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July 26, 2014

Dolphins Day 2: Intriguing receiver battle and 20 more notes, quotes, tidbits and thoughts

### If there’s one position on the Dolphins with more NFL-caliber talent than roster space available, it’s at wide receiver.

The Dolphins have seven receivers who have started multiple NFL games, as well as a highly-regarded rookie second-round pick in Jarvis Landry, promising rookie sixth-rounder Matt Hazel and converted running back Marcus Thigpen, their primary returner the past two years.

Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson will be the team’s top three receivers, and Landry obviously will make the team and projects as the fourth receiver.

That would leave Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns, Damian Williams and Thigpen as the primary challengers for the fifth receiver job. Teams often keep five receivers, but the Dolphins could keep six if Thigpen is one of them.

“I like the group - it’s the deepest it’s been since I’ve been here,” Joe Philbin said. “Things have a tendency to sort themselves out once these practices and preseason games take place. There will be some special teams things that will maybe impact a couple of those decisions.”

Binns, who sustained a torn ACL and MCL early in last year’s training camp, has looked good throughout the offseason program and during the first two days of camp.

“I feel great,” said Binns, who has 24 career receptions and previously made five NFL starts for Cincinnati.

Having this kind of depth at receiver “makes everyone better, will do nothing but help us,” Binns said. “I’ve been cut. I’ve made teams. If you can play, somebody will find you and you will be on a roster.”

Williams, who made 17 starts in four seasons for Tennessee but just one last year, produced two impressive plays during Saturday’s practice: a diving 40-yard catch on a throw from Ryan Tannehill and another when he caught a short pass and juked Jamar Taylor for a sizable gain. He has 106 career receptions but just 15 (for 178 yards) last season.

Matthews caught 41 passes for 448 yards and two touchdowns last season and made five starts but is at serious risk of not making the team. On Saturday, he caught a pass but was stripped by Taylor, and Jason Trusnik grabbed the ball in the air. Matthews threw his arm in frustration.

The team has privately questioned his focus in the past --- Matthews admitted to being late to a couple of meetings earlier in his career --- but Philbin praised his work in the offseason program and Matthews said he and Philbin are on the same page after meeting this offseason.

### Thigpen, who caught nine passes for 112 yards during his first two seasons, has looked smooth as a receiver early in camp.

Thigpen, Williams, Landry, undrafted rookie Rantavious Wooten and cornerback Brent Grimes have fielded punts early in camp. If the Dolphins believe Landry can be a productive returner, Thigpen would be in serious jeopardy.

The Dolphins always have the option of moving Thigpen back to running back, of course.

### The Dolphins are intrigued by 6-5 receiver Stephen Williams, who started three games for Arizona in 2010, but he’s a major long shot, as are Wooten and Hazel (each possibilities for the practice squad), Ryan Spadola, Kevin Cone and Gerald Ford.

### What about trading a receiver for help elsewhere? That doesn’t seem realistic, because the Dolphins presumably aren’t trading their top four receivers, and neither Binns nor Matthews would net anything of value in return.

### Gibson, who suffered a torn patella tendon against New England last October, has looked good early in camp, catching several passes. “Last year’s offense, I did a lot of intermediate type stuff,” he said. “I hope I get to get downfield a little bit as well. I know I can help the team [downfield].”

### Though none of this should be overstated, Ryan Tannehill is now 1 for 4 on deep throws to Mike Wallace through two days of camp. Both attempts were incomplete Saturday, including one in which Tannehill held the ball too long, thus squandering a chance to hit an open Wallace. By the time he threw it, safety Reshad Jones had good position and made an interception. By the way, Philbin wants to expand Wallace's "route tree."

### Taylor, limited last season by the effects of offseason sports hernia surgery, said there’s a dramatic difference in how he feels and he believes that will translate to how he plays. Though he was beaten on the deep throw to Williams, his strip of Matthews was outstanding.

“I can move [now],” he said. “I was running real slow [last year]. I run way faster.

