Miami Dolphins: First Impressions from Training Camp
It's finally football season, as the Miami Dolphins opened training camp on Friday morning to the relief of Dolphins fans awaiting their return since December.
Only three days into training camp, we're learning more new things about the team every day, reacting (and, more likely, overreacting) to every little mistake and triumph made in camp.
What have we learned in three days? Everything and nothing (you don't really learn until the third preseason game), but let's take a look at my first impression of the Dolphins in their first three days of training camp.
There's a Battle at Kickoff and Punt Return
I thought Marcus Thigpen's job was safe.
I couldn't be more wrong, and I'm actually glad that I am.
The Dolphins have opened up the battle for the spot as return man, and from the looks of it, this battle won't be decided until the end.
I might get back there for kickoff returns...I just want to be on the field making an impact for my team. I’ve always wanted to return kicks ever since I’ve been in the NFL.
That hasn't come to pass so far, but I can't blame Wallace or the Dolphins for that, as Wallace is too important to the offense to take such a risk.
Rookie Jarvis Landry has given kickoff returns a try, as has Damian Williams (not to be confused with the rookie running back, Damien Williams) and Matt Hazel.
Williams has impressed, according to Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post, who tweeted that Williams' best shot at making the team is as a return man.
This race didn't look like a race at first. Now, it's a true training camp battle, and an interesting one to watch, as in the new offense, whomever is returning kicks will likely find himself on the field for offensive plays as well.
Despite a Revamped Offensive Line, Still Plenty of Uncertainty
New year, new offensive line but the same (on-field) problems.
The Dolphins will have five new starters on the offensive line thanks in part to a purging of four of their linemen from last year and an injury to center Mike Pouncey that, as Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald reports, could cost him the first half of the season.
Because of that, the experimentation has begun on the Dolphins' offensive line. Former Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl tackle Branden Albert and rookie Ja'Wuan James serve as the bookends of the Dolphins offensive line and represent the most stable members of the unit.
It's inside where everything is fluid, as Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald reported that the Dolphins started out training camp with Daryn Colledge at left guard, Dallas Thomas at right guard and Shelley Smith at center.
It's worth noting that Smith has never played center until now, and the start of the experiment was a disaster, as Smith and quarterback Ryan Tannehill bobbled a snap to open training camp on Friday morning.
It appeared that things only went downhill from there, as the line allowed six sacks during practice. Two of those sacks did come from Cameron Wake, who was supposed to have been blocked by James. That shouldn't be overly concerning, as having to block Wake in practice will only serve James going forward. Back in June at a Dolphins' meet-and-greet I had attended, Jason Taylor talked about how facing off against Richmond Webb as a rookie wound up being the best thing for him.
While it might look gloomy, one must keep in mind that this offensive line is practicing against what should be one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, so as a whole, they should improve. More changes will likely be made, so there is no real reason to overreact now.
Take it from Branden Albert, who said this to Jackson after the first day of training camp that Tannehill is “going to get hit. It’s part of the game. But not 58 times.”
I believe him when he says that, every part of that sentence.
The Attempt to Open Up the Offense Is Real
Every year there seems to be a story pertaining to how the Miami Dolphins will open up their offense.
I'm a firm believer in the proof being in the pudding, the regular-season pudding, not just what they practice during training camp.
However, at least you see a real effort among the Dolphins in accomplishing this goal.
During training camp so far, Ryan Tannehill has run a lot more read-option plays and has been rolling out more. Tannehill's athleticism is one of his strengths, and for the last two years it seemed ignored by the Dolphins, but so far, they haven't been afraid to test it out.
You're also seeing Mike Wallace becoming an even bigger part of the offense, something that The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero talks about in this piece. Wallace seems excited by the possibility, telling Salguero:
I think I’ll get to run everything...I’ll be able to be a complete receiver instead of a one-dimensional guy. Coach tells me every day he’s going to work me to continue to push me to boundaries I’ve never been to.
I’m excited about it. I’m definitely willing to accept the challenge and be the best player I can be. I feel as long as I’m put in a good position, I’ll play well.
Just the simple act of moving Wallace and the rest of the receivers around would've been a step in the right direction, but based off of some of the plays they have been practicing, the effort is real.
Now if only they could work on the deep ball.
Ryan Tannehill's Deep Ball Looks Improved
Well hey, would you look at that? I end one slide wondering about the deep ball, only to post the answer on the next.
The inability of Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace to connect on deep passes hamstrung the Dolphins last season. I'd say that their failure to connect in the second quarter of the final game against the New York Jets was the turning point of that game—Miami was up 7-0, if Wallace makes the catch there's nothing but daylight ahead of him, making it 14-0 with the momentum firmly on Miami's side—and said failure cost the Dolphins at least one other game last season.
This year, we knew this would be a priority. In addition to the plans Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has for Wallace (highlighted in the last slide), Wallace will remain Miami's deep threat.
There were some hiccups during training camp at first, however on each day of camp thus far, Tannehill has made a connection deep to either Wallace or another Dolphins receiver.
On Friday, he hooked up with Wallace, however it's the only time so far it happened in training camp. This is still an improvement over last year's camp, when as Omar Kelly of The Sun-Sentinel put it, he connected with him once in five weeks.
Tannehill has done well connecting deep with other wide receivers, including rookie Jarvis Landry, who has been a top performer every day of training camp.
A good deep ball is key to Miami's offense, and so far, it looks like there's improvement in that area of the passing game.
Miami's Defensive Line Has Been Dominant
In an earlier slide we spoke of the offensive line's struggles, but in training camp, there's a flip side to every story about a team struggling, one that's often ignored in favor of doom and gloom.
Miami's defensive line looks great—one of the best in the league great.
This should come as no surprise, the talent on the line was always going to be staggering, but on the field they're backing up a well-earned reputation.
One of the best players in training camp has been Randy Starks, who Chris Perkins of The Sun-Sentinel described as a "bulldozer." Dion Jordan has shown some signs of improvement as well, as he already has a pick-six against Ryan Tannehill.
New edition Earl Mitchell has impressed coach Joe Philbin already, with Philbin saying about Mitchell: "He’s got real good get-off on the football. And I like the way he comes off the ball. He has outstanding motor." (h/t The Sun-Sentinel)
Cameron Wake is still Cameron Wake, as mentioned earlier he recorded two sacks on Friday, and as a whole he has at times dominated rookie Ja'Wuan James.
Overall, I'm looking at the Dolphins' defensive line being dominant on their own merit. It will only help the offensive line as they get more reps in.
Listen to Thomas Galicia and Chris Cochran on Dolphins Central Radio, with new episodes every Wednesday. This week, they speak to Bleacher Report's Erik Frenz about the AFC East.