The Miami Dolphins head into training camp on August 1st, and with the training camp being one of the one's with the most hype among Dolphins fans in a long time, there are also some big-time questions that need to be answered before the start of the regular season.
Whether it is can Chad Pennington repeat his success, or can Tony Sparano lead the team to the Super Bowl, there are a lot of questions right now that the Dolphins fans have, that can only be answered in training camp.
Here are the biggest headlines heading into camp.
1. Chad Pennington Getting Overlooked?
The Dolphins biggest reason for success last year was the acquisition of quarterback Chad Pennington. After a career season, and leading the Dolphins to the play-offs, Pennington is already fending his replacement, Chad Henne off.
It has been rumored whether Pennington would lose his starting job mid-season to Henne if he played poorly.
Well, there is no reason for that. Pennington has been totally overshadowed this offseason thanks to the selection of Pat White in the draft, when the truth is, he has been busting his butt, like last off-season, to come back better than ever.
Oh, and did I mention that Pennington's contract ends after this season, and there is speculation that the Dolphins will not re-sign him, even to mentor Henne, because they feel that Henne will be ready for the job.
Pennington deserves to get a one year extension for the effort that he put in last year, and should at least get a chance to compete for the job this year, and next and be given the same opportunity that Henne is being given coming into training camp.
2. Dolphins Success Relies on WildCat?
The Dolphins unveiled what has become the biggest and most hyped formation in all of football. This formation you ask, is the Wildcat. The Wildcat was so successful last year, that is made the Dolphins rushing stats sky-rocket!
This year, the Dolphins will have to repeat that success, and add some more wrinkles just to keep opposing defenders on their toes.
The one player who will have to step it up the most to keep the Wildcat a success is Ronnie Brown.
Brown is the key to the Wildcat, and if he cannot find the right holes, or make the right decisions behind center, than the Dolphins will be in trouble.
More teams are running their own version of the Wildcat, so they will have more practice against it, and more experience scheming against it.
The key to the Dolphins season may be how the Wildcat performs against opposing teams.
The Dolphins will most likely use the time in training camp to work on the Wildcat, and implement new wrinkles to the formation.
3. How Will the Dolphins Use Pat White?
The Dolphins made one of the biggest selections in the draft when they selected quarterback Pat White.
When White was drafted, he was envisioned to be mainly used in the Wildcat formation. But shortly after the pick, the Dolphins announced that they drafted White to be a quarterback first, and a jack of all trades second.
While that may be true, the truth is that in White's first season, he will be used primarily in the Wildcat formation somehow, and his presence will only make the formation even more dangerous.
The Dolphins will need to utilize White correctly, and make sure that he is effective enough in training camp, so they can be confident that they can use him in the games.
The evolution of White's game will be one of the biggest, and most important headlines of training camp.
4. Will Allen's Starting Mate
Pat White was not the only Dolphins selection in the draft this year. The Dolphins also addressed their cornerback hole with the selection of both Vontae Davis in the first round, and Sean Smith in the second.
Both of them will be competing for the 2nd starting cornerback spot alongside Will Allen.
Both Smith and Davis will not only be competing against each other, but against free-agent acquisition Eric Green.
While Davis and Smith are the favorites to beat out Green, one can wonder which one of them will get the job.
During mini-camps, the coaching staff had Davis as the nickel back, and Smith lining up as the other starter, but if Davis speeds up his production, you would have to think that he would get the job, though the staff loves both of these guys.
5. The Return of a Hero
The most surprising move of the offseason was when the Dolphins scooped up ex-Dolphins Jason Taylor.
They gave JT a one year deal, and JT easily could be the key to fellow pass-rusher Joey Porter's success at rushing the quarterback this year.
The TriFecta brought in JT to rush the passer, and help Porter create havoc in the backfield. While JT will probably not get the starting job, his production is key to the Dolphins success this year, and his recreation to his new role in training camp should be watched carefully by many and all of Dol-Fans and sportswriters.
6. The Dolphins Add a Beast
The Dolphins also added another pass-rusher this offseason in former CFL player, Cameron Wake.
