One sure mark of a good team is its record. Another sign of a good team before the wins and losses start getting hung in the standings is the level of competition for jobs.
The Dolphins coaching staff will have some tough decisions picking starters and filling roster spots when training camp begins. And that's a really good thing.
Three positions in particular stand out as offering coach Tony Sparano some difficult choices based on an abundance of good players vying for spots: Cornerback. Outside linebacker. Wide Receiver.
At the cornerback spot the Dolphins must find a starter opposite Will Allen. The candidates are Eric Green, whom you read about in a previous post, and rookies Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. One of these three guys should be the starter.
But none of these three guys has distinguished himself enough in the offseason to be called the favorite for the job. It is wide open.
“None of them have really stood out to me as consistent or inconsistent at this time," Sparano said during the team's minicamp. "Watching the three of them, they have all had opportunities to make plays. They have not made all the plays that were presented. They made some of them. They have gotten beat in some situations. I guess that is probably a good problem. A little give and take that way. Nobody has really jumped out to me as of yet.”
Frankly, that's bad news for Green. He is the veteran and the most experienced of the group. But if he is running about even with rookies in the race for the starting job at this point, it tells me he's going to fall behind once the rookies start getting comfortable with the speed of the game and the new techniques they're learning.
A tie also should probably go to the younger player because he's got more upside potential, in my opinion. Also interesting in the competition is that Davis has not been appreciably better than Smith even though he was taken one round ahead of his rookie teammate. In fact, in many practices, Smith has flashed more than Davis.
The wide receiver position will offer a certain amount of drama because the Dolphins have a lot of bodies competing for five job, perhaps six if one of those players is a extraordinary special teams contributor.
It is clear Ted Ginn Jr. is on the team. The OTAs and minicamp also proved Greg Camarillo continues to be the most technically sound receiver on the roster. So those two are safe. Davone Bess is likely on the roster, also.
And it seems unlikely the Dolphins will simply give up on draft picks Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline after one training camp looksee. I predict the youngsters will get the benefit of the doubt unless they totally collapse by dropping passes or becoming problem children. And neither has given even a hint of that being a possibility.
So those two guys probably have spots on the roster. That's five guys, people.
And we haven't even discussed Anthony Armstrong and Brandon London and Ernest Wilford. My take? Wilford isn't making this team. I know it would cost a bundle to cut him. I know he's not easy to trade. But unless he steps up his game a couple of notches, he's simply not one of the best five guys.
His hands still aren't reliable. He doesn't have explosion off the line of scrimmage.
Armstrong offers intriguing speed. He has made plays in the offseason. He's got to show it in pads and in games. London is a better special teams player than anything else. He's working to get open quicker and get his head around quicker, but it's a process and time for him is short.
“One of the challenges for any of the receivers, Brandon included, is that it is a position right now where some hard decisions are going to have to be made," Sparano said. "I think that reps and opportunities are really the biggest challenge, meaning the opportunities that you have, you have to make plays, you need to really make these plays. Not every ball goes to you every time you are out there. That’s just the way it works. Especially at that position. The number of opportunities that he gets when his number is called…He needs to make those plays."
The Dolphins expect more plays out of the outside linebacker spot this year because Matt Roth isn't hurt and has one year's experience at the postion. Jason Taylor has also been added to the mix, as has Cameron Wake to improve the pass-rush.
The club will carry either five or six OLBs. Roth is on the team as is Joey Porter. Taylor seems to be on the team, assuming he shows some of the old skills in preseason. Wake is going to have to play special teams but he seems like a project that makes the team. Charlie Anderson was on the team last year and is a special teams staple.
That's five right there. It'll be a great uphill battle for all those guys. It'll be a Mount Everest climb for everyone else.
"Bottom line is if that position doesn’t get to the quarterback or doesn’t set the edge of the defense to stop the run, then they aren’t doing their job," Sparano said. "If the ball is getting outside on us, it is usually a result of not setting the edge on defense and if you are not getting pressure on the passer with those people as your pass rushers, you got a little bit of a problem. When you put pads on, you will have a pretty good idea, but as of right now, I like the possibilities. There are a lot of combinations out there in several of our packages that can be used to help us get better rushers on the field.”
Competition -- it's a wonderful thing.
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