10 Questions About the Miami Dolphins and the Depth Chart
With rookie mini-camps beginning on Friday, and training camp not too far down the road, the Miami Dolphins' roster will begin to take shape over the next couple months.
Many of the faces that started on opening day last season are either off the roster or down the depth chart.
With the trade for Brandon Marshall and the free agent acquisition of Karlos Dansby, the offense and defense both got the shot in the arm they desperately needed.
Then the Dolphins overloaded the defensive side of the ball in the draft, ensuring that there will be no shortage of competition this offseason.
Pay no attention to depth charts this time of year, they're nothing more than hearsay. But with that in mind, here are 10 questions to ponder as we prepare for another season of Dolphins football.
1. Can Randy Starks Be a Successful Nose Tackle?
On Friday, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland announced that defensive end Randy Starks will be moving over to nose tackle next season to replace the suspended Jason Ferguson.
Starks was the teams top end last season and his switch will effect the entire defensive line.
At 6'3" and 305 pounds, does he have the size and strength to be successful in this new role? The Dolphins believe so, as does Starks, but that doesn't lessen the gamble.
Jared Odrick or Philip Merling need to emerge as productive replacements at end, and Starks needs to prove he can handle the constant double-teams in the middle.
If it doesn't work out, the question then becomes whether or not Paul Soliai can handle the lion's share in the middle for eight games, and what to do with one of your extra defensive ends?
2. Will Ronnie Brown Be Able To Stay Healthy?
Ronnie Brown is coming off a serious foot injury that typically takes a year or more to fully recover from. A lisfranc fracture is the type of injury that is easily aggravated as well.
That makes Brown one of the biggest question marks on this Dolphins' roster. Can he stay healthy for an entire season for just the second time in his career? And if not, can Ricky Williams handle the majority of the carries for 16 games?
That's a lot to ask of both players, and with third-stringer Patrick Cobbs coming off a torn ACL, the questions about this backfield seem endless.
There's a lot of talent at this position, but two of the top three backs are returning from serious injury, and the third is 32 years old.
If Ronnie Brown can stay healthy, then this Dolphins backfield is scary. If he can't, someone needs to step up in his place. Williams might not have it in him to do it for a whole year.
3. Will Chad Henne Take the Next Step in His Development?
The Dolphins gave Chad Henne the No.1 receiver everyone knew he needed to continue his development as the Dolphins starting quarterback. With Brandon Marshall on the other end of his passes, Henne should be in line for a very successful season.
But will he take advantage of his new toy and become the star quarterback all of South Florida is hoping for? Or will he regress in his second season and fold under the added pressure of millions of hopeful fans?
The good money is on Henne blowing up next season, but it makes the question no less important. His development is the single most important aspect of this Dolphins offseason.
If he isn't able to get it done the team will turn back to Chad Pennington, and by next year will be back to square one in their hunt for the next Dan Marino.
4. Where Does Will Allen Fit in with the Secondary?
Will Allen is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL. He doesn't make many big plays, but at the same time he rarely makes mistakes either. His coverage skills are among the top 10-15 in the league and, more times than not, teams avoid throwing his direction.
But he's coming of a torn ACL and will be 32 years old next season.
Add in the emergence of last year's first and second round picks, Vonte Davis and Sean Smith, and the future for Allen isn't as clear as it normally would be.
Will he be able to come into training camp healthy? And if so, does he still have enough in the tank to hold off the younger, blossoming corners on the the roster?
The truth is, Allen might be reduced to a role much like Pennington on offense. He'll be asked to continue mentoring the young guys and take a backseat on the sidelines.
Of course, the Dolphins are in need of a starting nickel back after the departure of Nate Jones, so that might be the perfect role for Allen to fill; assuming he's willing to of course.
5. Does Justin Smiley Have a Future with This Team?
The official stance of the Dolphins front office when it comes to Justin Smiley is "stay tuned."
That seems a bit unfair for a player that is arguably the best offensive guard on the team. But when it comes to sports, its always "what have you done for me lately."
Smiley has been plagued by injuries for much of his two years with the franchise. In his absence last season, Nate Garner emerged as a starting-caliber guard. Then the Dolphins brought in free agent guard Richie Incognito.
That led to the team unsuccessfully attempting to trade Smiley throughout the draft and taking it a step further by selecting Ole Miss guard John Jerry in the third round.
Ireland projects Jerry as a left guard, the same position Smiley has started the last two seasons.
The Dolphins have already paid the entire guaranteed portion of Smiley's contract, so they can release him without repercussion, whenever they want. Unfortunately, that's probably exactly what's going to happen.
