Five observations about the Dolphins this training camp (look away if you want happy-go-lucky platitudes about guys working hard and striving to get better):
The Dolphins drafted Dion Jordan in 2013 to be a dominant, dynamic starting defensive end to team with Cameron Wake for a frightening pass-rushing duo.
That didn’t happen last season. It isn’t going to happen at the start of this season because Jordan is going to serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
But if Jordan continues playing as he has been lately, it might be a long time before we see what all the fuss was about.
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Jordan came into camp noticeably bigger, stronger and undoubtedly healthier than a year ago. And the first few days of camp he looked the part of a dominant player, collecting sacks, batting passes at the line, he even intercepted a pass at the line and returned it for a touchdown.
And about 10 days or so ago he disappeared.
He hasn’t been overly impressive in practices. And last week, playing approximately 30 snaps against second-team competition from the Atlanta Falcons, Jordan had only one assisted tackle.
The young man drafted to worry starting offensive tackles isn’t factoring against second-team competition. And as coach Joe Philbin has said, “He’s not going to get better being out of football for four weeks,” when his suspension kicks in.
Jordan has two weeks, starting Saturday night, to find a higher gear.
“I’m understanding the defense and what my job is, and what the guys to the left and the right of me [are doing],” Jordan said. “But also I feel like, just as far as the defensive line, we could have made more plays.”
You, Dion Jordan, need to make more plays.
Not in synch
Both Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace insist they are in much better synch than they were a season ago when deep pass connections eluded them as if they planned for the quarterback to repeatedly underthrow the open receiver.
I don’t see a significant improvement so far.
I haven’t seen Wallace and Tannehill connect on deep passes more this training camp than last year. I haven’t seen them working on the issue any more this camp than last year.
And I haven’t missed any practices.
Wallace missed two weeks of camp while nursing a sore hamstring — just like last year. And although Philbin recently applauded Wallace for getting extra work done after practice on the JUGS machine —Wallace catches up to 200 passes every day — it should be noted this is the same regimen the receiver had last year.
And that regimen doesn’t include Tannehill.
I have not seen Tannehill and Wallace stick around after practice together, just the two of them, and work on deep-ball completions. I didn’t see it during last year’s camp. I haven’t seen it during this camp.
The fact Wallace is nursing a sore hamstring might have something to do with this. Maybe coaches don’t want to burn out Wallace by having him run 40 yards down field time and again to help Tannehill figure out the right timing.
But if they don’t work on this after practice and don’t consistently connect on it during practice, how is it going to consistently happen in games?
Moving Koa Misi to middle linebacker and Dannell Ellerbe outside was supposed to address the issues the linebacker corps had in stopping the run and covering running backs and tight ends last season.
But this “solution” is encountering growing pains, and it might be a while before Dolphins coaches are happy with the results.
Misi is a tough, downhill tackler. He’s aggressive and fearless. But none of that matters when, as he did against Atlanta last week, he takes a bad angle to the ball carrier or doesn’t have the foot speed to catch the play from behind or in the hole.
Misi is going to have to hone his anticipation, and his instincts are going to have to get sharper for him to be a playmaking middle linebacker.
Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler, meanwhile, are still getting adapted to coordinator Kevin Coyle’s defense more than a year after joining the team.
Yes, it has been a slow process.
The offensive line, which caused a lot of hand wringing within the Dolphins organization, has slowly, quietly come together without much drama this training camp.
Although there was a lot of experimentation the first two weeks of camp, the unit has been unchanged for 10 days or so and, barring a dramatic turn of events, the unit that starts against Tampa Bay will be the starting unit against the Patriots in the opener.
The starters are right trackle Ja’Wuan James, right guard Dallas Thomas, center Samson Satele, left guard Daryn Colledge and left tackle Branden Albert.
So far that unit has not been spectacular but neither has it been the disaster that last year’s line was in allowing 58 sacks.
James, only a rookie, has performed like a legitimate first-round pick despite early criticisms of general manager Dennis Hickey that he reached for the player.
Albert competes daily against defensive end Olivier Vernon and lately has been rarely beaten.
The interior group is unlikely to be dominant in the running game, but it is currently no worse than last year’s interior three in any category and that’s before starting center Mike Pouncey comes back from his hip surgery.
So is this offensive line Dolphins strength? No, not yet.
But it definitely promises improvement over last year’s nightmare.
The competition at running back has to be categorized as a disappointment this training camp.
How else to put it when Knowshon Moreno was on the physically unable to perform list the first two weeks of camp and still isn’t ready to play in the preseason?
Starter Lamar Miller has not had a legitimate challenge for his job.
How else to put it when Moreno has basically locked up at least the No. 2 job without really doing anything because Daniel Thomas (hamstring) has missed two weeks and Mike Gillislee (hamstring) missed most of this week?
The No. 3 job remains undecided between Thomas and Gillislee and others. Someone will probably do enough to win it although that hasn’t happened yet.