Miami Dolphins Preview: Top 10 Concerns Going Into Training Camp
Entering 2010 training camp, the Dolphins are a team headlined by shiny new additions and the expectation of a second playoff birth in three years.
While most of the media's attention has focused on Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby, the Dolphins have many holes to fill and just as many unresolved battles that could keep this team from reaching the promised land.
Luckily for the Dolphins, none of these concerns are particularly earth shattering, however, if a few of them do go unresolved, this team could be in serious trouble.
Training camp is here to smooth out all of the following concerns. Whether or not the Dolphins are able to respond to these questions may dictate whether or not they will reach the postseason.
No. 10: Marshall, Marshall, Marshall
Brandon Marshall kept a lingering hip injury quiet throughout his initial arrival in Miami, but to the dismay of many, underwent hip surgery in May.
Rumors began circulating over Marshall's status for training camp, many of which claimed the $47 million man would not be ready for training camp. Although many of those rumors have been debunked, Marshall must be 100 percent ready for training camp.
We all know how gifted Marshall is, but it remains vital that he have as much time as possible to build chemistry and comfort with quarterback Chad Henne.
Marshall is expected to be ready for training camp, so while this is not an issue that should be a real concern, it is worth keeping an eye on.
No. 9: Will Allen's Road to Recovery
Will Allen's 2009 season came to a painful end after a Week six ACL tear.
Allen's untimely injury cost him more than just one season on the sidelines and a hefty medical bill. It might have cost him his job.
In Allen's absence, rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith had time to develop and mature, making them the favorites to win the starting corner jobs for 2010.
So, where does that leave Allen? He's a crafty, skilled veteran, but after a major knee injury, how versatile will he be?
The Dolphins have already deflated rumors he might be moved to free safety, leaving Allen somewhere in the cornerback rotation. Allen's knee injury and age will likely eliminate the possibility of him taking over at nickelback, where he would have to lock down the league's speedy slot receivers.
Miami's young secondary needs Allen's veteran guidance on the field, but he must prove he is capable of taking on a role with the Dolphins defense during training camp.
No. 8: Finding a Return-man
The much celebrated departure of Ted Ginn Jr. opened the door for a kick return competition.
The Dolphins brought in free agent Ryan Grice-Mullen this offseason to compete for the job, but he will have to fend off some combination of Kory Sheets, Patrick Cobbs, and A.J. Wallace to secure his spot on the roster.
Miami's special teams, particularly the return game, have been substandard over the past couple of seasons, and finding a home-run threat would vastly improve this unit as a whole, as well as the offense's chances of scoring.
No. 7: Chad Henne and the Sophomore Wall
Rookie sensation Matt Ryan ran smack into it, and now the Dolphins' playoff hopes hinge on Chad Henne's ability to run through it.
There is no science to the sophomore wall, rather, there is just a pattern.
Ryan's interception total rose and his yardage total dropped from 2008 to 2009. While the numbers do not appear to be drastic, they are for a team competing for a playoff spot.
Chad Henne only has room to improve after the Dolphins' offseason shopping spree. If Henne hits a sophomore slump, fans will be quick to label him the next failed quarterback in the long line of Marino successors.
After spending his entire rookie season behind Chad Pennington, posting very solid numbers in 2009, and now with a full summer as the team's uncontested starter, Henne should be able to avoid a slump.
Henne will have to keep his head down and stay focused on the task at hand during training camp if he wants to dodge the wall, but this shouldn't become too much of a concern for the team.
No. 6: Can A Run Stuffing Front Seven Generate a Pass Rush?
After finishing 2009 with the league's 18th ranked run defense, the Dolphins made some major changes to their defensive front seven.
They said farewell to aging pass rushers Jason Taylor and Joey Porter, and welcomed Karlos Dansby, Koa Misi, and Jared Odrick, all of whom are known for their ability to locate the ball carrier and bring him to the ground.
But, by cutting ties with Taylor and Porter, and moving emerging pass rush threat Randy Starks inside to nose tackle, the Dolphins have left themselves with almost no source to generate a pass rush from.
