Some Dolphins nuggets on a Thursday, with training camp starting three weeks from today:
• Though there’s a lot to be encouraged about (DeVante Parker’s improvement, the young corners, Ryan Tannehill’s return from his knee injury, etc.), two serious concerns remain: 1) defensive tackle beyond Ndamukong Suh; 2) the offensive line if Mike Pouncey has another setback or if a starting tackle is injured.
Beyond all the uncertainty about whether Jordan Phillips will ever put it all together, the decision so far to pass on a bunch of available veteran tackles (Sen’Derrick Marks, Dan Williams, Paul Soliai, Vance Walker) means, barring a change of heart, the Dolphins’ No. 3 defensive tackle (a role that can involve 20 or more snaps a game) will be journeyman Nick Williams (12 career tackles and was pushed off the ball in the Steelers playoff game), Lawrence Okoye (previously cut by five teams), or fifth- and sixth-round rookies Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor – neither of whom seems ready for a major role, according to one player.
Consider this: Since 1980, the Dolphins drafted 21 defensive tackles in the fifth round or later, including six in the fifth or sixth.
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Only two of those 21 – fifth-rounder Norman Hand and seventh-rounder Kevin Vickerson - became NFL starters eventually, with the Dolphins giving up on Vickerson and Hand long before they amounted to anything. And most of those 21 didn’t even develop into quality backups.
So Taylor and Godchaux, for all their promise, have much to prove. For what it’s worth, Godchaux didn’t get much penetration without pads filling in for Suh during minicamp.
One AFC executive who studied both rookies told me: “I think Godchaux will be a solid rotational guy. But I thought Taylor stunk. I gave him a free agent grade. Stiff as hell. Just wasn't that good a player.”
• As for the offensive line concern, if Pouncey has another setback with his hip (he wasn’t cleared to practice last month), this offensive line will have four average or below average starters (Kraig Urbik, Jermon Bushrod, Ted Larsen, Ja’Wuan James).
And if Laremy Tunsil or James is out, tackle depth appears deficient beyond journeyman-type Sam Young. Most of the others (Avery Young, Jesse Davis, etc.) couldn’t control Miami’s pass rush during minicamp, albeit without pads.
According to ESPN’s KC Joyner, the Dolphins last season gave their running backs good blocking on only 34 percent of their rushing attempts, which ranked 28th in the league, with the league average at 38 percent. Jay Ajayi had far more carries with bad blocking (173) than good (86). And Branden Albert is gone from that mix.
By comparison, the Dolphins allowed good blocking on 41 percent of opponent’s carries, which was 26th (from a defensive standpoint) in the league. Unless Phillips improves dramatically and unless newcomers William Hayes and Lawrence Timmons and perhaps Raekwon McMillan can solve that run defense deficiency, there will be problems. We’ll see.
• That aforementioned AFC executive said: “I think McMillan can be their best draft pick. His game is tailored toward pro football. His upside is huge. Charles Harris is damn good, and I’m not worried how he will do against the run. He’s not as explosive as Von Miller but he’s quick, agile, has good flexibility and gets off the edge well.”
• Beyond receiver, the best bottom of the roster competition is at defensive back, where clear front-runner Walt Aikens (now able to play safety and corner), Jordan Lucas (cross-trained at both as well as nickel this spring), undrafted rookie Maurice Smith (impressed coaches this spring), Lafayette Pitts and A.J. Hendy are seemingly competing for one job or two if Miami keeps 10 defensive backs during T.J. McDonald’s eight-game suspension.
• Adam Gase continues to show receptiveness to giving practice and meeting-room access to former players who are eager to teach Dolphins players (Chris Chambers, Wes Welker and others).
Lucas said 11-year NFL cornerback Dre’ Bly, who had 43 career picks, recently spent a week with the defensive backs, “bouncing knowledge to guys” on the field and in meetings.