The Miami Dolphins have been pretty busy during the offseason, trying to build a squad that is worthy of ending the team’s long playoff drought. Many think that the 2015 Dolphins roster features the best collection of talent since head coach Joe Philbin’s arrival in 2012. Between free agency and the NFL Draft, general manager Dennis Hickey has built a team that seems worthy of the postseason.
There are still plenty of questions surrounding the Dolphins as we inch closer to the beginning of the season. Some of those questions will begin being answered as the team begins their voluntary Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) on Tuesday at Miami’s training facility in Davie. In total there will be 10 OTA workouts over the next two weeks.
With so many intriguing storylines just beginning to unfold, the opportunity to see how the players perform on the field under the watchful eyes of Philbin and his staff is something that fans and media alike have been anxiously waiting for. Here are some of the main things to keep an eye on during the Dolphins OTA’s.
The Dolphins made the first big splash of free agency when they signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a 6-year deal worth $114 million. Suh was arguably the most sought after defensive free agent in over 20 years and he’s expected to help transform a Dolphins defensive squad that faltered in a major way during the final six games of the 2014 season.
The thing about Suh is that he generally didn’t show up for the voluntary OTA workouts while playing with the Detroit Lions, instead electing to work out on his own with his private trainer. That may not be the case with Miami though, as Suh is currently in South Florida and he’s expected to be in attendance when the Dolphins take the field on Tuesday. The brass in Miami is hoping that Suh will take on a leadership role, especially with the younger players, and having him participating in voluntary workouts would be a huge step in that direction.
Wide Receiver Roles
The Dolphins made significant changes with their wide receivers during the offseason and have a very different looking group heading into the new season. There are four guys who are clearly above the rest, with Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Greg Jennings being viewed as locks to make the final 53-man roster. Where they’ll line up and how they’ll be used is something that will be watched closely throughout the workouts.
One of the constants over the past several years has been the struggles with Miami’s offensive line. Three of the five spots are pretty well locked up with very talented players; Branden Albert at left tackle, Mike Pouncey at center and Ja’Wuan James at right tackle. The two guard spots are another story. Entering camp all signs are pointing to Billy Turner getting the first crack at right guard. On the left side though, early indications are that rookie Jamil Douglas and Dallas Thomas, who has certainly had his issues during limited time as a starter, are battling for the spot.
Several other guys, including J.D. Walton, Jason Fox and Jeff Linkenbach, are also in the mix and could leapfrog any of the aforementioned guard hopefuls with a strong performance during the summer. Fox has been filling in at left tackle while Albert recovers from last season’s ACL injury but is also getting work at guard and Walton is expected to back up Pouncey at center.
Lamar Miller/Jay Ajayi
In 2014 Lamar Miller had a breakout season, rushing for 1,099 yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. That being said, Miller could very well have had an even bigger season if the Dolphins had given him more of a workload. He averaged just 13.5 rushing attempts per game, only eclipsing 15 carries in a game four times. A big question heading into this season is whether Miami will take a similar approach with Miller and limit his carries despite the success he had last year.
Then there’s Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins’ fifth-round draft pick who was projected as a second rounder but saw his stock drop due to injury concerns. Ajayi put up huge numbers while playing in college and comes into the NFL with a rather large chip on his shoulder. He and Miller could be one of the best 1-2 punch combinations in the league in 2015, but it will be interesting to see how the Dolphins utilize the pair and if either is given the opportunity to take the job and run with it.
Defensive Position Battles
There are several key position battles that will likely be going on throughout the voluntary and mandatory workouts, training camp and into the preseason. The few on defense should be particularly interesting to watch unfold. At linebacker, two of the three spots are all but locked up by Koa Misi on the inside and Jelani Jenkins on the outside. Competing for the third spot will be Chris McCain, Kelvin Sheppard, Jordan Tripp, Spencer Paysinger and undrafted rookies Mike Hull, Jeff Luc, Neville Hewitt and Zach Vigil.
One of the two starting cornerback spots is up for grabs as well. Pro Bowler Brent Grimes will start on one side but several players will be competing for the spot opposite of him. Former Miami draft picks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis will be in the competition, along with free agent signing Zack Bowman. Another free agent signing, Brice McCain, could also compete for the job despite already being considered for the slot role. Rookie Bobby McCain is expected to compete with Brice for the interior role (the two are not related).
Another position worth keeping an eye on is defensive tackle. Clearly Ndamukong Suh will be a starter and it’s fairly safe to say that Earl Mitchell will join him. Behind them there could be an intriguing battle between rookie Jordan Phillips, A.J. Francis, Anthony Johnson and Kamal Johnson for playing time as the first backups off the bench.
Follow David on Twitter (@DavidDwork)