Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dolphins sign G Riley, waive T Wilson

The Dolphins made another pair of roster moves today, adding free agent guard Rueben Riley while waiving second-year offensive tackle Julius Wilson.

A college teammate of Dolphins rookies Jake Long and Chad Henne at Michigan, the 23-year-old Riley was signed by the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He failed to make the cut following the preseason, but was added to the team's practice squad. Re-signed this offseason, Riley waived by the team on July 23.

Wilson, 24, was signed by the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent out of UAB last year. He spent the entire season on the practice squad before being re-signed this offseason. He was expected to compete for a backup tackle job in camp.

While there's no apparent talent loss with this move, the curious thing about it is that it leaves the Dolphins with only three listed tackles on the roster (Long, Vernon Carey, Daren Heerspink). I emphasize listed because obviously there are other players on the team with tackle experience, such as Trey Darilek. In fact after a little investigation, it appears Riley (6-4, 305) played right tackle his senior season at Michigan. With the undrafted Heerspink headlining the backup offensive tackles, one has to assume there are other guys on the roster that will get looks there as well.

All in all, this seems like a solid (though not hugely significant) signing. Riley has plenty of experience at a college powerhouse (37 games, 27 starts from 2003-2006) and clearly has some versatility as well. With plenty of bodies at guard, it will definitely take some of that versatility for him, or anyone, to secure a roster spot. He should not be considered likely to make the team at this point.

Dolphins waive two, add AFL receiver

A day into training camp, the Dolphins signed one of their two unsigned draft picks, added an Arena league receiver and waived two players. Second-round defensive end Phillip Merling signed a four-year contract with the team today while Dallas Desperados receiver Anthony Armstrong was inked as well. To make room for the two, wideout Justin Wynn and offensive tackle Dan Gore (both undrafted rookies) were waived.

The 25-year-old Armstrong (5-11, 175) played college football at West Texas A&M. He went undrafted in 2005 and played for the Odessa Roughnecks of the Intense Football League (an indoor league) in 2006. He spent the past two seasons with the Dallas Desperados of the Arena Football League.

At West Texas A&M, Armstrong earned All-Lone Star Conference his junior and senior seasons and finished his collegiate career with 45 receptions for 1,768 yards. He had a pre-draft workout with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 (most obscure connection ever?) but went undrafted and unsigned.

In 2006, Armstrong joined the Odessa Roughnecks of the Texas-based Intense Football League. That season, he caught 55 passes for 760 yards and 18 touchdowns, rushed four times for 39 yards and three touchdowns, and returned seven kickoffs for 166 yards and a touchdown.

The following year, Armstrong began the Arena league season on the practice squad of the Dallas Desperados before being promoted to the active roster. He finished the year with 10 catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns while adding another touchdown on his only kick return of the season. He experienced a breakout season with the Desperados in 2008, catching 85 passes for 1,162 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Analysis

The Dolphins really just swapped one long-shot receiver for another. Armstrong wasn't a stud in college and clearly hasn't been thought of as much of an NFL prospect. He faces competition from a handful of other players, including Davone Bess, Jayson Foster, Selwyn Lymon and John Dunlap. He isn't a good bet to make the team.

As for the other release, the departure of Dan Gore gives the Dolphins only five tackles on the roster. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Dolphins make an addition in this area soon, as they recently worked out undrafted free agent Pedro Sosa - a potential second- or third-rounder from Rutgers who went undrafted due to a knee injury his senior season.

