So where are they now?
No, I'm not wondering where former Miami Dolphins players long ago off the roster have gone. I'm not wondering what old friends are doing, either. I'm wondering where are the Dolphins now that most (maybe 85-90 percent) of their talent acquisition this offseason is over.
Specifically, I'm wondering where they find themselves on their positions that everyone has been worried since the end of 2014.
The Dolphins, it must be said first, this offseason have improved in several categories.
Their interior defensive line is better, according to them, because they added Ndamukong Suh and drafted Jordan Phillips in the second round to replace the free agency loss-cutting of Jared Odrick and Randy Starks.
I told you recently that Miami's receiver corps was worse than last year's after a great amount of reconstruction until the team got DeVante Parker in the draft's first round. There was pushback on that comment from the fanboys. But the truth is without Parker, the receiver corps would consist of a player New Orleans traded for chemistry reasons (Kenny Stills), a player Green Bay let walk and Minnesota cut (Greg Jennings), a player who wants out (Rishard Matthews) and a good second-year slot receiver (Jarvis Landry).
That would not have been good enough to replace a receiver who caught 10 TDs last year and was a deep threat everywhere but Miami for reasons not wholly his doing (Mike Wallace), a former two-time 1,000-yard receiver who admittedly didn't fit Bill Lazor's offense (Brian Hartline) and a solid slot guy who happens to be one of the bigger targets out of the slot in the NFL (Brandon Gibson).
The addition of Parker -- a deep threat, a red zone threat, an outside the numbers threat, a BIG target with a great catch radius -- changes the dynamic of the receiver corps.
(End of explanation).
Anyway, the running back corps is better because, well, Daniel Thomas is gone and that is addition by subtraction, and the addition of rookie Jay Ajayi, who is 6-foot and 221 pounds, adds bulk and a reputation for no-nonsense tough running to the mix. Damien Williams might also be better in his second year than as a rookie, as many guys are.
The tight end position is not better. But it is, well, different. Losing Charles Clay hurts. A team doesn't just wave good-bye to a 50-70 catch guy that is a mismatch for linebackers and safeties and simply just shrug. There is a reason the Dolphins wanted to keep Clay, we must be fair in this assessment.
But the addition of Jordan Cameron is exciting. Cameron, unlike Clay, is a very good red zone target at 6-5 and 250. He is more a seam target than Clay was as well. And he's as fast, if not faster, than Clay. So while Clay was probably more trouble for defenders on crossing routes and outside the numbers, Cameron will add a valuable dimension if he's healthy. That might be a better fit for the skills QB Ryan Tannehill brings to the game.
The slot cornerback and safety spots may be better because I like Brice McCain in the slot better than anyone who played the position last year and that includes Jimmy Wilson, Cortland Finnegan, Jamar Taylor or Will Davis. McCain is smallish at 5-9 but he's tough, he's not been a missed-tackle machine like some of those other guys, and he has experience and has been durable.
The return of Louis Delmas at strong safety -- he is on schedule for training camp -- will make the Dolphins better here than how they finished the season.
Now the, ahem, issues.
The offensive line is not better.
The linebacker corps is not better.
And the outside cornerback spot is a concern.
The OL: Well, this would be a totally different conversation if the Dolphins had been able to add a legit starting left guard. They didn't. They tried and came close to landing La'el Collins once they became convinced he wasn't involved in a Baton Rouge homicide. But the Cowboys got him instead so right now their starting guards are LG Dallas Thomas and RG Billy Turner.
Again, Turner has earned the right to compete for a job. He basically redshirted in 2014 so we'll see what he looks like in training camp. But is he going to be upgrade from Mike Pouncey last year? Hard to count on that.
The Dolphins say they like Thomas as their left guard. I do not believe them. They've tried -- albeit not hard enough -- to upgrade there but have failed to do so. Maybe a veteran bridge left guard drops out of the waiver wire or off the free agent list late in the offseason or during training camp like Samson Satele did at center last year. But unless that happens, Thomas will be taking first-team snaps the first training camp practice. That is not even an upgrade from Daryn Colledge.
The guard spots are not obvious upgrades at all from 2014.
Center is an upgrade with Pouncey going back to his traditional position. The tackle spots should be back to full strength and original plans if left tackle Branden Albert is ready to go for training camp (indications are he will be) and stays healthy and right tackle Ja'Wuan James goes back to RT with a more NFL-ready body that has improved this offseason.
So overall upgrade at offensive line? No. Not at this time.
Albert may or may not be the same guy, we do not know. The guard spots probably are not upgraded at all. The right tackle spot may be better based on growth or it may be what we got last year. The center spot will be upgraded.
Thomas continues to glow in neon as the weak link and I'm not talking weak link as in not a Pro Bowl player. I'm talking weak link as in Gerald McCoy beat you for two sacks and a tackle for loss on only five or six plays last preseason and you were out of the starting lineup the next day.
Brent Grimes is Brent Grimes, the Miami Herald has learned. He is not the concern at all now.
But as the NFL is a passing league and most teams need another starting outside cornerback, sometimes three, to play anywhere from 55-65 percent of their downs, the Dolphins have issues at the spot.
Finnegan, a reach in free agency last year, was the failure move I predicted it would be. He was out injured for 31 percent of the season. He got beat a good deal when healthy. His tackling was shoddy. He lost the Green Bay game for the Dolphins.
He was, however, a fine influence for youngsters Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. I will give him that. He took those guys under his wing (yes, cliché) and helped them learn to be pros.
We'll see the measure of that help this preseason and regular season because one of those guys is going to have to step up. Taylor will likely be a starter the first day of training camp. And he has the pedigree as a 2013 second round pick. He has flashed ability at times, particularly last season.
But his history is he still is very inexperienced. His history is he is often injured or unavailable. I've been told by multiple Dolphins sources the team is not fully comfortable with him as the starter but most NFL teams go to camp and even the regular season with question marks.
Taylor is one of those for Miami. Davis, who similarly has been hurt and struggled on the field when healthy since he was a third-round pick in 2013, is also a question mark.
So upgrade at cornerback? No.
How about linebacker?
Well, Jelani Jenkins was something of a find in 2014. Yes, it was by sheer happenstance as he was buried down the depth chart until all three starting linebackers in training camp came out of the season-opener injured. With Phillip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe and Koa Misi all either hurt or out for the year, Jenkins became a fixture out of necessity and played very, very well.
The Dolphins could use another lightning bolt of luck like that this year. Misi today remains the team's starting middle linebacker after the 2014 experiment of him at middle linebacker was something of failure. Let's face it, Misi missed most or all of six games. And in the games he played, he wasn't exactly John Offerdahl. He was ... acceptable.
I believe the Dolphins would feel more comfortable if they had a legitimate middle linebacker who is able to avoid the traffic (and possible injuries) that come at middle linebackers and move Misi back to his more natural position on the outside.
Is Kelvin Sheppard that guy?
The fact is the Dolphins more likely added competition at the other outside backer spot by signing Spencer Paysinger -- mostly a backup in his career -- than they did at middle linebacker. They also have youngsters Jordan Tripp and Chris McCain on the outside.
The Dolphins have multiple college high-tackle guys -- Mike Hull, Zac Vigil, Neville Hewitt, Jake Knott, Jeff Luc -- on the roster. But to expect one of these to become Zach Thomas or Bryan Cox or even Jelani Jenkins is at this point wishful thinking.
So LB upgrade? No.