DAVIE (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins open mandatory minicamp at the team facility on Tuesday. Following three weeks of OTA’s, minicamp will mark the final week of practices before training camp begins in late July.
The Dolphins march toward the 2017 season with ambitious expectations. Second year head coach Adam Gase is eager to build on his 2016 success, when he led the franchise to its first playoff berth in eight years.
In Gase’s quest to change the culture of the organization, he’s worked tirelessly to foster a spirit of accountability and competition from his players.
The accountability was evident during the previous three weeks of organized team activities. Players who underachieved a season ago – like defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and wide receivers Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant – spoke candidly about needing to work harder and bring more consistent effort.
As for the spirit of competition: several roster spots and starting positions remain up for grabs at all three phases. While most of these questions won’t be answered until late in the preseason, the path to clarity will begin at minicamp.
Here’s a look at every position group and where they stand before hitting the field on Tuesday.
Quarterback – Starter Ryan Tannehill and backup Matt Moore return to their respective roles. All eyes are on Tannehill’s left knee, which suffered ACL and MCL sprains last December. He opted against surgery and will wear a brace for the full season. “Back at 100 percent” Tannehill said during the first week of OTA’s, when asked about his recovery. He says the brace does not limit his mobility. “It’s more for protection,” Tannehill noted. He’s looked sharp and mobile in offseason practices so far.
Running Back – On paper, this is one of the most stable areas on the roster. The starting job belongs to pro bowler Jay Ajayi, who rushed for a career high (and league’s fourth best) 1,272 yards a season ago. Still, his offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen thinks he can be even better. “He may be the most improved guy out there this offseason,” Christensen said of Ajayi on June 6th. Christensen added, “he’s a different guy from a year ago.” Adam Gase has thrown out 350 carries as a possibility for Ajayi. He carried 260 times last season. Behind Ajayi, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake both return to this year’s squad. They will battle for second team reps.
Receivers and Tight Ends – The sky is the limit for Ryan Tannehill’s pass-catchers. Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills were consistently productive last season. The big storyline for this group lies in the hands of third year receiver, and former first round pick, DeVante Parker. Drafted fourteenth overall in 2015, Parker was his own worst enemy in his first two seasons. Questionable work ethic and minor injuries kept him from getting into a rhythm in the past. Adam Gase insists those problems are behind him. “You’re seeing a guy go full speed every day and it’s been impressive,” Gase said of Parker’s recent practice habits. “He’s not taken anything for granted,” Gase added. With Landry, Stills, and a consistent Parker, Ryan Tannehill will have at least three dangerous options to throw to. And there could be a fourth. The Dolphins acquired former pro bowl Tight End Julius Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2013-2014, Thomas played under then offensive coordinator Adam Gase in Denver, scoring 24 touchdowns in those two seasons. He will look to become a valuable safety net and red-zone threat for Ryan Tannehill.
Offensive Line – After spending his rookie season at guard, Miami’s ‘left tackle of the future’ Laremy Tunsil, becomes the left tackle of the present. “It feels good to be at the natural spot I was drafted here for,” said Tunsil during OTA’s. His poise and athleticism while protecting his quarterback’s blind side will be a big area of focus at minicamp. While Tunsil is locked in, center Mike Pouncey will be brought along slowly. His recovery from hip problems will keep him out of team drills, while Anthony Steen, Kraig Urbik, and rookie Isaac Asiata take reps at center. Asiata, a fifth round draft pick out of Utah, will also be competing for a starting guard spot. Veterans Ted Larsen and Jermon Bushrod appear the likely starters and left and right guard, respectively. Starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James is unlikely to face any serious competition for his job.
Defensive Line – The most exciting new face in this group is Miami’s first round pick, rookie defensive end Charles Harris. The 22nd overall pick out of Missouri has impressed observers with his quick first step and variety of pass rushing moves. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke also praises his work rate. “He’s non-stop,” said Burke. “Every snap he’s going. He’s playing hard. We’re working him and he’s responded.” Cameron Wake and Andre Branch will reprise their roles as starting defensive ends, with Harris and veteran William Hayes in the mix to earn snaps. At defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh serves as the anchor, with third-year man Jordan Phillips the likely second starter. Phillips has been anything but consistent in his first two seasons. Phillips said he’s used his offseason to “find tips and tricks on how to get (myself) going and stay consistent with that.” He cites the need to become “more head strong.” Rookies Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor will both compete to push Phillips for snaps.
Linebackers – Arguably the biggest liability last season – the linebackers have seen an offseason overhaul. The changes began with the acquisition of former Pittsburgh Steeler Lawrence Timmons, who specializes in stopping the run. Miami was 30th out of 32 in defending the run last season. The Dolphins used their second round pick to find another linebacker, Raekwon McMillan out of Ohio State. GM Chris Grier called him a “tackling machine” on draft night. McMillan recorded over 100 tackles in each of his final two collegiate seasons. When asked to describe his most NFL-ready skill, McMillan said it’s his “coachability,” adding: “A lot of players come up with a hot head and think they’re this and think they’re that. But being coachable, it’s a skill that not a lot of people have learned to sustain over their career.” His ability to respond to instruction will be important, as the coaches have not yet decided who will play inside and outside. Both Timmons and McMillan favor the inside, as does returning starter Kiko Alonso. Getting the best players on the field at once will require adaptation from at least two of the three.
Defensive backs – Safety Reshad Jones, who’s 2016 season ended in October with shoulder surgery, is back on the field with no restrictions. He will anchor a group of safeties that also includes a returning Michael Thomas and newly acquired veterans Nate Allen and TJ McDonald. McDonald impressed coaches and teammates with his ball-hawking abilities during OTA’s, but will have to miss the first eight weeks of the regular season for a suspension stemming from a 2016 DUI arrest. At cornerback, Xavien Howard has looked like one of the most improved players on the squad during offseason sessions. The second year player out of Baylor was slowed by knee issues in his rookie season. “Last year, due to injuries and stuff like that, I couldn’t really get in and learn the system,” said Howard. “I have confidence in myself so I know what I can do at 100%,” he added. He’s the likely outside starter opposite Byron Maxwell. They’ll both be pushed by rookie Cordrea Tankersley, a third round pick out of Clemson. Tankersley has practiced “some in the slot, but mostly outside,” he says. The likely slot starter is Bobby McCain, who might see safety Michael Thomas compete with him for snaps at that spot.
The Dolphins take the field for minicamp on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, June 13 – 15. All sessions will be closed to the public.