Q: People keep talking about the receivers being one of the deepest units on the field? What's the proof of this, and how many playmakers do you think Miami will keep on the 53? What's the tailback, tight end and receiver breakdown? Steven, Atlanta, Ga.
A: I've been here since 2007 so I know what a barren receiving corp looks like. Those where the days of Greg Camarillo rescuing the Dolphins 2007 offense. Based on what I'm seeing in practice daily I'm not sure Camarrillo could even beat out Kevin Cone, who is a third-team receiver not expected to survive cut day. Rishard Matthews, Damian Williams and Armon Binns are realistically battling it out for the fifth and sixth receiver spots considering Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and rookie receiver Jarvis Landry are securely on the 53-man roster. Matthews, Williams and Binns have all proven they are playmakers, and there's no doubt in my mind whoever gets cut will resurface in the NFL on another team's roster. Just last year two receivers - Marvin McNutt and Brian Tyms - were claimed off the Dolphins' practice squad, and played for NFL teams. Tyms, who is presently with the Patriots for training camp, just tore it up in New England's exhibition opener. My point is all of Miami's fringe receivers - Matthews, Williams and Binns - are better than those two. And that doesn't even put Marcus Thigpen in the mix because I view him as a tailback. But to answer your question, I can envision the Dolphins keeping six receivers, four tailbacks and three tight ends on the 53-man roster, and one player on the practice squad at each of those positions. Miami will need three tight ends because 30 percent of the offense is two tight end based. Most teams need four tailbacks to make it through a 16-game season because of the physical beating those players take. And I'm guessing Miami keeps six receivers on the 53 because some of these routes they are running in this spread offense are very dangerous - between the hashmark routes - that will expose Miami's receiver to big hits. I expect Miami to lose at least two receivers to injuries this season because of the risk factor. And because this offense is fairly complicated to learn Bill Lazor needs to keep a few spare receivers ready to roll. Right now the toughest decision the Dolphins have to make regarding playmakers is what to do with Thigpen, who is also the primary returner. And do they keep Damian Williams or Armon Binns? How those players perform in the exhibition season will help us come up with an answer.
Q: Not much being said about the undrafted free agent class in practice reports. Any of the guys standing out? Who has a chance at this point to make the roster or practice squad? - Joel Oliver, Lynchburg, VA
A: If you claim not much is being said about the undrafted rookies in the Sun-Sentinel's practice reports then you're not paying attention because most of the players I've mentioned the first two weeks of camp are undrafted rookies. I've become obsessed with former Cal linebacker Chris McCain, who is all over the field destroying the third-team offense. Former Oklahoma tailback Damien Williams consistently gets reps with the starting quarterback, which is something I can't say Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller or Mike Gillislee did in their rookie seasons. I've been talking about former Georgia receiver Rantavious Wooten since OTAs because of his slot skills. Former LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson has been running with the second team since June, and former Marshall tight end Harold Hoskins has just as much of a chance of making the 53-man roster as Michael Egnew, the Dolphins' 2012 third-round pick. I can't promise you that any of these undrafted rookies will make the 53-man roster, and I'm not banging the table for any of them at this point. But they've all shown they've got some talent. In fact, I like that crop of undrafted players better than some of the rookies the Dolphins drafted. I left off the names to protect the innocent. But sometimes the composition of the 53-man roster comes down to politics, roster fits, draft status, injuries, and special teams contributions, so it is too early to tell on everybody. Right now I'd place McCain and Johnson on the Dolphins' 53-man roster and roll the dice on putting the rest on the practice squad hoping that nobody claims them. But that could change based on how they perform in the exhibition season.
Q: Flanker Damian Williams appears poised to deliver a knockout blow to both Brandon Gibson (slot receiver) and Marcus Thigpen (the kick returner) in the heated battle for a roster spot. Are there any other hopefuls who can unleash a similar 1-2 punch to established veterans? - Chopin, New York, NY
A: Slow down there Chopin with the knockout blows. Damian Williams, a four-year NFL veteran, had one good week of practice, which featured one practice in pads (which he didn't really standout in). Nobody is ready to declare him a superstar, or say he's about to unseat the starting slot receiver, and kick return specialist. Williams has speed, talent, and experience. The former USC standout is doing what he's supposed to be doing, which is making plays. But it is early. We're one week into a six week marathon. I remember falling in love with the early camp performances of players like David Kircus, Marlon Moore and Legedu Naanee and thinking that Miami's receiver problems were solved. Boy was I wrong. Right now the receivers all have fresh legs. Let us see what happens when those legs start to get weary. Right now nobody has blasted a receiver the earhole, so they aren't hearing footsteps yet. Calm down! I'll admit Williams has talent, and his background as a returner (from his college days) makes him intriguing. But there is a reason the Titans didn't even attempt to re-sign him. Gibson has proven he's an established NFL starter when healthy. Williams has not. Thigpen has proven he's an accomplished NFL return specialist (remember his two touchdowns his rookie season in 2012?), Williams has not. Right now I'd place Williams seventh on the receiver depth chart, putting him behind Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Gibson, Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews and Armons Binns. And I also value Thigpen move than Williams because of his versatility (he plays two positions), and ability to do damage as a slot receiver. That means Williams wouldn't be on my 53-man roster right now. But again, I repeat that it is early. If Williams proves he can handle punts, and can play all three receiver spots WELL he'll probably move his way up that depth chart. Injuries could also move up his standing. But one good week of practice isn't enough to say he's safe, or has taken anyone's job. He's making plays, which is what you hope all of Miami's receivers would do when their number gets called.
