Newcomers all the rage as Dolphins prep for camp

The Miami Dolphins started the 2011 season 0-7 and were going nowhere.

Two years later, a playoff berth is not out of the question.

Miami was perhaps the NFL’s most active team during the offseason, and it could pay off. The Dolphins landed a number of top free agents, headlined by Mike Wallace, and will be looking for their first postseason appearance since 2008 and just their second since the start of the 2002 season.

It all starts with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He has added weapons to throw to in wide receivers Wallace and Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller.

Here’s a look at how the Dolphins shape up with training camp starting Sunday:

Rookie watch

— DE Dion Jordan (first round, Oregon) was considered to be the best pass rusher in the draft. Combine him with holdover defensive end Cameron Wake, and the Dolphins really could create problems for opposing quarterbacks.

— CB Jamar Taylor (second, Boise State) could make make a bid to play right away on a team without a lot of depth in the secondary.

— G Dallas Thomas (third round, Tennessee) provides plenty of size at 6-foot-5, 305 pounds and could push for a starting job.

— CB Will Davis (third, Utah State) is a very active cover man who tied for the NCAA lead last season with 22 passes defensed.

— LB Jelani Jenkins (fourth, Florida) is most heralded of three Florida Gators drafted by the Dolphins.

— TE Dion Sims (fourth, Michigan State) should provide depth a year after starting tight end Anthony Fasano left as a free agent and with 2012 draft Michael Egnew having been a big disappointment as a rookie.

— RB Mike Gillislee (fifth, Florida) hasn’t been ruled out by Dolphins coach Joe Philbin as a legitimate contender for a starting job.

— K Caleb Sturgis (fifth, Florida) has a strong chance with his strong leg to beat out incumbent Dan Carpenter for the starting spot.

— S Don Jones (seventh, Arkansas State) has great speed and will try to fit in where he can.

Comers and goers

Free-agent signees:

— WR Mike Wallace (last of Pittsburgh) was considered the top NFL free agent available. Wallace, who twice has topped 1,000 yards receiving in a season, provides Tannehill with a deep threat he didn’t have as a rookie. He should immediately become Miami’s top receiver.

— WR Brandon Gibson (St. Louis) is coming off a season in which he caught 51 balls for 591 yards. He figures to be Miami’s third receiver following starters Wallace and Brian Hartline. However, the Dolphins figure often to go to three-receiver sets to get him more on the field.

— TE Dustin Keller (New York Jets) figures to move right in as a starter for the departed Fasano. Keller has four times in five seasons caught 45 passes, including a career-high 65 in 2011.

— CB Brent Grimes (Atlanta) could end up being a steal if he can regain the form before he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in last year’s opener. Grimes had made the Pro Bowl for the Falcons after the 2010 season.

— LB Dannell Ellerbe (Baltimore) is coming off having won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. The Dolphins expect his winning mentality to immediately rub off.

— LB Philip Wheeler (Oakland) and Ellerbe, 27, will become starters after the Dolphins released linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in an effort to get younger and faster. Wheeler, 28, started all 16 games last season for Oakland.

— G Lance Louis (Chicago) will contend for a starting job after opening 24 of the 25 games he played for the Bears in the previous two seasons.

— DT Vaughn Martin (San Diego) will provide depth on a strong defensive line. He started 27 of 29 games the previous two seasons for the Chargers.

— T Tyson Clabo (Atlanta) will contend for a starting job. He started all 100 games he played for the Falcons in the previous seven seasons, including making the Pro Bowl in 2010.

T Jake Long (St. Louis), RB Reggie Bush (Detroit), CB Sean Smith (Kansas City), Dansby (released, signed with Cardinals), Burnett (released, signed with Oakland), Fasano (Kansas City), DT Tony McDaniel (Seattle), K Nate Kaeding (Tampa Bay, retired), S Tyrone Culver (unsigned).

Top storylines

— Is Tannehill ready to take the next jump and show he one day could be an elite NFL quarterback, or could he fall prey to the sophomore jinx? Tannehill had a solid rookie season despite not having too many highly skilled playmakers around him. With the Dolphins having signed Wallace and Gibson to play alongside Hartline, who had a 1,000-yard receiving season, Tannehill can’t complain about not having enough targets.

— One potential complaint Tannehill could face, though, is if he’s on his back too much. The Dolphins elected not to re-sign left tackle perennial Pro Bowler Long, the key guy who protected Tannehill. The most likely plan is moving Jonathan Martin over from right tackle to the left, where he started the final four games last season as a rookie when Long was injured. But it remains to be seen if Martin has the experience to successfully hold down such a key position.

— Who’s the starting running back? The Dolphins let Bush go as a free agent to Detroit, opening up the spot. The leading candidate to start is second-year man Lamar Miller, who has strong running ability but whose blocking has been questioned. Also in the mix for the spot are third-year man Daniel Thomas and rookie Gillislee. It remains to be seen if the Dolphins can come up with a back with the versatility of Bush, who rushed for 986 yards and caught 35 passes.

— Will a retooled linebacking corps be better? Miami’s linebackers weren’t too bad last season. But the Dolphins shockingly released veterans Karlos Dansby, 31, and Kevin Burnett, 30, to bring in free agents Ellerbe and Wheeler. The thinking was the Dolphins would get younger and faster at the position. But if there’s not improvement, Miami brass would face heavy criticism.

— Will the secondary be better? The Dolphins often struggled last season to stop opposing quarterbacks, ranking 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Then they didn’t sign Smith, believed to be their best defensive back. For Miami to show much improvement, Grimes must return to his previous form, cornerback Richard Marshall needs to bounce back after missing the final eight games of 2012 due to a back injury injury and the Dolphins need to get something out of the three rookie defensive backs they drafted.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at

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