Some observations after a week of Dolphins training camp practices:
A round of applause for the organization, led by coach Joe Philbin, for cutting out the questionable hazing of rookies this year following last year’s harassment scandal.
A week before the preseason opener and not one rookie has been forced to submit to a ridiculous haircut garnished with purple, green or gold dye. Last year at this time, first-round pick Dion Jordan was already wearing hair made to look like a tiger’s striping.
A couple of years ago, veterans shaved Josh Samuda’s hair to make it look like he had male genitalia on his head.
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It was immature to start with, but it took on a more sinister meaning when critics pointed to the hazing as evidence Dolphins veterans felt empowered over younger players. Soon, stories of players forcing youngsters to pay for expensive meals and, of course, Richie Incognito demanding Jonathan Martin contribute thousands of dollars for an offensive line trip to Las Vegas he didn’t participate in made those within and without the organization cringe.
None of that this year.
Players were told in no uncertain terms hazing has to be severely curbed if not cut out altogether.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” veteran Randy Starks said with a shrug. “We don’t want to put any wrong ideas out there. We’re just concentrating on football.”
Understand that some Miami veterans still see nothing wrong with forcing rookies to carry their pads off the field or even having rookies perhaps bring meals to team flights.
But a line on hazing has been drawn even though Philbin declined at the start of camp to identify where that line actually lies.
And rookies are thrilled about that.
“They’ve been very welcoming,” first-round draft pick Ja’Wuan James said of the team’s veterans. “When I got here, everybody was kind of like, ‘Oh rookies, they’re going to get messed with, blah, blah, blah.’ But they just want to win.
“Everyone here wants to win so they just want us to be the best we can be. So they’re just trying to teach us, push us. That’s what they keep saying: ‘We’re only going to be as good as you’re going to be.’ They need us to be good, and we need each other.”
•It will be hard to make Knowshon Moreno a starter:
Lamar Miller has so far retained his starting running back job from a year ago while Moreno has been unable to practice as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery.
But when Moreno does get cleared to practice in the coming week or two, it will be hard to imagine him as the starter anyway.
Moreno is the Dolphins’ best blocking back. The team not only wants him but needs him in the backfield on obvious passing downs to help protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill and bolster the efforts of a still-unproven offensive line.
So how can Moreno be asked to handle those duties and also carry the load of the running game?
Is this team going to keep him on the field all three downs?
Miller is the more likely answer on early downs so Moreno can be the answer on pass downs. Miller also offers a special speed that Moreno doesn’t have on running downs.
Philbin has said nothing is settled in this regard. But it seems counter-intuitive to have Moreno start and Miller be the third-down back because it asks each player to excel at something the other is probably better suited to do.
•More on the running back competition:
The rest of camp and the preseason will decide the fate of Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee and others in the running back corps, but don’t be surprised if Thomas struggles to make this team.
The reason is Thomas has lost a big advocate in the building in former general manager Jeff Ireland, who not only drafted the running back in the second round in 2011 but also traded up to get him.
Thomas has been solid but unspectacular in camp so far. Gillislee, meanwhile, has seemed to be more active.
The fact that Thomas is the biggest running back in camp (235 pounds) helps him stand out. But he’s going to have to start running over people in the preseason to make his case for a roster spot.
•What is fair to expect of Tannehill?
The Dolphins are asking a lot of their quarterback this season.
They are asking him to make better decisions and make them quicker. They are asking him to be more accurate, particularly on his deep passes to Mike Wallace. They are asking him to make more plays with his legs.
And they’re asking him to do all this as he learns Bill Lazor’s new offense that is replacing the Mike Sherman offense under which Tannehill played the previous five years.
It’s not an easy task, but here’s some perspective:
Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles last year learned basically the same offense Lazor is bringing to Miami. And in his first year in that offense, Foles threw 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions.
Yes, Foles had DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper.
Tannehill has Wallace and Brian Hartline.
This is not saying Tannehill should match Foles. But if his offensive line can offer Tannehill some time to throw, it is not unfair to expect good things.
This and that
• When the Dolphins decided to move Koa Misi to middle linebacker, there were questions about whether the reserved player could be vocal enough to make all the defensive calls and lead the unit. No worries so far.
“If you listen and you watch our entire group right now, we’ve had better communication than we’ve had ever since we’ve been here together,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.
• Most impressive newcomer in camp so far? Rookie Jarvis Landry. Coaches raved to Stephen Ross about him, and the owner mentioned him unsolicited as a player to focus on. Landry has been so good, even people who are not at practices but talk to Dolphins coaches report how impressed the staff has been by Landry.
• Most disappointing newcomer in camp so far? Shelley Smith was handed the starting center assignment at the beginning of camp but struggled snapping the ball cleanly and eventually was moved off the starting unit in favor of Nate Garner. Smith has never played center so that probably shouldn’t surprise, but he is supposed to be a good guard and he didn’t move seamlessly into the right guard competition, either. The right guard battle so far has been between youngsters Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner. Smith was signed to be a starter on this line. It might or might not turn out that way.