Competition is the name of the game in training camp and the preseason. Not only of the exhibition variety, but in its fiercest sense, teammates battling it out for final roster spots and starting roles.
We’ve spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the competitions on the back end of the roster for the right to be a member of the 2011 Miami Dolphins. Now, I want to spend some time discussing the battles with first-team implications.
As with the “Who’s In, Who’s Out?” series, this isn’t a final prediction of who I see winning out. This is more of a freeze frame; a report on which Dolphins would start if Week 1 was today. Let’s start with none other than free safety, where Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones are going toe-to-toe.
Free safety: Chris Clemons vs. Reshad Jones
Early on in camp, it appeared that Reshad Jones was on the verge of overtaking Chris Clemons at starting free safety. With three preseason games left on the slate, Jones has plenty of remaining opportunities to do just that. But it’s becoming clear that Chris Clemons is once again the man to beat.
Clemons isn’t the gambling type, usually staying disciplined in his assignments, which hurts his ability to make game-changing plays. But he’s safe. Jones, on the other hand, likes to take chances in center field, putting him in better position to make plays on the football. But that also means starting him would be somewhat of a roll of the dice by the Dolphins.
Jones was a non-factor on Friday night in Atlanta, while Clemons flashed by laying the wood on John Parker Wilson, effectively knocking the rookie quarterback out of the game with a concussion.
Jones could easily get back in the driver’s seat with a big play or two in the next three weeks, as Sparano has already went on record saying playmaking ability will be a deciding factor in the competition. Without any noteworthy plays from Jones, though, Clemons’ safe, consistent play will likely win out in the end.
Fullback/H-back: Lousaka Polite vs. Charles Clay
Even with Tony Sparano defending him to the media Monday afternoon and suggesting that he still has value to the offense, Lousaka Polite’s days as a Miami Dolphin could be numbered.
Given his struggles as a lead blocker a year ago, Polite’s only real value to the Dolphins is in short-yardage situations, as he’s been nearly unstoppable when only a yard or less stands between Miami and a fresh set of downs.
Brian Daboll’s new offense doesn’t utilize the I-formation nearly as frequently as the traditionalist Dan Henning did. A pure fullback is far from a necessity and wouldn’t exactly be a valued luxury.
Charles Clay is already taking most of Polite’s reps with the first-team offense in practice. There just doesn’t appear to be enough room to keep Polite around as essentially a situational player.
The first game has come and gone and I already miss Dolphins' football. Fortunately we don’t have to wait very long as the second preseason game is this Friday the 19th. With game number two slowly approaching us, I wanted to take a closer look at 5 players/units that need to step up their game to solidify their spots on this roster. Whether they have a roster spot locked in or they are battling to make this team, all these guys have something to prove in week 2 of the preseason.
1) The first-team Dolphins' defense
The obvious person who should be at the top of this list is Chad Henne. I, like most Dolphins fans, can recognize that there are going to be up and downs with Henne. Obviously, it would be nice for Chad to come out with a strong week to gain some confidence but whether Chad struggles or excels this team will live and die by him so it doesn’t really matter. Chad has a lot to prove to the fans, however, to the organization it is pretty clear that he is their guy now and there isn’t much that is going to change that.
That being said, the Dolphins' defense is suppose to be a top 5 unit this season. They looked more like the 25th ranked defense against Atlanta. Miami’s starting unit needs to show up vs. Carolina. I know it’s only the preseason, but there is no excuse for not having a strong outing against the Carolina offense this week.
2) Running backs Daniel Thomas and Kory Sheets
Thomas is obviously going to take this team and hopefully will become the full-time ball carrier for the Phins in the future, while Kory Sheets is going to struggle to make the roster, yet both have something to prove next week. Sheets came out on Friday night with a pretty poor showing. If he wants to make this team he is going to have to do something rather impressive in the second preseason game.
Daniel Thomas made one nice played hauling in a 25-yard pass in the flat. He didn’t really show much in the running game, however. The offensive line wasn’t really there against Atlanta but Thomas needs to prove to this team he can be a lead back to depend on.
We’ve had a couple of days to digest the first-quarter debacle in the Georgia Dome on Friday night. The concerns that arose from Henne’s two picks, Daniel Thomas having no room to run, and the first-team defense getting shredded on the ground, haven’t magically evaporated.
Excluding the play of the starting defense, which is nothing to worry about as far as I’m concerned, as there are too many talented players and too bright of a mind calling the shots in Mike Nolan to waste any time or energy getting bent out of shape over one drive in the first preseason game, fans have a legitimate reason to worry about this team.
When the defense returns to form, the Dolphins will still have the ability to compete with anybody, but it’s hard to argue that this team is any better than last season’s 7-9 squad if Henne is going to continue to stare down receivers and the interior offensive line is still going to get pushed around.
These were really concerns that were already present heading into Friday’s opener, however. What we saw in Atlanta was worrisome, yes, but being that it was the first game, a couple weeks into the new season, it was, believe it or not, no reason to jump to conclusions.
That’s what the preseason is for, getting mistakes out of the way. Players and teams only get better as training camp and the exhibition season progresses. Judging by Friday night, the Dolphins have a long way to go.
We’ll have to wait and see if they improve enough in the concerning areas to make a difference this season. But the point is, it’s way too early to ride anyone off after one quarter of action. A collective deep breath is in order.