Pre-Training Camp Final Roster Predictions

With final cutdowns still over a month away, odds are these predictions wind up horrible off. But I figured it would still be fun at this point to try and make my best guess at the 53-man roster come September. A few things to keep in mind:
  • A lot of things can and will change between now and September 1, so I don't expect these to be very accurate
  • I am not taking into account any possible signings or roster additions (Terry Glenn, anyone?) during camp or the preseason, and such occurrences would obviously throw these predictions off
Quarterbacks (3): Josh McCown, John Beck, Chad Henne

Running backs (4): Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Jalen Parmele, Lex Hilliard

Fullbacks (2): Reagan Mauia, Boomer Grigsby

Wide receivers (5): Ernest Wilford, Ted Ginn, Jr., Derek Hagan, Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess

Tight ends (3): Anthony Fasano, Justin Peelle, Sean Ryan

Offensive tackles (3): Jake Long, Vernon Carey, Trey Darilek

Offensive guards (4): Justin Smiley, Steve McKinney, Shawn Murphy, Donald Thomas

Centers (2): Samson Satele, Mike Byrne

Defensive ends (5): Randy Starks, Vonnie Holliday, Philip Merling, Kendall Langford, Rodrique Wright

Defensive tackles (2): Jason Ferguson, Paul Soliai

Outside linebackers (5): Joey Porter, Charlie Anderson, Quentin Moses, Junior Glymph, Titus Brown

Inside linebackers (3): Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, Reggie Torbor

Cornerbacks (5): Will Allen, Michael Lehan, Andre' Goodman, Nathan Jones, Joey Thomas

Safeties (4): Jason Allen, Yeremiah Bell, Chris Crocker, Keith Davis

Special teams (3): Jay Feely, Brandon Fields, John Denney

Total: 53

Some of my the most notable cuts:
  • RB Patrick Cobbs - if Lex Hilliard can show ability on special teams, the team will probably keep him around in lieu of Cobbs.
  • TE David Martin - Fasano was clearly acquired to be a starter and Martin was pretty much horrible in all aspects last season. I think they go with some stronger blockers in Peelle and Ryan to back up
  • DE Matt Roth - Roth has shown flashes during his three-year career but has yet to establish himself as a legitimate starter with only three sacks last season. I also don't see him as a good fit in the 3-4, and with all the bodies added to the position in the offseason I don't see the use for him here.
  • CB Travis Daniels - Daniels has regressed since his 2005 rookie season and is not a legitimate starter, which is why I think former Cowboys Nathan Jones and Joey Thomas beat him out.
  • FS Renaldo Hill - Hill is solid and could make the team, but I think Jason Allen will start and the Dolphins go with a healthier Chris Crocker as backup.
I can't imagine we'll all see eye-to-eye on this, so I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on my predictions and what you see happening differently! Also, you can check out my latest projected depth chart spreadsheet here.

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 1: Starting QB

I'm not going to go through all the failures at quarterback the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired because, well, I have plans this weekend. I think we're all aware lack the of a franchise quarterback has been a burden on this team for nearly a decade now. The team hopes that franchise signal-caller is already on the team, but who will start in the immediate future?

Many Dolphins fans weren't too thrilled with the signing of Josh McCown, but I feel that's only because they didn't understand the reasoning behind it. McCown was not signed to be the future of the team, nor was he necessarily signed to even start at all. While I'm no McCown fan by any stretch, I realize the absolute necessity of having at least one quarterback on the team with legitimate NFL experience. Maybe he was the best out there, maybe he wasn't. I actually believe the latter. But quite frankly, it doesn't matter if he was the best or not because he's merely a placeholder for John Beck, Chad Henne or some yet-to-be-acquired quarterback prospect. Remember: there are no Peyton Mannings or Tom Bradys on the free agent market. It just doesn't happen.

As a quarterback, McCown can probably best be described as mediocre. His accuracy and decision-making are questionable at best, and during stints in Arizona, Detroit and Oakland he's pretty much proven he's not a legitimate starting quarterback. That being said, he's probably the best quarterback on the team right now and as the only veteran is the safe pick to start in 2008. He's also a serviceable sixth receiver, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.

While McCown is the safe pick and he definitely has a legitimate chance at starting, he is not the guy I hope starts. I do believe McCown would probably be the most productive in 2008 out of the players on the roster, if only because of Beck's and Henne's inexperience. However, I feel is simply little risk in starting 2007 second-rounder Beck.

