The Miami Dolphins have reached the end of their three-day minicamp and so the players and coaches are off for the next five weeks or so.
What does that mean?
Coach Adam Gase's message to the players before they go is "be smart."
That means stay in the playbook. Don't allow yourself to get sloppy physically. And this:
Gase wants these players to remember who they are -- they're professional football players. He wants them to remember who they represent -- they represent the Miami Dolphins. So stay out of jail. Stay out of trouble. Stay out of the glare of negative attention.
As the Dolphins leave for their break before training camp, it becomes clear that this coaching staff is hoping to have a team where competition is cornerstone of what will happen in training camp. I know, every coach says that.
And then you watch what is actually happening in camp and it isn't necessarily about competition but rather preparing pre-determined players for pre-determined roles at the start of the season.
Don't get me wrong, some players need that approach. Let's be honest, the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins is going to be Ryan Tannehill no matter how poorly he plays in the preseason or how good the other QBs play. Let's face it, Ndamukong Suh could jump offsides 10 consecutive times in preseason games and he will still be the starting in the regular-season opener.
But there are other spots on this team that beg competition.
Cornerback: The team drafted Xavien Howard in the second round to be a starter. He's not there right now. Tony Lippett, in only his second year, has been the starter all of this offseason despite behind largely unproven. Those two will battle for a starting job opposite Byron Maxwell.
Nickel cornerback: Second-year player Bobby McCain has been largely unchallenged for the spot this offseason. The only real challenge I can imagine being mounted is Ifo Ekpre-Olomu uses the next five weeks to regain the kind of explosion and playmaking ability he displayed during his college days at Oregon -- before a serious knee injury that cost him his entire rookie season.
Ekpre-Olomu is back on the field now. He went through the entire minicamp. But he's not that guy yet.
"Being back on the field and doing what you love, you have to take it one day at a time and cherish every moment you're out there," Ekpre-Olomu said.
"I was cleared a couple of weeks ago and maybe a month ago now to actually do football and do drills and actually do seven-on-seven and teams. So I'm back to that and getting comfortable to doing football movements and going five days a week, six days a week."
Defensive tackle: Well, defensive tackle not named Suh. The fact is Earl Mitchell continues to be the starter at that spot if the reps during minicamp are to be believed. But the Dolphins expect (hope) second-year player Jordan Phillips makes a leap from his 2015 rookie season. If that happens, this could get interesting. Obviously, Mitchell has the experience and smarts and discipline advantage. Phillips has greater athletic ability -- he can reportedly dunk, folks. Neither was particularly stellar last season.
Backup QB: Like I said earlier, if Matt Moore or Logan Thomas are starting for this team in the regular-season opener, something went horribly, horribly, tragically wrong. No disrespect to them, but Ryan Tannehill is going to be the starter barring the Rapture happening prior to the regular season.
The real question at QB is who backs up. Moore seems to be that guy right now. He took the second-team snaps this camp. Gase made the point he has a winning record as a starter, which is rare among NFL backups. Thomas is behind him. The team paid $150,000 in a bonus to keep him from getting poached as a practice squad player in 2015 so the Dolphins like Thomas. But he's going to have to outplay Moore by a goodly margin to pass him on the depth chart. The other QBs in camp -- Zac Dysert and Brandon Doughty -- right now have the feel of practice squad possibilities.
[Update: Thomas has been cut. It happened following practice today. And so the backup quarterback job seems to be in Matt Moore's hands. Maybe Brandon Doughty can mount a challenge. He would have to improve a significant amount.]
Backup running back: Jay Ajayi is apparently the starter. Gase likes him, he's done nothing to suggest he shouldn't be counted on, and the Dolphins don't really have anybody else that screams, "Pick me!"
But behind Ajayi is murky.Kenyan Drake, who just signed his rookie contract, should be ready for the start of training camp, Gase said, despite suffering a right leg injury on Wednesday. Drake missed practice Thursday.
Drake would be the obvious candidate to be the backup and presumed third-down back. But the Herald's Barry Jackson detailed Drake's extensive injury history on his Buzz Blog. The point is counting on the rookie to stay healthy is a faith exercise. So what else does Miami have?
Isiah Pead stepped up and looked solid during minicamp. Daniel Thomas is back on the team and has experience. Damien Williams remains on the roster from the past couple of years.
Frankly, this might be an area the Dolphins would be wise to continue looking around. Although that is an uncertain proposition, maybe Arian Foster is willing to sign for a bargain salary -- given he is also coming off a ruptured Achilles and has an extensive injury history. Maybe the team keeps eyes open during training camp. I guess I'm simply not sold on what is happening with the group, although the Dolphins seem to be comfortable with their prospects.