Week two of training camp is here and the closer we get to live action, the better I feel about this season’s Miami Dolphins.
It upsets me to think of how the pundits are writing off the Fins this season due to the strength of schedule, but the last time I checked the rest of the AFC East has to play similar schedules.
All the way around, the Fins have improved as a team from last season. The improvement in overall depth has raised the bar in position battles as well as special teams’ play.
When looking at some of last season’s strengths, which were protecting the football with limited mistakes; and looking at some of the weaknesses, mainly overall depth, you figure the carried over discipline with an improved roster would generate more buzz.
Now as the season grows closer, the Fins are the reigning division champs flying under the radar. Working so hard in camp that players on the bottom of the roster are quitting because they can’t hack it.
So far in camp, reports from practice are revealing heated battles at cornerback, receiver, defensive end, outside linebacker, and right guard.
The battle at corner is intriguing because in a division where the Fins have to match-up with some of the better receivers in the conference, the increase of talent was welcomed.
Adding Gibril Wilson and two rookie corners, after the subtraction of Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill, to the secondary feels like an improvement; especially with the play from these additions early in camp.
The two rookie corners—Vontae Davis and Sean Smith—have had their bright moments in camp, with the latter being elevated to first string duty this week. Their physical play and short term memory have caught the attention of the coaching staff.
Not to be outdone by their rookie counterparts, rookie receivers Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline are gelling nicely with the ever improving Ted Ginn, fast healing Greg Camarillo, and rapid developing Devon Bess to round out a receiving corps that is vastly diverse and equally versatile.
This season’s units are deeper, stronger, and more talented than last season’s units that overachieved and lacked depth.
With the influx of talent and the internal growth witnessed last season, improvement has to be expected to continue with the same coaching and continuance in philosophy.
I also think that Ted Ginn is greatly benefiting from the presence of Ohio St. Alumni Terry Glenn in camp, helping him learn the finer points of the position and helping him develop into a lead receiver for this team.
Last season, finding a pass rush beyond Joey Porter proved to be difficult at times. So finding extra pressure figured to be prioritized this off season.
Bringing back Dolphin great Jason Taylor and signing CFL defensive MVP Cameron Wake improves pass rush depth; along with the expected growth from last season’s first year starter Matt Roth, it seems as though the search is quickly dissolving
Hearing reports that Jason Taylor is looking dominant again, that Cameron Wake and Charlie Anderson are finding roles, eases the absence of Roth during the early going. It also allows Wake and some of the other developmental guys to get more reps to strengthen the unit as a whole.
Right defensive end is a position that has three men vying for the starting spot. Last year’s second round pick Phillip Merling was given first crack at the position, followed by this year’s trade acquisition Tony McDaniel, and now Randy Starks has been given the keys to that spot this week.
Whoever emerges from this battle figures to be playing well because all three candidates have superior potential. While the other two will fill prominent roles in rotation along with starting left end Kendall Langford.
I suspect that Randy Starks will prevail in his bid for the starting gig as he was the Fins most productive defensive linemen per snap last season and best pass rusher at the position.
Right guard remains a trouble spot for the offensive line continuing the growing pains from last season. After Donald Thomas went down last season in week one, the position has had no way of consistency.
This season Thomas is trying to reclaim the spot that was once his but in coming back from an off season setback, he has seen Shawn Murphy build on his momentum from off season workouts in competing for the starting role.
Either way, the Fins figure to be in a good position because both of these men are second year pros the club is very high on and fit in with the young ascending core being built up front with the likes of Long, Smiley, Grove, and Carey.
With a fortified secondary and improved pass rush, the defense has a chance to take a big leap from an average defense to a top 10 defense this season. Much like an offense who’s beefed up offensive line and developing outside weapons will make it's running game even stronger and in turn make the offense more explosive.
Not to mention improvements in overall depth increases the quality of the bench and all core special teams. It’s hard for me to understand how this team cannot be better than what is being predicted.
All in all, this team is an extension of its leadership whose play will always exceed its talent because of its discipline and passion. As the season gets closer, the Fins will continue to build on team chemistry; taking the approach of one week at a time, game planning specifically for the opponent at hand.
I got my money on the Fins to repeat as division champs no matter whose next on the schedule or how healthy the Patriots might be.