Predicting the Winners of the Miami Dolphins' Biggest Training Camp Battles

Andrew Tornetta@AndrewTornettaCorrespondent IIJuly 21, 2014

Predicting the Winners of the Miami Dolphins' Biggest Training Camp Battles

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    USA TODAY Sports

    One of the most interesting aspects of training camp each year is examining different positional battles to determine which players will win starting roles on the Miami Dolphins.

    This year seems to be especially intriguing, with a large number of battles expected to play out to determine starters at cornerback, running back, linebacker, offensive line and wide receiver.

    Last season, injuries ended up playing a major role in determining where players slotted in on the depth chart, so hopefully this time around, the roles can be won on the field instead of in the trainer's room.

    There's no doubt that which players can step up and eventually win these competitions will go a long way in determining how successful the Dolphins will be this season.

    With training camp now less than a week away, let's take a look at some of these positional battles and predict which players will come out on top. 

Running Back

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    With the addition of Knowshon Moreno in the offseason, the Dolphins were hoping that he would infuse life into what was a very lackluster unit in 2013.

    Moreno is coming off a career year in which he set new highs in rushing yards (1,038), rushing touchdowns (10), receptions (60) and receiving yards (548).

    Meanwhile, Lamar Miller is coming off a down season after entering 2013 with high expectations.

    Miller finished the year with just 709 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.0 yards per carrynearly a full yard worse than what he averaged the previous season.

    Based off those numbers, the battle seems like a pretty clear victory for Moreno.

    However, the former Denver running back has had a rough offseason thus far.

    After coming into OTAs overweight, Moreno struggled with his conditioning before eventually going down with an injury, having to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery at the end of June.

    Based on his initial four- to five-week timetable, Moreno should be back within the next two weeks, but it remains to be seen how healthy he will truly be upon his return.

    Combining that with the fact that Miller seems to be a perfect fit in offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's uptempo, spread-it-out system, and it appears the second-year running back has a huge advantage heading into training camp.

    Expect Miller to not only win the starting job but hold on to it for the entire season as he puts together a breakout campaign.

    Winner: Lamar Miller

Slot Receiver

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline will enter the season as the clear No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers on the depth chart, but it gets very interesting after that.

    On one hand, you have Brandon Gibson, who proved to be a very dependable weapon for Ryan Tannehill prior to his injury last season.

    In seven games, Gibson hauled in 30 of his 43 targets (69.8 percent) for 326 yards and three touchdowns.

    At the time, he led the team in touchdowns and was second in both receptions and yards before tearing his patella tendon and being placed on injured reserve.

    On the other hand, there is the second-round pick out of LSU, Jarvis Landry. The 6'0", 205-pound rookie is an extremely sure-handed weapon that is capable of playing both inside and outside.

    Last season, Landry hauled in 73 percent of the passes thrown his way from quarterback Zach Mettenberger, dropping just one while catching 77 for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns, via Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.

    With Gibson having already returned to become a full participant in OTAs, it's going to be a steep hill to climb for Landry, who will have to step up and perform well from Day 1 if he wants to outplay the six-year veteran.

    With that said, I believe Landry is simply the better player than Gibson, and he will prove it throughout training camp to ultimately win the job.

    Winner: Jarvis Landry

No. 2 Cornerback

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    Unlike the rest of these battles that have two players fighting for one spot, the No. 2 cornerback position will be a three-man competition that will drag on throughout training camp.

    As of right now, it does appear that Cortland Finnegan has the early leg up on Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, with all reports out of OTAs being that the veteran cornerback looked very good.

    However, there is still a long way to go, and it's not a stretch to imagine Finnegan reverting back to his 2013 form once the pads come on.

    If that happens, it's possible Finnegan drops out of the rotation completely, as the 30-year-old cornerback was simply atrocious last year, ranking 109th out of 110 cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Even if it doesn't happen, it's still entirely possible that either Taylor or Davis performs well enough in training camp to win the job outright.