Q: Who will step up as the leader this year in the locker room? - Paul Prezzemolo
A: Leadership is critical to the success of any organization, and the Dolphins have lacked it the past few seasons. The only clear cut leaders I've seen since covering the Dolphins were Chad Pennington, Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Reggie Bush. But I'm not just talking about locker room leadership. I'm referring to their head coach, Joe Philbin, who hasn't proven he's a leader of men yet. There's a difference between being put in a leadership role and asking people to follow you, and being an individual men want to follow into a troubling situation. Philbin hasn't proven that YET. The organization has gone to great lengths to foster better leadership this offseason, in the wake of last year's bullying scandal, holding a number of seminars for the team, and bringing in a few speakers to address what makes a good leader. The hope is that returning veterans like Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes, Randy Starks, Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi, Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, Ryan Tannehill, Reshad Jones and Charles Clay will become more influential figures inside the locker room. Most of those players, especially Wake and Grimes, fall into the lead by example type of personalities. But the Dolphins need more vocal leaders, players who will willingly speak up when something needs to be said inside the locker room, or to the coaching staff. That's the area which has been lacking, and at this time I can only identify Mike Pouncey and Jared Odrick as the players who fill that void. But there's also a new cast of individuals like Branden Albert, Earl Mitchell, Louis Delmas, Knowshon Moreno, Daryn Colledge, and Cortland Finnegan who could step up and become vocal leaders. I've been very impressed with Delmas, Finnegan and Colledge when it comes to their intellectual capabilities. I've been told by NFL coaches and executives that a team needs a clear cut alpha male in each unit, and that player is the one who sets the tone for his unit. Those players set the tone for their team. Every unit has that individual except for the tight ends and tailbacks in my humble opinion. And it is possible Clay's elevated status could motivate him to become a more forceful leader. It is possible Knowshon Moreno's experience will allow him to rise to that spot. It will indeed be interesting to see how this season unfolds from a leadership standpoint. Someone needs to step up and make it known "this is my team," and the rest of the roster must fall in line. The leading candidates are Pouncey, Wake, Grimes and Tannehill. It should be interesting to watch them all try to get comfortable with their role as the team's new alpha males.
Q: How much improvement has really taken place on the offensive line, which allowed a franchise-high 58 sacks last season? Will this unit, which won't have Mike Pouncey for the first quarter of the season, give Ryan Tannehill time to execute the offense? - James, Ft. Pierce, Fl.
A: Last season the Dolphins gave up 3.6 sacks per game, and what was really troubling was the fact most of those takedowns came in bunches, and in critical moments during the fourth quarter. But keep in mind it wasn't just the offensive line that was a disaster from a protection standpoint. The playcalling was too vanilla, and sometimes contributed to the sackfest. The tailbacks and tight ends gave up their fair share of sacks (eight was my official count), and Tannehill has a nasty habit of holding onto the ball too long (he really needs to learn how to throw a checkdown pass). When you put all the issues together, and throw in the suspensions from the bullying saga, you've got a nightmarish season from a protection standpoint. From a talent standpoint the Dolphins have upgraded by adding Branden Albert, a Pro Bowl left tackle, signing Shelley Smith, Daryn Colledge and Jason Fox. The team has also drafted JaWuan James and Billy Turner and signing Tyler Larsen as an undrafted rookie. You also have to factor in the development of Dallas Thomas and Sam Brenner, who are each entering their second season. Add those nine players to Pouncey and Nate Garner and it is easy to argue this year's unit is an upgrade over last year's line, which featured Bryant McKinnie, Tyson Clabo, Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito and John Jerry as the starters. This line is far more athletic, younger, and more versatile. The quick pace of the offense, which encourages Tannehill to get the ball out of his hands quickly, will also help the offensive line from a protection standpoint. My biggest concern is whether or not the unit will be able to open up running lanes for the tailbacks, especially when opposing defenses know the Dolphins need to run the ball. The only way to judge whether or not the unit is an improvement over last year is by seeing if the 2014 offensive line can trump last year's rushing totals (1,440 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, and a 4.1 yards per carry average), and if they can trim down the sacks. The Dolphins have averaged 44 sacks per season during a five-year span. That breaks down to 2.75 sacks per game, which is right around the league average (2.5 per game) from last year. So basically, all this year's offensive line has to do is allow one less sack per game than last year and they provide a significant improvement.
Q: Injuries and suspensions breed opportunity. Any thoughts on the likelihood of rookies like Tyler Larsen, Damien Williams & Terrence Fede rising up the depth chart and locking down positions on the 53-man roster? - Chopin, New York, NY
A: The moment in training camp I live for is the moment when the light bulb comes on with a unheralded youngster. I call it "The Awakening." He's been practicing for three weeks, probably played in his first exhibition game. He's held his own, taking some victories and a few losses, but he's learned from it all. He's picking up tips from veterans and has taken to coaching. The game is beginning to slow down for him, and all of a sudden he realizes, "I've got this! I can play in the NFL!" It is that moment that makes the NFL special, and makes what I do rewarding. Last year A.J. Francis was that guy. One day he flicked a switch and started dominating the third team offensive linemen, and then began performing well in the exhibition games. The year before that it was Derrick Shelby and Isaako Aaitui. The year before that Charles Clay and Jimmy Wilson were tearing it up. And before that it was Nolan Carroll, Marlon Moore and Reshad Jones. Plenty of rookies have the potential to prove that they can be impact players, and/or make the 53-man roster based on the fact this team is desperate for playmakers, and new General Manager Dennis Hickey wants to carve out his mark on this 2014 roster. The question is, who will it be? Fede is a raw football player, but a talented athlete who could cement his future in the NFL by stepping into Dion Jordan's role in the speed package and tearing it up. If Larsen pushes himself he could leapfrog Nate Garner and Sam Brenner and become the Dolphins' starting center considering he's snapped the ball more during his college career at Utah State than everyone else on Miami's roster not named Mike Pouncey. But can Larsen prove he's strong enough to anchor Miami's rebuilt offensive line? Damien Williams intrigues me because I can see the talent he has when the pads aren't on. Problem is, you really can't judge a tailback until the pads come on, and the team is hitting. But he's got skills, and his rise up the depth chart will depend on the impact he makes when he's given opportunity. Unlike last season, there aren't as many jobs, roles, roster spots carved in stone, so any youngster who excels in training camp's first three weeks could thrive, and move up the depth chart quickly. The players I'll be watching closely are receivers Stephen Williams and Rantavious Wooten, H-back Gator Hoskins, Fede and Larsen because they've all done something to catch my eye during the offseason program. They have all elevated their starting position based on the offseason work they put in, or injuries and suspensions. Now we'll see if they can build of that early success, and continue to make progress when the pads come on, and opportunity arises. Injuries also open the door for players. Last year John Jerry's knee injury was Josh Samuda's chance to prove he could be an NFL starter. Problem is Samuda struggled, wasted his shot, and got waived. I've discovered that the key to NFL success is being ready for that opportunity, and when someone or something opens the door for you....KICK IT DOWN.
Q: Trouble seems to keep finding Mike Pouncey. He was involved with the bullying scandal, wore the Free Hernandez hat at his birthday party last year, got subpoenaed in the Aaron Hernandez's trial, sends that childish tweet to JaWuan James about expecting a gift from the rookie, and now he's involved in an alleged assault at this year's birthday party. Will Pouncey ever smarten up? - Jason, Baton Rouge, La.
