Miami Dolphins: Biggest Storylines Ahead of Training Camp
Thursday morning, July 30, is when the Miami Dolphins begin training camp.
For Dolphins fans that day can't come soon enough, as an offseason filled with savvy moves and big splashes leads into a season so promising that the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective pegs the Dolphins as your 2015 AFC Champions.
Don't go getting those pots and pans just yet, though, as there's six weeks of training camp followed by 16 regular-season games to play before we even find out if the Dolphins make the playoffs.
Instead, we'll have to focus on the storylines surrounding the Dolphins, which we did last week with an early preview.
This week, we've narrowed it down, used some new information that has come to light and presented to you the five biggest storylines ahead of training camp, ranked in terms of how big the storyline might be.
5. Change in Practice Schedule
Practice schedules are about as exciting as watching paint dry, and they usually don't make for a good storyline.
For the Dolphins, this year is different. Miami ran a rather unorthodox practice schedule the last two seasons, taking either Mondays or Fridays off while most NFL teams tend to take Tuesdays off.
This season will be different, as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the Dolphins will change their practice schedule, including taking Tuesdays off.
Salguero noted that the team's sports science department has studied the facts and figures indicating that Tuesday was the best day to have off.
The change also means more days off, as head coach Joe Philbin explained:
We're going to do a couple of things a little different during the season Our game week will be different. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. We're not looking to cut corners or do less but we are going to have the players spend a little less time on their feet.
Last year we started collecting a lot of information but didn't have the context to make decisions. But now we can kind of predict how much player load and volume intensity, based on the practice schedules I give them, how that impacts the guys.
We're switching the day off from Monday back to Tuesday. We're not going to really practice Monday. We used to practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday walkthrough, a little Saturday as well. So we're going to practice one day less.
The question you might be asking is if it makes a difference. The answer is we probably won't be able to tell. What will make the difference is the less time practicing. You can point to the fact that the Dolphins had worn themselves down the last two seasons, going 1-3 in the final four games of 2014 and losing their last two games of 2013.
But is less practicing during the week going to solve that? The more old-school mentality says the idea of practicing hard during the week to the point where Sunday's game seems easy in comparison may be going out the window.
The less wear and tear bodies have to take, the better off they will be long term (again, the Dolphins have been atrocious in December the last two seasons), and practicing hard isn't as important as practicing smart.
4. Final Spot at Wide Receiver Up for Grabs
Miami's wide receivers look like a well-stocked unit this season, to the point where there are six talented players vying for five potential spots.
Why five spots, you ask? More depth will be needed at other positions (linebacker, cornerback and offensive line), so even though Miami will likely play with three or four receivers on the field at once, only five will be on the roster.
The battle will be between the disgruntled Rishard Matthews and second-year player Matt Hazel.
Both players are similar in the sense that they can play either outside or in the slot, are over 6'0" and are late-round draft picks.
Matthews has the veteran edge, having played for the Dolphins since being selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. He has shown flashes, with 64 receptions for 734 yards and four touchdowns in his career, but that's when he has gotten on the field.
Matthews hasn't done a good job of getting on the field, as he is constantly mentioned as being in coach Joe Philbin's doghouse due to "tardiness, lack of attention to detail and other issues," according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson (h/t NFL.com's Chris Wesseling).
Hazel still has yet to appear in any regular-season action, but during the 2014 preseason he had six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in 111 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
Per Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, both players have played well in minicamp, stating:
“Matt Hazel’s made a couple of plays and certainly I think he’s improved dramatically over a year ago. He’s a young guy. I mean, Rishard has been productive catching the football as well.”
It should be an interesting battle, but another storyline we will discuss later looms large over this decision.
3. What Will the Dolphins Do at Guard?
More so than any other position, the Dolphins' guard situation is most up in the air.
The linebackers look unproven, but with a stud defensive line in front of them, things should be fine there despite the inexperience. The secondary is a lot more scary to think about, but as long as Louis Delmas and Reshad Jones are healthy, as a whole they should be in good shape.
Guard is where help is needed, despite the presence of two Pro Bowlers on the offensive line.
Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas are currently penciled in as the left and right guard right now. Turner played 19 snaps in 2014, while Thomas was horrendous at guard, grading out at minus-12.4 at the position while finishing with a grade of minus-32.7 when adding his horrendous performance at right tackle after Ja'Wuan James shifted to left tackle.
Jamil Douglas should get every chance to win one of the starting guard spots and performed well at the position at Arizona State in 2014 after starting his career at left tackle.
There are three key injuries that are holdovers in one way or another from 2014 that will shape training camp.
One by one, we'll go through the three.
First, there's Louis Delmas, who was knocked out for the last three games of the season in 2014 due to an ACL injury. The good news is, as Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel reported, Delmas will be ready for training camp and has already participated fully in minicamp.
Branden Albert also saw his 2014 season end due to a knee injury, however, his recovery has gone a little bit slower, as he hasn't participated in any minicamp sessions.
There's some good news with Albert, though, as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported that Albert might pass his physical when players report on Wednesday and is on schedule with his return.
Finally there's DeVante Parker, whom Salguero noted was a candidate for the PUP list to start training camp due to foot surgery. That shouldn't cause much worry for now, though, as the Dolphins still expect Parker to be ready for the start of the season.
Hopefully this training camp will be a clean one with no new injuries or flare ups of old ones, as despite the good news on Delmas, Albert and Parker there is still some fear that accompanies any injury.
1. Ryan Tannehill and the Development of the Offense
The scheme is the same as last year, which is a good thing.
The offensive coordinator is the same as last year. That too is a good thing.
The quarterback is the same as last year, just richer. That's a good thing as well.
Everything should be pointing up for the Dolphins offense, a unit that finished the season ranked 11th in points scored and 14th in yards.
However, the same offense that scored so many points couldn't seem to do it in the red zone, where they only scored a touchdown 54 percent of the time. This is despite going into the red zone more than any other team in the NFL.
The drafting of DeVante Parker and Jay Ajayi is expected to help out, along with the signing of former Browns tight end Jordan Cameron.
The receivers are all new save for Jarvis Landry and the aforementioned Rishard Matthews. Tannehill developed great chemistry with Landry last season and seems to work well with any receiver not named Mike Wallace (banished to Minnesota).
The biggest fear remains the offensive line. Can Branden Albert remain healthy? Are the Dolphins in good shape at guard?
Those will be the big questions heading into the season, starting in training camp.