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Three Miami Dolphins rookies who likely will be starters by season opener

Miami Dolphins linebackers Jerome Baker (55) impressed coaches in the team’s first preseason game.
Miami Dolphins linebackers Jerome Baker (55) impressed coaches in the team’s first preseason game. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Safety and slot cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick? The Miami Dolphins love him.

Tight end Mike Gesicki? They love him.

Linebacker Jerome Baker? Love him.

By the time the Dolphins start the final day of training camp Tuesday, it will be abundantly clear coaches believe general manager Chris Grier hit a home run in the first round of the draft with Fitzpatrick, and in the second round with Gesicki, and in the third round with Baker.

The Miami Dolphins picked Jerome Baker to play as a linebacker in Round 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft. GM Chris Grier talks to the media.

The most obvious sign that is true is that by the time the regular season begins all three will be getting important and considerable playing time and probably two and perhaps all three might be in the starting lineup depending on packages the team is utilizing.

Fitzpatrick, for example, started last week’s preseason opener at safety because Reshad Jones got the night off. Baker came in to play with the second team behind Stephone Anthony. And Gesicki made his first start in the first preseason game.

Miami Dolphins DB Minkah Fitzpatrick personal goals are to be great and loyal in his rookie year with the Miami Dolphins.

This week, Fitzpatrick is likely to again get snaps with starters as well as backups at both safety and nickel cornerback. Baker displaced Anthony on the first-team defense in practice.

And Gesicki continues to work with the starting offense.

“I’ll say this about [last week’s game]: Probably the only bright spot was just out of all of our rookies, I didn’t think it was too big for them,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said, obviously including others. “They all competed, they all played hard, top down. All four quarters, they made some plays on the ball.

“That was encouraging, just (because that) was (their) first real NFL experience and they didn’t get too wide-eyed. They all went out and competed and played with some energy.”

Miami Dolphins rookie TE Mike Gesicki says he can block, regardless of what others are saying outside the Fins camp. Coach Adam Gase just laughs.

Fitzpatrick had three tackles and a pass defensed against Tampa Bay. He played safety and some as a slot cornerback, where spent most of his time at Alabama.

And if Fitzpatrick continues to excel in the slot, especially on early downs, where he can both cover and serve as a bigger body against the run, it would give the Dolphins flexibility to use Bobby McCain, last year’s slot cornerback, on the outside.

“I think the positive from Thursday night was that he actually made some plays on the ball,” Burke said. “He had a couple of break ups, one deep on the range and one dropping down in, that sort of thing. (There are) a couple run fits that he just hasn’t seen that he’s working through.

“With Minkah, I feel good about the fact he’s always learning when something that happens in a game, the next time he corrects it. Again, maybe it’s because he hasn’t seen it yet; but the next time he picks it up.”

Baker struggled to pick up some of his assignments in practice early on and that remains a point of emphasis. But in the preseason game Baker simply sought out the football and tackled the player carrying it.

He finished with five tackles. He didn’t play nervous or scared. And coaches loved that, and want to see more.

So Baker is going to get his chance to show more Friday night in the second preseason game at Carolina.

When the Dolphins drafted Gesicki, they heard the criticisms about his lack of blocking ability. And they pushed back against the narrative that the player is a “one trick pony.”

But Gesicki’s one trick is playing very, very well in the red zone. In practices he often wins against either a smaller cornerback or slower linebacker.

So the Dolphins seems less concerned about the blocking issue now. They want Gesicki to get better at blocking. But he’s a pass-catching tight end.

The Dolphins admit that.

“He was down at 9-on-7 (passing drills} today and I went to one-on-one, and coach (Adam) Gase went to 9-to-7, so when he walked down to one-on-ones, it was like, ‘Hey, get out here. We didn’t draft you to block. We drafted you to come catch touchdowns in the red area,’ “ offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Monday.

“And he’s had his best days of practice — you guys have seen it — in the red area catching passes. We’ll keep getting better with that. He’s working really hard. The good thing is he’s not afraid to stick his face in there. We didn’t draft him to be a killer at the point of attack. We drafted him to make plays in the red area, convert third downs, make explosive plays on first and second down.

“He’s going to have to learn how to block and stuff, but we’ll put him in good situations once the bullets are real. We’ll keep putting him out there and letting him go through these struggles. Blocking our defensive ends, those are good players.”

The Dolphins believe they have a vision for using Gesicki in double tight end sets with either MarQueis Gray or Durham Smythe that won’t necessarily tip off the team’s intentions -- run or pass. What that vision is exactly has not been shown yet.

This much is certain: Gesicki has been working with the first team offense for a couple of weeks. He’s buried on the depth chart but that has meant nothing.

You might want to start considering him a starter.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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