UM’s first training camp under Mark Richt opened with much fanfare Thursday, and here's an updated look at where each position stands:
• Starting running back: Mark Walton exited spring as the front-runner to start, but Joe Yearby – who has dropped his body fat from 16 to 9 percent – will get a chance to compete.
"I don't get tired any more like I used to," Yearby said. "In order to run the offense, we've got to move faster, stay in shape and condition. I'm more in shape."
The Hurricanes split first-team reps between Walton and Yearby on Thursday, with Gus Edwards and speedy freshman Travis Homer on the second team, according to Edwards.
Edwards said he has dropped six or so pounds and is now at 230.
• Starting receiver job alongside Stacy Coley. Braxton Berrios figures to start in the slot when UM opens with three receivers and has made himself into an effective receiver on the boundary, too. Freshman Ahmmon Richards got a lot of work with the first team Thursday, with Dayall Harris and Darrell Langham also getting some reps.
"Ahmmon’s a little further ahead [of fellow freshman Sam Bruce] because he’s been here a little longer,” Richt said. “He’s doing a really good job knowing what to do. Sam’s a little behind because he hasn’t been here as long, and we’re trying to get him to learn a couple spots, flanker and the Y – the slot. He’s got a little more to learn, so he’s trying to learn it. I think they’ve got talent. They’ve got some great physical speed. Their ball skills, they’re still learning, but they caught the ball well today.”
• Tight end: David Njoku and Chris Herndon played with the starters when UM went to two tight-end sets. Standish Dobard had a good summer, Richt said, but he has ground to make up. UM believes Dobard should be their best blocking tight end but isn’t consistent enough doing it.
A coach wasn't pleased with how Michael Irvin Jr. ran a route today, but he's an eager learner. He has the edge in the battle for the No. 4 tight end job.
• Backup quarterback: Evan Shirreffs should have the edge if he follows a solid spring with a strong August. Incumbent Malik Rosier struggled this spring, and Shirreffs fits the Richt mold better, in terms of size (6-5 to Rosier’s 6-1) and having the mentality of looking to throw first instead of running. Shirreffs said he, Rosier, freshman Jack Allison and Vinny Testaverde Jr. split second-team snaps Thursday.
• Offensive line: The first team, as expected, Thursday included tackles Trevor Darling and Sunny Odogwu, center Nick Linder and guards Danny Isidora and Kc McDermott. Tyree St. Louis will challenge Odogwu at right tackle.
• Fullback: Richt raved about Mars Hill transfer Marquez Williams, a 280-pounder “who moves well.”
Richt said if you look up fullback in the dictionary, you would see Williams. He impressed us with his ability to catch out of the backfield today.
It’s clearly his job to lose.
• Linebacker: Two freshmen opened with the first team Thursday: very likely starter Shaquille Quarterman in the middle, and Mike Pinckney at weakside.
"I see them as veterans," Richt said of Quarterman and Pinckney. “They went through spring ball, which is huge,” Richt said. “They’ve had as much experience in this defense as anyone on the team because we were brand-new in the spring. It’s an advantage to be a midyear enrollee this particular year with the new staff.”
Darrion Owens, back after knee surgery, could challenge Pinckney eventually. He was with the second team and third team today.
Jermaine Grace is the clear-cut starter at strongside, unless he’s suspended in an ongoing luxury car investigation.
Don't discount the third impressive freshman linebacker (Zach McCloud); he was with the second team at weakside linebacker today. "McCloud will be fighting for a starting job, too," Richt said.
Jamie Gordinier, Charles Perry and Mike Smith also got some second team work.
• Defensive tackles. Richard McIntosh, who has made a smooth transition from end, had a strong spring and opened with the starters, alongside Kendrick Norton. Anthony Moten and Gerald Willis played with the second team before Willis limped off late.
• Defensive ends: Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad opened as starters and should stay there, unless AQM is suspended amid the luxury car investigation.
Trent Harris and Demetrius Jackson (who impressed the staff with his pass-rush skills this spring) are clear-cut second-teamers.
Scott Patchan is working his way back from a torn ACL (he did some running Thursday), which creates an opportunity for freshmen Pat Bethel and Joseph Jackson.
• Cornerback: Sheldrick Redwine opened as the starter opposite Corn Elder, but watch out for Texas transfer Adrian Colbert, a former safety, who wants to start and picked off Brad Kaaya Thursday. “Colbert is real fast,” Kaaya said. "He can stay stride for stride with some our fastest guys."
Michael Jackson joined Colbert as the other second- team corner, according to Football Hotbed's Brandon Odoi, who sharply and quickly jotted down the second-team defense Thursday.
And UM also could land Alabama grad transfer Maurice Smith, whose preferred transfer to Georgia is being blocked by Nick Saban. UM believes it has a very good shot if Saban doesn't relent on the Georgia issue.
• Safety: Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins are the starters and UM likes their range but wants them to tackle better.
