SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The five positions/competitions we’re most eager to see play out when Dolphins training camp opens next Sunday:
### Front seven on defense: This is where Miami is deepest, and interesting decisions loom about playing time.
The Dolphins remain inclined to use Jared Odrick at defensive end in the base defense – like last season – with Cam Wake, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai alongside.
On obvious passing downs, Odrick likely will move to tackle, Soliai will exit, and Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan will enter, complementing the pass-rush of Wake, Odrick and Starks.
When he’s not playing end in passing situations, the Dolphins have discussed using the 244-pound Jordan as an outside linebacker at times (strong side preferably) in the base defense --- though it would be surprising if he plays much in the base initially. It wouldn’t seem to make sense yet to use Jordan ahead of Odrick or Koa Misi in situations where running plays are anticipated.
But no firm decisions will be made until they see Jordan in pads. Bottom line: If Jordan looks dominant in preseason, the Dolphins will need to consider playing him more than merely in passing situations. As for Vernon, the Dolphins love his versatility, upside as a pass rusher and ability to drop back in coverage.
The other question is which starting linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Misi) proves most worthy of staying on the field on third downs. Ellerbe would seem to make the most sense. Wheeler is considered above average in coverage, though his metrics last season did not support that notion.
Keep in mind that coach Joe Philbin likes linebacker Josh Kaddu’s potential as a pass rusher, and rookie linebacker Jelani Jenkins has the skill set to play on passing downs eventually. At defensive end, impressive undrafted Louisiana-Lafayette rookie end Emeka Onyenekwu could challenge Derrick Shelby (who had three sacks on the final day of mini-camp) and others for a roster spot.
Veteran tackle pickup Vaughn Martin – signed to replace Seattle-bound Tony McDaniel -- is a favorite to stick, but with Odrick’s ability to play tackle, Martin needs at least a decent preseason to remove any doubt. Tackle Kheeston Randall, who impressed the Dolphins last season, will try to hold off rookies Chris Burnette and A.J. Francis.
### Right guard: The Dolphins signed Lance Louis with the plan to make him a starter, considering he was Chicago’s best lineman in 2012 and considering the Dolphins weren’t entirely thrilled with John Jerry’s work. But Louis needs to be fully recovered from last November’s knee injury. He’s close, but not there yet as of last week.
### The No. 2 through No. 5 cornerback jobs: Richard Marshall enters as the favorite to start opposite No. 1 corner Brent Grimes, but he needs a solid preseason to fend off Dimitri Patterson and rookies Will Davis and Jamar Taylor. More likely, those three and Nolan Carroll will compete for the top two backup jobs.
Patterson, earning $4.6 million, could be deemed expendable if Marshall, Davis, Taylor and Carroll are very good in camp. But everything with this team is about winning now, and Miami will keep Patterson if they’re convinced he will help a lot. D’Andre Presley had some good moments in camp, but it’s hard to envision him, veteran returnee RJ Stanford or Julian Posey having much of a shot barring an injury to one of the top six.
### Backup tight end, behind Dustin Keller: Rookie Dion Sims closed the offseason program with momentum and has a good chance to win the job. Tight end/H-back Charles Clay will factor in, unless he continues his penchant for drops. Michael Egnew has improved, but his blocking remains questionable and he faded late in the offseason program. Players tell us not to overlook Kyle Miller.
### Kicker: Caleb Sturgis, younger and cheaper than Dan Carpenter, remains the favorite. In sessions open to reporters, the two were comparable in accuracy this offseason, with Sturgis showing more range as expected, including a 58-yard field goal. Carpenter has a far bigger cap hit if he sticks ($3 million to Sturgis' $442,000).
### Others: Tough to see anyone beating out Armon Binns and Rishard Matthews for the fourth and fifth receiver jobs, though Brian Tyms and Jeff Fuller could push Matthews. And the Dolphins will give a long look to former Big 10 standout Marvin McNutt, who spent last season with the Eagles and played at Iowa when Dolphins receivers coach Ken O’Keefe was offensive coordinator with the Hawkeyes…
Vonta Leach will become the starting fullback if he signs. There were no negotiations last week between Leach and the Dolphins, but that could change this coming week with Jeff Ireland returning from vacation. Leach wants a multiyear deal, which could be an issue. If Leach passes on Miami, Jorvorskie Lane will try to hold off Evan Rodriguez. Miami wants to upgrade over Lane….
Daniel Thomas so far clearly has held off Mike Gillislee for the No. 2 running back job, with Marcus Thigpen being incorporated more than last season. The Dolphins like Jonas Gray, the former Notre Dame back who missed all of last season with an injury, but he’s a long shot, as is Arizona State’s Cameron Marshall, who had his moments in the offseason program….
Aaron Corp showed nothing in the offseason program to suggest he can beat out Pat Devlin for the No. 3 quarterback job….
