The Dolphins know they found quality starters with their first two 2014 draft picks, offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James and receiver Jarvis Landry.
What’s far less clear, as their rookie season closes, is what exactly the Dolphins have with their six other selections from that draft.
Guard Billy Turner (third round) and receiver Matt Hazel (sixth) haven’t played a snap all season; Hazel was promoted from the practice squad last Saturday. Tight end Arthur Lynch (fifth round) spent the season on injured reserve with a back ailment.
Defensive end Terrence Fede, a seventh-round pick, had one of the best moments of any Dolphins rookie this season with his blocked punt that essentially won the Minnesota game.
But on a deep defensive line, Fede has played just 82 defensive snaps. Cornerback/safety Walt Aikens, a fourth-rounder, has logged 64 and fifth-round linebacker Jordan Tripp just 12. All have had significant roles on special teams.
Whether any of these six drafts develops into a key contributor, beyond special teams, must play out. But there have been encouraging signs.
Though Turner has been inactive for all but one game this season, he has “been making a lot of progress,” Joe Philbin said. “He’s a smart guy. He studied extremely hard to get acclimated to the system, the schemes and the techniques here. He’s getting better and better. I’m pleased with his development.”
Turner played left tackle at North Dakota State, and even though the Dolphins envision him as a guard, he said he gets practice snaps at every offensive line position except center.
“Going from tackle to guard has been an adjustment,” he said. “But I can handle both. Physicality has never been the issue for me. You have to get used to the speed of the game. That was an adjustment early on.”
The Dolphins will enter the off-season without any clear-cut starters at guard next season, and Turner could become a factor with a strong spring and summer.
Offensive line coach John Benton said earlier this season that Turner is like “a bull in a china shop” but needs to refine his technique.
“Of course I want to play. I’ve been thinking about that all year,” Turner said. “But I have been getting a lot better at practice. Technique wise, I’m 10 times better.”
Of the three rookie defensive draft picks, coordinator Kevin Coyle is most effusive about Fede, who has a sack in limited playing time.
“Terrence is inexperienced but has a wealth of talent,” Coyle said. “Coming from a small school, this is his first exposure to some things, but he’s picked it up extremely well.
“He has a great future with us. We think he is going to grow into a very effective defensive end. I was thrilled to see him make that [blocked punt Sunday] because he’s an extremely hard-working kid. I feel fortunate that we have him.”
Aikens, who played safety to start his college career at Illinois but cornerback at Liberty, received snaps at both positions this season and believes that will benefit him long-term.
“I feel comfortable at both,” he said. “At cornerback, my [strengths] are my size (6-1) and physicality. At safety, it’s my speed.
“It’s kind of tough going from being the man in college, where you don’t come off the field, to not playing a lot. But I’m pleased with [the progress]. I’m still trying to prove myself to coaches.”
Coyle said Aikens “has a combination of traits that we like as a safety, as a corner, as a special teams guy. He needs to be more consistent in everything that he is doing. Hopefully that will come with maturity, but at this point he still needs to get his assignments down perfectly and be able to communicate in the back end, which is critical for a safety.”
Tripp, who played weak-side linebacker at Montana, said he has received practice snaps at all three linebacker positions and “there’s no doubt I can be a high performer at this level. I’ve gotten a lot better understanding the defense. Work ethic is what got me here.”
Because of his speed, the Dolphins believe he can be effective in pass coverage.
“We like his athleticism, we like his ability to run and to cover,” Coyle said. “We just haven’t been able to get him into the mix of things [defensively]. We like his skill set.”
Lynch said earlier this season that he would have been healthy enough to play in October but understands the Dolphins’ decision to place him on season-ending injured reserve.
He’ll likely compete for the No. 3 tight end job next summer, with Dion Sims now having a firm stranglehold on the backup job.
### Philbin, asked today to assess his offense: “I do think we’ve made progress, but we’ve had opportunities to make that we didn’t. I see development and I see a future with this offense. It looks better. We have to play better in the red zone on offense as well [but] I think we have as many red zone possessions as anyone in football. The guys have played better. There is still a lot of room to go, though.”
The Dolphins enter Week 17 ranked 16th in total yards, 14th in rushing yards, 15th in passing yards and 12th in points.
### CBS says it’s sending Dolphins-Jets to just four markets --- Miami-Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers-Naples and New York City --- and assigned its No. 6 NFL announcing team: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein.
### ABC assigned Dave Neal and former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, who typically call SEC Network games, to UM’s bowl game against South Carolina at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Shreveport, La.
### ABC/ESPN dispatched its NBA studio team --- Sage Steele, Doug Collins and Jalen Rose --- to Miami to anchor NBA Countdown from AmericanAirlines Arena on Christmas. Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson call Heat-Cavaliers.
What kind of reaction will LeBron get?
Van Gundy told Dan Patrick that Heat fans should acknowledge the “incredible achievement” they had with LeBron, then obviously root for their team when the game starts.
“I would be stunned if he did not get a standing ovation and also that it stayed a standing ovation for a while,” ESPN’s Hubie Brown said. “I just can't possibly see that a sports crowd as knowledgeable as Miami would not reciprocate and honor what the guy did for the franchise.”
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... If you missed it, please see the last post for more on LeBron's return.