A: There's no denying that Pouncey has had a rough 12 months, and that his judgment can be questions in each incident, altercation, situation. But ask yourself what crime has Pouncey committed? Has Pouncey been arrested for battery, assault, drunk driving, drug or weapons possession, spousal abuse, trafficking, driving without a license during his Dolphins tenure? Exactly what is Pouncey guilty of outside of poor decision making, and bringing bad press to the Miami Dolphins? I'd argue to you that the same traits that keep Pouncey in the headlines are the exact trails that make him a good football player. Pouncey is loyal, sometimes to a fault (Aaron Hernandez). There's no doubt in my mind that he's the one Dolphins player I'd want with me in an alley fight, whether I'm right or wrong. Pouncey has what I call "the dog," which is a ferocious mentality that benefits an athlete on a football field. It is a kill or be killed mentality. He's no choir boy, and sometimes you need people with a fighter's mentality, a ride or die approach on your team. It is my professional opinion the Dolphins need more players like Pouncey, not less. I personally get along with Pouncey because I can relate to him, and vice versa. There's no denying he's the alpha male of the Dolphins locker room because he's the toughest, most vocal leader on the team. He's the biggest, baddest lion in the locker room's jungle. Nobody elected him as the alpha male. He just is, and there's nothing you can do to change it outside of adding a bigger, badder lion. It is one of those situations where you want Pouncey on that field, you need Pouncey on that field, and every team needs players like that. The hope Miami Dolphins fans must have is that as this 24-year-old ages and matures Pouncey gets to the point where he puts more thought into his actions, decisions, friendships. Sometime outside of money needs to motivate Pouncey and his circle of friends and family. Pouncey is a smart guy. He just needs to figure out how to avoid bad decisions, and negative headlines. Maybe Pouncey won't get there until he's on his second contract, playing for his second team. But I'm confident he'll eventually get there.
Q: This has always been a football town, and we'll get back to that now that Lebron James has returned to Cleveland. But can the Dolphins seize on this window to win the hearts of the South Florida sports community? Tyler Richardson, Cutler Bay, Fl.
A: The Dolphins are South Florida's longest tenured pro franchise, and even when the Heat was on top of the sports world, local radio stations consistently talked Dolphins 24-7. Because of that obsession I have a hard time believing a winning Dolphins team wouldn't own this town's heart. We obsess about football down here in South Florida. However, the Heat's decade of success has probably shifted some young people's hearts, making basketball their first love instead of football. But that tide can easily turn back if the Dolphins find a way to become the Seattle Seahawks. All it takes is success, and a few playoff wins. The starting point in my opinion is producing a nine win season in 2014. That probably won't guarantee a playoff spot, but it will mean Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill have made progress. It will mean the franchise has produced its first winning season since 2008, and hint the organization is heading in the right direction. For years I've consistently said the Dolphins are a .500 team that could win or lose two extra games because of quarterback play (85-plus passer rating is needed), and injuries. Nothing that has happened this offseason has altered my opinion, especially when you consider last year's Dolphins got to 8-8 without a running game, a respectable offensive line, a significant amount of injuries, and submerged in a national bullying scandal. And keep in mind that 2013 team could have easily gotten to nine or 10 wins if they hadn't lost four games in the fourth quarter, or tanked the final two games of the season while a playoff berth was on the line. Better quarterback play (Tannehill, a better run game (Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller, better defense against the run (Earl Mitchell and Koa Misi), and better coaching (Philbin and his staff) can easily turn the Dolphins into a winning team that could own this community's heart.
Q: Do you see the Dolphins getting the same production out of Oliver Vernon this season? - Juan Giraly, Coral Gables, Fl.
A: I'm on record with my belief that Olivier Vernon is a rare athlete, and is primed to have breakout season that trumps last year's contributions if he can stay healthy. Vernon is bigger and stronger than last year. He's got a year's more worth of experience in the NFL. He'll likely be called on to man Dion Jordan's "speed package" role while the second-year pass rusher is suspended the first four games of 2014. Cameron Wake's knee is healthy, so Vernon will likely have a full 16 games from the Pro Bowl pass rusher, who occupies most of the double teams. And most importantly, Vernon is entering a contract season because next year is the year he's eligible for an extension. That means another double-digit sack season could turn into a $30-35 million offer from the Dolphins. Too many people underestimate Olivier Vernon's talent level, which convinced the Dolphins to select the former University of Miami underachiever in the third-round of the 2012 NFL draft. If Vernon had stayed at UM for his senior season and produced like he has the potential to there's no doubt in my mind he could have been a first-round pick in the same draft as Jordan. That's why I don't understand why so many Dolphins fans are disappointed that Jordan can't, and probably won't beat out Vernon for the starting spot. Vernon is smart, he has rare athleticism, he's a hard worker, and is committed to maximizing his potential. He's one of the team's hardest workers, and has shown steady growth under Kacy Rodgers. That's why I expect Vernon to contribute more than the 57 tackles and 11.5 sacks he produced in 2013, giving the Dolphins a dangerous duo of NFL pass rushers.
Q: Don't you think it would be wise for the Dolphins to sign Bryant McKinnie to a one year contract since our offensive line is so thin? - Lee Mitchell, Rock Hill, SC
A: The Dolphins used Bryant McKinnie as a break in case of emergency left tackle last year, trading a 2015 seventh-round pick to Baltimore to secure his services at midseason, and that's realistically the role McKinnie plays in the NFL heading into his 13th season. McKinnie is unsigned because he's no longer viewed as an NFL starter. He'll turn 35 this September and retirement is knocking on the door. A team could get by using this former University of Miami standout as a starting left tackle, but that doesn't mean he's capable of playing all 16 games, or could effectively protect your quarterback's blindside. At best McKinnie is a key reserve these days. The Dolphins already have enough key reserves, especially after the signing of veteran guard Daryn Colledge. If something devastating happened to Branden Albert in training camp or the exhibition season the Dolphins would probably make Billy Turner the starting left tackle, returning the 2014 third-round pick to the position he played at North Dakota State. Jason Fox is also an option considering he played left tackle at the University of Miami, and Nate Garner is always in the mix for fill-in roles. If those three players prove they can't handle the left tackle task then Miami can always kick McKinnie's tires. But there's no rush considering McKinnie is unsigned, probably needs plenty of conditioning work (he maturally weights 350-plus when in shape), and would probably struggle to make it through the daily grind of an NFL training camp. I fully expect McKinnie to play in the NFL at some point this season, taking the Brian Waters route to a team once training camp has concluded. But there's no need to sign McKinnie at this point. Invest in your team's youngsters first, giving them a test drive at the that critical offensive line spot, then shatter the break in case of emergency glass if things don't pan out.