Though Beck is holdover from the Cam Cameron era probably not the team's quarterback of the future (if only because he's not "Parcells' guy"), it seems to me that you should at least find out what you have in a guy that was one of the best quarterback prospects in the draft only a year ago. McCown won't light to world on fire and Miami is unlikely to be competitive this season anyway, so why not give Beck a year to show what he can do before Henne is ready to take the reins?

The way I see it, there's no risk. If Beck emerges as a productive NFL starter, then your quarterback search is over. Perhaps in such an event, Henne becomes your own version of the Falcons' Matt Schaub and you can get some value for him in trade a few years from now. If Beck shows some skills but Henne's still your guy, maybe it's Beck that you trade somewhere down the line. If Beck flat-out fails, you still have Henne waiting in the wings.

I won't complain if McCown starts because I understand the reasoning behind it. If you're trying to field the best possible team in 2008, then he's the right choice. But as someone that's not optimistic about the team's chances this season and who would like to see what we have in some of our prospects, I'm hoping that Beck is given a year under the new regime to prove his value.

The position(s): Starting quarterback

Number of spots: One

The contenders:
Josh McCown, John Beck, Chad Henne

Predicted winner(s):
Beck

Reason:
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Beck gets his shot in 2008 while McCown fills the No. 2 spot in the event Beck struggles. I don't feel Henne is a legitimate contender at this point, as I think the team would rather sit him for a season before letting him for the gig in '09. That being said, we could see a glimpse of Henne late this year if the season is lost and Beck and McCown haven't produced.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 2: Starting LG

First overall pick Jake Long has the potential to be a franchise left tackle. Former first-rounder Vernon Carey is now at his more natural right tackle. 2007 second-rounder Samson Satele is coming off a tremendous rookie campaign. Free-agent pickup Justin Smiley upgrades the right guard spot over the departed Rex Hadnot. Miami's young offensive line is certainly coming together quite nicely. Only problem is there's still one piece missing.

With the departure of Chris Liwienski (the definition of addition by subtraction) the Dolphins have an opening at the starting left guard spot. As with the tackle depth, there isn't much of a veteran presence here. In fact, there was essentially no experience there until the Dolphins added Steve McKinney in May. Tackle Trey Darilek, who played in in 18 games for the Eagles from 2004-2005 but none since, can also play guard.

Beyond that, you have two drafted rookies in fourth-rounder Shawn Murphy and sixth-rounder Donald Thomas plus 2007 holdover Ike Ndukwe. Dale Murphy's kid is a strong, solid run blocker who should develop into a solid starter, while Thomas is experienced and raw but has some upside. Ndukwe also possesses the bulk (6-4, 330) at guard that Parcells loves. That being said, none are likely ready to start from Day 1.

If he's healthy, McKinney is my pick (and my hope) to start at left guard initially. He's got tons of experience at the position, having started the majority of his 143 games with the Colts and Texans there. An added bonus is that in the event of an injury to Satele, McKinney could slide over to center and you could plug in Murphy at guard. Unfortunately, McKinney is recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out of most of last season. He was reportedly "75 to 80 percent" healed in May, which is cause for optimism as camp opens tomorrow.

Unlike at some positions, the Dolphins have both the veteran experience for the present and the youth for the future at guard. With Miami's offensive line already 80 percent, they aren't far off from having one of the best young lines in football.

The position(s): Starting left guard

Number of spots: One

The contenders:
Steve McKinney, Shawn Murphy, Donald Thomas, Trey Darilek, Ike Ndukwe

Predicted winner(s):
McKinney

Reason:
With a rookie left tackle and an overall young offensive line, Miami could use a veteran presence and McKinney is the only current in-house player that fits the bill. While only a temporary fix, McKinney is a proven player that should turn in a solid performance if healthy. Meanwhile, Shawn Murphy can be groomed to start by 2009 or even late this season, while Thomas can continue to be developed as well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 3: Placekicker

To say the battle between Jay Feely and Dan Carpenter intrigues me isn't really accurate. Rather, this battle worries me. It worries me because of the fact that it's even a battle at all.

