Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins players at team’s minicamp are survivors, but even they are on short notice | Opinion

This unique Miami Dolphins offseason crossed a milestone Tuesday with the start of a voluntary minicamp coach Brian Flores began by preaching, “the basic, basic elements of football.” And that’s a good theme because this season will indeed be about something very basic for many of these players:

Survival.

Make it to tomorrow. Make it past this year.

Survive the Dolphins purge of 2019.

The 67 players currently on Miami’s roster have already endured an apocalypse of roster moves general manager Chris Grier authored in March and into early April. During that nuclear spring the Dolphins shed or lost their starting quarterback, backup quarterback, third-string quarterback, two starting defensive ends, the starting left guard, the starting right tackle, the team’s leading receiver and the leading rusher.

That makes the guys present for this camp special because it suggests they have something of a future with Miami.

But to make that assumption for the long-term would be a mistake because many of these players won’t even make it onto the 53-man roster while others won’t be with the team beyond this season.

Some simply won’t be good enough. Others, such as veteran safety Reshad Jones, might be traded before the season.

Others could be replaced — if not sooner, then later.

And while that’s true for the bottom of the roster on most teams, it applies to practically the entire Miami roster.

Like the starting quarterback.

And last year’s young starting tight ends.

And maybe one or two of the linebackers you thought were in the Miami’s future.

And a former first-round draft pick.

So Armageddon is not necessarily over, folks.

Take the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the unquestioned starter now. That’s the reason he was signed.

But the fact is the veteran starter today might not have that job locked down as early as next week. Because next week the Dolphins will go into the first round of the NFL draft and might pick a quarterback. And that guy would be expected to be the team’s eventual starter, putting Fitzpatrick in a race with time he’s bound to lose.

“My whole career, and I think for everybody around the league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Fitzpatrick said. “You just have to go out and work as hard as you can. That’s what I’m here to do — put my head down, ignore any and everything that goes on outside this building, and see if I can be the best player I can be and bring guys up and make the guys around me better.”

Fitzpatrick, 36 years old, says he watches the draft only because his family likes the broadcast. “My kids are interested in it, but if my kids didn’t want it on, it probably wouldn’t be on,” he said.

Word of advice, Ryan: Watch the first round this year just in case.

The Dolphins have made no secret of their need for a future QB. But it’s interesting that at linebacker — a position filled by three young starting-caliber players in Raekwon McMillan, Kiko Alonso, and Jerome Baker — the Dolphins have spent significant time this offseason studying possible additions.

The Dolphins have hosted seven linebackers in so-called 30 visits, suggesting the team believes the position needs significant attention.

On the offensive line, left tackle Laremy Tunsil is about as safe as anyone on this roster can be. When the rebuilding of this team is complete — perhaps two, three or four years from now — Tunsil might well still be there.

He’s that good.

But everyone else on the offensive line? Yeah, Zach Sterup lined up as the starting right tackle Tuesday and recently added journeyman Chris Reed lined up as the starting left guard.

Aside from that being another reason Fitzpatrick might not last as the quarterback, the early depth chart choice with Reed should be a wake-up call to former fifth-round pick Isaac Asiata that his spot on the team is in jeopardy.

And Sterup is fine as a backup. But you can bet the Dolphins want to add an upgrade as the starting right tackle as soon as possible.

Jones, 31 and the team’s highest-paid player, didn’t show up to Tuesday’s camp. And, yes, the three-day affair is voluntary.

But nothing about this decision suggests Jones is fully invested in the team. Perhaps because he found out that the team is not fully invested in him.

Jones skipped a day of a mandatory minicamp in 2016 and quit after 10 snaps against the New York Jets last season because he didn’t want to be part of a rotation system. Now this.

This is a breakup waiting to happen.

Last year the Dolphins spent a premium draft pick in the second round on tight end Mike Gesicki. Then a fourth-round pick on Durham Smythe.

And on Tuesday the team had five tight ends on the roster, with two of those added this offseason.

That doesn’t mean Gesicki and Smythe’s spots on the roster are in peril, but the team did serve notice last season’s unremarkable play needs addressing.

Charles Harris was the first-round pick in 2017 and he has been relegated to rotational duty each of his first two seasons. But beyond not producing, Harris has sometimes disappointed the Dolphins in that sometimes he “lost himself” with other issues, according to a source.

His rookie season, Harris had trouble adjusting to a professional player’s lifestyle. Last season, he stopped being himself and tried to copy the moves and mannerisms of Robert Quinn for a while, making coaches and others wonder why.

This year Harris is expected to produce. No excuses. The Dolphins lack edge rushers. The Dolphins need him.

But the team isn’t necessarily going to count on him because it wants to add one or two other edge players in the draft. Harris would be wise to realize this.

This Dolphins season might not necessarily be judged by wins and losses. But if success is measured by how quickly the team finds players it can count on, the time has begun for some of those players to step forward.

So practically everyone on the roster should be aware they’re on notice.

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Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.
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