Q: Now that Dion Jordan will miss the first four games of 2014 because of his suspension do the Dolphins have to shelve the speed package? Taylor, Brickell, Fl.
A: While it is completely accurate to say Dion Jordan's versatility is the key to the speed package, which is aimed at creating confusion for the opposing offensive linemen and the quarterback, it is inaccurate to say Jordan is the only player who can serve as the "jack" in the package. The "jack" is the player who serves the "jack of all trades" role. He can rush from the edges, put his hands in the ground and rush from inside, and he can stand up and drop back to cover a tight end or tailback. Before Jordan arrived Olivier Vernon filled that role as a rookie, and he actually served as a jack at the University of Miami before moving onto the NFL. I've seen Jordan cover Lamar Miller down-field effectively, and he does have comparable speed and athleticism to Jordan. Cameron Wake was a college linebacker at Penn State and began his NFL career as a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Dolphins. Wake pulled down an interception 30-yards down-field while covering a receiver in the scrimmage that concluded Miami's minicamp last month. In my opinion it was the most impressive play of camp (if it had counted, the refs blew the whistle because of Jason Trusnik's sack). And rookie Terrence Fede also has the athleticism to drop back into coverage and stick with a tight end or a tailback. We witnessed Fede pulled down an impressive, leaping interception of a Matt Moore pass during OTAs last month. That was actually the first time I noticed the 2014 seventh-round pick, who looked like a tailback on the respectable interception return, weaving in and out of traffic. And then there's linebackers Koa Misi and Philip Wheeler. Misi spent his first two NFL seasons as a pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker, and was a college defensive end at Utah. Wheeler served as a 3-4 pass rusher at Georgia Tech (19.5 college sacks in three years) before turning into a 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. I've always said Wheeler is at his best when he's rushing the quarterback. Maybe Jordan's absence will allow him to do more of that. That gives Miami five versatile players - Vernon, Wake, Fede, Misi and Wheeler - who could replace Jordan as the jack while Derrick Shelby, Jared Odrick, Earl Mitchell and/or Randy Starks puts their hand in the ground and rushes the quarterback on the speed package. That's five players who can create confusion because like Jordan they are versatile enough to get any assignment done, which means there's no need for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to shelve the speed package for the season's first month.
Q: When Charles Clay become a Dolphins player you always said he has talent, but needs to become consistent. He finally brought it last year. Who are some of the young players you believe could have a breakout season like Clay did last year? Jeff, Palmetto Bay, FL.
A: Charles Clay had a habit of teasing us in practice, and in games. He'd flashed playmaking ability, but couldn't bring it consistently until two things happened in 2013. First, Clay was mentored by Dustin Keller, who taught him the tricks of the trade, which helped him get better at creating separation from linebackers. And second, Keller suffered a season-ending knee injury, which elevated his status with the team. Also, Clay had two seasons of experience under his belt. He was in his second season in the same offense, which means the game was slowing down for him. There are a handful of Dolphins who have flashed ability throughout the years, but haven't gotten to the point where they can be viewed as consistent playmakers. Ryan Tannehill is at the very top of that list. Some weeks he's the quarterback who beat the Jets, Steelers and Patriots in critical December games, and other weeks he's the quarterback who stunk it up against the Bills and Jets to finish the season 0-2 and squander Miami's playoff spot. Tannehill's main issue is consistency, and once he gets that he should become a top 15 passer because he has all the necessary ingredients to be good. I also believe Lamar Miller could have a breakout season in 2014 because this spread offense fits him a lot better than the one Miami ran last year. Nobody was pushing Miller last season and he took his foot off the gas. Since Knowshon Moreno arrived I can sense a difference in Miller, whose ability to get to the edge is unique. I also believe Dion Jordan has the potential to become an impact player in 2014 because he's now healthy. Jordan isn't better than Olivier Vernon, who has improved from his 11.5 sack season. But Jordan should become a key defender because of his versatility. And everyone knows I'm a big fan of Jimmy Wilson. I've seen Wilson dominate a practice. He's been a solid contributor for three years, but it is time he turns up the volume. He's a solid nickel cornerback, but I believe Wilson has the potential to do more as a starting free safety. If Louis Delmas can't stay healthy don't be surprised if Wilson takes over and balls out. So Tannehill, Miller, Jordan and Wilson are the four Dolphins I believe could have a breakout season in 2014.
Q: Tyler Larsen is the Dolphins' only true center on the roster. Can he shine? Can his presence allow Mike Pouncey to work his way back in at Guard, his natural position? What options do the Dolphins have for center moving forward. - TheDolphinTed, Oakland Park, FL.
A: Let me start out by pointing out Mike Pouncey is a center, wants to play center, and has no desire to become a guard. He made it to the Pro Bowl as a center in 2013, and plans to continue to play the position. Keep in mind a center is far more important than a guard, and as the alpha male of Miami's offensive line, and the entire Dolphins locker room, Pouncey likes his status, and has no intention of changing things. With that out the way let us address the options the Dolphins have at center for the month this team will have to play without Pouncey, who underwent a surgical procedure on his hip last week. Larsen is indeed the only true center on the roster. But he's an updrafted rookie from Utah State who hasn't proven anything so far. He needs to focus on making the 53-man roster because the odds of him getting cut are stronger than the odds of him becoming an NFL starter as a rookie. I'm not saying it is impossible, but Larsen is no layup to make Miami's 53. He's more like a 3-point shot from the corner being taken by a small forward with limited range. He can make it, but this is no gimme. Larsen has short arms, and plays a little tall, which means he needs to play with better knee bend to maintain leverage. Sam Brenner, who started four games at left guard last season as an undrafted rookie, is being developed as a center as well. However, Brenner didn't play that position in college, and snapping doesn't exactly come natural to him. Brenner also struggled as a starter last season, especially when it came to twists and stunts. My biggest concern about Brenner is whether he's strong enough to stop Vince Wilfork from collapsing the pocket. Most centers can't handle Wilfork one-on-one, but I'm concerned Brenner might struggle with Big Vince despite getting help from Miami's guards. Bill Belichick teams typically find your teams weaklinks and attack them, so you can expect the Patriots to come after whoever is playing center with all of their weaponry in week one. If I had to guess I'd expect Nate Garner or Shelley Smith to begin the season as Miami's center. Garner filled in as Miami's starting center for two games last season, and he snaps the ball well. He also has more playing and starting experience than Smith. However, Monday's signing of veteran Daryn Colledge could allow Smith to settle in at center. The Dolphins will be focused on getting the best five linemen ready to face the Patriots, and I'm guessing the best five features Smith at center and Colledge at right guard. This decision will really come down to which offensive lineman looks better in training camp, and the exhibition season between Garner, Colledge, Brenner, Larsen and even rookie Billy Turner, who could possibly push for the starting right guard spot.