6. Who Will the Starting Offensive Guards Be?
With starting-caliber guards Justin Smiley, Donald Thomas, Nate Garner, Richie Incognito, and John Jerry all on the roster at the moment, the competition for the two starting guard positions will be one of the battles to watch this offseason.
Garner finished the year as the starting right guard last season, and the Dolphins love what they've seen from this young man so far. He's developed at a very fast pace, going from the practice squad to rotating at practically every position on the line.
He'll get first crack at holding down his starting position at right guard, followed by former starter Donald Thomas. Its possible Miami will rotate them much like they did last season; which proved rather successful.
At left guard, third-round pick John Jerry will be given every opportunity to earn the starting role and become a staple of the offensive line in the same manner as Jake Long and Vernon Carey.
He'll have to fight off Incognito, the lone free agent addition to the Dolphins offensive line. Incognito has a mean streak and won't just sit back while the young gun tries to keep him on the sideline. They'll battle it out all season long.
As for Smiley, he's probably the odd man out. It seems unrealistic to think he'll be on the roster next season. He makes more money than all four of these guys combined and doesn't play at a high enough level to justify it.
7. Who Will Start Opposite Brandon Marshall at Wide Receiver?
Brandon Marshall will be the No. 1 receiver next season, that's a given, but who will line up opposite him?
The Dolphins receiver core might not have been that impressive before Marshall joined the roster, but Brian Hartline, Devon Bess, and Greg Camarillo are all talented players with a lot to offer.
Bess was the most productive receiver last season, Hartline emerged as a solid wideout in his rookie year, and Camarillo has been one of the most consistent players on the roster the last two seasons.
Harline really came into his own at the end of last season which gives the inclination he'll be the No. 2 receiver by the time the season opens. He's the youngest of the three and has the most upside as well.
Bess excels as a slot receiver so he'll best serve the team in that role. As for Camarillo, he's a fan favorite but it seems unlikely he'll beat out Hartline for the starting role.
8. Of the 14 linebackers on the Roster, Who's Going to Start?
Karlos Dansby might be the only lock to start out of any of the linebackers currently on the roster.
Channing Crowder may have been a starter for much of the last three years, but he hurt his stock with a disappointing season in 2009. To put it in perspective, Crowder's 51 tackles, one sack, and one interception are less than Tim Dobbins' 55 tackles, one forced fumble, one sack, and one interception.
Dobbins played primarily on special teams while Crowder was the staring mike linebacker. That's not good for No. 52. Don't be surprised if he loses his starting spot next season. Reggie Torbor has an outside chance of getting into the mix as well.
All of the other inside linebackers are either too raw, too inexperienced, or simply not talented enough to warrant starting consideration.
At outside linebacker, the weakside job is Cameron Wake's too lose, but he needs to work on being more than a pass rusher. If he can't get it done in run and pass support, he'll find himself playing behind Charlie Anderson in a hurry.
Koa Misi is an underrated talent and will probably be the starting strongside linebacker by the end of training camp. Eric Walden and Quentin Moses are both career backups; if they beat him out the Dolphins should worry.
9. Is There a Starting-Caliber Free Safety on the Roster?
Free safety was one of the three biggest needs of the team entering the draft, and was the only one that wasn't properly addressed.
Georgia safety Reshad Jones was selected in the fifth round, but its unlikely he'll pick up the system fast enough to be considered a starting option this season. There are also concerns about his playing style, and some experts believe he doesn't have the instincts to succeed in the NFL.
He's a playmaker with a knack for big-time hits, but can play out of control at times. That's the reason he was available so late in the draft.
Tyrone Culver has the intelligence, but lacks the ideal skill level to be a full-time starter. He's been on the roster the longest of the Dolphins three free safeties, but has served as a backup throughout that time.
Chris Clemons, last season's fifth round pick, showed a lot of potential last season, and started a couple games over Gibril Wilson. He's got the talent, but like Jones, is a bit raw.
The truth is, not too much confidence can be put in any of them as the starting option next season. Don't be surprised to see a veteran brought in at some point after other teams trim their rosters.
10. Now That Ted Ginn Jr. Is Gone, Who Will Be the New Return Man?
For all the headaches Ted Ginn Jr. gave the Dolphins last season, he excelled in one area in particular: As a kickoff returner, Ginn was the best on the roster. Against the Jets on November 1, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. If not for that contribution, the Dolphins would have lost that game.
Ginn is a dynamic returner with great instincts and speed. Right now there isn't anyone on the roster who can match his skill set.
Davone Bess and Patrick Cobbs will likely split duties on punt returns, as they've done for the last couple years, but when it comes to kickoff returns Miami doesn't have another Ginn to unleash.
Corey Sheets, Brian Hartline, Bess, and Cobbs are all options, but it will be interesting to see if someone new is brought into the mix to beef up the competition.