Jimmy Wilson is the heavy favorite for the No. 3 safety job, with Kelcie McCray, rookie Don Jones and long shot Jordan Kovacs competing for one spot….
Jenkins, Jason Trusnik, Austin Spitler and Kaddu are favorites for backup linebacker jobs, but former CFL-er Lee Robinson (impressive at times in OTAs), Alonzo Highsmith, veteran Jonathan Freeny and others will push them…. The Dolphins will continue looking at several options, including Hartline, to share punt return duties with Thigpen.
Two of the backup offensive line jobs should go to Dallas Thomas (who is being used at left tackle and left guard and could emerge as a starting guard in 2014 or beyond) and jack-of-all-trades Nate Garner, with Jerry trying to grab another roster spot if he loses the starting job to Louis. Josh Samuda and Will Yeatman will compete with Andrew McDonald and a bunch of others for one or two remaining backup o-line jobs. (There’s nothing quite as exciting as talking about backup o-line positions.)
ZIMMERMAN REACTION FROM LOCAL ATHLETES
We digress from the fun and games of sports for a minute for something far more serious -- the George Zimmerman not-guilty jury verdict Saturday night. Several South Florida athletes weighed in on Twitter. Dwyane Wade wrote: "Wow! Stunned!! Saddened as a father!! Som1 make sense of this verdict for me right now please!!!... How do I explain this to my boys."
Among reaction from Dolphins players: Mike Wallace - "Wowwwwwww. (Expletive) crazy.".... Clay: "Dats some bull [expletive]."... Shelby: "There might be riots."... Binns: "The justice system failed today. My prayers go out to Trayvon's family."
And from UM's Duke Johnson: "Heavy heart right now for the [Trayvon Martin] family, and I just want everyone to say a prayer for the Martin family." UM's Deon Bush tweeted: "Straight b.s.! Reverse the sides and Trayvon would of had a life sentence. Maybe death sentence." (Bush deleted most of that comment a few hours later.)
### While the NCAA case nears a conclusion, UM has yet another off-field issue to deal with. Jimmy Goins -- who purchased human growth hormone and other drugs from Anthony Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic, according to a Miami New Times report in January -- is suing UM for firing him as the baseball team’s strength and conditioning coach, asserting the university breached his contract by dismissing him “without following rules laid out in the UM employee handbook.”
UM filed a motion to dismiss the case on Friday, with UM attorney Eric Isicoff writing in the motion that Goins “does not point to a specific provision” in the UM handbook that UM “has allegedly breached.”
Goins, who was fired in March after more than nine years on the job, also is suing Biogenesis, New Times, The Miami Herald and The New York Times.
Goins’ attorney said in the suit that he went to Biogenesis with the belief the clinic “was properly licensed and that Bosch was a medical doctor – neither of which was true.”
Goins’ attorney said blood work determined Goins needed testosterone, and his Biogenesis treatment included HGH. He alleged the medical records published by New Times – and media reports in the other publications – led to his termination from UM.
### One tweak in UM’s offense from Jedd Fisch to James Coley: Expect, on occasion, more of a power running element, with guards pulling and extra tight ends. Al Golden is so appreciative of Coley using the terminology already in place with Fisch, so the players wouldn’t have to learn an entirely new system.... Please check the last post for more Hurricanes tidbits from Saturday.
### The Marlins have been lampooned nationally for offering, on their web site, an “exclusive discount” for Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez’s family and friends for this weekend’s Nationals series, even though he wasn’t scheduled to pitch. But the ridicule is unfair; Gonzalez’s family asked the Marlins to do that.
### The Marlins are thrilled with the progress of the three minor-leagues acquired in the Toronto trade: outfielder Jake Marisnick (.286, 10 homers, 41 RBI in Double A), and pitchers Justin Nicolino (5-1, 2.18 at Single A) and Anthony DiSclafani (6-3, 2.40 at Single A and Double A). “They came as advertised,” Marlins executive Larry Beinfest said, adding Marisnick might be promoted in September.
### With ESPN already speculating about the possibility of LeBron James joining the Lakers next summer, keep this in mind: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said that James “doesn’t really like L.A… L.A. isn’t really his flavor.” And a friend of James told us he couldn’t envision James signing with the Lakers.
Smith – who predicted the Big Three would come together in 2010 – kept saying last week there’s at least a 50 percent chance James will leave the Heat next summer. But James’ friend still makes the Heat a strong favorite, with Cleveland a possibility. James said he won’t give it any thought until after next season but said keeping this group together is the “goal.”
### Please check the last post for Heat summer league/free agency chatter, including details from their Las Vegas Summer League opener late Saturday night.
### Sightings: James’ party at The Venetian in Las Vegas last weekend included a chariot carrying a pair of gold-painted women through the crowd, confetti showers, a cake shaped as two championship rings, and James telling the crowd he should be referred to only as “King James.”