As laughable as it is now, I actually had to defend replacing Olindo Mare with Jay Feely to Dolphins fans last offseason. As we all know, Feely was outstanding last season, setting the Dolphins' single-season field goal percentage record at 91.3. Meanwhile, Mare was horrible beyond words. (Though not beyond numbers, ones like 58.8 percent.)

Despite Feely's fantastic performance last season, it seems that Parcells doesn't take kindly to his outspoken nature in the media. I for one could not care less. If my kicker does as well as Feely did last year, he can go on profanity-laden tirades daily. But Parcells does not agree, and he's exerting his authority over arguably the Dolphins' MVP of the 2007 season.

Admittedly, Feely is not that strong on kickoffs and that is another reason for this competition. In 2007, he ranked 31st in the NFL in kickoff average and 15th in touchbacks. (Note: numbers exclude players with fewer than 10 kickoffs.) That being said, 90+ percent field goal kickers are hard to find, and it's a trade-off I'm willing to make.

With Dave Rayner having been released, the lone challenger is undrafted free agent Dan Carpenter. Carpenter has a hell of a leg with a career long field goals of 54-yards at the University of Montana. He progressed each of his four years in terms of field goal percentage, from 62.1 as a freshman, 66.7 as a sophomore, 80.0 a a junior and 82.6 as a senior. He also handled full-time punting duties his junior year.

The position(s): Placekicker

Number of spots: One

The contenders:
Jay Feely, Dan Carpenter

Predicted winner(s):
Feely

Reason:
Kickoff struggles or no, Feely was just too good last season to cut loose. Carpenter would have to blow him away in camp to earn the job, and that just does not seem likely. Carpenter would be a strong kickoff specialist, but I've never been a big fan of using two roster spots on kickers. If it's all that important, why not just have punter Brandon Fields, who also has a great leg, work at it?

Most Intriguing Training Cample Battles, No. 4: Starting ILBs

For the first time since yours truly was the coolest kid in elementary school (memories might be a bit fuzzy), Zach Thomas will not be holding down the fort at the inside linebacker spot for the Dolphins. Instead, the Dolphins have three men competing for the two starting spots in new 3-4 scheme being implemented by Parcells & Co.

Of the three - Channing Crowder, Reggie Torbor and Akin Ayodele - Crowder is the closest thing to a lock. Not only is he the youngest of the group with the most upside, he's also in a contract year and management will want to take a long look at him to see if he's worth keeping around. While not a Pro Bowl-caliber player (maybe someday), Crowder has been a solid, productive starter thus far in his career. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Crowder has perfect size for the defense and definitely has the skills to start in it. I think he's quite comparable to Bradie James, who has started every game for the Cowboys at inside linebacker over the past three seasons and has been very productive.

Assuming Crowder secures one of the spots, that leaves the other between Torbor and Ayodele. A former defensive end at Auburn, Torbor was drafted by the Giants in the fourth round in 2004 and has served as a situational and backup player most of his career. He did start for the team throughout their Super Bowl run last season after Mathias Kiwanuka went down for the season.

Meanwhile, Ayodele came over from the Cowboys in the Anthony Fasano deal just prior to this year's draft. He has plenty of experience in the defense during his time in Dallas and has been a full-time starter between the Jaguars and Cowboys since 2003.

As it stands right now, Ayodele is the better player and the safer play. He has a leg up on Ayodele when it comes to experience, production, familiarity and comfort. That being said, Torbor received a four-year, $14 million contract from the Dolphins this offseason and while that isn't a blockbuster contact it's certainly not backup money either. He was definitely signed to be a starter at some point, whether it's in place of Ayodele in 2009 or 2010, or Crowder if the team lets him walk after the season.

The thing about this battle is while one guy might earn the title when the season begins, both will definitely be in the rotation and see plenty of action. This one battle that could be waged well beyond the preseason and even the 2008 season.

The position(s): Starting inside linebacker spots

Number of spots: Two

The contenders:
Channing Crowder, Reggie Torbor, Akin Ayodele

Predicted winner(s):
Crowder and Ayodele

Reason:
Crowder, as explained above, has the most upside and the front office has to see what they have in the 24-year-old. Ayodele is simply the safe choice right now, as he's got plenty of experience and production and the coaching staff is familiar with him. Which players are actually listed at the top of the depth chart here won't make a ton of difference though, because the "odd man out" is still going to see plenty of playing time.

