This is a training camp brimming with subplots. They are everywhere. On the offensive line, at running back, at linebacker, even at kicker. There are so many storylines to follow that, at times, it isn’t easy to follow.
The end result of all these subplots will have everything to do with the success of the 2013 Dolphins. There are questions that must be answered, players that must step up, a camaraderie that must be formed. The schedule is so difficult with three of the first four on the road that it is imperative the Dolphins approach every day of training camp with a real urgency. Midseason form, to be blunt, must be seen on opening day.
With all of that in mind, I bring you my thoughts on the five most significant storylines facing this team over the next two months.
1. Ryan Tannehill’s comfort zone: Can there really be anything more important than this? When I say comfort zone, I mean two things: The comfort he feels in playing the most demanding position in sports and the comfort he develops with the new weapons he has around him.
First, he must personally take the next step as a player. That means more efficient, more productive and more in control of everything that is happening around him. There are clear, undeniable signs that he is taking that leap. You saw it in the offseason practices and you see it at training camp. There is a confidence about him, a level of certainty that he can excel on this level and that he understands what his shortcomings were a season ago.
As for the comfort zone with others, this is also imperative. Training camp practices and five preseason games will allow him the chance to develop a real rapport with Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller. These are the big-play additions. These are the players who must produce.
The need for a rapport is especially true in Wallace’s case. As fast as Wallace is, timing is imperative. It is one thing to see Tannehill and Wallace hook up in offseason practices or training camp; it’s another to see it happen in a game. For this team at this time, I like five preseason games. Gives them plenty of chances to develop that on-the-field camaraderie that is essential.
2. Jonathan Martin tackling the left side: Not quite as important as Tannehill, but as storylines go not that far away either. With the departure of Jake Long, Martin is now a full-time resident on the left side of the line.
He is protecting Tannehill’s blind spot and he invariably will go up against some of the finest defensive ends in the league. The thing about left tackle, if you are doing your job nobody notices you. If you struggle, few can be under a more imposing microscope.
I like Martin’s chances. He clearly used this offseason to get bigger and stronger, and that says so much about a player. Although in just his second year, it isn’t as if he’s new to this gig. He did take care of Andrew Luck’s blindside in college at Stanford, which meant a lot of pass protection. You also don’t get into Stanford without being highly intelligent.
This training camp and those five preseason games will tell us a lot. Martin figures to get plenty of playing time and that’s the way it should be. It is his job, his challenge. Watch carefully, it’s going to have a lot to do with the success of this offense.
3. New faces at linebacker: One of the big offseason storylines was the free agent signings of Phillip Wheeler (Oakland) and Dannell Ellerbe (Baltimore). They are replacing two pretty good linebackers in Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby.
So why the move? As proficient as Burnett and Dansby were in making tackles, there were very few big plays. Wheeler and Ellerbe have resumes filled with those. They are a pair of fast, aggressive players who have the speed to cover tight ends and running backs, an enormous advantage for a linebacker.
But in a 4-3 defense, if two of your three linebackers are new, that’s a major transition to undergo in one offseason. How well Wheeler and Ellerbe make that transition, and how quickly, will have a lot to do with the success of this defense. They are proven players. There is no doubting their ability. But both fitting in and developing a comfort level are imperative and that’s what this training camp is about.
4. Who’s going to carry the rock? This is one of those subplots that has a lot to do with competing for a starting job. Joe Philbin is saying it’s wide open. But, at least in practice, Lamar Miller has been playing with the first team and many believe it is his job to lose.
To Miller’s credit, he spent a lot of time working with Frank Gore this summer and he brings with him an explosiveness that you can’t teach. We only saw glimpses of Miller a season ago; expect to see a lot more in those five preseason games.
His competition is solid. You’ve got third-year player Daniel Thomas, the old man of this youthful group, promising rookie Mike Gillislee, and versatile Marcus Thigpen, who showed us what he could do last season returning kicks. But Thomas must demonstrate he can stay healthy and Gillislee is more of a between-the-tackles type of runner. That’s why the focus, at least for now, appears to be on Miller.
Regardless of who starts, the Dolphins must get productivity from this position. By the time training camp is over, we will have a much clearer picture.
5. Turning the Corner: The Dolphins will have a new look at cornerback this season and, since four corners usually see significant playing time, answers must come quickly. As I evaluate the talent here, I am encouraged.
No more Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. They had their chance and, to be honest, simply didn’t produce enough.
The big addition is free agent Brent Grimes. This is a playmaker, a tremendously skilled athlete who is healthy now after suffering a torn Achilles a season ago. I have a feeling that Grimes will mean to the defense what Wallace does to the offense.
As camp winds its way through the first week, Grimes and fellow veteran Richard Marshall appear to be the starters. But watch out for a pair of high draft picks in Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. And when you add veterans Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll, well, the depth looks as good as this team has had in several years.
Yes, plenty of subplots. Each carries its own importance. And each will have a significant bearing on exactly how improved this football team will ultimately be.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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