Most Dolphins players have been sweating through workouts and either learning or brushing up on the team’s offense and defense for several weeks.
But in some ways, competition for jobs begins in earnest when the Dolphins on Tuesday hold the first of 10 voluntary “organized team activity” practices. Miami also will hold three mandatory minicamp practices in mid-June before taking a six-week break until training camp.
Battles are brewing at nearly every position, some at the top of the depth chart, others merely for roster spots. Among the more interesting ones:
▪ The cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes: Jamar Taylor enters as something of a front-runner but will be challenged by former Giants starter Zack Bowman and potentially Will Davis, who’s expected back from an ACL injury by the start of training camp.
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“Taylor and Davis have a talented skill set,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey told WQAM-560. “Zack bring length [he’s 6-1] and a veteran presence.”
Though coach Joe Philbin has said the Dolphins envision free agent pickup Brice McCain as a slot cornerback, the 5-9 McCain also has experience playing on the boundary. And rookie Bobby McCain will get practice snaps at slot corner behind Brice McCain.
“We like the depth there; you look at the teams we have to play, depth at corner is important,” Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins’ executive vice president of football operations told WMEN-640 last week. “Some of those young guys are going to have to play for us.”
▪ The starter at left guard: Billy Turner is considered the front-runner for the right-guard spot, but the left-guard job is a tossup between Dallas Thomas and rookie Jamil Douglas.
“Three young guys are competing for two spots,” Tannenbaum said.
That would suggest that free agent pickups J.D. Walton, Jeff Linkenbach and Jacques McClendon are viewed merely as depth, with McClendon in particular far from a cinch to make the roster.
Walton projects as Mike Pouncey’s backup at center.
Jason Fox, filling in at left tackle while Branden Albert works his way back from an ACL injury, also has been getting work at guard, according to the Dolphins.
▪ The starting linebacker job alongside Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi: The Dolphins could opt to start Chris McCain, who showed flashes in limited playing time as a rookie, at strong-side linebacker or could go with middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who has started 32 games in four seasons.
If Sheppard ends up starting, Misi could shift outside.
The Dolphins also want to get a long look at four undrafted linebackers: Jeff Luc, Mike Hull, Neville Hewitt and Zach Vigil, as well as second-year player Jordan Tripp.
“All are productive, all tough and competitive,” Hickey said of the four rookies.
▪ Roster spots at running back: Jay Ajayi, the fifth-round draft pick out of Boise State, is the front-runner to back up Lamar Miller and could eventually challenge Miller for a starting job.
“He’s kind of underrated; had 50 receptions as well,” Tannenbaum said of Ajayi. “Hopefully, he has the ability to be a three-down player.”
But don’t discount Damien Williams; Philbin has praised his work this offseason.
LaMichael James and Mike Gillislee (who missed last season with an injury) also are competing for what could be one more job, if the Dolphins keep four backs.
▪ Sorting out defensive tackle: Earl Mitchell is the likely starter alongside Ndamukong Suh, but there’s competition for the No.3 job among second-rounder Jordan Phillips, Anthony Johnson, A.J. Francis and Kamal Johnson.
“We were very comfortable with Jordan to get him where we did,” Tannenbaum said of the second-round pick who had inconsistent effort and performances at Oklahoma.
▪ Pecking order at receiver: It’s clear who the Dolphins’ top-four receivers will be: DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings. What must play out is the order; the player who ends up the fourth receiver figures to play less than he’s accustomed to.
Rishard Matthews, the No.5 receiver, is missing voluntary workouts after asking for a trade.
His chances of getting his wish might improve if Matt Hazel, LaRon Byrd or one of several others (such as Alabama’s Christion Jones) has a dynamic next four months.
“I like our depth there; you have to pass to score in this league,” Tannenbaum said.
▪ Kicker: Andrew Franks, a strong-legged rookie from RPI in New York, is Caleb Sturgis’ latest challenger.
▪ Battles for other backup jobs: There’s competition everywhere, from the No.3 quarterback position if one is even kept (Josh Freeman, McLeod Bethel-Thompson), to the No.3 tight end job (Arthur Lynch, Gerell Robinson, Jake Stoneburner, 6-8 rookie Tim Semisch) and to the fourth safety job (Walt Aikens, Don Jones, Jordan Kovacs, rookie Cedric Thompson), among others. Aikens also has been getting some work at cornerback.