Dolphins

Position battles heat up in Miami Dolphins training camp

 
 
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews (18) scores a touchdown during practice as Brandon Gibson (10) looks on at Miami Dolphins training camp on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews (18) scores a touchdown during practice as Brandon Gibson (10) looks on at Miami Dolphins training camp on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014.
Al Diaz / STAFF PHOTO

bjackson@MiamiHerald.com

As the Dolphins lurch through the monotony of training camp, you will not find many genuine battles for starting jobs. That’s limited mostly to defensive tackle, possibly right guard and perhaps running back.

But what you will find is compelling competition toward the bottom of the roster. Assessing the races by position, heading into Saturday’s second preseason game at Tampa:

• Receiver: The Dolphins’ deepest position presents difficult decisions. Rishard Matthews, who irked the Dolphins last season because of multiple issues (including tardiness), said he is now on the same page with coach Joe Philbin, and his work throughout camp has made him the favorite for the No. 5 receiver job barring a trade, behind Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Jarvis Landry.

But Matthews still must hold off Armon Binns, who has fallen off after a strong start to camp, and Damian Williams, who has flashed talent throughout camp but didn’t have a catch in the preseason opener. The Dolphins could keep six, which is even more realistic if they retain only two quarterbacks.

Then there’s the issue of what to do with Marcus Thigpen, who’s listed as a receiver (he plays the slot) but also can play running back. Thigpen would be expendable if Landry wins the punt and kickoff return jobs. Landry made a case for that with a 48-yard punt return against Atlanta.

• Quarterback: It would be risky to entrust the No. 2 job with Brady Quinn — considering his poor track record — but this could become a consideration if Matt Moore flounders badly in preseason and Quinn plays well. Quinn’s $855,000 salary is not guaranteed. Rookie Seth Lobato could end up on the practice squad.

• Running back: The Dolphins like the speed and pass-catching ability of Damien Williams, the undrafted Oklahoma running back, and he’s battling Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee for one or two jobs behind Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno.

Thomas has averaged 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 yards per carry in his first three seasons, and his performance in camp had been pedestrian before being sidelined by a hamstring injury the past 10 days. Gillislee also remains out with a sore hamstring.

The Dolphins overlooked Thomas’ uninspiring work in recent years because they liked his potential as well as the notion of having a big back. But Thomas, the Dolphins’ tallest and heaviest back at 6-1 and 235, doesn’t always play like one. Philbin likes Gillislee, and his pass-blocking has been solid, but there remain too many carries for marginal gains.

• Tight end: The Dolphins figure to keep four, because they’re a vital part of Bill Lazor’s offense. Charles Clay and Dion Sims have secured spots, and rookie Arthur Lynch seems likely to stick. Michael Egnew could make the team for a third consecutive year, but coaches want him to improve his route-running. Brett Brackett has shown more as a receiver than Egnew during his brief time with the team. Harold Hoskins’ chances have faded because of a hamstring injury, and Kyle Miller does little to stand out.

• Offensive line: Jason Fox, signed to be Miami’s No. 3 tackle, is at risk. If the Dolphins part with Fox, they could try to fill a short-term injury to Branden Albert or Ja’Wuan James by moving Dallas Thomas from guard to tackle, or using Nate Garner there, though Garner’s work at left tackle has been dubious.

If Mike Pouncey begins the season on the physically unable to perform list — which is no sure thing because it would sideline him the first six games — then he would not count against the 53-man roster. Under that scenario, if the Dolphins keep nine, that would include the current starters, plus Shelley Smith, Billy Turner, Garner and either Fox, Sam Brenner, David Arkin or someone claimed off waivers.

• Defensive line: Dion Jordan will not count against the 53-man roster while he serves his four-game suspension, creating a spot for promising rookie Terrence Fede as the team’s fourth defensive end to open the season. A.J. Francis was a cinch for the fourth defensive tackle job, but that’s in question because of a knee injury that has sidelined him indefinitely.

If Francis isn’t healthy enough to start the season on the 53-man roster, then Miami figures to keep two from among promising prospect Anthony Johnson, Kemal Johnson, Garrison Smith and Isaako Aaitui or players who will be cut from other teams.

• Defensive backs: Like Jordan, Reshad Jones will not count against the 53-man roster during his four-game suspension. Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Louis Delmas, Jimmy Wilson, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis will be on the team, and rookie Walt Aikens very likely will, too.

If the Dolphins keep nine defensive backs, that would leave two spots from among safeties Don Jones (recently dropped from second to third team), Michael Thomas and Jordan Kovacs and cornerback Jalil Brown, who was impressive during the offseason program.

• Linebacker: The three starters (Koa Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler), rookie Jordan Tripp, versatile Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins figure to stick. If Miami keeps seven, then incumbent Jonathan Freeny and undrafted California rookie Chris McCain would be in the mix, though a player also could be plucked off waivers.

• Kicker: The Dolphins have kept Danny Hrapmann around to protect themselves if Caleb Sturgis’ groin remains problematic.

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