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Miami Dolphins’ rookie class a bright spot for the team

If Ryan Tannehill becomes a top-15 NFL quarterback, the Dolphins’ 2012 draft will be considered a success.

The hope internally, of course, is that the quality of this group goes far deeper than Tannehill and that this rookie class eventually is regarded as the best overall since general manager Jeff Ireland’s arrival in 2008.

The signs, so far, are generally encouraging, with third-rounder Michael Egnew the only one among Miami’s top five picks who isn’t contributing.

Right tackle Jonathan Martin has allowed 13 quarterback hurries (seventh-most among tackles, according to Pro Football Focus) but just one sack, and said he has graded out well in the team’s internal analysis.

“He’s done a nice job,” said coach Joe Philbin, who made a point to tell Martin that last week after observing him in one-on-one, pass-rush drills. “From where he was in the preseason to what he’s done [recently], I like the development I see. He’s a very aware player, and I think he has a chance to be a good one.”

Martin, selected 42nd overall, was a left tackle at Stanford (he still speaks regularly with the Colts’ Andrew Luck, the quarterback he protected) and never played a single snap at right tackle until the Dolphins drafted him. The transition “was rough at first,” he said.

“I was using muscles I wasn’t using before. My balance is better now, and it’s close to second nature now. I’ve done some good things.”

Martin, who plans to attend law school at some point, already prepares like a veteran, with a bedtime routine of studying film of himself and his opponent.

“He’s athletic, strong and getting better every week,” left tackle Jake Long said.

Lamar Miller, picked 97th overall, has averaged 5.5 yards on 23 carries, compared with second-year running back Daniel Thomas’ 3.2 yards on 26 attempts. What’s more, Miller is averaging 3.4 yards after contact, fifth-best among all NFL backs.

But Philbin said he is not ready to anoint Miller or Thomas as his No. 2 running back. He said playing time will depend partly on matchups.

The Dolphins seem to trust Thomas more in pass protection, even though he gave up a sack last Sunday.

Thomas pass-protected on 10 of his 21 snaps against Arizona; Miller had that assignment on only one of his eight snaps.

A whole new level

“In college, you can be patient,” Miller said, comparing it to carrying the ball in the NFL. “Someone will miss an assignment and a hole will open. In the NFL, people aren’t missing assignments.”

University of Miami coach Al Golden has kept an eye on the former Hurricanes star and said: “It seems like he’s got his burst, and he’s getting to the edge in the NFL, which is really hard to do.”

Olivier Vernon, the 72nd overall pick, produced four quarterback hurries in his 34 snaps against Arizona and has six in 97 snaps overall, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranks him 27th among 59 defensive ends who play in a 4-3. He also has half a sack.

“He’s getting better,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “He has some lapses here and there at times, but he’s competing hard.”

Vernon and Miller, former teammates at UM, appreciate being able to begin their NFL journey together.

“It has helped a lot,” Miller said. “We stay on each other, tell each other to pick it up.”

Vernon said when he and Miller are together, special teams coach Darren Rizzi “will say, ‘Look, it’s the U boys!’ ”

Egnew struggling

Egnew, who hasn’t been active for any of Miami’s four games, remains the one disappointment in the group, with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman acknowledging this week that the 78th overall pick is still making “rookie mistakes.”

The Dolphins believe that Charles Clay is clearly ahead of Egnew as the No. 2 tight end and like using Jeron Mastrud for about a dozen plays per game because of his value as a blocker.

Egnew, whom the Dolphins envision as a potential stretch-the-field threat, wasn’t asked to block a lot at Missouri.

“I’m way better as an in-line blocker than when I got here,” he said. “I’ve got to be more consistent with pass catching. Jeff Ireland tells me to keep getting better. He views me as a weapon.”

Egnew said he’s not scarred by Sherman telling him in the preseason that he would cut Egnew if Sherman were general manager — a scene that aired on HBO’s Hard Knocks.

“I have thick skin,” Egnew said. “He’s a great coach and his methods are not questionable.”

But Egnew said he needed to become more “private” on social media after that unfortunate moment on Hard Knocks, because so many people were commenting on it.

Tannehill, Martin, Miller and Vernon aren’t the only rookies contributing.

Jorvorskie Lane, four years out of college but still listed as a rookie, starts at fullback.

And defensive linemen Derrick Shelby and Kheeston Randall have played 50 and 44 snaps, respectively.

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