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 5: Last WR spots

With unanswered questions at quarterback and a lack of experience (and quite possibly talent) at wide receiver, the Dolphins will likely feature a run-heavy offense in 2008. That being the case, they'll still carry least five receivers on the roster because, well, that's just how things work. The top few spots are likely set, with Ted Ginn, Jr., Ernest Wilford and Derek Hagan essentially locks to make the squad. Beyond that, things are far less certain.

With Tab Perry already out for the season, the remaining two with NFL experience are Greg Camarillo and David Kircus. A Division II standout at Grand Valley State, Kircus has spent time with the Lions and Broncos since 2003. Camarillo, a special teams standout, earned national attention as the overtime hero in the Dolphins' lone victory last season.

I have been of the belief the entire offseason that the No. 4 receiving job would go to one of the aforementioned players and with Perry out of the picture, it comes down to Kircus and Camarillo. Kircus is probably the better receiver, though Camarillo does have some fill-in ability on offense and is also a standout special teamer. In the end, I think Camarillo's special teams prowess wins out. After all, Miami probably won't be going four-wide often anyway.

While teams sometimes carry six receivers (or in some cases, more), I don't see the Dolphins being one of those teams. There are too many other areas that will need extra depth and on a run-oriented team there just isn't much point in keeping six receivers on the squad only to dress four every Sunday.

Going on the assumptions that Kircus or Camarillo grabs the No. 4 job and the Dolphins only keep five total, the final spot will be given to one of five undrafted free agents on the squad. It's clear the Dolphins are hoping to find a potential hidden gem at the position, given that six of the 19 undrafted free agents Miami signed we receivers. (One, Marcel Reece, has since been cut.) Barring any additions to the team during camp, the competition will be between Davone Bess, Jayson Foster, Selwyn Lymon, Justin Wynn and John Dunlap.

The Dolphins simply signed too many for me to go into great detail here, so here's some very brief background info on each:
  • Davone Bess, Hawaii (5-10, 190) - by far the most productive of Miami's UDFA receivers, start 39 games in Hawaii's passing attack and catching 293 passes for 3,610 yards and 41 touchdowns
  • Jayson Foster, Georgia Southern (5-7, 175) - A former college quarterback, he's small but possesses great moves and quickness; rushed for 3,835 yards and 54 touchdowns in his career
  • Selwyn Lymon, Purdue (6-3, 215) - possesses the best size of any Dolphins UDFA receiver; caught 73 passes for 1,030 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons with the Boilermakers; dismissed from team in Nov. 2007 for second drunk driving charge that year
  • Justin Wynn, Grand Rapids CC (6-2, 190) - Hasn't played organized football since 2004, when he caught 35 passes for 559 yards and five touchdowns at Grand Rapids CC; instead of playing football in college, did landscaping and worked at Kohl's to support his family; played pee-wee football with Dolphins UDFA receiver Selwyn Lymon and Bills rookie wideout James Hardy
  • John Dunlap, NC State (6-1, 220) - the lone player of the group that wasn't signed soon after the draft; instead latched on with the team after trying out at a June minicamp; started 22 of the 42 games he played for the Wolfpack, totaling 85 receptions for 924 yards and seven touchdowns
So who will it be? The good money is on Bess, who is easily the most experiences and polished of the group. Foster is intriguing because of his athleticism and potential special teams impact, but his size limits his potential a receiver. Lymon has great size and some of the betters skills of the group as well, but he'll be on a short leash given his past. As much of a feel-good story as it'd be, Wynn seems like a long shot given his lack of experience. Dunlap is nothing more than a camp body and has the worst chance of the group.

