With three weeks and three preseason games left until the Miami Dolphins have to cut their roster down to 53 men, Miami's most important positional battles are only heating up.
While some of these battles have devolved into wars of attrition, others have managed to bring out the absolute best in each participant. With one position there has actually been a combination of the two.
According to The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero, those battles include running back, right guard, defensive tackle next to Paul Soliai, cornerback next to Brent Grimes, kicker and defensive end opposite Cameron Wake.
#Dolphins starting jobs still open: RB, RG, DT next to Soliai, CB opposite Grimes, K, DE opposite Wake.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) August 11, 2013
We're going to take a look at each of Miami's positional battles and where they stack up halfway through an already exciting training camp and preseason.
I was plenty surprised to see that Salguero listed this as a position battle in his Tweet, especially since everyone assumed that this was Lamar Miller's job after a great offseason.
Miller has also had a pretty good preseason as well, as in two games he's rushed for 27 yards on four rushing attempts for an average of two carries and 13.5 yards per game.
It should be his job to lose then, right? Not exactly, as Adam Schefter points out in this tweet:
Lamar Miller might go on to be a star running back. But sense about him with some in organization is still uncertainty.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 5, 2013
As to who in this organization has uncertainty, I have no idea, and wish that Adam Schefter would disclose that.
Contrary to Schefter's statement, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said this about Miller during the offseason (per The Miami Herald):
He has good instincts as a runner. Has very, very good athletic ability. Has good speed. He can pass protect. It took him a little while to get the responsibilities down, the blitz adjustments down. At the end of the year, he was very sound in his pass protection. He has good hands, can catch the football.
This quote likely outs who within the organization has doubts about Miller, as offensive coordinator Mike Sherman described the running back race as being "pretty close."
Daniel Thomas is a slightly better blocker than Miller, but of the Dolphins' four running backs on the roster, he is probably the worst one in terms of running the football.
He is also the highest drafted of the four, and that's not counting return man Marcus Thigpen or Miller, Thomas, Mike Gillislee and Jonas Gray.
With that being said, Thomas is having a fairly good training camp according to The Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly—this despite the fact that Miller is outperforming him in preseason games.
Kelly also make a good point that should explain why this job does belong to Lamar Miller; the Dolphins might be playing a little bit of poker with this one:
"Will Daniel Thomas be a 1K rusher? No! But is he a valuable role player for the Dolphins? Absolutely. Strong runner, blocks, good hands"
The key word in that sentence: role player. Thomas will be a role player, but Lamar Miller will be the starter.
The revamped Dolphins secondary has a real battle on its hands in the race for the second cornerback position.
Richard Marshall has started the past two games at the position, while Dimitri Patterson (a waiver-wire acquisition from last season) has also seen playing time with the first team. Miami started off their preseason game against Jacksonville in a nickel package, which allowed both Marshall and Patterson to play.
Thus far, Marshall is slightly winning the competition. I only say that based on the fact that he has started both games while Patterson has only started one.
But this battle isn't just about the veterans, as second round pick Jamar Taylor hasn't seen any game action due to his recovery from sports hernia surgery. At first he was presumed to be the starter with Richard Marshall playing Miami's nickelback.
However it's looking like Taylor has some catching up to do due to his inactivity.
It seemed like the position battle at right guard would be cut and dry: incumbent John Jerry or new free agent Lance Louis.
Both men are still nursing injuries at this time, which has pushed young Josh Samuda into the competition, a competition he was leading from the time Jerry got hurt up until Friday night.
Samuda had a poor game against Jacksonville, which saw the right side giving up a lot of pressure to a team with a weak pass rush. Out goes Samuda, in comes Nate Garner, who is now taking first team reps during training camp, according to Omar Kelly.
Garner started eight games for the Dolphins in 2009; he played well at both the right guard and left guard spot, only to lose his job to John Jerry after an injury during training camp in 2010. Since then he has been a super-sub, even playing the final four games of 2012 as Miami's right tackle.
If he has a strong camp from here on out, expect him to beat out the still hurt Jerry and Louis for the right guard role.
The battle that will likely be decided by money is thus far being decided by money.
Each kicker has had one game to perform, and in game action it's a wash from a statistical standpoint, as both kickers have been perfect.
But when it comes to distance, advantage seems to go to Caleb Sturgis, who hit a 58-yard field goal against Jacksonville. It's the longest field goal of the preseason thus far.
Miami will likely look to deal the loser of this battle, which so far looks like it will be Dan Carpenter.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking for a replacement for the injured Connor Barth (out for the season with a torn ACL per The Tampa Bay Times), they look like a potential landing spot for the loser of this battle.
You have the third overall pick in the draft involved in a positional battle at defensive end. Throughout training camp Dion Jordan has been tremendous, despite the fact that he primarily played linebacker in college. He has some flaws—but correctable flaws—that are slowly in the process of being fixed.
Yet he might not start—at least not during his first season—and he has nothing to do with that.
That's how great Olivier Vernon has been during training camp as Miami's second pass-rusher, so great that Armando Salguero wrote this about Vernon on Sunday:
Everyone assumes the left defensive end job belongs to Olivier Vernon. Well, yes, he's making it hard to think otherwise. He's practicing well and there's nothing about his play against Jacksonville (only game he's been in) that suggested regression.
Rookie Dion Jordan is being groomed for that spot. The team wants him pushing Vernon. The team wants him to be good enough to be a three-down player. If he doesn't win the job, well, that's life and he can be used as a passing-down specialist. But that decision has not been made yet.
So that job, like the others, is still open.
This wouldn't necessarily be the worst thing in the world. While Jordan has shown great progress in both games, he's not very reliable stopping the run. This was true in college, and it remains true right now.
However, Jordan's problem is in the process of being corrected by Miami's coaching staff, specifically defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers. Rodgers has a tremendous track record of developing defensive linemen going all the way back to his days with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 2000s, and the defensive line has been a perennial strength on the Dolphins since he came aboard in 2008.
I trust Rodgers to make Jordan a more well-rounded player, just as he was responsible for Cameron Wake becoming Cameron Wake and for Paul Soliai steadying himself into becoming a consistent performer. There's absolutely no need for Jordan to start right off the bat.
Instead, he will work as Miami's third down pass-rusher, at least for this year. He can still collect at least 5.5 sacks, still deflect a few passes and still lead quarterbacks into the arms of Cameron Wake.
But he doesn't have to start right away, and the progression of Olivier Vernon proves that. Vernon is more well-rounded and has had a tremendous offseason. Therefore he's the presumptive starter right now, and likely will start come Week 1 against Cleveland.
But from time to time, you might see them on the field together. Miami's biggest positive is their depth along the defensive line and at defensive end. That depth is not only on display with Vernon again Jordan, but in another position battle at the line where the second place finisher is likely to get plenty of snaps.
Here's a battle that for the last two weeks has been on hold.
Despite the franchise tag and the fact that he's coming off of his best season, Randy Starks is actually competing for his starting job.
His competition is Jared Odrick, who was moved inside during the offseason with an eye towards the future.
It should be mentioned that whoever wins this battle won't make a difference, as the two participants (and Paul Soliai) will likely get the same number of snaps during the upcoming season since each tackle brings something different to the table.
But seeing that a Pro Bowl player from last season is in a battle speaks greatly of the depth at the position—it should also show you who has the early lead in the who-will-get-re-signed-race between Starks and Soliai.
The battle has been put on hold due to an injury suffered by Randy Starks earlier in training camp. He still has yet to return to practice.
When Starks is able to return, it's likely that he's the starter. Either way, the Dolphins are in fairly good shape at defensive tackle and along the line as a whole.
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