Olivier Vernon’s outstanding offseason work was rewarded Sunday when he spent the opening training camp practice with the first team, holding down the defensive end spot opposite Cameron Wake.
“O.V. might be the most improved guy in our camp,” Wake said. “He’s made a lot of strides.”
Jared Odrick, who started at defensive end last year but moved to tackle in obvious passing situations, worked at tackle alongside Paul Soliai with the first-team base defense. Longtime starter Randy Starks rotated in at tackle and also got considerable work.
The quartet of Wake, Vernon, Odrick and Soliai comprised the first-team defensive line that the Dolphins used throughout May and June practices, because Starks missed the entire offseason program — except the mandatory June minicamp — as he protested being slapped with the Dolphins’ franchise tag instead of being given a multiyear contract.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said last month that Odrick will play end and tackle, as he did last season.
“I’m going to be all over the place,” Odrick said Sunday. “That’s why I’m here, because I am able to help the team in multiple ways and do multiple things. [Sunday] was at d-tackle. You saw me there all offseason. I could be at a different position [Monday].”
Starks was very good last season, and he ($8.45 million) and Soliai ($5.7 million) have the highest 2013 base salaries on the team. So it would be surprising if either one of them is not a starter. But the Dolphins value Odrick a lot.
Also, first-round draft pick Dion Jordan will get work at defensive end and possibly at linebacker when he is eventually cleared after offseason shoulder surgery.
But the Dolphins want to give a lot of camp snaps to Vernon, who impressed this offseason with his play against the run, as a pass rusher and in pass coverage.
“O.V. had an awesome spring, and it’s going to carry over,” Odrick said. “He’s a guy that takes pride in his work, a real team player.”
Vernon, who beat backup tackle Jeff Adams for two would-be sacks Sunday, said he has spent considerable time polishing his technique and, “I’ve learned so much in one year.”
Vernon said he has not been given any sense of his chances of being a starter. Odrick said the mixing and matching on the defensive line is “off the cuff, trying to figure out what works as we go along. We’ll mix it around. We’re trying to get the best players in the best spots.”
Odrick said he’s equally comfortable at end and tackle and, “I like to believe I’m good at both.” He must be at a weight where he can play both effectively and was told to report at 302 pounds, a few pounds less than last season. He said he is probably 298 after the opening practice.
“From a human standpoint, when they’re asking me to be 302 instead of 310, I look a little better in my clothes,” Odrick cracked.
Asked if it felt unusual for three established starters (Starks, Soliai and himself) to be alternating at two positions, Odrick said: “The more the rotation, the better for all of us. We’re getting acclimated to the heat again. Hopefully, that will carry into the season and we can rotate more.”
• Center Mike Pouncey refused to comment about attending his own birthday party last weekend wearing a hat with the words “Free Hernandez” — a reference to former University of Florida roommate Aaron Hernandez, who is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.
But asked about a general question about player conduct, Pouncey said: “We get paid a lot of money to act a certain way, and that’s the way we should be acting.”
Coach Joe Philbin refused to say if he discussed the matter with Pouncey but said: “It’s important for every member of this organization — players, coaches — to represent the organization in a first-class manner.”
Unlike Pouncey, his brother — Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey — apologized after wearing the “Free Hernandez” hat.
• Pouncey said “we definitely miss Jake Long” — who signed with St. Louis — but added that Jonathan Martin “is adjusting to the left side. I love it.”
• John Jerry remained with the first team at right guard, as former Chicago Bear Lance Louis works his way back from last November’s knee injury. The Dolphins are listing Jerry at 335 pounds, down from 345 in June. Louis wore a brace on his left knee and doesn’t seem to be at full strength yet.
• Charles Clay and rookie Dion Sims worked with the first and second teams at Sunday’s practice — along with starting tight end Dustin Keller — while Michael Egnew was relegated to the side of the field where the third- and fourth-teamers were practicing.
Dan Carpenter went 10 for 10 on field goals, including makes from 47, 48 and 49 yards. Caleb Sturgis is expected to kick Monday.
• The team said the crowd of 2,700 was the most for a training camp practice since 2006.