DAVIE – The Dolphins have lots of questions to answer in tonight’s 7 p.m. scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium.
Here are a few things to watch very closely as the Dolphins hold their first full-pads, full-contact, tackling-to-the-ground session of training camp:
--Fourth wide receiver: It appears Armon Binns was in the running for that spot but he sustained a season-ending knee injury on Sunday, so he’s out of the running. Another candidate for the No. 4 spot, Rishard Matthews, missed Sunday’s practice with an undisclosed injury. His availability for tonight is unknown.
That means the bigger receivers such as Brian Tyms (6-3, 204), Jeff Fuller (6-4, 223), and Marvin McNutt (6-2, 215) might get a longer look.
“We like the size of those guys,” coach Joe Philbin said after Monday’s walk-through practice. “They’re bigger receiver types, they have good length, they get down the field, they have good speed and play-making ability.”
Recently-signed Andrell Smith (6-3, 217) and Kenny Stafford (6-2, 204) also have size.
Among the smaller receivers there’s Chad Bumphis (5-10, 202) and Jasper Collins (5-10, 190), who might have a slight advantage because he also returns punts and kickoffs.
“Bumphis has really come along a little bit,” Philbin said. “He’s kind of a craftier receiver, not as big as those other guys, but has found a way to get open versus various coverages and he’s caught the ball better.
“Collins is a young guy we think has some of those similar skills, more like Chad than those other guys. He’s quick, he understands coverages, he has good hands, he catches the ball with his hands.”
The fourth wide receiver is necessary because the Dolphins will likely use a three-wide receiver formation as their base offense. However, with tight ends such as Dustin Keller, Charles Clay and Dion Sims able to catch the ball, and perhaps running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas catching the occasional pass out of the backfield or in the slot, the fourth wide receiver might be more of a warm body than a factor on passing plays. Still, it’s a necessity.
--Defensive end Dion Jordan: We don’t know if the No. 3 pick of the draft has been cleared for full contact in 11-on-11 drills yet. He’s only been doing 1-on-1 and 2-on-1 drills so far. But the Dolphins have big plans for the Jordan, first at right defensive end and on special teams, and then possibly moving around to other spots in the defense.
“He’s got a lot of position versatility,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “I see him much like (defensive end) Olivier Vernon in the sense there will be times we can use him in a lot of different spots.
“He’s very athletic, he can cover, he can certainly rush the passer, which is his strength. We’ve just got to get him stronger as he progresses, as that shoulder comes back around off the injury, and each and every day we’re working to do that. But he’s got a lot of position flexibility.”
The Dolphins will use the 6-6 Jordan and his long-armed reach to block field goals and extra points on special teams. He could also be used a blocker on kickoff return.
--Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler: We know they’re faster, younger and cheaper than the guys they’re replacing, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. And we know Ellerbe and Wheeler have been crushing the offense on blitzes so far in training camp. But we need to see if they can create turnovers and cover tight ends. We’ll get a better idea on that tonight.
“We’ll determine if we were right in terms of making the switch as we go down the road,” Coyle said of the new linebackers, “but certainly what we’ve seen in practice are two guys that are very, very explosive, play physical, play a very aggressive style of game.
“They’re very good blitzers, both of them, which is something we felt going into the off-season we had to improve in that area to get our linebackers more productive in the blitzes because we do use them quite a bit and utilize the backers in pressure.”
--Pass protection: Keep an eye on the revamped offensive line and how they handle the blitz. Also, watch how the tight ends and running backs contribute. The offense has been getting hammered by blitzes during the first week of training camp.
Coyle said he’s proud of the defense’s blitz packages.
“We’ve installed the most aggressive package we’ve ever done any place I’ve ever been in the first five or six installs,” he said. “We threw everything at them and they’ve handled it. Not that we’ve been perfect in every snap in terms of mental errors, but we’re way, way ahead of where we were last year.”
--Quarterback Ryan Tannehill: He’s always someone to watch, and after a slow start he’s been on fire recently. Tannehill hasn’t thrown an interception in the last four practices. He’s been sharp on the short and intermediate routes to wide receivers Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline and tight end Dustin Keller. And he’s improving on the deep passes to wide receiver Mike Wallace.
But he has to improve his decision-making, especially in pressure situations -- late-game plays, two-minute offense, third down situations, specifically.
It won’t help that he could be playing behind a patchwork offensive line that struggles, and running game that’s unproven, but Tannehill has to show signs he can get it done with minimal help.
--Drafted rookies: A few of this year’s draftees are expected to make an impact from scrimmage, at least initially – defensive end Dion Jordan (first round), guard/tackle Dallas Thomas (third round), tight end Dion Sims (fourth round), and kicker Caleb Sturgis (fifth round).
But for others such as cornerbacks Jamar Taylor (second round) and Will Davis (third round), linebacker Jelani Jenkins (fourth round), running back Mike Gillislee (fifth round) and safety Don Jones (seventh round), playing time will come via special teams. Unfortunately for the youngsters the Dolphins are loaded with veterans who are core special teams players such as linebackers Austin Spitler and Jason Trusnik, cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and De’Andre Presley, running back Marcus Thigpen, and safety Jimmy Wilson.
Good luck, kids.
--Takeaways: The Dolphins were minus-10 last year in that department. We’ve covered this topic a lot so only a few more words need to be spoken, and we’ll let Philbin have the last word.
“If you ask me, ‘Joe, why were you 7-9 last year?’ I’d say minus-10,” Philbin said. “That’s the starting point, that’s the starting point of everything. That’s the starting point of our offense, that’s the starting point of our defense, so I’d say it’s very, very important.”