Miami Dolphins: 6 Players off to the Best Starts at Camp
The Miami Dolphins have officially seen more live football action in 2013 than all but one other NFL team. That means they are open to more scrutiny than 30 other teams. You could say that's good or bad for a team that's trying to take a big step this year, but it's the nature of the game regardless.
Speaking of scrutiny, the Dolphins have a lot to look out for. The roster is full of new additions, many of them unproven at this level.
After roughly three weeks of training camp, we've seen a good deal of what Miami's roster has to offer.
But we haven't seen anywhere near the full range of abilities this team has yet. Moreover, we've only seen the Dolphins in one live football game. And with that one game being the first preseason contest, it's hardly a reliable barometer by which to judge the team.
That said, there's no denying that some players have found their rhythm sooner than others. Whether it's a matter of conditioning, preparation or inexperience is to be determined. Nevertheless, there are those players who have been bright spots of the team's camp.
We've narrowed that list down to a half-dozen. Here are the six Miami Dolphins who are off to the best starts in camp.
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Olivier Vernon faced a golden opportunity this offseason to secure the defensive end spot opposite the legendary Cameron Wake. Under that same legend's tutelage, Vernon has seized that opportunity with an iron grip.
Vernon has been nothing short of a pleasant surprise so far. He's earned the praise of his head coach for his athletic abilities. The second-year end has also tormented Jonathan Martin in practice lately, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.
Indeed, the Dolphins may have snagged a rising star in the homegrown Hurricane.
Vernon unfortunately didn't see any game action Sunday, so we're still waiting to see how he fares against guys who aren't on his team. But for now, he's holding off the promising rookie Dion Jordan and appears to be a valuable complement to Wake.
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Speaking of the dynamic rookie...
Okay, so Jordan only recently started practicing with the team, but that doesn't mean he hasn't impressed in that short time. His action on the practice field has been somewhat limited, much like his time against the Cowboys Sunday night.
As Erik Frenz, AFC East Lead Writer at Bleacher Report, recorded, Jordan impressed in his debut. He displayed his well-known athletic abilities, lining up at defensive end and outside linebacker. He defended against the run, rushed the passer and even dropped back into coverage.
Jordan finished with three hurries and two tackles.
Those numbers don't exactly jump off the screen, but it's how he handled the various situations he was thrown into that impressed. If Jordan continues to improve, the Dolphins may have their next defensive superstar locked up.
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That's right, another defensive end. Take it as a sign of Miami's depth along the defensive line that three of the six players off to great starts in camp are defensive ends.
Derrick Shelby is another second-year player vying for a chance to start opposite Cameron Wake. He may be trailing Vernon right now, but Shelby impressed mightily against Dallas Sunday night. He took advantage of the starting opportunity as Vernon sat, leading the team with two sacks. He was one of the bright spots in a unit that mostly underwhelmed.
Shelby's performance both Sunday night and throughout camp earned him defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's praise, as James Walker of ESPN reported. Coyle was fond of the youngster's efficiency and playmaking abilities, claiming he's been "difficult to block."
Shelby may still have a hard time cracking the starting lineup once the regular season rolls around, but it's comforting to know the Dolphins have a reliable option waiting on the sidelines.
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See if this sounds like a wide receiver the Dolphins recently traded away: He has a smallish frame and isn't the fastest player on the field, but his mostly reliable hands and tight, quick route-running abilities make him a dependable target.
Don't check the news. The Dolphins didn't re-sign Davone Bess.
Rather, the sentence above describes undrafted rookie Chad Bumphis. The Mississippi State product has been chipping away at the depth chart since he joined the team a couple months ago.
Now, after a string of solid practices and a great performance in the Hall of Fame game, Bumphis is likely the leading candidate for Miami's No. 4 receiver spot.
He led the team with five catches for 85 yards Sunday night and was easily Miami's biggest producer on offense. His 45-yard seam route catch and run was the Dolphins' most explosive play of the night.
However, the rookie wasn't perfect. A poorly run route resulted in him tipping a pass right into the hands of a Dallas player who returned the interception for a touchdown. It wasn't a pretty play.
But Bumphis recovered, which is something you need to see in young guys—the ability to bounce back from a mistake. The rookie carried his strong performance into practice this week, beating Brent Grimes yesterday for a big touchdown, as Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
It will be difficult for Bumphis to make his way into the top three, but if he continues on this path, he could see a good deal of action as the No. 4 receiver and the occasional play at slot.
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Perhaps Miami's wisest—yet simultaneously riskiest—free-agency signing was cornerback Brent Grimes.
Wise because the Dolphins' corners were atrocious in 2012. Risky because though Grimes was a Pro Bowler just two years ago, he spent 2012 sidelined with an Achilles injury. The Dolphins hedged their bets with a one-year deal, giving the veteran a chance to play for an extended deal.
Nearly three weeks into training camp, Grimes is making a case for an attractive extension.
As early as a few weeks ago, Grimes was performing beyond the team's expectations. He has shown no lack of explosiveness or freakish athletic ability. Even the dangerous Mike Wallace has been quieted by Grimes.
The veteran corner didn't take long to cement himself as Miami's starting corner. Frankly, he currently looks like a guy who's never been injured a day in his life. We didn't see much of him against the Cowboys, but that was par for the course for all of Miami's starters.
Still, if Grimes carries his successful camp into the regular season, you can almost guarantee general manager Jeff Ireland will do everything in his power to tie up the corner for a long-term deal.
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Mike Wallace is the home run threat the Dolphins sorely needed.
Dustin Keller, on the other hand, is the big, reliable seam threat who figures to be Ryan Tannehill's best friend in 2013.
Keller's athletic ability and big frame allow him to attack the middle like no Dolphins' tight end has done in quite some time. He's impressed since camp opened, typically standing out as one of the team's most "active pass-catchers" in each practice, as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported.
While Miami has split Keller's time in practice with Charles Clay, Michael Egnew, and rookie Dion Sims, as reported by Kevin Nogle of SB Nation, make no mistake about it:The starting tight end position belongs solely to Keller.
Similar to Brent Grimes, the Dolphins signed Keller to a one-year deal to see how he would recover from his injuries in 2012. Keller has responded well thus far. If he adds the increased production the team is looking for at tight end during the regular season, look for an extension to come his way.