Under-the-Radar Sleepers to Watch for in Miami Dolphins Camp
However, training camp doesn't mean much to those established veterans. The only thing they're worried about is getting in shape and avoiding injury.
Contrarily, there's a small contingency of players lurking on the bottom of the depth chart who have the opportunity to make a name and career for themselves.
There are a handful of under-the-radar players who exceed expectations at training camp every year.
Here are this year's candidates.
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
The Dolphins struck gold when they imported Cameron Wake from the CFL three years ago. Now, they're trying their luck again with running back/return specialist Marcus Thigpen.
An Indiana University alum, Thigpen is a speedy, elusive player who's flat-out deadly with the ball in his hands. He went undrafted in 2009 and had short, uneventful stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos that summer.
Thigpen spent most of 2009 on the Saskatchewan Roughriders' practice squad, but he finally hit his stride with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2010. That year, he was historically versatile, setting a CFL record by scoring touchdowns via kickoff return, punt return, missed field goal return, rushing and receiving (watch the highlights to get a glimpse of how athletic he is).
If Thigpen looks good as a kick returner in the preseason, then he has a great shot of making the team. Plus, he would give the Dolphins another dynamic weapon to add to an arsenal that already includes Reggie Bush, Lamar Miller and Charles Clay.
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The Dolphins have a dilemma on their hands. Assuming they decide to keep four running backs on the 53-man roster, they must decide whether to dedicate that last spot to a playmaker like Marcus Thigpen or a fullback like Jonas Gray.
Gray is an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame. He's a commanding 6'0", 230 pounds, yet is surprising nimble and elusive. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in November, and it's yet to be determined when he'll be 100 percent healthy again.
If Gray isn't ready to fully participate in training camp, then the Dolphins may place him on the physically unable to perform, or PUP, list. If he is ready to participate, however, then he has a great chance to earn a spot on the 53-man roster—or at least the practice squad.
The Dolphins don't seem interested in signing a traditional fullback. Instead, they're looking for a fullback that can contribute in multiple facets of the game, not just blocking.
Gray offers a very unique blend of size and speed. He was never featured in Notre Dame's offense due to its surplus of stars, so it's possible we haven't seen the best he has to offer yet. Hopefully, he can rebound from this ACL tear swiftly and fight for a job in camp.
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
I've made no secrets about my affection for Roberto Wallace.
He has all of the physical tools to be a productive NFL wideout, he's been tenderly groomed in the system for two years, and now, teammates are vouching for him.
David Garrard told the Miami Herald that he sees big-time potential in Wallace: “Roberto is going to be a pretty good receiver in this league...He’s that guy I’ve really been looking at and trying to work with. When he puts it all together, he can be a big talent.”
Wallace might not be the next Victor Cruz, but he can definitely make a name for himself in 2012. His 6'4" frame makes him a viable red-zone target, and his sub-4.5 speed makes him a matchup issues for opposing defenses.
I'm more excited to track Wallace than any other player in training camp.
Photo courtesy SunSentinel.com
Only the most dedicated Dolphins fans will recognize Julius Pruitt's name. He made a brief appearance on the 53-man roster last season, but has spent most of career on Miami's practice squad.
He's now vying for permanent spot on the active roster, and although he's a dark horse, he just might make it. Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post believes that, even if Miami only keeps five wideouts, it'll keep Pruitt onboard.
Plus, Brian Hartline told Volin, "One player I think people really is sleeping on is Julius Pruitt...He's doing a great job."
Pruitt is a valuable special teams asset, so even if he doesn't contribute as a wide receiver, the Dolphins still have incentive to keep him. Don't underestimate the importance of special teams and special teams aces like Pruitt.
If he proves he's an NFL-caliber wideout in training camp, then it'll be very difficult for the Dolphins to cut him. Pruitt, like Roberto Wallace, has a chance to make a name for himself this year.
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Everybody will remember Bill Parcells as an evil figure who abandoned the team he ran into the ground. However, he did make a few redeeming moves. In 2009, for example, he swapped a seventh-round draft pick for Tony McDaniel.
McDaniel played modestly in 2009, but burst onto the scene in 2010. He registered 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks, impressive numbers for a defensive tackle. The bar was set high for 2011, but he inexplicably regressed, recording only 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Paul Soliai may have eaten into McDaniels' reps last year, but ultimately, McDaniels has to shoulder the blame for his disappointing season. It removed him from the limelight, and he's under the radar once again.
There's no doubt he can be a disruptive force for the 'Fins. In fact, Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel believes McDaniel "would be a solid NFL starter on another team." Even though he'll be relegated to a situational role this season, there's no excuse for McDaniel not to be an impact player.
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
When the Dolphins signed Gary Guyton in April, nobody batted an eyelash.
But don't underestimate this fifth-year linebacker.
He started 32 games in four years with the New England Patriots, displaying versatility and athleticism. Guyton can play both strong-side and weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 alignment, and he can also cover tight ends, which is something the Dolphins have struggled with for years.
Granted, he struggled in coverage last season (which might explain why the Pats didn't re-sign him), and we know he has the ability to be an effective pass defender. Now, it's up to him and Miami's coaching staff to revive those coverage skills.
Given Koa Misi's poor play last season, Guyton also has an outside shot at earning a starting role.
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Jimmy Wilson was all the rage at Dolphins training camp last season. The seventh-round draft pick played surprisingly well, showing explosiveness and awareness that suggests he can be a NFL starter down the road.
He fell off of the radar after an unspectacular regular season, but he has a chance to resurface in training camp.
Wilson is transitioning from cornerback to safety this summer, so he's bound to encounter a few speed bumps. Regardless, if he plays well, then the Dolphins will have to find ways to get him on to the field.
We'll most likely see Wilson at both cornerback and safety during the regular season. And, if he shines in camp again, then he can challenge Chris Clemons for a starting safety job.