All things considered, the guy that initially wins the job following the preseason might not be guaranteed to stick around. Kerry Reed initially earned a roster spot after final cutdowns only to be relegated to the practice squad when Camarillo was claimed off waivers from the Chargers. With the lack of talent right now, there's no doubt the Dolphins will be scouring the waiver wires come September 1. You can't rule out preseason Keyshawn signing either.

The position(s): Final wide receiver spots

Number of spots: Two

The contenders:
Greg Camarillo, David Kircus, Davone Bess, Jayson Foster, Selwyn Lymon, Justin Wynn, John Dunlap

Predicted winner(s):
Camarillo and Bess

Reason:
Bess has the best hands and the most experience, and although he runs in the 4.6s I feel he has enough speed to be productive in the slot. Quite frankly, I don't see why he couldn't be better than the extremely-overrated Wes Welker. As for the rest of the crowd, I'd peg Foster and Lymon as the most likely practice squad candidates, with Wynn trying to latch on elsewhere and Dunlap pretty much disappearing into oblivion.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jason Taylor dealt to Redskins

As I'm sure all of you are aware, the Dolphins traded Pro Bowl defensive end to the Washington Redskins today. The Dolphins received the Redskins' second-round pick in 2009 and a sixth-round pick in 2010 for Taylor. I will have more on this tomorrow in the form of a video.

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 6: FS spots

Dolphins fans got high on Jason Allen last season, as posted three interceptions and at times looked like a respectable defender. Still, the 16th overall pick in 2006 has a long way to go to live up to his draft status and is far from a quality starter in the NFL.

That being the case, Allen still has to be considered the favorite for the job, if only due to lack of options and his potential upside. Without a real quality starting free safety, there seems little harm in giving Allen the job in hopes he'll live up to the No. 16 pick. If that does indeed happen, then the real battle is between Renaldo Hill and Chris Crocker for the backup job.

Hill was a solid starter for Miami in 2006, but is coming off a torn ACL and is pushing 30. Crocker isn't much better, but has plenty of starting experience himself and at worst is a viable fill-in at free safety. Both also have experience at corner, so that's a wash. The one key difference is Crocker was brought in by Parcells and Ireland, while Hill is a Saban holdover.

Crocker probably has the edge at this point, though Hill will definitely give him a run for his money. It's possible the Dolphins could opt to put Hill on the PUP list, which would give them six weeks in the regular season to determine if they wanted his services. Very unlikely to earn a spot is Courtney Bryan - a second-year undrafted player out of New Mexio State. There's just too much experience ahead of him for him to have a realistic shot.

The position(s): Free safety spots
Number of spots: Two
The contenders: Jason Allen, Chris Crocker, Renaldo Hill, Courtney Bryan
Predicted winner(s): Allen and Crocker
Reason: Allen will get a chance to prove himself to the new regime, while Crocker should win out over holdover and rehabbing Renaldo Hill. Bryan never really had a shot.

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 7: Backup CB

The Dolphins' secondary is probably one of its weakest areas, and it's one they hope to prevent having exposed often by the presence of a quality strong front seven. The recurring problem at the position is that everybody there is playing higher than they should. No. 1 corner Will Allen is more of a No. 2. Michael Lehan, the No. 2 corner coming off a strong 2007 campaign, is really more of a No. 3 at best. Free agent acquisition Nathan Jones might be given more responsibility than he ever has in his career as a dime corner.

While Allen and Lehan are probably locks to make the team, the rest of the depth chart is uncertain. Goodman is one of the better players at this position so he's probably safe, but his injury history is a concern. Jones has a good chance to make the team as well given his history with the staff and management.

Meanwhile, Travis Daniels is one guy that I feel could be on the way out. After a solid rookie campaign as a fourth-rounder out of LSU in 2005, Daniels has shown little progression and perhaps even regression. He's not a viable candidate to start and doesn't seem to be getting much better, which could make him expendable.

If you got out on the limb (more like twig) I am and cut Daniels, you probably have one open spot at corner - the fifth and final spot. Left over are Joey Thomas, Will Billingsley and Scorpio Babers. Thomas is the only one with NFL experience as a former third-round pick by the Packers in 2004. He also has the Cowboys connection, as he the played with the team in the preseason last year.