Q: Ever since Michael Thomas made that game-saving interception against New England last year I haven't heard much about him. Do you foresee him making the 53-man roster? Does he have much potential? - Lance Albury, Raleigh, N.C.
A: Michael Thomas delivered the play of the season in his first week as a Miami Dolphins player. The former Stanford standout had barely practiced with the team the week Miami claimed him off the 49ers practice squad. Miami activated him on the gameday roster for that Patriots game because they needed his presence on special teams. Never did the coaches expect they'd need him in a game. But injuries to Chris Clemons, Brent Grimes, and Dimitri Patterson pressed Thomas into action on defense. Jimmy Wilson was playing safety. Will Davis was on the boundary. Dimitri Patterson and Don Jones weren't active because of injuries, and Thomas was forced to man the nickel cornerback spot because he had experience playing that position in college, and was the last man defensive back left (receiver Marlon Moore was up next). Fortunately for Thomas, and the Dolphins, he pulled down that Tom Brady pass in the end zone, sealing the 24-20 victory with an interception. However, that impressive play doesn't guarantee he's safe in 2014. It was one moment in 2013, and Thomas will need a couple of those moments in August to prove he should be one of the two or three backup safeties deserving of a spot on the 53-man roster. Thomas is competing with Don Jones, Jordan Kovacs, Demetrius Wright and maybe Walt Aikens (who could be moved to safety during training camp) for the two or three spots behind Reshad Jones, Louis Delmas and Wilson. The backup safeties who survive will need to be sensational communicators in the back end, intelligent enough to diagnose offenses quickly, produce turnovers in practice and the exhibition season, and most immportantly, excel as special teams contributors (the Dolphins need gunners). Keep in mind the safeties on Miami's training camp roster aren't just competing against themselves. They must also outperform youngsters throughout the league because the Dolphins annually pickup and release safeties all season long. Thomas is athletic and smart, but he'll need to earn his keep to keep his spot, and so far I haven't seen enough from all of the backup safeties to form any firm conclusions.
Q: What are the Dolphins doing - if anything can actually be done - to improve Ryan Tannehill's inability to complete a long pass? - PJ, Naples FL.
A: I don't know if it is fair to say Ryan Tannehill can't complete a long pass. We saw Mike Wallace bring in a decent amount last season (seven plays that produced 35-plus yards or more), and Charles Clay and Brian Hartline caught a few. Our perspective is skewed a little bit because of how many opportunities Tannehill and Wallace missed on. But the facts show Tannehill connected on plenty big plays, deep balls last season. Last year he had 10 passing plays that produced 40-plus yards. Only five quarterbacks - Drew Brees, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Nick Foles and Peyton Manning - produced more big passing plays in 2013 than Tannehill. The problem Tannehill has is he doesn't have good chemistry with Wallace, and they struggled to deliver on many of their deep ball opportunities. Tannehill and Wallace have worked on their chemistry all offseason, and according to Wallace they have connected on 4-of-6 deep ball throws during the team's 14 offseason practiced. I didn't witness any of those throws personally, but I did see Tannehill connect on ONE deep ball to Armon Binns during last week's minicamp session. The problem with Wallace and Tannehill is the fact they can't really work on timing until they have pads on, and defenders are being physical, disrupting the timing of the route. You can throw routes on air all day long, but that's not going to magically make the problem go away. However, I'd love to see the Dolphins do more one-on-one passing drills verses defensive backs. I've seen those drills work wonders with helping receivers and quarterbacks develop chemistry, but we didn't see any during OTAs and minicamp. Matt Moore excels at throwing the deep ball and he said the key is to "just let it rip." He's referring to seeing the coverage you want and being aggressive enough to pull the trigger. That's great coming from a career backup quarterback who has a reputation of being a gambler, but Tannehill's the calculated risk kind of quarterback. Throwing deep has to make sense to him for Tannehill to take that chance. I personally believe this offense will help him with his decision making process because it is designed to create three tiers of passing routes on every play. There's the high-risk, high-reward route, which goes for the jugular. There's the intermediate route, which typically produces the first down, moving the chains. And then there's the check down, the safe route. Based on his first two seasons in the NFL it is safe to say Tannehill excels at the intermediate stuff, and probably leans on those passes a little too much. This new offense should force him to throw more check down passes to the backs and receivers on quick hitches (which should improve Tannehill's completion percentage), and when the defense gives him the right look he'll probably pull the trigger quicker on the aggressive routes. This offense the Dolphins installed turned Foles into the top rated passer in the NFL, so cross your fingers and hope it will help Tannehill develop into a top 15 passer in 2014. Connecting on more deep balls with Wallace will certainly benefit everyone involved.
Q: Looking at each position, I think the Dolphins are most vulnerable at tight end. If something happens to Charles Clay the Dolphins would have a big hole. Do you agree? Should GM Dennis Hickey be looking to find more TEs? - Jeff Miller, Defiance, Ohio
A: Last year when Dustin Keller suffered his season-ending knee injury everyone swore the Dolphins were doomed at tight end, but Clay stepped up and had a breakout season, catching 69 passes for 759 yards and scoring a team leading seven touchdowns. My point is you never know what a player will do when he gets more opportunity. Clay also flashed talent and upside, but he needed a chance. I've seen Dion Sims, Michael Egnew and Kyle Miller make dominant plays in practice the past few years. I've seen rookies Arthur Lynch and Harold "Gator" Hoskins give the Dolphins defense trouble this offseason, so I'm not extremely concerned about the tight ends from a playmaker standpoint. Each of them brings something different to the table. What does concern me is the unit's pass blocking, which was an issue last season. And that includes Clay. The pads haven't come on yet, but I'm concerned that the tight ends might not be able to get the job done protecting the quarterback from a blitzing linebacker. We'll see. But from a talent standpoint this group is good enough to get the job done. They just need to put it all together. Sims needs to play faster. Egnew needs to play tougher. Lynch and Hoskins need to master their assignments, and learn their playbooks. Because of all the two tight end packages I'm seeing in practice I can't envision the Dolphins keeping less than four tight ends on the 53-man roster. The big questions is do the Dolphins have the right four?