On the second team: impressive sophomore Jaquan Johnson and improved Robert Knowles.
• For the first week of training camp, beleaguered veteran Dallas Thomas has opened practice as the starting left guard, ahead of first-round pick Laremy Tunsil, with Tunsil consistently getting some first-team work at left guard later in practice.
But why aren’t the Dolphins letting their ballyhooed first-round pick take the majority of snaps with the starters? Offensive line coach Chris Foerster on Thursday cited Thomas’ experience and knowledge, the staff’s desire to give Tunsil some snaps at left tackle, and other factors.
Foerster, asked about using Thomas over Tunsil, cited “guys that have been here, guys that are doing better in drill work, guys that understand the offense better…. Dallas has been here and understands it a little better. But not that much better.
“Obviously, there’s a learning curve for everybody. At this point, we are letting Dallas roll, although Tunsil is taking some. A lot of it has to do with how we’re trying to get Laremy reps in other positions… If it’s a day we’re trying to get Tunsil more at left tackle, that affects everybody in the rotation.”
Foerster said Tunsil, who was a tackle at Mississippi, “is really doing a great job. Couldn’t be happier with his progress.”
And what impresses Foerster about Thomas? “He’s a very athletic guy. He did a really nice job all offseason and has done a good job again.”
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said he doesn’t know if Tunsil will start the Sept. 11 opener at Seattle. “He’s going to be a really fine left tackle at whatever point, but there is a learning curve for him at guard,” Christensen said.
As for right guard, Foerster praised Billy Turner but declined to establish Turner – or anyone – as the frontrunner, though Turner has consistently received the most first-team work, ahead of Jermon Bushrod, who is transitioning from tackle to guard for the first time in his career.
“Billy is doing a great job,” Foerster said. “Jermon is going through the same thing as Tunsil is - moving inside. Bushrod is going to have to go through that little awkward stage of what’s going on, on the right side.”
Foerster said he has no sense of how long it will take chemistry to develop on his line.
If no clear-cut starter emerges at guard, there’s another option: Foerster said he often has rotated players at a position, where one takes “two series, another takes one until somebody establishes themselves. Sometimes that means neither guy is doing real well. Other times it means both guys are doing well.”
Foerster was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator in 2004, which he recalled Tuesday as a “real catastrophic year. It was awful. All the hurricanes hit the state. I was in this building more when the power was off than when it was on that year. It was crazy with the hurricanes and the season with [Dave] Wannstedt in the middle of the season being [fired].”
• Quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree, who followed Gase from Denver to Chicago and now to Miami, said one emphasis with Ryan Tannehill has been getting the ball out more quickly.
“You loved the way he could drive the football,” Hardegree said. “The way this system is built, you should be able to take three steps and a quick hitch or no hitch and you should have the ball out. There are quick answers across the field.”
From an accuracy standpoint, is Tannehill where the Dolphins want him?
"Yeah,” Hardegree said, “but the three things we teach are accuracy, timing and decision making. The last one would be leadership.” He said the quarterbacks give themselves letter grades for their throws.
• Besides receiver DeVante Parker (hamstring), running backs Jay Ajayi (knee) and Isaiah Pead (hamstring) also sat out practice, along with linebacker Zach Vigil (back) and defensive ends Dion Jordan (knee) and Farrington Huguenin (ankle).
• Update on Dolphins battles: Cornerback Tony Lippett was back with the starters on Thursday after Chimdi Chekwa’s one-day audition with the starters on Tuesday… Bobby McCain and Michael Thomas are splitting first-team reps at nickel corner.
• Earl Mitchell has consistently played ahead of Jordan Phillips with the starters, and Adam Gase says that’s performance-based. But the fact Jason Jones this week has started ahead of Cameron Wake --- opposite Mario Williams --- is being done to limit Wake’s snaps.
• Safety AJ Hendy has been the most impressive of the undrafted rookies. Undrafted kicker Marshall Koehn was six for six on field goals today but still trails Andrew Franks.
• Gase said “I can’t wait to see” how quarterback Brandon Doughty “performs in preseason. He’s so calm; nothing rattles him.” Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said “he can do four things wrong and get a completion out of it.”
• The Dolphins believe Jordan Cameron must do a much better job on making contested catches than he did in 2015. “That something Jordan specifically is really working on,” tight ends coach Shane Day said.
• Coach Adam Gase said he is impressed with running back Kenyan Drake’s speed and “his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run routes.” But playing time could be based partly on “how much can he handle in his first year.” Running backs coach Danny Barrett said Drake will be a “special teams demon.”
HEAT SCHEDULE NEWS
We reported early this morning that Dwyane Wade and the Bulls are scheduled to play the Heat on Nov. 10 in Miami. For more on that, click here. It will be the Bulls' only Miami visit this season.
We also confirmed today that the tentative NBA schedule (which has been circulated to teams and networks but is always subject to late changes) has Miami opening Oct. 26 at Orlando and hosting Charlotte on Oct. 28.