    Taylor is one of the players most fans are expecting a breakout season from after the second-round pick was virtually a non-factor in 2013. He missed a total of seven games throughout the year and was on the field for just a grand total of 45 snaps.

    He is a physical cornerback that has quick feet and an ability to change direction quickly, making him adept at playing both outside or in the slot.

    Davis, meanwhile, is also coming off an injury-riddled season in which he was inactive for 10 games and played in just 65 total snaps all year.

    He is usually quickly dismissed as a possible winner of this battle, largely due to the fact that most people have forgotten about the training camp he put together last season that had him lined up to win the No. 2 cornerback job before injuries hit.

    According to Jackson, the cornerback out of Utah State was proving to be a ball hawk thanks to his great leaping ability and soft hands.

    If he can repeat that type of performance this year, the Dolphins coaches are going to have a very tough decision on their hands.

    In the end, though, I do expect the coaches to give the nod to the veteran (as they usually do), who appears ready to put together a nice bounce-back season.

    Winner: Cortland Finnegan

Left Guard

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Even with Mike Pouncey going down with an injury, it doesn't seem likely that both Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner end up starting at each guard position.

    While it's possible that the Dolphins opt to go with Shelley Smith as the starting center while Pouncey recovers, it would be much wiser for the team to not tinker with the offensive line too much. 

    That should leave Smith as the starting right guard, with Nate Garner, Sam Brenner and Tyler Larsen to fight it out at center—an interesting battle of its own—and Thomas and Turner going at it to determine who starts at left guard.

    When the Dolphins drafted Turner in the third round, it seemed like he would walk in and become the starter on Day 1 as nobody appeared to be a true threat to take it from him.

    After all, Thomas, the team's 2013 third-round pick, played in just two snaps last season despite the Dolphins having the worst offensive line in the league.

    However, as I've mentioned before, there were a number of reasons why Thomas' rookie season didn't go as planned. 

    This year has already gotten off on a better note as Thomas has looked much better than he did last season and was rewarded by working with the first team at left guard during OTAs.

    Despite what we saw last year, Thomas is a very talented player that fits in perfectly with the team's zone-blocking scheme.

    Even though the 6'5", 315-pound Turner is a beast of a blocker and has a very solid career in front of him, a redshirt season may end up being good for him as he can continue to develop his technique without the added pressure.

    Of course, everything may change with Thomas once the pads come on, but I believe in his talent and expect him to put together an impressive bounce-back performance this year.

    Winner: Dallas Thomas

Strong-Side Linebacker

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    Strong-side linebacker may be the most interesting training camp battle for the Dolphins simply because it will be a great initial way of telling if the coaches have learned from last year's mistakes.

    Anyone that watched a Dolphins game in 2013 could tell fairly quickly that Philip Wheeler was simply terrible. He was constantly out of position, missing tackles and just looking relatively lost in general.

    The stats back this up as well, as Wheeler ranked 35th among 35 outside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus, and he was graded worse in every category from where he was in 2012.

    Jelani Jenkins, meanwhile, showed plenty of potential in his limited time on the field last season, and the former fourth-round pick appears ready to take on a much larger role this year.

    There is little doubt that Jenkins is the all-around better player and should win the starting job; it's just a matter of whether or not the coaches are willing to let him.

    Thus far, there have been good signs with Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post reporting that Jenkins was on the field quite a bit as an outside linebacker with the first-team defense during OTAs:

    Jelani Jenkins getting a lot of looks with first teamers. Several times today I've seen him and Ellerbe on outside with Misi inside.

    — Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) June 2, 2014

    Putting Jenkins as the starting linebacker would then allow Wheeler to become a rotational pass-rusher, a job that he has excelled at in the past and a big reason why I argued that he could be a pleasant surprise this season.

    However, if the coaches hand the starting job to Wheeler, it will come with similar results to what we saw last year, as he is simply not good enough to contribute as an every-down linebacker.

    We will see if the coaches can show the same type of improvement that fans are counting on from some of the players.

    Winner: Jelani Jenkins