Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage comments on practice
Though too much shouldn’t be read into anything that happens on the first day of training camp, there were some notable lineup developments when the Dolphins opened team drills on Thursday. Among them:
▪ Kalen Ballage opened as the starting running back ahead of Kenyan Drake and had a long run on his first carry. Though Ballage said in April that he’s “absolutely” eyeing the starting job, he downplayed that Thursday, noting “if we’re a winning football team, both of us are going to be able to make a whole bunch of plays and get a lot of individual stats.”
▪ Ryan Fitzpatrick was the starter at quarterback, with most of Josh Rosen’s snaps coming with second-team players. Fitzpatrick was clearly better than Rosen, as was often the case in May and June practices.
▪ As expected, former cornerback Bobby McCain is now a safety and lined up opposite Reshad Jones, often playing a deep center-field role in practice, with T.J. McDonald sidelined with a minor injury to start camp.
“He’s versatile,” Jones said of McCain’s aptitude to play safety. “He can play the slot. He can cover, show his range back there. He’s a piece in our room that’s going to be able to help us.”
▪ The Dolphins opened team drills with five defensive backs: Jones and McCain at safety, Xavien Howard and Eric Rowe at boundary cornerback and Minkah Fitzpatrick in the slot.
Jones even took some snaps at SAM linebacker and said he’s fine with that: “Whatever it takes for the team to win games, that’s what I’m here to do, that’s what I’ve been here doing for the last nine years.”
There were times that Rowe was on the boundary — opposite Howard — and Fitzpatrick was on the bench.
▪ Former Canadian Football League linebacker Sam Eguavoen opened with the starters at linebacker ahead of Raekwon McMillan, with Jerome Baker the only other linebacker on the field in that opening nickel package.
But McMillan — who lost six pounds this offseason to improve his quickness — downplayed being on the second team Thursday, explaining the move by noting that “we’re coming out trying to get equal reps so we’ll all be ready to go.”
Asked if he still considers himself a starter — which seems likely when the team plays three linebackers — McMillan said, “Yeah, whatever coach says, I will go with.”
Eguavoen, who played the past three seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, had two interceptions of Rosen in the offseason program.
▪ Jonathan Woodard — not veteran Tank Carradine — opened as the first-team defensive end opposite Charles Harris in a 4-3 scheme. (Harris also can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 in this defense.) Woodard has one sack in six NFL games, all with Miami last season.
Davon Godchaux and rookie Christian Wilkins opened as the starting defensive tackles, backed up by Akeem Spence and Vincent Taylor. But Carradine replaced Woodard and Taylor replaced Godchaux in first-team red zone drills.
▪After playing right tackle throughout the three day June minicamp, Jesse Davis returned to right guard — where he played every snap last season — and former Bills starter Jordan Mills was the first team right tackle. Former Jaguars part-time starter Chris Reed opened at left guard ahead of rookie third-round pick Michael Deiter.
▪ Mike Gesicki got plenty of first-team work at tight end, with Dwayne Allen still sidelined. Durham Smythe also got first-team work.
Allen’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said on his Sunday night segment on WSVN-7, “I don’t think [Allen’s injury is] a big deal. Dwayne is still recovering from an injury he had at the end of last season with New England. It’s kind of a lingering condition, but he’s recovering. If this were the regular season, he would be ready to go. I would expect him to be back early in the preseason.
“Kudos to the Dolphins for being conservative with one of their important veteran players; he’s projected to be the starting tight end this year.”
The Patriots listed Allen as having a knee injury late last season.
Receiver Albert Wilson, who missed the final nine games last season with a hip injury, participated only in individual team drills and was noncommittal about whether he would play in preseason.
“I’ve been doing pretty good on whatever they throw at me,” he said. “Just waiting on the day we decide it’s time to go. I’m definitely feeling better. I didn’t have any setbacks.”
Former Dolphins coach Adam Gase maximized Wilson’s talents, using him as a receiver, running back and a Wildcat quarterback. Wilson said it was “awesome” that he could carry the ball more last season (eight carries for 16 yards, compared with 10 carries combined in his first four seasons with Kansas City). But he said he hasn’t discussed how offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea will deploy him.
“I’m just waiting until the day until I get on the field and show them how talented I am so they can get upstairs and do what they have to do,” Wilson said.
▪ Among the standouts at the first training camp practice: Fitzpatrick (very sharp, especially in red zone), Kenny Stills (two TD catches over Jomal Wiltz), DeVante Parker (two difficult catches) and rookie cornerback Montre Hartage (interception of Rosen).
▪ Besides Allen and McDonald, the other players on the physically-unable-to-perform list also missed practice: Cordrea Tankersley and Mike Hull.
▪ The Miami Dolphins Foundation is pledging $1.5 million to Baptist Health Foundation in support of its youth football outreach program.