tony Lippett from OTAs have been glowing. There was one day of practice in which he supposedly recorded 2-3 interceptions of the offense. Days like that are very rare, especially since practices without contact are geared to help the offense more than the defense.
I do not expect Lippett to be huge in year one, but he should show enough to warrant some reps and playing time in the preseason (and possibly as a reserve in the regular season).
Small school players really do need time to adjust to the speed, physicality, and mental elements of the NFL. Fede was drafted out of Marist, and took last year to learn the playbook and help improve physically. He showed flashes this past season, and does have a good skill set as a pass rusher. While the Dolphins’ defensive line is more crowded than the Patriots’ bandwagon, I think Fede could carve out a role for himself. When those big bodies get moving in the Florida sun, the relief players become much more important.
By the way- Fede’s one big play last year? The game winning blocked punt against the Vikings.
I was very excited about this under-the-radar signing. I think Miami found themselves a very solid player, and McCain could exceed expectations for the defense this season. With questions at cornerback, adding a veteran like Brice McCain could help boost the consistency and intelligence of the Dolphins’ secondary.
With DeVante Parker out for training camp, Matt Hazel should get more reps at receiver. With Rishard Matthews already on the naughty list for his rumored-dissatisfaction, Hazel has the opportunity to shine. Many said he was a bright spot during camp last season, and I belive he could build on that progress this August.
Last season Mitchell was a solid role player, helping Miami in the defensive tackle rotation. With Odrick and Starks gone, I initially expected Mitchell to make progress and become a more well-rounded player. Now, Jordan Phillips appears to be in line to start next to Suh at defensive tackle. I do not think that Mitchell will beat out Phillips, and the presence of CJ Mosley could make Mitchell even less valuable to the team.
Gilislee has consistently performed better in practice than he has during the season. He has managed to stay on the team despite two lackluster seasons. With Jay Ajayi brought in at running back, I expect the team to approach Gillislee’s camp performance as a make-or-break situation. I’m not a gambling man, but if I were I would bet that Gillislee would not be on the team when the season begins this fall.
My first impression of Zack Bowman was his decision to avoid tackling Marshawn Lynch in order to save himself last season with the Giants. That play stuck with me, and I knew I hoped Miami wouldn’t add that type of player. Well, they did. I do not expect Bowman to perform well enough to edge out the deep competition at cornerback. He should theoretically make the team, but will most likely not beat out Bobby McCain or Will Davis for playing time.
Well here we are again. The offseason is over. Everyone is 0-0. There is no champion, no best or worst, and no dismay. It is a fresh start for the Dolphins, with promising times on the horizon. It is once again time to go sit in bleachers at Nova Southeastern University, facing east, engaging in an unfortunate duel with the morning glare. The whole time, Joe Philbin laughs with glee as he places the team on the farthest possible field for drills and 7-on-7s.
Training camp will be interesting this season, with plenty of x-factors and battles for playing time. Miami fans however must feel hope, with plenty of new additions and changes. It all starts with training camp. And perhaps the team’s golden anniversary could see a renewal of the traditional success that was found when the Miami Dolphins took the field on Sundays.