Breaking Down the Miami Dolphins' Biggest Training Camp Battles
Last season you couldn't walk within three feet of Davie without running into a position battle at Miami Dolphins' training camp.
This season it seems that we have a fairly good idea as to who is going to start when the Dolphins visit Cleveland for Week 1.
On offense, the Dolphins are only bringing back six starters from last season, while on defense, the level of turnover has been just as great. However, despite the new faces, most of those jobs are already fairly set in stone.
But there are some jobs that are up for grabs in some way, shape or form. We will be looking at these positional battles today.
Cornerback No. 2
Candidates: Richard Marshall, Jamar Taylor
Outside of Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons at safety, this will be a far different unit from last season. Unless you count Richard Marshall's two starts last season before injuries ended his season, none of Miami's starting corners are returning in 2013.
This refreshing of the secondary is schematic, as Sean Smith never fit in with the zone scheme favored by the Dolphins, and after the Vontae Davis trade and Marshall's injury, the Dolphins secondary was a hodgepodge of uncertainty from week to week in terms of who would step up.
This time around, there is one thing we know: Free-agent acquisition Brent Grimes is Miami's No. 1 cornerback. It's after that where there's a question as to who will play where.
Rookie Jamar Taylor is sure to be in a fight with Marshall over the No. 2 slot, with Marshall having an advantage based on his experience.
One other factor to watch, however, is Marshall's performance stopping the run, where he excelled in 2011 in Arizona. In 2011, Marshall ranked second in percentage stopping the run, recording the stop 6.3 percent of the time, per Pro Football Focus.
But this information is more likely to help out Jamar Taylor, as Marshall was Arizona's nickelback during these plays.
With this in mind, as well as Taylor's playmaking abilities at Boise State, expect a battle between the two that will go down to the wire.
Candidates: Charles Clay, Jorvorskie Lane, Vonta Leach (if he signs, and if he does, disregard this as Leach will win the job based on signing).
What does one want in a fullback? In Miami's offense, you'd prefer a fullback who does a great job blocking while also showing the ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
At times you also want your fullback to run through the trenches to grab that tough yard on 3rd-and-1.
Based off of the fullbacks on Miami's roster, you have two players who can do one of the two but don't exactly have the overall ability to do all of what's asked of them.
Lane started off 2012 well, however his play regressed as the season went on. Blocking-wise, Pro Football Focus did grade Lane out at +0.8, good enough for 17th among fullbacks.
Speaking of Pro Football Focus, an article they published on May 16th written by Khaled Elsayed illustrates the battle at hand: between either Clay, Lane or signing Leach. How does he do so? By looking at the team's success rates with its fullbacks. Each of the three are in the top 10 of this list.
It should be noted that this chart doesn't measure the statistics of these players but rather how successful the team has been on the field in how many yards the team picked up with these players on the field (success is defined as 40 percent of the yards required on first down, 60 percent of the yards required on second down, 100 percent of the yards required on fourth down).
Also note that while Clay does rank ahead of both Leach and Lane, he also has considerably fewer snaps taken at fullback.
The way it looks is simple: If Leach signs with Miami, the battle is over and one of these two players will find themselves released. If Leach doesn't sign in Miami, expect a fight to the finish.
Right Defensive End
Candidates: Dion Jordan, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon
None of these candidates are losing their job. Obviously, each will get plenty of playing time, and one of them won't even be a defensive end next season, but this is still a battle to watch.
Jared Odrick doesn't have too much pressure on him to win the starting defensive end job simply because his future as an interior lineman with the Dolphins is all but assured. He's only being mentioned because he was Miami's starter in 2012. He was actually quite good, as he recorded 35 tackles and five sacks. It's quite good but not enough, which is why the Dolphins drafted Dion Jordan and why Odrick is moving inside.
But the battle between Jordan and Vernon isn't a slam dunk towards Jordan, as Vernon has plenty of talent and showed spurts of it last season when he recorded 32 tackles, forced two fumbles and recorded 3.5 sacks.
However the flip side to that is the fact that Vernon recorded the majority of his tackles on special teams, and three of those sacks came in the same game (against the St. Louis Rams).
But during minicamp and OTAs this season, Vernon shined, although he can thank the University of Oregon's educational system for not allowing Jordan to participate in drills since the school's spring term wasn't finished at the time.
Vernon got most of the first-string reps and is likely the starter in Week 1 unless Jordan shows himself to be a game-changer from the start of camp.
It should be noted again, though, that each of these three players will get plenty of reps during the season at various positions.
Candidates: Brandon Gibson, Armon Binns
It's worth noting that this is only the "slot" receiver position only by name; it's really the third receiver spot.
Originally I figured it would be the fourth wide receiver slot that would be up for grabs between Armon Binns and Miami's cavalcade of seventh-rounders and undrafted guys.
However, Binns has spent the offseason minicamps and OTAs proving that he's above that competition and should actually be competing with Brandon Gibson for the third wide receiver slot with some help from an underwhelming performance from Gibson in said camps.
Binns has impressed since Miami claimed him off of the waiver wire last December after he was waived by the Bengals, and as The Sun-Sentinel has pointed out, he has continued to impress in offseason workouts.
On the flip side you, have Brandon Gibson, the highly touted free-agent acquisition from the St. Louis Rams who has had some problems with catching passes, per The Miami Herald.
However, that's just this offseason. Based off of history, the edge would go to Gibson.
Last season Gibson was a starting wide receiver with the Rams whose playing time became more prominent thanks to injuries suffered by Danny Amendola. For his career, he has averaged 43 catches, 523 yards and three touchdowns per season in his four years in the NFL.
In 2012, Gibson had a breakout year, grabbing 51 catches for 691 yards and five touchdowns.
Compare that to Binns, who last season was only active for nine games and only targeted in five of those contests. However, between the Dolphins and Bengals, Binns was productive, recording 24 catches for 277 yards and one touchdown in those five games.
The slot receiver job will go to Gibson if for no other reason than money; Gibson will be making more money in 2013 than Binns. I don't like that being the deciding factor, however that's how it works.
Candidates: Caleb Sturgis, Dan Carpenter
As much as I don't like money deciding position battles when the player with the bigger paycheck is sure to get the job, it's normally not any better when the player with the bigger paycheck is at a huge disadvantage.
Dan Carpenter finds himself there, despite a season that started off rocky but then greatly improved.
Carpenter was 22-of-27, hitting 81.5 percent of his kicks. His normal average is 81.9 percent. He was also flawless on extra points and last missed a kick in Week 10.
However, Carpenter is directly blamed for two losses in 2012 and is due nearly $3 million.
On the flip side of that, you have Caleb Sturgis, who in his career at Florida hit 79.5 percent of his field goals while hitting 96 percent of his extra points. However, Sturgis improved every year in college and went 3-for-3 kicking field goals of 50-plus yards in his senior season.
Carpenter is due $2.675 million in 2013, and Sturgis is due $405,000.
Sturgis has to match Carpenter, and the job is his, while Carpenter has to greatly outshine Sturgis in order to win the job.
Salary information courtesy of spotrac.com, advanced statistics courtesy of profootballfocus.com.
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