Like every other NFL team, the Miami Dolphins enter training camp with 90 players on the roster, a number that will dwindle down to the final 53 as camp progresses and we near the start of the regular season.
It's evident which players are all but guaranteed a spot on the Dolphins roster when the team travels to Cleveland to kickoff the season, however, many players will be involved in fierce competition to earn themselves a job.
The competition at several different positions on both side of the ball will bode well for the Dolphins as it will allow the front office and coaching staff to select the best roster possible. Last season's overall lack of depth limited options for the team but thanks to an abundance of acquistions through free agency and the draft, that problem shouldn't exist this year.
Here are the top five position battles to monitor throughout the weeks leading up to the season as well as my predictions of the outcomes of each competition.
Right Defensive End
Cameron Wake has been a nightmare for opposing teams coming off the edge in his four seasons in the league despite not having much help. The Dolphins have been searching for a pass rusher opposite of Wake and that search may have some to an end when they traded up to select defensive end Dion Jordan third overall in the 2013 draft. However, due to a shoulder injury, Jordan will likely be used a pass rush specialist in the first year of his career. That leaves Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick, and potentially Derrick Shelby as candidates to win the starting role.
Prediction: With the expectation that Jordan will be eased into the league, I believe Olivier Vernon has the edge in at least beginning the season as the starting right defensive end. He has tremendous upside and appears to have the ability to be an every down player. Odrick will likely continue to be moved around from the DE position to inside at defensive tackle on sub packages. Shelby could be a darkhorse in this battle as he showed explosiveness last year but still needs to prove consistency.
4th and 5th Wide Reciever
Looking back at the wide reciever core that the Dolphins entered cap with a year ago, its safe to say they significantly upgraded at the position. Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson are locks to make the roster but Gibson will have to fend off Armon Binns for the role of slot reciever. In the end, I expect Gibson to earn that starting role with Binns competing for a final recieving spot. Along with Binns, Rishard Matthews, Brian Tyms, Marvin McNutt and Chad Bumphis will battle it out to be on the final roster.
Prediction: A seventh round pick in 2012, Matthews has showed continuous strides of improvment and is a favourite to land a roster spot. Binns and Tyms impressed during OTA's and mini camps, however, they will need to do more of the same if they want to crack the final 53. There is definitely a chance that both make the cut. As for newly acquired Marvin McNutt off waivers from Philadelphia and undrafted free agent Chad Bumphis, there will only be one roster spot, if any, for the both of them. One of these recievers will need to make a name for himself, however, at this point it appears that Bumphis will be the odd man out.
Perhaps the Dolphins thinnest position in 2012 is now their deepest position in 2013. Brent Grimes and Richard Marshall are virtual locks to win the starting cornerback roles. Despite Marshall returning from back surgery, he has showed no lingering effects thus far. That leaves Nolan Carroll, Dimitri Patterson and rookie Jamar Taylor fighting to be the team's third cornerback.
Prediction: Carroll's experience with the team will likely give him the inside track in this position battle. Patterson played well for the Dolphins last season in a sample size after being claimed off waivers but he has a large cap hit. If rookie Jamar Taylor impresses, Patterson could be cut due to his high salary.
This position battle between Dan Carpenter and rookie Caleb Sturgis should be the easiest to evaluate as the two are rotating on each day of camp. Carpenter arguably cost the Dolphins two wins last season with missed field goals and his recent struggles on attempts over 40 yards is concerning. Miami drafted Sturgis in the fifth round this year and teams don't invest picks that high on kickers if they don't plan on keeping them.
Prediction: Sturgis excels on field goal attempts greater than 50 yards and is his cap hit is considerably lower than Carpenter's. It would be extremely surprising if Carpenter isn't cut.
Backup Tight End
Free agent signing Dustin Keller has already developed chemistry with Ryan Tannehill and is a lock to be the Dolphins starting tight end. Second year tight end Michael Egnew and rookie Dion Sims will compete for the backup role in what should be a wide open competition.
Prediction: Sims has already impressed the coaching staff in the early stages of training camp while Egnew was a major disappointment after being drafted in the third round last year. If Sims continues to step up throughout camp as well as the preseason, the Egnew experiment in Miami will quickly come to an end.