Drawing conclusions about players based on minicamp performance is usually an exercise in futility. A player that looks great in shorts often disappears once the pads come on. Some players don't take minicamps seriously, but shine when full-contact hitting starts in training camp and carries over into the regular season.
However, one can make some astute observations reading between the lines. Here is an attempt to do just that based on the Miami Dolphins minicamp this weekend.
Miami is more concerned with player combinations than who runs first team or second team at a certain position. Look at the way the Dolphins have handled the outside linebacker position the last three days. Koa Misi, Charlie Anderson, Quentin Moses and Cameron Wake have been interchangeable components at the strong and weak-side linebacker positions.
One day, you had Quentin Moses and Charlie Anderson as the first team unit. Then you had Misi and Anderson as the first team and eventually Wake and Anderson as the first team linebackers. Don't be surprised to see other variations as camps continue.
The key component in these pairings is that no role has been clearly defined. Anderson is working primarily as a weak-side linebacker, even though he is thought to be a strong-side linebacker, because the Dolphins want to see how these players complement each other. When Wake moved to the first team he lined up on the strong side even though he is thought to be primarily a weak-side linebacker candidate.
Free safety is a two-man battle at this point. Chris Clemons is being given every chance to win the starting job as he has worked with the first team all weekend. The Dolphins know what they have in Tyrone Culver and might prefer to keep him as a back-up to Yeremiah Bell. Rookie Reshad Jones appearing to have a lingering leg injury and is not a viable candidate to win the starting job at this point. Signing O.J. Atogwe might warrant serious consideration if he is available on June 1st.
The offensive line, especially its interior, is up in the air. We won't know anything concrete until training camp at the earliest, but the guard and center positions are two deep. This creates an interesting dilemma because NFL teams typically like to work a first unit offensive line together so they get comfortable with each other. Miami seems to be very impressed with rookie guard John Jerry and back-up center Joe Berger. Meanwhile, Nate Garner is coming off surgery and starting center Jake Grove's stock seems to be in question.
Several players are still recovering from injuries. I hope the Dolphins have stock in an exercise bike company because players such as Will Allen, Channing Crowder, Brandon Marshall, and Jason Ferguson will be pedaling more than playing for at least a little while longer. There is no rush to bring most of these players back but it will make fans a little bit antsy if they are witnessing the same "Tour de France" bike scene in July and August.
Which brings us to Channing Crowder. He has taken part in some seven-on-seven drills, but has been held out of practices for the most part. Crowder's body has been depleted over the years. Typically, his knees have been the question, but his recovery from a Lisfranc injury to the right foot has been typically (for this kind of injury) slow. A healthy Crowder is the team's starter next to Karlos Dansby in the middle. However, inside linebacker Tim Dobbins could see significant action if Crowder can't handle the physical demands of the position.
The top three quarterbacks on this team are Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen and Chad Pennington. But, this doesn't mean that these are the three you will see on the final roster. Henne is a lock and Pennington would appear to be a safety valve and de facto position coach.
Thigpen is clearly better than 2009 second round draft pick Pat White, but the coaching staff seems committed to having White grow and get better. Thigpen could still be trade bait if the Dolphins feel comfortable enough with Pennington as Henne's primary back-up.
Perhaps the best reason for Dolphins fans to be excited is the maturation of second year cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. Smith has added muscle mass and seems to be better suited for press coverage than he was last year. Both players have the confident, bordering on cocky attitude that comes with being a great cornerback, but being pressed into starting action during their rookie years has given them perspective.
"I learned to relax,'' Smith said. ” We were in so many close games the last thing I wanted to do was make a mistake and lose a game. I played a little too safe. You've got to study and pick your spots when to take chances, when the percentages are on your side."
Davis simply said, "I understand the game so much better now. Night and Day."
There are certainly other observations—right, wrong, or indifferent that you can make from the Miami Dolphins minicamp this weekend. So what are yours?
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