“My breaks are better. Even if a receiver is catching it, usually I’m right there. It’s a blessing to be out here and be able to move. As a DB, you need your legs. You need to be able to turn and twist and run. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be on the field.”

Taylor was on the field for just 45 defensive plays last season, and all four passes thrown against him were caught, for 100 yards.

### The Idaho Statesman quoted Taylor in April as saying: “It was to the point last year I thought I was done playing football. I don’t want to play anymore.”

But on Saturday, he said: “I didn’t question if I wanted to play football. Let’s get that straight. The thought was can I still do this? I’m anxious.”

### As for fellow second-year cornerback Will Davis, he has been beaten a couple times but also has had some good moments, including a deflection of a Tannehill pass on Saturday.

Said Philbin: “I like what Jamar and [Will Davis] are doing. They’re improved.”

### Liked the play-calling Saturday, including several read-option plays. And here’s progress: Only one botched quarterback/center exchange, after three on Friday! And new center Shelley Smith wasn’t involved in that mishap. Saturday’s regrettable exchange was between Sam Brenner and Pat Devlin.

### With the team not practicing in pads until Sunday, there are certain things (especially in the running game) that are difficult to gauge.

But it was encouraging to see Dion Jordan make a terrific play against the run Saturday, rushing to the ball and stopping Daniel Thomas for no gain.

The Dolphins have given Jordan substantial work early in camp, even though he will be suspended for the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Philbin said. “Dion needs work at defensive end, He needs work on fundamentals. We have to be cognizant that we’re getting ready to play a game. It’s a balancing act. We are going to have to find the right mix.”     

### It’s not a surprise that Cameron Wake has beaten rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James several times early in camp.

But Philbin said of James: “I like what I’ve seen first two days. Very smart. Very aware. I like his poise. He’s very coachable. He learns. He listens well.”

### Branden Albert, meanwhile, was beaten by Olivier Vernon for a sack for the second day in a row, with Vernon easily manuevering around him.

### If I’m the Dolphins, I would be very afraid that defensive coordinators will try to exploit the inexperienced right side of the offensive line (Dallas Thomas and James) with blitz packages.

### Injury stuff: Defensive tackle Isaako Aaitui (cyst near his ear) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (undisclosed reason) left practice early. Defensive end Derrick Shelby, recovering from knee surgery, was again held out.

### Jarvis Landry, besides having excellent hands and excelling with YAC, also has a knack for finding soft spots in a zone, as he did Saturday on a pass from Matt Moore.

### Lamar Miller had a fumble but also made a very good adjustment on a 15-yard pass from Moore. Even with Knowshon Moreno returns, a case could be made for Miller to remain the starter; Moreno is the better third-down option because he’s better in pass protection.

### As for Daniel Thomas, he got some work with the first team and has looked good at times --- dating back to OTAs --- but also dropped an easy catch Saturday.

### Moore’s interception Saturday wasn’t an awful throw; Jimmy Wilson tipped a pass to Charles Clay and Brent Grimes picked it off. But Moore’s accuracy has been less than ideal; several times, receivers had to bail him out by diving or contorting their bodies for catches.

### The more than 1000 fans in attendance Saturday might have noticed a drone overhead at practice. But it wasn't a spying device sent by Rex Ryan or Bill Belichick. Instead, it was the Dolphins taking pictures of fans for an artistic project. Saturday's crowd was much better than Friday's, by the way. Sunday's 8 a.m. practice is open only to a select group of season-ticket holders.

### And there’s this, from the Law & Order file of the blog:

The attorney representing Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and his brother, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, tells my colleague Adam Beasley that the lawsuit filed against them Thursday "is a complete sham" and that his clients plan to counter-sue "for malicious prosecution and defamation."

The original lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade court Thursday, claims that the brothers roughed up three club-goers at South Beach's Cameo the night of their birthday party earlier this month.

"The plaintiffs and their lawyers are perpetuating these lies in a bid for notoriety and financial gain," said Jeff Ostrow, the Pounceys' attorney.