Nonetheless, these preseason games are all about making an impression. Impressions were certainly made Friday night, some for better, some for worse. Let’s see which players’ stock are on the rise and which players have hurt their cause a week into the preseason.
Phillip Livas: Let’s begin with the obvious. Phillip Livas, a relatively unknown undrafted Louisiana Tech product, stole the show with an explosive performance in the return game. Judging by the fact that he nearly broke a couple kick returns for big yardage as well, his electrifying 75-yard punt return touchdown hardly seemed like a fluke.
While Livas is on the right track if he wants to be one of the surprise members of the 2011 Miami Dolphins, he’s going to need to avoid mistakes and continue to show big-play ability in the final three exhibitions.
Does the name Chris Williams ring a bell? The same guy who had one solid game returning kicks in the 2009 preseason, only to see his opportunity at making the team bounce off his facemask, muffing a punt the following week. If we see more good things from Livas against the Panthers on Friday, though, keeping six receivers will become a real possibility.
Roberto Wallace: Staying on the topic of receivers, a unit that suddenly appears to be one of the deepest positions on the team, Roberto Wallace inched a little closer to cementing himself on the roster if he hasn’t already. Sparano hinted that he was the man to beat for the fourth receiver spot before Wallace’s three catches for 60 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.
Now I’m starting to wonder how close he is to seriously pushing for extended playing time in the regular season. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll loves to utilize four-receiver sets, further adding to Wallace’s value this year.
A.J. Edds: Edds’ debut in a Dolphins’ uniform was long overdue, but he lived up to expectations in his first game as essentially an additional fourth-round pick in this year’s draft class considering he missed all of 2010 with a torn ACL. He led all Dolphins with seven tackles and flashed some playmaking ability with a sack.
Jimmy Wilson: We all finally got a glimpse of what the media has been ranting and raving about in practice when Jimmy Wilson got to the quarterback on a corner blitz and forced a fumble in the process. Throw in his five tackles and it appears the hype has some merit.
I must admit, though, I’m a little disappointed to hear Sparano say Wilson will be playing corner exclusively now. Sean Smith and Vontae Davis project to lockdown the starting corner spots for years to come. I just don’t see Wilson being a significant contributor at the position anytime soon.
At strong safety, however, 33-year-old Yeremiah Bell isn’t going to be around forever. I was under the impression that Wilson could emerge as Bell’s eventual successor. We’ll see how he does at corner, though, where he doesn’t have much work left to clinch a roster spot.
Matt Moore: I don’t want to make a huge deal out of Moore’s performance Friday night, when he threw for 123 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Yes, he was solid and certainly looks the part of reliable backup.
But Henne looked good against the Falcons’ second-team defense too, going 69 yards in his final two throws, the final pass being the 44-yard touchdown bomb to Hartline.
It was still a nice sign from Moore, though, who needs Henne to play his way out of the starting job, something that doesn’t exactly appear to be a long shot.
According to a league source, the Dolphins have signed inside linebacker Marvin Mitchell after reportedly working out several linebackers in Davie today.
The 26-year-old former Tennessee Volunteer contributed 43 tackles, two forced fumbles, and a sack last year for the Saints. The signing likely means that Austin Spitler, who was seen in a walking boot after Friday night’s game, is expected to miss significant time.
Judging by his production, Mitchell appears to be a considerable upgrade at the fourth inside linebacker spot regardless. With A.J. Edds looking strong against the Falcons, Mitchell projects to round up a fairly deep corps behind Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.
Miami’s second and third-team was able to salvage the night, going on a 28-6 run in the game’s final three quarters. But unfortunately for the Dolphins, the starters had an embarrassing showing in the first quarter, falling behind 17-0 early on.
In the Dolphins’ defense, though, the Falcons’ second scoring drive took place after Sparano had already pulled the first-team D. But that doesn’t ease the fact that Atlanta marched right down the field on what is supposed to be a top five defense. Doing so mostly on the ground against what we thought was one of the most dominant defensive lines in football.
Add that to Chad Henne still staring down receivers and the running game getting no push from the interior offensive line, and the Dolphins left the Georgia Dome with more questions than when they entered. Having said that, I decided to go back and look at the film this morning.
I have no way of posting the video, but here is my analysis of what went wrong on Henne’s two interceptions, the first-team defense’s second series, and Daniel Thomas’ four carries.
Chad Henne’s two picks
-First interception: Henne’s first pick, on his very first pass of the preseason, was more Fasano’s fault than his. Fasano should have made the catch. But if I’m Brian Daboll watching the film with Henne, I’m pointing out a few things to my starting quarterback.
First off, he had a wide open Charles Clay in the flat, but it appeared Henne was fixated on Fasano from the snap. Henne also probably put a little too much zip on the pass considering it only traveled about five yards past the line of scrimmage and if the ball wasn’t slightly behind Fasano, maybe he would have been able to reel it in.
-Second interception: Bess is open initially when the corner bites on the play-action. For whatever reason, Henne hesitates. Could of been as a result of Bess running the wrong route, as Sparano indicated last night. But if that was the case, Henne needs to look elsewhere, or at least tuck it away, take a sack, and live to see the next down.
Instead, Bess puts his hands up signaling for the ball, prompting Henne to try and force the pass in between the corner, who had dropped back into the throwing lane, and the safety over the top. Just a terrible read and decision by Henne.