Q: Regarding the return position, who do you see takes over if Marcus Thigpen is cut? - Brian Zinger, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
A: Not sure why everyone is connecting the dots about Marcus Thigpen being cut when it comes time to put together the 53-man roster. I've watched Thigpen terrorize the Dolphins defense as a slot receiver for two straight training camps. That's how he EARNED his position on the 53-man roster for two years, and I'd be a fool to say he couldn't, or wouldn't do it again. Thigpen's skill set makes him ideal for this spread offense, and his versatility gives the Dolphins some roster flexibility. However, he'll need to be productive in the exhibition season to earn his keep because there are some decent returner options on the roster. Notice I said decent, not good. The Dolphins are grooming rookie receiver Jarvis Landry to handle punt and kickoff returns immediately because they are trying to find him a role since being inserted in this offense's three receiver set is a longshot. I've watched Landry work on fielding punts after practice and he's got plenty of work to do. Lamar Miller has worked on fielding kickoffs, and has gotten pretty decent at it. But right now Miller is too value to use as a returner because he's still Miami's starting tailback. Only Knowshon Moreno can unseat him for that spot, and then Miller can get the green-light to handle kickoffs. I've seen Miller as a punter returner and you can rule that out unless he drastically improves. He's not natural at it. Rishard Matthews and Damian Williams both handled punts in college, but they haven't done it much - if at all - during their NFL careers. So if you really take a good look at Miami's returner options you'll see that Thigpen's competition doesn't seem that threatening. Now, if Landry does master handling punt returns then Thigpen could be looking for a new team come September. But right now it is his job to lose.
Q: Realistically speaking, where do you see the Dolphins ranked in the AFC East in 2014? It always seems like New England is on top, but where do you see the rest of the AFC East, and why? - Carlos, Tuscon, AZ
A: The Patriots have been the top team in the division for a decade now with one exception - the 2008 season the Dolphins won the AFC East - and that won't change until Tom Brady either retires, or his arm falls off. The combination of Brady and Belichick, a first ballot Hall of Fame coach and quarterback, will keep New England elite for a few more seasons. But the Dolphins are getting closer to the Patriots, which need an upgrade at receiver and tight end. Last year the Dolphins split the series, and played well against New England for the first half of the loss in Foxborough. I personally believe the Patriots are coming back to the pack a little, and Brady's passer rating (87.3) from 2013 is proof of this. The team that concerns me the most in the AFC East is Buffalo because they have a forceful defensive line, and tailbacks the Dolphins have struggled to contain for a few years. However, Buffalo doesn't have upper echelon quarterback play yet, and until E.J. Manuel gets there the Bills won't be scary. But the addition of rookie receiver Sammy Watkins does help Manuel in that process. If Buffalo had gotten a better tight end in the draft or free agency I'd be a bit more concerned. The Dolphins have fortified the front line, and have changed the offensive approach, which should lighten the burden placed on the 2014 offensive line, so I'm not sure Miami's weakness will continue to play into Buffalo's strengths much longer. That means I can't see the Bills sweeping the series again. That's why I see Miami and the Jets battling it out for second place in the AFC East. I personally think the Jets are better coached (big Rex Ryan fan here), and the rosters are fairly even. But I like the moves the Jets made this offseason A LOT. Adding Michael Vick, Chris Johnson, Eric Decker, Dimitri Patterson and rookies Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro should help the Jets improve on last year's 8-8 record. If Vick and Johnson return to their old form, and Patterson can stay healthy the Jets should have a nine win team, which is about where I expect the Dolphins to be in 2014. I suspect second place will come down to whichever AFC East can stay healthy, and who can protect their homefield advantage. Four wins in the AFC East should be the Dolphins' goal, and if they can achieve that I can see Miami finished second in the division, and possibly making it into the playoffs.
Q: Armon Binns was talked about a lot during training camp last year before he got hurt. What do you think about him this year? - Juan Chaparro, Miami
A: I was one of the reporters showing Binns with praise because of his knack for scoring touchdowns during OTAs and mini camp. Matt Moore admitted Binns was his favorite receiver to target because the former Cincinnati standout was clutch, especially when it came to bringing down tough passes in the red zone. But that was before Binns tore his ACL in the second week of training camp, before his lengthy rehab process, and before the team began practicing with pads. Binns has been cleared to practice without limitations, and he did score on a deep pass from Moore three weeks ago. But he's been relatively quiet since then in the sessions the media gets to watch. The Dolphins are doing a lot of red zone work, and that's usually the area where Binns comes alive because of his size (6-foot-3, 211 pounds), but that hasn't been the case the past two practices the media has been watching. I assume Binns is still working off some of his rust, and that his knee isn't completely healthy since it usually takes 12 months to properly rehab an ACL tear. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect more from Binns. Based on what I saw last year at OTAs Binns should have been the starting slot, and I'm not seeing that type of productivity yet. So far I think he's neck-and-neck with Stephen Williams for one of the final receiver spots on the 53-man roster. You can easily project that Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Jarvis Landry safely make it onto the 53-man roster, and Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews have a leg up on Binns from an experience standpoint. That means Binns is competing with Stephen and Damian Williams, and rookie Matt Hazel to become the sixth receiver on the depth chart. Right now what I'm seeing isn't going to be good enough for Binns to make it. Binns will have to take his game to the next level to stay on the Dolphins' 53-man roster, and he's got it in him.
Q: This is year three for Ryan Tannehill. What does he need to do to get to the next level? And who could he compare to who blossomed in their third year? And, perhaps more importantly, how long before his window of opportunity closes in the modern, impatient era? - Metaldolphins, UK.