Cameron Wake is the one true sack-master on this roster, but he is yet to prove he can be relied upon as an every down linebacker.
Mike Nolan turned formerly unknown Broncos linebacker Elvis Dumervil into a Pro Bowler in his lone year in Denver, so the Dolphins must hope that he can replicate that magic on Koa Misi and the rest of the Dolphins front seven.
No. 5: Sophomore Secondary
After just one year in the NFL, Dolphins cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis have started to remind many Dolfans of the "No Fly Zone," which was famously anchored by cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
However, with Smith and Davis at the helm, the Dolphins pass defense finished 2009 with a dismal 24th overall ranking. While that ranking may certainly have been a product of the Dolphins grueling schedule against many of the league's top receivers, as well as Gibril Wilson's terrible performance, these two have a long way to go before they can solidify themselves as shutdown corners.
Smith and Davis have had a long offseason to build off of their rookie campaigns, and their quest to prove themselves as shutdown corners will continue through training camp.
Their progression and play in 2010 will play a huge factor in the team's playoff chances.
No. 4: Offensive Line Musical Chairs
Although three spots on the Dolphins offensive line are essentially set in stone—Jake Long at LT, Jake Grove at C, and Vernon Carey at RT—the guard spots are anything but.
The Dolphins brought in the controversial Richie Incognito this offseason, banking on hopes that he will bring great play and not great distraction. They also drafted behemoth John Jerry in the third of the NFL Draft.
Both are expected to compete, and likely win starting spots, overthrowing incumbent starter Donald Thomas and fulfilling Justin Smiley's vacant spot.
Shuffling an offensive line is always cause for concern, especially in a system with multiple looks in the Wildcat and "Wildpat."
The Dolphins must find their starting guards and get situated as quickly as possible in training camp, because this unit will need as many reps together as possible to mold.
No. 3: Mike Nolan's Defense
Upon his arrival in Miami earlier this offseason, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has made his intentions clear. "I would like to think we're offensive—not defensive."
Nolan's scheme is one any fan can appreciate, but are the Dolphins prepared to take on creative blitz packages and an aggressive style of play?
This team still does not know where it will generate a pass rush from, nor does it know who will stand as its last line of defense at free safety.
So, how exactly can the Dolphins play so aggressively when they might not have the players or the protection to do it? How can they blitz with a secondary that can't be relied on to cover the slack?
It is a question that will have to be answered over the course of the regular season, but this defense must begin finding those answers during training camp.
No. 2: Wear and Tear on Ronnie and Ricky
Since Ricky Williams' return to the NFL, he and teammate Ronnie Brown have combined to form one of the deadliest running back duos in the league.
The Dolphins finished fourth in the league in rushing offense last year, but that did not come without its negative side effects.
Ronnie Brown continued to show his inability to stay healthy for a full year after putting yet another major injury on his resume, and Ricky Williams was forced to carry a brutal work load of 241 carries at age 32.
Brown is now approaching 30. His injuries will catch up to him, especially considering he is forced to spend the offseason rehabbing rather than working out. And Williams may very well feel the effects of last season's bruising.
Granted, Brown has time and time again proven he can effectively rebound from major injuries, and Ricky's age is a bit misleading due to his extended absence from football, these are still very valid concerns heading into training camp.
No. 1: Weak Competition at Free Safety
Easily the biggest concern going into the Dolphins training camp is at the free safety position.
Chris Clemons, Tyrone Culver, and rookie Reshad Jones will compete for the starting job. Clemons and Jones are believed to be favored in the race due to Culver's possible move to nickel-back.
Clemons is the only one to start an NFL game at free safety, making this position battle a concerning one.
Whoever wins the starting spot will be the safety blanket behind two second year corners in a new scheme, putting an abundance of pressure on a young, inexperienced player.
Much like the offensive line, the Dolphins must determine the player who best fits at free safety as soon as possible, because he will have his hands full.