With Training Camp starting July 25th, there are several interesting Training Camp battles this year. The Dolphins seem have more depth on the roster this year, but they also have question marks to answer. There are some interesting story lines and let’s take a look at what to look for this year.
Training Camp Battle #1: Running Back Lamar Miller vs. Knowshon Moreno
This is obviously the number one training camp battle this year to pay attention to is the running back position. Not only will the battle for the starting position be interesting, but the battle for the third and fourth positions between Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee, Marcus Thigpen, and a dark-horse Damien Williams will be as well.
First, let’s start with Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno. So far through OTA’s and minicamps, Miller has shown to be the more impressive back this off-season, due in part to him being the more explosive, decisive back, and the other part due to Moreno being hampered by a knee injury that required surgery. There are several parts that are very interesting in this battle. The first part is that Joe Philbin likes his running backs to be versatile and to be able to pass block efficiently which Moreno has shown to be clearly better than Miller. The second part is that with the new offense installed by Bill Lazor, Lazor wants to get his backs into space through the passing and running game so that they can get one-on-one matchups and make guys miss in the open field. Miller wins that battle. The third part is that Miller is faster and more explosive, but Moreno is reliable and a stronger runner. When all three parts are combined, it will be very hard for the coaching staff to decipher who the starter will be. The deciding factor of who will start will be if Moreno can come back from his knee injury and get back into shape quickly. If he can’t, then Miller might be the favorite.
Now let’s look at the third and fourth positions in the battle. There are four guys battling for two positions. The two early favorites are Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee, because they are more traditional backs, because of their draft status (second and fifth round respectively), and because of their young age (26 and 23). But the coaching staff might decide that since they are relatively the same type of back, they will decide to cut one of them and keep more of a scat-back type in Damien Williams or Marcus Thigpen. If they indeed do decide cut Thomas or Gillislee, then the battle between Williams and Thigpen to make the roster will come down to versatility. If one of them to show that they can be a good scat-back, return both kicks and punts, and be a valuable special team’s guy, then they could make the roster. Keep in mind though, that, this would be unlikely, and that Damien Williams in all likelihood make the practice squad.
Training Camp Battle #2: Starting spot for the two offensive guard spots.
There are four guys vying for the two starting guard spots, Billy Turner, Shelley Smith, Dallas Thomas, and Nate Garner. The most likely starter at the right guard spot is Shelley Smith. The Dolphins signed him in the off-season to a two year contract to start. He is familiar with offensive line coach John Benton from their time together in Houston. He has experience in the zone blocking scheme and has the best chance of locking up one of the starting spots very early in camp. Then that leaves three guys left competing for one spot, most likely the left guard spot. With Nate Garner being more valuable as a versatile backup, with him being able to play all five positions on the line, then that leaves Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas, who are two third round picks from the last two drafts, competing for the left guard spot. This is really a toss up between the two considering there isn’t much known of two young guards. They are both about the same size and athleticism. Where Thomas might be slightly more athletic, Turner has a nasty demeanor that Thomas doesn’t. Also supposedly, Turner is a better run blocker where Thomas is a better pass blocker. Depending on what the coaching staff wants, as of now, either seems to be a solid choice, but nothing great as of now.
Training Camp Battle #3: Line Backers
In what was supposed to be a strength of the team last year with the signings of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, it turned out that line backers were a weakness of the team. Now this season, the coaching staff is making some changes. Switching Ellerbe and Koa Misi, making Misi the inside line backer and Ellerbe the strong side line backer. Reports from last year was that Ellerbe struggled with diagnosing offenses and filling holes in the run game. With real no competition for Misi and Ellerbe, their spots should be pretty safe, unless rookie Jordan Tripp really surprises. The main competition is between Wheeler and Jelani Jenkins. Wheeler had a very disappointing year last year, being picked on in the pass game and a liability in the run game. Even though he had one-hundred plus tackles last year, the majority came well beyond the line of scrimmage, with him chasing the play. This is where the competition with Jenkins comes in. Jenkins excelled in pass coverage last year when he got the opportunity and he was pretty good at blitzing the quarterback as well. While he was not good in run stuffing, the Dolphins need a pass covering line backer and that is a strength in Jenkins game. Wheeler, though, offers experience, which is valuable to Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Will the experience and tackling prevail for Wheeler, or will the youth and pass coverage come out on top for Jenkins?
These three position battles will be very intriguing this training camp and will also be very fun to watch in practices and pre-season game, especially considering there is a lot of youth in these competitions. Players like Lamar Miller, Mike Gillislee, Damien Williams, Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas, and Jelani Jenkins, all aged twenty-four years or younger, are all looking to contribute this year, whether it be in a starting role or as a valuable backup, or even as a special teamer. While the Dolphins wouldn’t mind all the youth to wins the starting jobs, the fact is that experience will win out in some of the battles, and then the question becomes who will win out. With all that said, there some other positions to keep an eye on. The first is the backup cornerback roles after Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan. With Jamar Taylor and Will Davis fighting for for the nickle and dime roles, it should be interesting to watch. Another battle to watch is third and fourth wide receiver spots. Rookie Jarvis Landry, Brand Gibson, who is coming off an injury, and Armon Binns will all be fighting for these two positions. Overall, this should be a fun training camp to watch, as there is a a lot of competition to watch for with a lot of youth involved as well.