Additionally, Thomas is quite frankly the only one that's currently NFL-ready. Billingsley has blazing speed but is very raw, and Babers just isn't much of a pro prospect. Thomas has the talent, experience and connections to earn the job, while the others are really just auditioning for a practice squad gig.

The position(s):Backup CB spots
Number of spots: 1-2
The contenders:Travis Daniels, Nathan Jones, Joey Thomas, Will Billingsley, Scorpio Babers
Predicted winner(s): Jones and Thomas
Reason: The Dolphins' secondary is very much a work-in-progress and will continue to be until 2009 at the earliest, so I think the Dolphins go with the experience and familiarity provided by Jones and Thomas. Billingsley and Babers just aren't NFL-ready right now, though I wouldn't be surprised to see the speedster Billingsley land on the practice squad for development.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 8: Backup RB

Assuming all goes well with Ronnie Brown's rehab and Ricky Williams'...being him, the Dolphins should have quite a 1-2 punch at running back for the coming season. Hopefully for the Dolphins, the backs behind those two on the depth chart won't see more than a carry here or there. That being said, the third running back will have to be up to the task if called upon, and just who that back will be has yet to be decided.

After Ronnie and Ricky, the lone holdover at the position from the previous season is Patrick Cobbs. An undrafted free agent out of North Texas in 2006, Cobbs has established himself as a quality special teams player over the past two seasons with the Dolphins. He's a compact guy at 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds and has shown some ability in the preseason, though he's gotten very few chances on offense in the regular season with only 15 carries and one touchdown in his career.

Cobbs' main challenger is rookie Jalen Parmele, who was drafted in the sixth round out of Toledo. In addition to being a "Parcells guy", Parmele is more talented and has more upside than Cobbs. He doesn't have blazing speed or great power, but he's solid in all aspects and will at least be a backup in the NFL.

In reality, the battle here might be more between Cobbs and sixth-rounder Lex Hilliard. With the fullback job between Mauia and Grigsby, Hilliard is going to have to shine on special teams in order to make the squad out of camp. If he can do that, he should supplant Cobbs as a special teamer and No. 4 back. While teams often keep only three backs, four doesn't seem out of the question for the Dolphins given Ronnie's injury and Ricky's unreliability.

The position(s):Backup running back spots
Number of spots: 1-2
The contenders: Patrick Cobbs, Jalen Parmele, Lex Hilliard
Predicted winner(s): Parmele and Hilliard
Reason: Cobbs hasn't much upside and is little more than a special teamer. Meanwhile, Parmele is more of a legitimate backup running back at this point and has a brighter future. If Hilliard showcases himself on special teams, his versatility at fullback and tailback will earn him the final spot over the holdover Cobbs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 9: Starting FB

With Miami still lacking a proven quarterback, but in possession of two potentially Pro Bowl-caliber running backs, there is little doubt the emphasis will be on running the ball in 2008. That being the case, the Dolphins will also need a bruising fullback to open up holes for Ronnie and Ricky. Who the fullback will be has yet to be determined and it makes for quite an interesting preseason battle.

The incumbent, Reagan Mauia, was drafted by the "old regime" the sixth round in 2007 out of Hawaii. While he gained quite a bit of attention from his YouTube video where he runs through a wall, he has yet to display such power on the football field. From what I saw of him during his rookie season, he was only average when it came to power and very rarely did I see him knock guys around. Furthermore, he showed very little ability as a pass receiver and a surprising lack of power in short-yardage carries. One also cannot forget Mauia's April arrest, who may put him in Parcells' dog house and give him a very short leash when it comes to future incidents.

The "Parcells guy" in this battle is Boomer Grigsby. The 26-year-old Grigsby has spent the last four season with the Chiefs after being drafted by them in the fifth round out of Illinois State in 2004. Primarily a special teamer, he was converted from linebacker to fullback prior to the 2007 season.

