Miami Dolphins Players Climbing the Depth Chart This Offseason
No final roster decisions for the Miami Dolphins will be made until training camp, but some players are climbing up the depth chart with OTAs coming to an end.
Dallas Thomas, whom most people assumed would be fighting just to stay on the roster, has ascended up the depth chart to the point that he's been getting first-team reps, according to ESPN.com's James Walker.
Jelani Jenkins totaled just 127 snaps in 2013, but he has also been getting significant work with the starting unit, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
This isn't to say that Jenkins and Thomas are assured of starting positions, as plenty more can change from now until the start of the season.
However, they are both higher up on the depth chart than they were a few weeks ago. They will head into training camp with a possible leg up on their competition.
Let's take a look at Thomas, Jenkins and a few other players who also saw their depth-chart stock rise during OTAs.
When the Dolphins first signed Earl Mitchell, it was widely expected that he would be coming off the bench in a rotation with Randy Starks and Jared Odrick.
This has allowed Mitchell to get all of the first-team reps along with Starks, and Mitchell has taken advantage of the opportunity with very solid play.
While we don't quite know the nature of Odrick's injury or its severity, the fact that Mitchell is getting to showcase some of his skills on the first team will only help him as he battles for a starting role in training camp.
After all, he is a talented pass-rusher and capable run-stuffer who fits perfectly as a defensive tackle in Miami's 4-3 defense.
Don't be surprised if the 26-year-old Mitchell takes advantage of the upper hand he has gotten on Odrick and hangs onto the starting role right through training camp and into the regular season.
Heading into OTAs, the only thing we knew for sure about the Dolphins depth chart at cornerback was that Brent Grimes was the clear No. 1 starter.
When it comes to the player who will start opposite Grimes, that will come down to a battle among Cortland Finnegan, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.
Well, according to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the current favorite to land that role is Finnegan, who has worked with the first team throughout OTAs.
Omar Kelly went as far to say that, barring injury, Finnegan was a lock to be the other starter come opening day:
RT @_sham_sham_ how is our secondary looking and who is most likely to start? > Finnegan. Write it down in pen unless he gets hurt.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) June 11, 2014
While I won't take it to that level because there's no way any positional battle can be decided before training camp even begins, it's clear that Finnegan has made his mark early on.
With that said, if he can win the starting spot in the secondary, it could represent a best-case scenario situation for Miami.
Finnegan winning the job would be an indication that he's returning to his 2011 form when he was one of the top cornerbacks in the league.
Pairing a rejuvenated Finnegan with Grimes would make an already formidable Dolphins defense even more dangerous.
Over the offseason, the Dolphins made it their top priority to rebuild the offensive line.
After hiring John Benton to be the new offensive line coach, Miami signed Branden Albert and Shelley Smith at the start of free agency and followed that up by using two of their top three draft picks on Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner.
While most assumed that these four players would join Mike Pouncey in the starting lineup, Dallas Thomas—who was on the field for just two snaps in 2013—has jumped atop the depth chart during OTAs.
Over the last few weeks, he has done all his work as the left guard on the first team and appears to be the clear favorite to start on opening day.
Dallas Thomas has worked hard to redefine his body, turning plenty of his fat into muscle, and it appears his hard work has helped him hold onto the starting left guard spot all of OTAs. It will be interesting to see what happens when rookie Billy Turner gets comfortable playing guard, and when the pads come on.
As Kelly points out, things may change when the pads come on during training camp, but as of right now, Thomas is one of the pleasant surprises early on for Miami.
After a quiet rookie year that saw him get on the field for just 127 snaps, Jelani Jenkins appears ready for a much larger role in 2014.
Last year the former fourth-round pick proved his worth in coverage, and as a result he will likely see a lot of playing time in nickel packages throughout the season.
However, if OTAs are any indication, he may be on the field for more than just passing downs, as he could possibly beat out Philip Wheeler for a starting role.
According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, Jenkins was on the field quite a bit as an outside linebacker with the first-team defense over the past few weeks:
Jelani Jenkins getting a lot of looks with first teamers. Several times today I've seen him and Ellerbe on outside with Misi inside.— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) June 2, 2014
With the way Wheeler performed in 2013, it's no surprise to find out that the Dolphins may be looking for an upgrade.
He ranked 35th among 35 outside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and was graded worse in every category from where he was in 2012.
While Jenkins will be splitting time with both Wheeler and Jordan Tripp at the strong-side linebacker position, it appears he may get the first shot at being the starter when training camp comes around.
There's no question that the player who has turned the most heads during OTAs the past few weeks has been Dion Jordan.
The No. 3 overall pick in 2013 gained 17 pounds in the offseason, bulking up to 265 pounds and looking primed to put together a huge performance this season.
That's not just me talking though, as Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle gave a similar prediction on Jordan, via ESPN.com's James Walker:
Dion wished he had a bigger rookie season and so do we, but we have great expectations for Dion Jordan coming into this year. You cannot have enough great pass-rushers and, we feel that with Dion at full speed, we have a prime-time player that’s going to explode this year.
He doesn't sound like he's talking about a player who's coming off the bench this season.
While Olivier Vernon may be penciled in as the starter right now, don't expect that to be the case for much longer, as Jordan is simply the more talented player.
In fact, even last year with Jordan playing through an injury, he still was the more efficient pass-rusher.
According to Pro Football Focus, Vernon registered pressure on the quarterback once every 11 snaps, while Jordan got pressure once every 8.5 plays.
This isn't a knock on Vernon, as he has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowl-caliber player.
However, there's a reason that future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor has gone on record to say that Jordan can be even better than he was.
That reason is because Jordan has all the tools needed to become a bona fide superstar in this league, and when you have a player that talented, you get him on the field as often as you can.