Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2014 rookie class still has lots to prove

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill pats wide receiver Jarvis Landry on the helmet after a third quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Nov. 23, 2014.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill pats wide receiver Jarvis Landry on the helmet after a third quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Nov. 23, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The Dolphins know they found quality starters with their first two 2014 draft picks, offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James and receiver Jarvis Landry.

What’s far less clear, as their rookie seasons close, is what exactly the Dolphins have with their six other selections from that draft.

Guard Billy Turner (third round) and wide receiver Matt Hazel (sixth) haven’t played a snap; Hazel was promoted from the practice squad last Saturday.

Tight end Arthur Lynch (fifth round) spent the season on injured reserve with a back ailment.

Terrence Fede, a seventh-round pick, essentially won the Minnesota game with a blocked punt but has played just 83 defensive snaps on a deep defensive line.

Cornerback/safety Walt Aikens, a fourth-rounder, has logged 64 snaps and fifth-round linebacker Jordan Tripp just 12.

All have had significant roles on special teams.

Whether any of these six picks develop into a key contributor beyond special teams must play out.

But there have been encouraging signs.

Though Turner has been inactive for all but one game this season, he has “been making a lot of progress,” coach Joe Philbin said.

“He’s a smart guy. He studied extremely hard to get acclimated to the system. He’s getting better and better. I’m pleased with his development.”

Turner played left tackle at North Dakota State, and even though the Dolphins envision him as a guard he said he gets practice snaps at every offensive line position except center.

“Going from tackle to guard has been an adjustment,” he said.

“But I can handle both. Physicality has never been the issue for me. You have to get used to the speed of the game. That was an adjustment early on.”

The Dolphins will enter the offseason without any clear-cut starters at guard next season, and Turner could become a factor with a strong spring and summer.

Offensive line coach John Benton said earlier this season that Turner is like “a bull in a china shop” and needs to refine his technique.

“Of course, I want to play. I’ve been thinking about that all year,” Turner said.

“But I have been getting a lot better at practice. Technique-wise, I’m 10 times better.”

Of the three rookie defensive draft picks, coordinator Kevin Coyle is most effusive about Fede, who has a sack in limited playing time.

“Terrence is inexperienced but has a wealth of talent,” Coyle said.

“Coming from a small school, this is his first exposure to some things, but he’s picked it up extremely well.

“He has a great future with us. We think he is going to grow into a very effective defensive end. I was thrilled to see him make that [blocked punt Sunday] because he’s an extremely hard-working kid. I feel fortunate that we have him.”

Aikens, who played safety to start his college career at Illinois but cornerback at Liberty, received snaps at both positions this season and believes that will benefit him long-term.

“I feel comfortable at both,” he said.

“At cornerback, my [strengths] are my size (6-1) and physicality. At safety, it’s my speed.

“It’s kind of tough going from being the man in college, where you don’t come off the field, to not playing a lot. But I’m pleased with [the progress]. I’m still trying to prove myself to coaches.”

Coyle said Aikens “has a combination of traits that we like as a safety, as a corner, as a special teams guy. He needs to be more consistent in everything that he is doing.

“Hopefully, that will come with maturity, but at this point he still needs to get his assignments down perfectly and be able to communicate in the back end, which is critical for a safety.”

Tripp, who played weak-side linebacker at Montana, said he has received practice snaps at all three linebacker positions and “there’s no doubt I can be a high performer at this level.”

Because of his speed, the Dolphins believe he can be effective in pass coverage.

“We like his athleticism [and] his ability to run and to cover,” Coyle said. “We just haven’t been able to get him into the mix of things [defensively].”

As for Hazel, he showed flashes in training camp but has the misfortune of playing the deepest position on Miami’s roster.

Hazel said he was told he was promoted to the 53-man roster last week because “they like what they saw in practice. I’ve improved a lot. My route running is pretty good.”

Lynch said earlier this season that he would have been healthy enough to play in October but understands the Dolphins’ decision to place him on season-ending injured reserve.

He will likely compete for the No.3 tight end job next summer, with Dion Sims now having a stranglehold on the backup job.

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