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3 posts from July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014

Last year's draftees may step up this year

Now that you know the face of the Dolphins 2013 draft class, Dion Jordan, put himself and the team in a tough spot for training camp based on his coming four-game suspension, it should be said that the rest of the '13 class is entering camp on a hopeful note.

That's right, the class that disappointed last year is suddenly promising after several of the players have had good offseasons.

“Overall, I thought the draft class from ’13 was better [this offseason]," coach Joe Philbin said. "We’re looking for those guys to step up and contribute.”

Third round pick Dallas Thomas will be competing for a starting guard job and, indeed, is a favorite to win that job based on his offseason.

Second round pick Jamar Taylor, who missed most of last season with various issues, began to perform with some consistency in OTAs. He might be positioning himself to compete with veteran Cortland Finnegan for a starting job and if he loses that competition figures in the chase for playing time in the sub packages.

“Clearly, he’s practiced consistently this offseason,” Philbin said. “He was out there and made some plays and looked like the guy we saw on tape before we drafted him.”

Cornerback Will Davis is healthy again and that makes the Dolphins hopeful he can pick up where he left off last training camp before he suffered something of setback. “Last year he showed good things in camp but then in the Tampa game he hurt his foot or something and never really got back,” Philbin said. “He contributed in New England game and here and there, but he never regained his form.”

The Dolphins are even seeing hopeful signs from running back Mike Gillislee, a fifth-round pick, who contributed on special teams but may be fighting for actual carries this year.

 “He didn’t get a ton of runs last year,” Philbin said, "but we like the way he's been moving around."

Irteresting, isn't it? The 2014 Dolphins may be getting an infusion of talent ... from their once absent 2013 draft class.

Follow me on twitter for live updates from camp and a real time conversation and exchange of ideas.

Jordan suspension presents training camp issue

Dion Jordan came to the Dolphins with high promise and expecations as the third overall draft pick in 2013. Then stuff began to happen.

He wasn't able to practice very much last training camp as he rehabilitated from shoulder surgery. When he did begin to practice and play, he soon suffered a setback to the surgically repaired shoulder. And so his rookie season was basically lost amid the team's need to play people who were stronger, more prepared, more experienced.

Well, this year Jordan is ready for training camp. No issues. He's healthy. All good ...

... Except that he's already been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances.

So one year he's handicapped in the preseason and this year he's handicapped in the regular season. Not good.

"Let’s face it, four weeks off from football is not going to be a benefit," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin tells me. "So we have to have him do some work.”

Philbin means Jordan will have to get work -- a lot of it -- in training camp. And that will have to carry him over for four weeks once the regular-season begins.

The problem is the coaching staff is going to have to figure out how to work Jordan as much as possible without hurting players who will, you know, actually be on the field for the start of the regular season.

“This is a brand new world because we haven’t had a player suspended in our previous two training camps," Philbin said. "As a young player, my feeling is he needs to get work – especially in the bigger picture that he’s not going to be getting work later on. He needs work now.

"But we can’t jeapordize the preparation of other guys. At the same time, we’re going to have to get him work. He’s going to get it without a doubt. And he needs it. And he needs padded work. You think back to last year’s training camp, he had very minimal repetitions in things he needed. You think back to last year, we had eight or nine of those days when we had those one-on-one periods where there was some form of a half line where there are two guys going old fashioned high school stuff.

"We have to be ready to go Sept. 8th but at the same time we can’t stunt his growth."

And while the Miami coaching staff tries to walk the fine line, this much is certain:

Dion Jordan has effectively killed his chances of being a starter when he returns to action after four games. No matter how much work he gets, no matter how well he plays in training camp practices and the preseason, the Dolphins cannot promote him ahead of, well, anybody because they know Jordan won't be around when the regular-season begins.

Jordan may get a lot of playing time in the preseason finale while other veterans and starters are held out in preparation for the regular season. But that is hardly expected to matter five weeks later when he returns. 

And no matter how well Jordan performs in the preseason, he won't be a starter when he returns to the team because obviously he'll have been a month without participating in any actual football regimen.

Not the best way to start a career for a No. 3 overal pick who is expected to make an instant impact. 

Dolphins linebacker experiment is over ... success!

The grand linebacker experiment the Dolphins took to the offseason lab is over and, as the team gets ready to open training camp practices Friday at their Davie training facility, it is possible to say the experiment worked.

Eureka!

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin tells me Koa Misi is the middle linebacker and will be in that spot when practice starts Friday -- much as he was during the offseason. Dannell Ellerbe is moving outside after spending last year in the middle. And Phillip Wheeler will man the other OLB job.

So as far as the Dolphins are concerned that's how they're going to camp and only a disaster will make them change course.

"I would say unless something really, let's just say Koa can't get us lined up or can't make a left call or right call, then we'll look at it more. It looks like it's going to be OK," Philbin said. "If the roof caves in we can always go back and those guys can be the same. The defense hasn't changed that much. But I think we're looking forward for it to work.

"I think the position change has been good. I like the position change."

Unlike most snarks and cynics (me sometimes) Philbin doesn't view the move in terms of Ellerbe failing as the MLB.  He looks at it from a positive standpoint and that is that Misi earned more trust from the coaches and more downs on the field.

"I think Misi was good. When you talk grades and we grade every game, he was one of the guys that graded out highest on our defense," Philbin said. "So from my chair and, I'm throwing out 500 snaps but maybe it was 480 or 520 for him, but here's a guy that graded out highest of anybody on our defense so why wouldn't we try to get him on the field a little bit more?

"When watched the film he flies around. He tries to play football the right way. I think he's a good example of how you want to play defense. I just think so far that has gone well."

Wheeler, who at times struggled in coverage, is showing hopeful signs of getting better, Philbin said.

I think Phillip Wheeler looks more comfortable right now," the coach said. "He played in the OTAs with better body control than he did last year. He had good production last year, it's just at times we felt he was a little out of control and it hurt him at times. He was better."

The idea of the Dolphins shuffling their linebackers obviously came about after the team struggled (at times) to stop the run. The team yielded an average of 124.9 rushing yards per game, which ranked them 24th in the NFL.

Yes, some of those problems were up front. But too often when Ellerbe or Wheeler got to the football, it was five, six or seven yards down the field. That's one reason teams averaged 4.1 yards per carry against Miami -- ranking the Dolphins 18th in the NFL in rush average allowed.

So maybe this works. Maybe it doesn't.

But for now this is the way the Dolphins are going to address the issue.