It’s the time of year that football fans have been waiting for since the end of the last Super Bowl. A long wait that stretched through the spring and into the summer is now over. That’s right, it’s time for NFL Training Camp.
The Miami Dolphins come into camp with perhaps the most talented collection of players in a decade and hopes are high that long playoff droughts without a win, or even an appearance in the postseason, will come to an end in 2015.
As is the case with every new season, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Dolphins as they prepare to embark on a new journey that will hopefully end with an above .500 record and a shot at playing late-January football. Here are the top questions surrounding the Dolphins heading into their 2015 Training Camp.
Will Ryan Tannehill mesh with his new receivers?
One of the major overhauls in the Dolphins locker room during the offseason came at the expense of the wide receivers. Gone are Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, with only 2014 rookie Jarvis Landry remaining from the group. Instead, the front office brought in new wideouts that better suit Tannehill’s throwing skillset.
Speedy Kenny Stills was acquired from New Orleans and skilled rookie DeVante Parker was selected in the first round of this year’s draft. Greg Jennings, who spent several years with Miami head coach Joe Philbin when the two were in Green Bay, was also added to provide veteran leadership to the young pass catchers. This group was created with Tannehill in mind, and now it’s up to the fourth-year quarterback to take that group and make it his own.
It’s also worth mentioning that Miami let free agent tight end Charles Clay go in free agency, instead opting to sign former Pro Bowler Jordan Cameron. While Clay signed with division rival Buffalo, Cameron comes to Miami having missed time due to concussions, but the 26-year-old says that he’s never felt better and that scans of his brain show no signs of lingering issues. Should Cameron stay healthy, he’s a definite upgrade over Clay.
Can the defense be simplified?
Miami’s defense was strong during the first half of last season but fell apart down the stretch, giving up 28, 41, 35 and 37 points in the final four games. A major criticism amongst the defensive players was that the playbook was just too big and complicated.
Some were surprised when defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was not let go after the late-season collapse, and now it’s up to him to trim down the playbook and make things easier on his players. Considering the collection of talent on the squad, especially at the line, it shouldn’t be too difficult to take advantage of their strengths.
How will the offensive line come together?
The Dolphins offensive line is a mystery at this point. Three of the five spots are taken up by very good players. Branden Albert is a beast at left tackle and was having a spectacular 2014 before going down for the season in Week 10. Second-year right tackle Ja’Wuan James had a solid rookie year, playing the right side until Albert went down and then switching to the left. Mike Pouncey has gone to back-to-back Pro Bowls, both as a center (2013) and as a guard (2014). He’s likely to be back at center this season, but that will depend on what happens at left and right guard.
Heading into training camp it appears that Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas will get the first crack at securing the guard spots. Jamil Douglas and Jeff Linkenbach will also get a shot at winning the jobs, and it’s just going to come down to who plays the best over the next month. Should there be an issue with the guys on the roster, there is still Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis floating around on the open market.
How will the players coming off major injuries perform?
Of the players returning to the field after suffering major injuries last season, the first name that comes to mind is the aforementioned Albert. He tore all three ligaments in his right knee last November but he’s been putting in the work to get ready for Week 1. The Dolphins did not place Albert on the Active PUP list, which is a good sign for him participating in training camp.
Switching over to defense, safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Will Davis are both coming off of right knee injuries as well but all signs point to them taking part in camp. Delmas was having a great season in 2014 before going down late in the year. Davis is being viewed as a contender for the second starting cornerback spot opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes.
Which rookies will make a big impact?
Of the seven players drafted by the Dolphins in 2015, not to mention the undrafted rookies that were signed by the team, it’s going to be difficult for them to be significant contributors right away due to the players that were already on the roster.
Wide receiver DeVante Parker and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas probably have the best chance of making a major impact on the team, but they will first have to prove their worth at positions that have major competition. Parker, who had foot surgery following a strong showing during team offseason workouts, was placed on the Active PUP list which means that he can come back and participate in training camp as soon as he’s ready.
Other rookies to keep an eye on during camp are running back Jay Ajayi, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, cornerbacks Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett, safety Ced Thompson and linebacker Mike Hull.
How will the linebacker position shake out?
It’s no secret that the Dolphins had problems last season with the linebacker position. Issues both in coverage and stopping the run led to the defense getting gashed in five of the final six games of 2014. Koa Misi was moved to the inside and played the majority of the season with an ankle injury, but he’s expected to remain in the middle at least for now. Kelvin Sheppard has looked very good during offseason workouts and could be someone that claims the inside spot and sends Misi back to strong side.
Speaking of the strong side, second-year linebacker Chris McCain is someone to keep an eye on for the job. He flashed during his rookie campaign and has also turned some heads during the offseason. A strong camp will go a long way towards him becoming an NFL starter.
Can the Dolphins get some stability from their kicker?
It’s been a rough first two years in the NFL for Miami kicker Caleb Sturgis. He’s been hampered by a groin injury that has lingered between the two seasons and re-aggravated it during a kickball game with teammates. That doesn’t bode well for his future in Miami, as he hasn’t exactly been that good at kicking field goals for the Dolphins.
Major inconsistencies with making kicks, as well as problems with kickoffs, have Sturgis on the hot seat as training camp begins. Rookie Andrew Franks has been performing decently since joining Miami in the spring but he’ll need to have a very strong camp to win the job. It’s likely that the team will bring in a veteran kicker sometime during camp, and it’s really just going to come down to who can make kicks on a regular basis. That’s something that Miami has lacked since letting Dan Carpenter go.
Will Ryan Tannehill take the next step in 2015?
Playing under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in 2014, Tannehill had his best year as a pro and improved steadily throughout the season. The question now is whether the ascending quarterback will continue to move in the right direction and go from a solid NFL starter to an elite talent at the position. Should he continue on the track that he has been on during his first three seasons, there is no reason to think otherwise.
The Dolphins have built their offense around Tannehill, surrounding him with coaches and players that compliment his skillset. The biggest thing for Tannehill in 2015 will be to improve his play on third downs and in the fourth quarter. Top quarterbacks excel during crunch time and that’s what Tannehill needs to do to take the next step.
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