Sink or Swim: Early Risers & Fallers from Miami Dolphins Training Camp
Now that training camp has begun, fans and coaches have gotten a chance to see some of the players who garnered major chatter and attention this offseason. It’s not longer about hype- we can see players fighting for their jobs, and can gauge what type of impact they might have for Miami this season. In this piece, we take the time to check in on players’ stocks as football season approaches, and take an early look at who is rising or falling in the opening portion of Miami Dolphins training camp.
Based on his style of play, most believed that Jarvis Landry would continue his residency in the slot position for the Miami Dolphins. However with DeVante Parker missing training camp, Landry has received plenty of looks down the field and has impressed thus far. Earlier this week in practice Tannehill executed what could be the best play we will see in camp with a perfect 60-yard bomb to Landry, which he caught in stride for a touchdown after beating a defensive back deep down the field.
Last season Landry failed to notch a reception of more than 30-yards, even though he caught the ball over 80 times. With Kenny Stills stretching the field and DeVante Parker making plays with his frame and physical style, hopes were bleak for Landry to expand his yards per catch stats this season. Now it appears that the whiteboard genie Bill Lazor has something cooking for Landry this season, and whenever you are getting extra looks in training camp and hauling in 60-yard bombs, your stock is going to rise. I’m excited to see how Landry is used in the preseason, and how the offense has developed around the team’s new receivers.
Jamar Taylor’s stock is not falling critically, but he is looking at strong competition from Brice McCain. Heading into camp Taylor was assumed to be the team’s starting outside cornerback opposite Brent Grimes. Despite the consensus that his natural position is outside, Joe Philbin has apparently been giving reps to McCain at that spot, and he has performed well. I do not believe that McCain is the team’s best option outside, and they would be served best by letting Taylor stay in at the position and allowing him to take reps and improve heading into the season. The only thing that Miami could gain is a stopgap option outside, which would leave the nickel manned by Taylor where he couldn’t really play given his skill set. The best thing for Taylor is to let him learn and grow at his more natural position where he can use him physicality to prevent outside plays and jam receivers at the line.
It is also worth noting that Taylor has appeared to be nagged by some old injuries in camp so far, coming up slowly on multiple occasions from tackles or pass breakups. His history with hamstring injuries has to be concerning, as well as the other medical issues that almost forced him into retirement before even playing a down for Miami when he came out of the draft in 2013. Last season was better for Taylor medically, but it has to be a red flag to see a player with his history already dealing with some dents and dings this early in camp.
Heading into camp I was not an Earl Mitchell believer. I thought that Jordan Phillips’ training with Suh would give him a physical and mental head start, and that he would take the job and run with it. By no means has Phillips not been impressive (he actually has been very disruptive when given reps with the first team line, and has clearly been one of the best players on the second-team), but Mitchell has been a true standout.
Stephen Ross signed Ndamukong Suh because he wanted to win now. He doesn’t just want to win now, he wants to dominate now. There is plenty to be said for playing a veteran with experience in a system to avoid the learning curve that a player like Jordan Phillips would have to deal with entering the NFL. Earl Mitchell’s stock is rising due to his improved ability to penetrate at the line, and the advantages of playing a veteran who has already spent a year in Kevin Coyle’s system (which favors experienced players to begin with). Look for the week one defensive line to include (right to left) Vernon, Mitchell, Suh, and Wake, all with the common goal of harassing opposing offenses.
Sinker: Dallas Thomas
Not only is Dallas Thomas’ stock falling. He is falling. On his ass. Every. Single. Play.
This section really should be devoted to the entire Dolphins’ offensive line, but it is clear that Thomas is the worst player in the unit currently. Billy Turner hasn’t looked good, but he is going up against Suh every play. Thomas has been beaten by just about everyone on the team, whether it’s the first or second defensive line. If the team is going to sign a replacement for Thomas, it will most likely be after the first preseason game (after a round of cuts with some additional money). In the preseason opener we could see more out of Billy Turner than we have on the practice field in Davie, but I do not have high expectations for Thomas even in games. If he is starting, it is in indication that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Signing a veteran player to fill in at left guard would solve the problem, as Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner are both better options on the line than Thomas is for the 2015 season. The team desperately needs a player to replace him at left guard, and yes people I’ll finally say it. MATHIS MATHIS MATHIS MATHIS. There, it’s out of my system.
Rising: Chris McCain
McCain has become this year’s fan favorite. The undrafted linebacker came into camp last year and actually impressed enough to earn playing time throughout the season (including a strong week one game against New England). McCain always had the ability, but was not drafted due to non-football issues. He has apparently put his distractions aside, and has become a standout for Miami in training camp.
Chris McCain is an outstanding pass rusher, and could add even more force to a Dolphins’ defense that looks absolutely stacked with pass rushers heading into the season. With big name players like Suh and Wake the center of attention, guys like McCain and Olivier Vernon can clean up shop and record some easy sacks when left with insufficient blocking. McCain has shown a lack of elite coverage skills, which could hurt him down the line. I do not think this will be an issue, as Miami can rotate in other linebackers to assist in coverage. It is easier to teach someone how to cover than it is to teach him how to be an explosive enough athlete to beat blockers at the line (while coverage isn’t easy by any means, you just cant teach athleticism). Chris McCain’s stock is through the roof, and it looks to be a sure thing that he will be the Miami Dolphins’ week one starter at strong-side linebacker. Which is great because I’ve always wanted to make a sign that says, “Bring the McPain”. Yeah, I didn’t like that joke either.
Sinker: Jay Ajayi
Jay Ajayi’s stock isn’t falling based on his own performance. It’s more indicative of how good Damien Williams and LaMichael James have looked. I don’t think in any way that Ajayi will be cut- he’s a big name rookie with a great deal of potential. But it is worth noting that he hasn’t cracked the rotation at the second or even really third running back spot. There haven’t been any eye-popping moments in which Ajayi has shown something that separates him from the other backs. So far LaMichael James has been electrifying, and Damien Williams has showed great hands out of the backfield.
I think that as the season nears we will see more of Ajayi, but it’s hard to say exactly what role he will play with the Dolphins this year. His falling is almost a good thing, because it is prompted mostly by the outstanding performance of Williams and James. Ajayi will shine at some point, but for now Miami will have to look at this as a good issue to have, with other ball carriers honing their abilities and showing that they are ready to step into a larger role this season alongside Lamar Miller.
Nothing is more important than a good first impression. This is an assessment of first impressions, and how some highly touted players have performed in the opening period of training camp. It is too early to really predict starters, but checking in on Miami ahead of the first preseason game could give fans a good idea of who has the most to gain in the first real action of the season against the Bears. This article is not intended to be the final verdict for these players, it is simply a status check to see where they stand as football approaches. For some that means keep up the good work. For others it means that they will have to pick up the performance if they want to see the field for Miami in 2015.