As one would expect from a converted linebacker, Grigsby isn't a threat with the ball in his hands and was still primarily a special teamer last season while backing up Kris Wilson at fullback. Neither he nor Mauia seem to have any advantage (or talent) in this area, and fortunately it's not something that will play a large part in their roles the team.

The key to this battle is who can establish themselves as a lead blocker for the run-oriented offense. Mauia (6-0, 270) has the size advantage over Grigsby (5-11, 249). However, as I mentioned before, Mauia didn't show a whole lot of power on offense a rookie. Meanwhile, Grigsby is your typical hard-nosed, blue-collar [insert more clichés here] guy who has plenty of experience as a wedge buster on special teams.

There is a third player the position in sixth-rounder Lex Hilliard, though he is such a long shot to win a starting job I don't feel the need to give him much attention here. The running back/fullback will have his hands full just making the team, and his primary focus will likely be on special teams early on.

With no other candidates on the roster and none likely to be signed before the season barring injury, the battle comes down to Mauia and Grigsby. Both took reps with the first team during offseason workouts, so this battle is far from over and definitely something to keep an eye on.

The position(s): Starting fullback
Number of spots: One
The contenders: Reagan Mauia, Boomer Grigsby, Lex Hilliard
Predicted winner(s): Mauia
Reason: Mauia has more upside than Grigsby, while Grigsby is a huge asset on special teams. I feel that the organization will give Mauia the chance to establish himself as the starting fullback, because it's a place he could really thrive for years if he pans out. That being said, the Dolphins probably wouldn't hesitate to toss Grigsby in there if Mauia doesn't separate himself and get the job done.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 10: Backup OTs

He are a few facts about one of the Miami Dolphins' players:
  • He did not play in the NFL last season
  • He has not appeared in a regular season game since 2005
  • He has played in 18 total regular season games
  • He has never started a regular season NFL game
Who am I describing? That would be Miami offensive lineman Trey Darilek. The somewhat scary reality is that, despite all those facts I just presented, Darilek is Miami's most experienced backup offensive tackle. That could be a problem.

Let's forget the backups for a moment. Even the starting offensive tackles are causes for some concern. Jake Long appears destined to start at quite possibly the second-hardest position in the whole game, and first overall pick or no he's still a rookie. Meanwhile, Vernon Carey is coming off a very poor season at left tackle and moving back to the right side.

Then you have the backups, if they are even worthy of being called that. After Darilek, you have a second-year undrafted player in Julius Wilson (UAB) and two undrafted rookies in Dan Gore (Boise State) and Daren Heerspink (Portland State).

And that's it.

Miami is clearly lacking experience at the backup tackle position and it will be interesting to see which, if any, of these players emerge as worthy of a roster spot. Excluding Darilek, it's entirely possible that none are worthy of such a spot right now. That is why some outside help could be brought in.

Miami could and should bring in some veteran help at some point during camp or the preseason. To be honest, I was very surprised to see the Dolphins not go after former Cowboy and Jet Jason Fabini, who re-signed with the Redskins. A few of the players still on the market I would consider are: Anthony Clement, Nat Dorsey, Wayne Gandy, Stockar McDougle (again), Fred Miller, Stephen Peterman and Kevin Sampson.

While most of these players are not quality starters, some (Gandy, Miller) have quite a bit of experience and could easily jump into the lineup because of injuries. Meanwhile, Peterman was drafted by the Cowboys under Parcells in 2004. While not the sexiest of names, all have at least some experience and have proved they are at least capable of playing in the NFL. This is more than can currently be said for current Miami's backup tackle options, which is why the Dolphins need to add someone to the mix.

The position(s): Backup offensive tackle
Number of spots: Possible one, likely two
The contenders: Trey Darilek, Julius Wilson, Dan Gore, Daren Heerspink
Predicted winner(s): Darilek and a veteran yet to be added
Reason: Darilek seems like a keeper given the lack of competition, his experience, his versatility across the line and his history with the Cowboys ('07 training camp). As for the other spot, I simply don't trust the undrafted guys to be ready to back up Long and Carey at the moment and unless one really came out of nowhere it'd be wise to add more experience, so that is what I think Miami will do.