5 Miami Dolphins Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
This piece isn't about the new pieces, but the pieces that will seem new, as we will look at the five Dolphins who will see their roles expanded.
Every year a team has players reach from the depths of their rosters to step up and become key contributors, and for the Dolphins the pool of players who are already on the roster and can do that is large when you consider how little playing time their 2013 draft class got during the season.
With some of these players, you mainly saw them last season on the bench or on special teams, while others did get some playing time as a part of their units, but they will see expanded roles.
Here's the list of these players, ranked in terms of what kind of impact they will have on the team.
5. Dallas Thomas (Guard/Tackle)
At first it might not seem like Dallas Thomas is the type of player who can rise up and contribute for the Dolphins.
He had ample opportunity last season due to the turmoil that engulfed his position. Miami needed a left guard, could've used an improvement at right guard and would've been greatly helped by a better tackle on either side. Despite this, Thomas wasn't able to get himself any meaningful playing time, getting passed up in favor of Sam Brenner at left guard while not being able to surpass John Jerry at right guard.
On top of that, we all want Miami to sign another guard in free agency, then draft one, that doesn't speak well to our faith in Thomas either.
Despite this, remember that Thomas was coming off of shoulder surgery going into last season, and he barely participated in team drills.
His training camp was mostly forgettable, but a year can change that, which should be a recurring theme of this piece.
Will Thomas start this season? I still have my doubts about that possibility. I do see him getting more playing time, specifically at guard, possibly even playing some at tackle if he's pressed into it.
4. Will Davis (Cornerback)
Miami double-downed at cornerback in last year's draft, which was a smart decision, considering the uncertainty surrounding the position.
At the time the only returning cornerbacks on the roster were Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson, Brent Grimes was coming off of a torn Achilles tendon, and all of Miami's free-agent corners had left for teams where their services better fit the schemes.
Cornerback was a strength for the Dolphins last year, which is part of the reason why both of their draft picks, Jamar Taylor (who we will get to later) and Will Davis, didn't see a lot of playing time. Carroll overachieved, Patterson made plays when he could play and Grimes was a Pro Bowl player.
This year, Carroll and Patterson are gone—replaced by Cortland Finnegan. This means depth-wise, it's up to Davis and Taylor to step up.
Taylor will compete for a starting job but don't sleep on Davis, who shows great potential as a nickelback and has shown the ability to make big plays.
Davis only played in five games in 2013, producing eight tackles. His style of play was aggressive, and he showed the ability to be a ballhawk.
It's a bit boom or bust for Davis when it comes to his play, but it's a risk Miami will likely be able to afford to take with him as their nickel. Because of that as well as the exits of Patterson and Carroll, expect Taylor to play a lot more this season.
3. Jelani Jenkins (Linebacker)
What if the answer to the Dolphins' linebacker woes has been on the roster all along?
What if there was someone better than Philip Wheeler whom the Dolphins didn't have to sign or draft?
What if that person is former Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins?
Jenkins played in 15 games for the Dolphins last season, mostly on special teams. During said games he recorded 17 tackles.
This really wasn't a surprise the same way the lack of playing time for Jamar Taylor and Dion Jordan turned out to be a surprise. Jenkins was drafted in the fourth round and was pegged by NFL.com's Mike Mayock as someone who was going to "make a living on special teams."
Mayock also added this about Jenkins: "You earn an opportunity for playing time as the season and the years progress."
That has happened with Jenkins, who spent most of the year looking up the depth chart as Wheeler underperformed as Miami's weak-side linebacker. This should open up the door for Jenkins to make an impact at the position, an impact I could see him making if given the opportunity.
At the very least, expect Jenkins to rotate in and out of the lineup throughout each game and throughout the season, especially on passing downs since his coverage is pretty good.
2. Jamar Taylor (Cornerback)
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the 2014 starter opposite Brent Grimes at starting cornerback.
I know the Dolphins signed Cortland Finnegan, and he will likely compete for the starting job. It will be close, but I see Taylor winning out in the end.
What is it about Taylor that gives me the confidence to say this? It's not his 2013 season where he recorded three tackles in nine games, that season gives enough pause to suggest the Dolphins signing Finnegan.
But Taylor, like offensive lineman Dallas Thomas and defensive end Dion Jordan, came into the season injured. Taylor needed sports-hernia surgery prior to the start of the season. However, due to a kidney ailment he suffers from, he can't take anti-inflammatory medication, thus making it harder to play through pain the same way his teammates could.
This means missed practices and missed games, which in 2013 stunted his development and cut into his playing time.
This season he is looking healthy, and when healthy he's a speedster who's not afraid to get physical with any wide receiver, regardless of how much bigger they might be than the 5'10" Taylor.
Compare that to Finnegan, who looks like he's on the downside of his career and you have your starting cornerback alongside Grimes.
1. Dion Jordan
I don't see Dion Jordan earning the starting spot, at least not at the start of the season.
He will not be on special teams either, because despite not starting, he will be a force on defense.
This is after a year working with Kacy Rodgers, along with some not-so-subtle motivation used by the coaching staff in the form of unsubstantiated trade rumors that somebody had to have leaked (I'm not saying it was the coaching staff, but it is interesting how trade rumors are followed by Dave Hyde of The Sun-Sentinel talking about how the Dolphins were disappointed in his work ethic).
Despite all of that noise around Jordan, I do take Joe Philbin and the Dolphins at their word when Philbin told Chris Perkins of The Sun-Sentinel that Jordan will get more reps once he's better acclimated to the position he's playing as a 4-3 defensive end.
Remember at Oregon, Jordan was either a 3-4 end or standing up as an outside linebacker; it was rare that he was used in a 4-3 alignment.
With the athleticism and upside that Jordan brings to the table, it would be hard to not use him in any meaningful role. One other problem Jordan had in 2013 was he was recovering from shoulder surgery and didn't have a full offseason to get acclimated to the team's schemes or position.
With a full offseason and a second year under the scheme, Jordan will not only get more reps, but also, by the midpoint of the season, he could even challenge Olivier Vernon for that starting spot.
Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise specified.