Crucial offensive roles up for grabs as Dolphins near camp
The Miami Dolphins begin training camp on July 24, with the main questions for this squad being how quickly the offense can adapt to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s system and how effective the re-tooled offensive line will be in keeping quarterback Ryan Tannehill on his feet. However, there are also some position battles to sort out on both sides of the ball.
Here are four of the biggest ones:
Brandon Gibson vs. Rishard Matthews vs. Jarvis Landry
Gibson was brought in prior to last season to complement outside guys Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, but the former Ram tore his patellar tendon in Week 8. Before his year ended, Gibson caught 30 balls for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He was also targeted more than eight times in four of the six full games he played in, showing that it didn’t take long for him and Ryan Tannehill to build a solid rapport together.
When Matthews stepped in, he had a monster 11-catch, 120-yard, two-touchdown outing against the Bucs in Week 10 but didn’t do a whole lot apart from that, disappearing in certain games. Now, with the addition of Landry via the draft and the rumors that he isn’t one of head coach Joe Philbin’s favorite players, Matthews knows he’ll have to step his game up come training camp if he’s to remain the backup slot guy. Meanwhile, Gibson didn’t worth at 100 percent during OTAs and minicamp, which was likely just a precautionary measure. If he can prove he’s over his injury and ready to re-kindle his connection with Tannehill, then the job is undoubtedly his to lose.
STARTING RUNNING BACK
Lamar Miller vs. Knowshon Moreno
When the Dolphins signed Moreno back in late March, everyone expected him to give Miller some stiff competition for the starting job, if not take it altogether. Not so fast. Literally. Moreno came into camp noticeably out of shape, and now after undergoing a scope on his left knee last month, he may well miss the start of training camp. That will give Miller a head start on working on Lazor’s offense in pads and will leave Moreno scrambling to get back into shape in order to try and prove the $5 million spent on him was worth it. Sure, Miller’s speed advantage likely gives him a natural edge over Moreno in what we’ve seen of Lazor’s offense so far, but Moreno proved last year in Denver’s pass-heavy system that he can still contribute when called upon.
Miller is likely to open the year as the top guy, with Moreno getting 6-10 carries a game, but that could change if Miller struggles like he did last year, no matter if it’s his fault or the offensive line’s this time.
Nate Garner vs. Sam Brenner vs. Shelley Smith vs. Tyler Larsen
This position wasn’t going to be any kind of a battle until Pro Bowl starter Mike Pouncey had hip surgery last month. Apparently his hip was feeling OK at his birthday party this past weekend, as Pouncey and his brother Maurkice are accused of partaking in some shenanigans at a night club. At least he won’t face any kind of suspension from the bullying scandal and could only miss the first month of the season if he heals quickly.
To patch the hole at center that Pouncey’s absence creates, the Dolphins have a few different choices. Garner started three games at center last season when Pouncey missed time with gall bladder issues and is likely the favorite to take the opening snaps once camp opens. Brenner, who started four games on the line in 2013, is a younger option than Garner.
An offseason addition, Smith can reportedly play both center and guard. He doesn’t have much starting experience in his three-year NFL career, however, having only started eight games while in Houston and St. Louis. Larsen, a rookie free agent, is an intriguing proposition, as the Utah State product is the only healthy true center on the roster. If he impresses when the pads come on, watch out.
Jamar Taylor vs. Cortland Finnegan vs. Will Davis
Finnegan is a name, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s also 30, known for a moment of madness now and again, and is coming off the worst season of his career, one that was riddled with injuries. Management clearly doesn’t want a guy with a contract like Finnegan’s on the sideline much, so he’ll likely be opposite Brent Grimes to open camp.
He better perform though, as Taylor impressed many in OTAs and mini camp, including Philbin, who went out of his way to praise the second-year corner in post-practice press conferences. His rookie season was marred by sports hernia and abductor injuries, but if Taylor stays healthy and continues to impress he could see more of the field this season than just on nickel packages. Davis, another sophomore, also has a chance to move up the depth chart after playing in just five 2013 contests.