Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins starting lineup coming into focus

Bobby McCain has emerged as the most likely answer currently on the roster for the Miami Dolphins to start at outside cornerback.
Bobby McCain has emerged as the most likely answer currently on the roster for the Miami Dolphins to start at outside cornerback. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins, good or bad or somewhere in between, are starting to come together.

With only one meaningful preseason game left — at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday evening against the Baltimore Ravens — the picture of the Dolphins that seemed somewhat fuzzy when training camp opened is coming into greater focus now.

The few starting jobs that presented questions even a week ago are starting to provide answers. (They might not be the answers everyone wants, but there are answers).

The Dolphins have to get to a 53-man roster between now and Sept. 1. But don’t tell head coach Adam Gase that because he says he’s not thinking about open jobs and roster spots yet — although, of course he is.

“I don’t think that way,” Gase said Tuesday. “We’re going to keep playing, and when it’s time to make those cut downs, we’ll sit in the room and figure it out. It’s hard for me to even put a number to anything. I can go in there right now and look at the roster and probably have an idea where those position battles are, but we’re going to play this thing out.”

Why wait? Let’s do it now:

The big questions on the defense involve the secondary and the linebacker corps.

In the secondary, it’s increasingly clear Bobby McCain is going to be the starting outside cornerback, assuming that starter is currently on the roster.

It has to be somewhat disappointing for the Dolphins that Cordrea Tankersley, who started 13 games last season, has not made an obvious improvement to start this preseason. Indeed, it can be argued he’s taken a step in the wrong direction as the former starter is consistently working with the second-team defense the past couple of weeks.

Tony Lippett, the starter for most of 2016, also isn’t looking ready to even compete for the starting job. He has been busy trying to regain the form he lost when he sustained an Achilles injury during last year’s training camp.

So unless the Dolphins sign someone, or trade for someone — and, yes, the team is actively searching — McCain is perhaps the only remaining option to start.

That means rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick will likely serve as the team’s starting nickel cornerback.

The linebacker corps that has troubled the Dolphins for the last couple of season is close to being settled with Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker seeming like the likely starters. The team might press Chase Allen into starting duty if Baker struggles significantly, but there’s no doubt coaches are prepared for growing pains with both Baker and McMillan, who missed his rookie year with a knee injury.

“My confidence is growing with them,” Gase said. “They’re young. We’re going to have mistakes.

“With Kiko, I feel like it was two years ago. Last year the offseason was tough for for him coming off the [2016 injury] with the hand. He couldn’t do what he wanted to do in the offseason and when he came to training camp he was lighter and he was still trying to get used to using his hand and not worry about it. He’s really been performing the way we need him to perform.

“And those two young guys, just keep growing and keep learning. We know there’s going to be mistakes. We’re going to be all right with that because those two guys they work really hard to correct those mistakes.”

The rest of the defense seems set. Well, there’s a question whether Jordan Phillips can wrest the starting defensive tackle job back from Davon Godchaux. But regardless of what happens, multiple tackles will play in games. The starting defensive ends are Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, with Charles Harris, William Hayes and Andre Branch expected to work in as reserves.

The safeties at the moment are Reshad Jones usually playing close to the line of scrimmage and T.J. McDonald playing deeper.

The Dolphins’ offense seems more settled.

The offensive line has been settled since Day One of training camp and the work to keep that unit intact is paying dividends now. The Dolphins lead the NFL with a 5.2 yard per rush average. And quarterback Ryan Tannehill has not been sacked in 23 passing attempt the first two preseason games.

“You know what to expect, so you can be on the same page with whoever’s in there,” running back Kenyan Drake said of running behind the same line every practice and game. “I feel as the season continues to develop, we will continue to build that chemistry.”

The Dolphins may start Frank Gore at running back and give Drake a lot of carries as the backup. Or vice versa. The point is both will play a lot and factor. If there’s a battle for the third running back job, it depends on how quickly Kalen Ballage returns from a concussion. If Ballage is out then either Senorise Perry and Buddy Howell will be the choice.

The receivers may have an open spot but it seems clear Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson are on the team.

Tight end is an interesting spot because rookies Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe are on the team. Veteran MarQueis Gray also seems likely to make the team. Does the team keep an extra tight end? Unsettled.

Ryan Tannehill is the starting quarterback, the Miami Herald has learned. The backup job has yet to be settled because neither Brock Osweiler nor David Fales has been particularly impressive, although Osweiler seems to be holding a slight edge after Fales played so poorly against Carolina.

This much is clear: Bryce Petty, who has been arguably more consistent against third-team competition, doesn’t have much of a chance of making the 53-man roster.

“I think everybody right now in that room,” Gase said, “we’re going to keep competing and give reps.”

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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