If there’s one thing you know Tony Sparano wants to see at every position, it’s competition. Sparano is a big believer that the harder a player has to work to earn his job, the better off that player and the entire team will be.
There is competition for just about every spot on the Dolphins’ roster including at quarterback, but assuming Sparano was truthful when he said Chad Pennington was his quarterback for 2009, Chad Henne should be prepared for another year on the sidelines.
Also, the return of Jason Taylor will spark plenty of debate on whether he should be an every down player or just a passing rushing specialist. However, the Dolphins have more pressing concerns about who will fill out their depth chart.
As Bill Parcells and company continue to tweak the roster throughout the offseason and regular season, here are three key training camp battles that will be critical to the teams’ success in 2009.
A glance at the depth of the secondary position before the recent NFL draft and just about anybody could tell the Dolphins were in need of more youth and athleticism at the position.
With two of the first three picks spent on cornerbacks, the competition for the starting spot opposite Will Allen will be fierce and could determine the Dolphins’ starting secondary for years to come.
First round pick Vontae Davis and second round selection Sean Smith will no doubt receive plenty of opportunities to prove they’re capable of that starting spot, but they will have to earn it, just the way Sparano likes it.
Before the draft, the Dolphins signed veteran corner Eric Green after an injury-filled season with the Arizona Cardinals. Yet, he is not their only challenge for playing time.
Former 2006 first round pick Jason Allen will have one more chance to remove the bust label many fans have already placed on him. Also,cornerback Nate Jones, who played in nickel packages last year, will vie for the coveted spot.
Facing multiple superstar receivers in their own division, the Dolphins desperately need to find a permanent and solid corner opposite Will Allen.
Last year, the Dolphins offensive line struggled to open holes mainly because of season-ending injuries to starting guards Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas.
It was Smiley’s second consecutive season that ended on injured reserve and while Donald Thomas has recovered from the broken foot that ended his season, he now has a torn pectoral muscle and will be out until training camp, at the earliest.
So, if the Dolphins’ offensive line is going to make strides this year, finding capable replacements at guard is critical.
Last year, Ikechuku Ndukwe filled in for Thomas, but he still struggled with pass protection and moving bigger lineman.
How bad did the Dolphins err on last year’s fourth round draft choice Shawn Murphy? Even after Smiley and Thomas were done for the season, waiver wire pickups Andy Allenman and Brandon Frye received playing time ahead of the rookie.
Murphy will be given another chance, but he again will be pitted against Allenman, Frye and Ndukwe for playing time.
Free agent signing and versatile lineman Joe Berger should provide the Dolphins with more experience, so they don’t have to resort to raiding other teams’ practice squad players to fill critical needs.
If Thomas and Smiley continue to struggle with injuries and if no one from the current group emerges as a capable replacement, the Dolphins could again be forced to mix and match along the offensive line.
Much like Will Allen, Ted Ginn is entrenched as the No. 1 player at his position. If the Dolphins’ passing game is to improve in 2009, finding the correct complements to Ginn will be critical for the unit’s success.
Currently, second-year receiver Davone Bess is working with the starting unit, but he will be pressed throughout the year. Bess is also cut from the same mold as Ginn, a small, fast receiver who does well in the open field.
Third round draft pick Patrick Turner could prove to be a good complement to Ginn’s speed, as the 6-5 receiver should provide the Dolphins with a solid red zone threat.
The draft pick who will be fighting for a roster spot is Brian Hartline, and he will be hard pressed to make the team as he will have to beat out Brandon London, Ernest Wilford and Anthony Armstrong, among others.
London enters his second season with the Dolphins and his contributions to special teams should garner him a roster spot and possible playing time.
If the rookies and others fail to impress, last year’s No. 1 receiver Greg Camarillo is working his way back from an ACL tear and should provide depth and competition for the starting spot opposite Ginn, once he recovers fully later in the season.
With quarterback Chad Pennington in the midst of his first offseason with the team, continuity between him and the receivers should improve the passing game, but establishing a solid starting unit and backups will be the key to the teams’ passing game.