Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins seek clarity on several lineup battles, roster openings

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, seen here pressuring Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, played well against the Eagles.
Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, seen here pressuring Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, played well against the Eagles. TNS

The Miami Dolphins have just about reached that time of year when they should be locking down roster decisions, should know who is starting and should be all but ready for the regular-season opener.

And yet...

As we sit here the team is still trying to figure out who will start at the defensive tackle position not manned by Ndamukong Suh. It is trying to figure out who will start at the cornerback job not manned by Xavien Howard. It is trying to figure out who will start at left guard.

It is trying to figure out who will be the punter in 2017.

It is trying to figure out who will fill out the linebacker corps that will make up a vital part of the special teams units.

In other words, the Dolphins have lots of questions to answer before Sunday or Monday when they begin practices in earnest for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener.

The most interesting (to me) situation is the defensive tackle competition between rookie Davon Godchaux and third-year veteran Jordan Phillips. Coach Adam Gase has said the best player one day will take first-team snaps the next day. And for weeks on end, Godchaux worked with the first unit ahead of the more experienced Phillips.

But Phillips apparently played well against Philadelphia last week beyond the interception he happened into in the first half of the game. And so in the past few days Phillips has been getting just as many snaps as Godchaux with the first unit -- if not more.

So it is no longer true that Godchaux is the starter ahead of Phillips. It is no longer true that the starting job belongs exclusively to Godchaux.

We are, shall we say, at something of a stalemate.

And that might be the reason Gase on Monday talked of the two men sharing time.

“I don’t know who’s out there first, you know what I mean,” Gase said coyly. “We’ll just keep shuffling them in. The biggest thing is those guys getting reps and those guys playing as good as they can, as hard as they can. They’re all going to play.

“We just want whoever is in there with [Ndamukong] Suh to fit in and be as comfortable with each other so they can work well together ... We just know we’re going to play more than one guy. Those guys are competing as hard as they can. They’ve got their little battle going on but at the end of the day it’s only making all of us better. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

The Dolphins are in a similar position at cornerback with Byron Maxwell and Alterraun Verner. The team wants Maxwell to play as well as he did late last year. The Dolphins want him to succeed. But he’s lately been inconsistent.

“I think we’ve had spurts where he’s played well,” Gase said. “We just want the consistency we got last year and especially toward the end -- getting hands on the receiver and make it hard for them on the release and challenge for balls. Keep getting those opportunities. Keep practicing hard. Keep doing what’s being asked. We’re trying to play physical and challenge the receivers and letting our D-line get there and we just want to keep that consistency going. If you practice hard and do it right I think good things usually happen.”

Failing that, Maxwell is facing the possibility of either losing his job outright or sharing playing time with Verner.

“Once the season gets here we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going with our secondary and if we want to play with more than just two corners or if we want to stick with just two guys and roll,” Gase said. “We’ll keep fighting through that with [coaches] and figure out what’s best for our defense.”

Field position is often what is very good for the defense and in that regard the Dolphins are paying close attention to their punter duel between incumbent Matt Darr and rookie Matt Haack.

And Haack is clearly winning this competition at the moment.

Both players have punted 10 times this preseason. Haack has a 46.5 gross average to Darr’s 43.5. Haack has a 43.7 net average to Darr’s 33.0.

The numbers have been closer in practice but Haack has the advantage there as well.

So after two seasons with the Dolphins, Matt Darr is losing the punting competition at the moment with one preseason game to play.

The Dolphins have some intriguing issues to resolve with their backup linebacker corps.

Obviously, Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons and Mike Hull are on the team. But with special teams stalwart Neville Hewitt slowed the past few weeks with a shoulder injury and recently added Rey Maualuga not likely a special teams contributors, the Dolphins need a couple of special teams contributors from the linebacker corps.

A team source recently told me the most impressive of the young linebackers have been Deon Lacey, Chase Allen and Trevor Reilly in that order. Only one or two of those will likely make the team.

Hewitt is unlikely to make the team simply because he has not earned it. He either gets cut or is a candidate for the injured reserve list.

“I felt bad for him that he didn’t have a chance to compete through training camp,” Gase said of Hewitt.

The Dolphins continue to let Anthony Steen and Jesse Davis fight it out for the left guard spot. Somebody will win the job. Somebody will lose the job but be in line for playing time in case the person who wins the job stinks.

Frankly, no one winning this job is going to the Pro Bowl. It is what it is.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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