A: Year three as an NFL starter is the make or break season for most NFL quarterbacks. They've seen just about every defense a coordinator can throw at them. Their team has had plenty of time and opportunities to build them an offense that fits their skill set, and get them playmakers and an offensive line that will help them blossom. That's why the Dolphins need to take a no excuses approach to Tannehill's third season as an NFL starter. He's already got 32 starts under his belt. He's got talented receivers, tight ends and tailbacks surrounding him, and an offensive line that now features three former first-round picks. What Tannehill needs to do is to produce a 85-plus passer rating and turn in the Dolphins first winning record since 2008. That's the minimum of what I'll expect from this former first-round pick. To get to the next level Tannehill needs to do a better job of maximizing his opportunities. He needs to produce more big plays (connecting deep with Mike Wallace more often would help), improve his completion percentage (hit three check down passes a game would do wonders), and cheat a little by using his athleticism (run for a first down three times a game). There are small things Tannehill can do to put himself, and his offense in better spots. Tannehill is fairly efficient when it comes to executing in the red zone. He just needs to do a better job with his consistency, cutting down turnovers, and helping the offense average 23 points this season. The Dolphins need to know what they have in Tannehill become his price will drastically increase next offseason when the Dolphins must decide whether to extend his contract, or opt into the fifth-year of his deal next May, which would have the Dolphins committing $14.6 million to Tannehill for the 2016 season. Tannehill will either prove he belongs in the conversation with the NFL's new young guns - Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton - or he'll have to step aside for a quarterback selected in the 2015 draft class, which I'm told is loaded with talented passers.
Q: Could Knowshon Moreno's poor conditioning be a reflection of his displeasure with his new Dolphins contract? Maybe Dennis Hickey could have included a $100k workout bonus. - Chopin, New York, NY
A: That theory makes absolutely no sense. First, the Dolphins paid Moreno $3 million for this season, which was more than anyone else was offering him. This is Moreno’s opportunity to remain an NFL starter, which wasn’t something Denver had on the table. And Moreno will have an opportunity to prove he can be a 1,000 yard back again without the assistance of Peyton Manning. It’s obvious to anyone with common sense that Moreno shouldn’t need any more motivation than what he presently has. Plus, workout bonuses simply pays a player for participation in the offseason program. Moreno is participating with the Dolphins. That’s not the issue. The issue is the fact he’s got a bit of a gut, and hasn’t exactly looked sharp during his first two weeks of phase three OTA practices while he settles in with a new team. I’ve asked around the NFL and two unbiased sources told me Moreno is the type of player who works his way into shape during training camp. I’m told that his physique – not conditioning – was an issue in Denver, and that the Dolphins knew his routine before they signed him this offseason. Every NFL player has a routine that helps them get ready for the wear and tear of an NFL season. While it was a bit surprising to discover Moreno’s belly bulge, I’m not going to judge another man’s process and conditioning until August. Keep in mind this is the NFL OFFSEASON. Players are participating in VOLUNTARY WORKOUTS with their teams. At some point they deserve the opportunity to take their foot off the pedal, eat what they want, enjoy their lives and let their bodies rest and heal. Nobody in professional sports physically puts their body through more punishment than NFL tailbacks so I’ll be a little patient with Moreno. I’ll throw my stones if he’s still got a tummy come August, and his performance in practices and the exhibition season aren’t impressive. We don't know the full story. Maybe Moreno is trying to put on some weight to handle a bigger workload. Patience on this one is required.
Q: Will Joe Philbin dial down his overemphasis on the passing game, and allow Ryan Tannehill to use his speed more often? - Bryan Kelly, Portland Oregon.
A: Last season the Dolphins where a VERY pass happy team, throwing the football nearly 63% of the team's 943 offensive snaps. Philbin's offense was one of the most unbalanced units in the NFL because of the team's unwillingness to commit to the run, and at times the team's struggles running the ball in short yardage situations, and late game situations. We can have a which came first, the chicken or the egg debate all day long to diagnose whether the offense line was the problem stifling the running game, but I believe it has more to do with coaching than personnel. There were instances in games where the Dolphins were committed to the run, and it was against some of the NFL's better defenses. The Dolphins had eight games where the offense produced more than 100 rushing yards, and the team's record was 5-3 in those efforts. On the flip side the Dolphins were 1-5 in games where the team threw more than 40 passes. Even Philbin has admitted the team needs to be more balanced, which explains why the offensive line was rebuilt, and why Knowshon Moreno was signed this offseason. However, I'm not optimistic Philbin will buy into having a balanced attack because that's now how he was raised in the NFL. But it is comforting to know Bill Lazor comes from an Eagles offense that led the NFL in rushing. The Eagles ran the ball 500 times in 2013, and threw it 508, which is a 50-50 split. Philadelphia's quarterbacks also accounted for 93 of those rushing attempts, which hints that Miami might allow Tannehill to use his athleticism a little more. I've seen Tannehill scramble during practices during the OTA sessions so far so it appears he has the green light to run, which wasn't always the case the past two seasons.
Q: Last year the Dolphins struggles stopping the run, especially against teams trying to kill the clock. With Paul Soliai gone and the same trio of linebackers how is this unit supposed to improve in 2014? - Lamar, Philadelphia, Pa.
A: The Dolphins allowed 1,998 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns last season. That is the highest rushing total the Dolphins have allowed its opponent to amass since 2007, when an injury-decimated defense allowed 2,456 yards and 18 touchdowns for that one win team. The defense's inability to stop the run was the one weak link of a pretty solid defense, and losing Soliai to the Falcons in free agency won't help because Soliai was the defensive lineman who routinely occupied two blockers. Now that role probably goes to Randy Starks, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who was re-signed to a two-year, $10 million deal. Starks has performed well against the run with a few exceptions (see the Patriots games), but he's not accustomed to taking on a center and a guard every snap, so this will be a challenge for this 30-year-old. Earl Mitchell was signed to replace Soliai, but he's a little light to (300 pounds) be occupying two defenders, even though he served in that capacity with Houston. However, the biggest issue defending the run was the lack of instincts and anticipation from last year's linebacker unit, which was a disaster in 2013. The Dolphins are experimenting with Koa Misi moving from strong side linebacker to the middle, and that will take some time to work itself out. But outside of moving Misi the coaches don't have many options to improve the unit. I do believe Dannell Ellerbe would thrive as an outside linebacker, which is the role he played with the Ravens most of his career. And Jelani Jenkins and Jordan Tripp could push Philip Wheeler for playing time, but I'm not sure either of those switches solves the inside linebacker issue. Maybe Misi gets the job done, but what if he doesn't? Maybe the Dolphins would benefit from Reshad Jones playing more in the box, like he did in his breakout season in 2012. But that would require both of the starting outside linebacker to be better in coverage, or at least on par with what Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett brought to the table in 2012 covering tight ends and tailbacks running routes. We shall see. There is a lot of experimentation going on right now, so Dolphins fans better hope the coaching staff finds the right recipe to cut down those rushing yards. For this defense to be good again they will likely need to keep opponents under 1,700 rushing yards. Last year the NFL average was 1,806 rushing yards and the Dolphins were 192 over that, which amounts to 12 more rushing yards per game than the league average. Before last season the Dolphins were a top 10 team verses the run for three straight seasons. Hopefully they get back to that point.