Wake was a two time CFL Defensive Player of the Year, and had 22.5 sacks this past season. If Wake can get himself some playing time, and show to the rest of the league that he can transfer his success in the CFL to the NFL, it would bring some tremendous depth, and weapons to the Dolphins line backing corps.
All of this though could be a dream. The last time we saw Wake, he was struggling in mini-camp to learn the system, and get himself comfortable in the thing that he does best, rush the passer.
Wake did work his way up from the 4th string linebackers, to the 3rd string, and will only improve, but the Dolphins staff want him to eventually be on the 2nd string by the end of training camp, and even a starter in the upcoming seasons.
Wakes coming along will be one of the biggest, and most publicized story lines in all of training camp, but his success will not be crucial to the Dolphins success this season, as are the previous headlines.
7. Inexperience to Grizzled Veterans. What to Think of the Dolphins Defensive Line.
The Dolphins released veteran and locker room leader Vonnie Holliday during the offseason to create cap room, but that left the Dolphins with an incredibly inexperienced defensive line.
They have starters Kendal Langford, and Phillip Merling, and Jason Ferguson returning, but the inexperience of this group is astonishing. Ferguson is an immovable block, but behind him, there really is no depth at all that can provide a serious comfort zone for coaches when they relieve the starters, which is one of coach Tony Sparano's biggest beliefs as a coach.
The line will need to show that it can handle the load of playing more downs than usual, and that they can take down the quarterback with success, something they failed at last year.
If the line does not show improvement during camp, the Dolphins will feel obligated to bring Holliday back, on a different contract, to provide some relief for the lineman, and a mentor to the young players.
8. Is Sparano Really the Leader He Showed Us Last Year?
Tony Sparano led a team to the biggest turn-around within a season in NFL history.
The question is, can he lead his team to the play-offs and beyond this year, only a year removed from their first play-off bid in nearly 8 years.
Sparano's biggest asset right now is his leadership. He guided an extremely young, and inexperienced team to the play-offs last year, and is looking to improve this year. He will need to pull out all of the stops, and get his team to trust him like never before for them to get past the Patriots and the Bills this season.
Training camp is the best place to do that. An increased relationship with his players would benefit the outcome of the Dolphins record this year tremendously.
9. Can the Dolphins Really Get Through That Schedule?
The Dolphins come into this season with the NFL's toughest schedule. They start off the season facing the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, and the San Diego Chargers. Not to mention their whole division is one of the toughest in the whole NFL.
They have a tough road ahead of them, but the one thing that will get them through it will be their mental toughness. That is the one thing that will be put to the test, and if the Dolphins can prove that they are mentally tough enough to take down the NFL's best teams week in and week out, even if they have a below .500 record at seasons end, I will be proud of them.
Even if they can prove that they can hang with anybody, and beat the teams that they should beat, then I will be happy.
This is the years where the Dolphins prove that they truly belong in a conversation about the NFL's elite.
The Dolphins will need to practice and hone their mental toughness through the rigorous practices of camp. If some of the players break down, and do not improve at all, then we are in for a long season.
10. Can the Dolphins Actually Win the Super Bowl?
The Dolphins won the AFC East division last year, but lost in the first round of the play-offs.
They say their goal is to win the Super Bowl this year, and that theory is going to be put to the test.
If the Dolphins can truly make that statement hold true, then they will definitely be considered among the NFL's elite, but if they fail, one has to wonder if they will stay motivated enough to try and do it all over again.
They have the talent, and enough young players to build a dynasty around, so that should not be a problem, but the focus in training camp will be of a team that has something to prove, and of a team that thinks that they will win the Super Bowl.
The Dolphins need to develop the swagger of a Super Bowl champion before they become champs, and there is no better place than camp to get that swagger.
Training camp is a place where a team practices many things. Their formations, who will start come opening day, and of course, their gameplan that they will use game in and game out.
Training camp is one of the most precious practices in the NFL and though it involves vigorous work that could kill a guy in the Miami weather, that work is needed to be successful in the NFL.
We will see if the Dolphins can put in that work, and if they will take that work that they nearly killed themselves for, over to gameday, and utilize that work to advance themselves to the Super Bowl, and win the whole enchilada. Only time will tell I guess, but hey, training camp should be exciting!
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