It is for real now.
[Update: The Dolphins have cut offensive guard J.D. Quinn and TE Jared Bronson to get down to the 80 man limit before practice.]
No more offseason OTA. No more minicamp, or precamp, or pre-minicamp camp. The Dolphins hit the field at 2 p.m. today and that will kick off the roster competition for the 2009 season.
As I write in this column in Sunday's Miami Herald, the Dolphins are a mystery now. We can hope their offseason moves at center, wide receiver and cornerback will translate to a better team this year. But does anyone really know for sure?
By the same token, you might be worried having the NFL's toughest schedule and playing in the NFL's toughest division is a recipe for a step-back season, but is there anyone that knows for certain?
That's the beauty of today ... everything and anything is still possible for your favorite football team.
With that in mind I'm going to share some thoughts about this team and we'll see in the coming days and months how those thoughts hold up through the rigors of an NFL season.
First, I know you guys don't want to hear it, but the truth is while the Dolphins addressed important issues this offseason, holes continue to exist. The interior offensive line which was a worry throughout all of last season, will again have a microscope trained on it.
Health is a concern for the interior line. C Jake Grove, who plays with better leverage than Samson Satele and had some of his better games against the AFC East last year, will be an upgrade only as long as he stays healthy. And staying healthy has been a challenge for him the past two seasons.
LG Justin Smiley is completely healthy after ankle surgery that cut his season short in 2008. It was the second consecutive year he finished on injured reserve. On the bright side, I'm told Smiley's shoulder which was still a problem last year is not an issue now. Can he finally stay healthy?
The RG spot was a concern all of last season and remains an uncertainty now. Yes, Donald Thomas is supposed to be ready to go by the time the season begins. Yes, I've read the reports where he's said he's ready to go for the start of training camp. But I have one source that tells me Thomas will not be completely cleared at the start of camp so we'll see what happens.
Finding a right guard the team can trust game in and out is not so important for a team trying to merely get through the season. Finding a consistent player there to plug in with the rest of the $154 million line is imperative for a team hoping to get in and advance in the playoffs.
QB Chad Pennington has worked long and hard to make sure he doesn't fall back to the troubling career trend of following one good year with a bad one. But all his offseason work has been focused on keeping him healthy. The truth is no amount of work Pennington has done has increased his velocity on his passes. He still will not be able to make 17-yard deep sideline passes from the far hashmark without the ball sailing a bit. Sorry, you'll just have to deal with it.
WR Ted Ginn Jr. has spent much of the offseason learning to get open early rather than having to run past defenders to get open. This is important because Pennington often did not throw Ginn the ball deep last year based on the fact the receiver didn't get open early enough. The frustrating thing for Ginn was that he would eventually get open downfield, but by that time, the ball was out to someone else.
I'll be watching during camp to see how often Pennington looks for Ginn. Chances are if Ginn's not catching many passes in practices, he won't be catching many in games. That will give a hint whether Ginn will indeed get his opportunity to have the breakout season everyone hopes for.
The Dolphins are planning to use the spread option in 2009 which should be exciting for anyone that likes wide open football. But don't look for a pass on every down nor a shotgun snap on every play. The Wildcat is morphing into the spread option and that means passes out of the formation and other wrinkles. I would be floored if we see any of this in the preseason.
A true story: Bill Parcells once talked to Tom Landry about how to judge players. Landry explained to Parcells that a player gets the benefit of the doubt on production in his first year. Landry said he wanted to see something from the player in the second year. And if Landry hadn'tt seen anything from the player by the third year, the dude was gone.
The Dolphins have a handful of players that have to show Parcells and coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland something this training camp to stick around.
Jason Allen is in his fourth NFL season and has failed to live up to his 2006 first-round status that raised hopes he could be a starter. Allen told me this offseason his goal was to win a starting job. I don't think that will happen, considering he was running third-team the entire offseason. As I've written before, Allen sometimes reverts to techniques he used in college or for other coaches instead of playing like these coaches want him to.
He's got to change that if he wants to earn a spot. I do think, however, he'll be able to keep a roster spot based on his ability to play special teams. But his margin for error is small.
NT Paul Soliai was overweight when training camp began in 2008. He was overweight this offseason. If he is overweight Sunday, he's in trouble. The Dolphins believe he is a hard worker -- which Cam Cameron did not, by the way -- but they want to see some maturity from Soliai. They want to see some self-motivation. They don't want to have Jason Ferguson needing to babysit him so much.
I like Ernest Wilford. He is a good man, who never once complained about not getting much playing time in 2008 despite being a veteran with more experience than any other Miami WR. But being a good man doesn't win anyone a roster spot. As Nick Saban once told me, the Dolphins are not fielding Father Flanagan's Boys' Choir.
I know you have heard Wilford struggled catching the football in practice last season. You probably have not heard the team was frustrated he had absolutely zero explosion off the line of scrimmage which also was a big problem. It seemed as if he was running in quicksand sometimes.
Well, he's getting a chance as an H-back this training camp. But in the practices I saw this offseason, he was still operating in sloooow moe. If he doesn't pick up the pace, he's toast.
I'm expecting big things out of certain players this year. Phillip Merling was flat ballin' toward the end of the 2008 season. It was so obvious, the Dolphins felt comfortable releasing Vonnie Holliday because they knew the veteran wasn't going to be on the field more than 15 percent of the plays if he stayed.
Merling is stronger and more experienced now and I expect those to translate on the field.
Matt Roth seemed to be in trouble when the Dolphins signed Jason Taylor. Some fans and even some writers still think Taylor will be starting ahead of Roth. That is not the plan at this point. Roth is better on the edge against the run in early downs. Taylor is better chasing quarterbacks on passing downs.
Moreover, Roth is set for a big season. He's in a contract year. He is healthy after having played most of 2008 with a groin injury. And he is playing a position he played all of last year for the very first time. I like his chances to shine.
I will be at Dolphins camp serving as your eyes and ears Sunday -- assuming you're not there, too. If you want real-time updates of what is happening you must follow me on twitter and set the account up so you can get instant updates to your mobile device.
I would also appreciate if you continue to make this a destination blog at The Herald as I work to give you the latest and most comprehensive Dolphins information possible. Check back often Sunday for the lowdown on practice, comments from players and coaches, analysis, and opinion.