Here is a heads up for those who are a fan of my WQAM Saturday show....I willl be hosting one this Saturday from 11-2 p.m on 560AM talking South Florida sports, and you know we'll get into plenty of Dolphins talk, and will likely have a player as a guest.
Q: With Louis Delmas inked for just one season, and considering his injury history pegs him as unreliable for a 16 game season and beyond, who do you see as his backup or player to be groomed as his replacement in 2015. If he surprises with a complete season, do you see the Dolphins offering Delmas a three-year deal at a then age of 28? - Chopin, New York, New York
A: Players signed to one-year deal are usually stop gaps, and are typically viewed as hold the fort guys. However, there are exceptions to every rule (Brent Grimes for instance), but I can't see Delmas putting together a dynamic season like Grimes did. I'm not even sure Delmas will be healthy enough to play all 16 games because of his physical style of play. However, you never know. Playing on grass as his home turf might benefit Delmas' troublesome knees. But the Dolphins do need to be prepared to play without Delmas, which is why Jimmy Wilson is being groomed as his backup. This is Wilson's third offseason being developed as a free safety. At one point I thought Wilson was talented enough to unseat Chris Clemons as the starter, but he never took it to the next level. We'll see this summer if he's finally ready to push to become a starter at something other than the nickel spot. I'm personally a big Wilson fan because back in 2011, as a rookie, he had the most dominant training camp I've seen covering the Dolphins. Wilson was everywhere, and a consistent playmaker back then. I've been waiting for him to replicate that camp for two years now. Considering both Delmas and Wilson have their contracts expiring at the end of the season there's no benefit to investing in one over the other, so may the best safety win. As far as the other options, Don Jones, Michael Thomas and Jordan Kovacs are the backup safeties with experience. I need to see playmaking - interceptions, forced fumbles, passes broken up - from all three for me to be comfortable with the depth at safety. They also need to excel on special teams because that's a key role for backup safeties. Even though Walt Aikens has the body to play safety I'd rather the rookie remain a cornerback because that unit needs some size. If Aikens proves he can't cover downfield then maybe a move to safety is warranted. But I've always been taught defensive backs should be worked at cornerback first. Once they prove they can't cover a receiver one-on-one downfield you move them to safety.
Q: It seems like everyone in the NFL wants to trade down in this draft. What player would it take being on the board for the Dolphins to find a trade partner to move down. Greg, Allentown, PA.
A: Most draft analysts expect a run on offensive linemen and cornerbacks in the first round, and many expect at least six receivers to be taken in the first round. Teams that want one of those players - Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, Ohio State's Bradley Roby, USC receiver Marqise Lee or Oregon State's Brandin Cook - might covet the No. 19 pick. The 49ers have plenty of ammo to get a trade done. San Francisco just needs the motivation to do so. That would require one of the players they have rated high on their board to fall into Miami's zone. Plenty of people think the Dolphins will be able to find a trade partner if one of the top three quarterbacks - Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater - is still on the board at 19. I disagree, and let me explain why. If the Browns absolutely must have a quarterback why wouldn't they take their guy at No. 4 instead of waiting for him at 26, which could have Cleveland stuck like Chuck picking from the leftover batch. And if you think about it there isn't a team between Miami and Cleveland that seriously needs a quarterback. Arizona might take one at 20, but have other pressing needs. Kansas City might take one at 23, and Cincinnati (24) might want one, but none of those teams need to find a starting quarterback. And any quarterback they take would struggle to unseat the present starter. All of those teams between Miami and Cleveland probably wait till round two or further to address the position. That means the only viable trade up options for a quarterback are those teams that passed on one in the top 10 (Jacksonville, Oakland, Minnesota), and I suspect Miami moving all the way into the second round is unrealistic unless the trade is overwhelming (a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and future second will do it for me). Therefore, the Dolphins are going to have to rely on a position run. There's also a remote possibility some team coveting one of the few decent pass rushers - Missouri's Kony Ealy or Auburn's Dee Ford - might want to move up, leapfrogging the Cardinals, Packers, Bengals and Saints. But that possibility is going to take some luck, and an evaluation that would make me question their skills as a talent scout because Ealy and Ford both have warts. The bottom line is this is a buyer's market and if the Dolphins want to move down they will likely need to make the calls, shopping the pick, letting teams know they are open for business, AND willing to take less than market value for pick No. 19. Even though Dennis Hickey said he'd like more draft picks, I just can't see the Dolphins conducting themselves like that in Hickey's first draft.
Q: Which two position players from the 2013 draft class do you think will have the biggest impact this year, and why? - Bryan, Philly, PA.
A: I'd have to throw all four of the top picks from the 2013 draft class out there. I know you asked for two, but nobody truly knows how much these second-year players will develop once they are fully healthy, and have a season of physical and mental training under their belt. Each of these rookies didn't play much for very specific reasons last season. Dion Jordan missed all of the OTA program, was rehabbing a bad shoulder, learning a new position, and couldn't set the edge properly. None of those issues should be a problem in 2014, and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers is probably the best instructor on Miami's staff. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis didn't play much last season because they both were nursing some serious injuries. I can probably count on one hand how many times I've seen Taylor practice last season. But when he was healthy enough to practice he was pretty decent. Davis was an interception machine in practice, but he's an undisciplined risk taker who needs to get stronger. He needs to be coached up good. Davis should benefit from the strength and conditioning program more than anybody. Dallas Thomas is the wildcard because he should be able to help on the offensive line, either as a right tackle or offensive guard. However, Thomas had more opportunities to start last season than any 2013 rookie and blew them. His technique wasn't good, and he wasn't in great shape. I'd like to see Thomas lose 20 pounds and get stronger. It should be interesting to see if new offensive line coach John Benton can mold him into something respectable in year two. Joe Philbin has singled Thomas out as a hard worker this offseason, but that could simply be a motivational tool to keep him driven, and his spirits lifted. I'll get a chance to see if Thomas is for real when I see him line up against Randy Starks during OTAs. Last year Starks took his lunch money on a daily basis to prove a point (that he wasn't a backup). When a Dolphins offensive lineman can standup to Starks they're ready to take on the world.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun