Miami Dolphins: 5 players to watch at training camp
Surely the Miami Dolphins will have a lot to watch during training camp. They spent the offseason rewarding their own, now it’s time to see just what they’ve invested their money in. With the shift in focus from bringing in high-end free agents to affordable yet productive veterans the Dolphins were able to bring in talent as well as pay their more productive players. Will the change of mentality better the team, or did they spend on guys who will be placeholders for the next wave of talent? Who has the most to prove this year at camp:
Jordan Phillips: With this year’s draft the Miami Dolphins didn’t come right out and say it, but gave a subtle hint that it was time for Phillips to step up. The Dolphins didn’t use early picks on draft day to challenge the 3rd year defensive tackle, but with back to back DT picks in round 5 and 6 the Dolphins sent a message. Sure, those picks can be seen as depth picks. However, late round picks are often players teams want to develop. Using 2 picks in later rounds shows the team might be looking towards the future. This type of move says the job is yours if you want it, but either produce or it’ll be time to move on.
Raekwon McMillian: The Dolphins haven’t had luck fielding a solid linebacker unit. McMillian was the top choice for the Dolphins to fill their linebacker needs. With a terrible run defense last year, they’ll need McMillian to prove why and fast. The majority of Miami’s schedule will feature run-heavy teams that could make them suffer. If they don’t find a run stopper, they’ll be in for a long season. It’s been said that McMillian was drafted because of his ability to tackle, an area that Miami has struggled for seasons.
Jay Ajayi: One thing Miami has to wonder going into 2017 is can Ajayi build off last year’s success. With how quickly Ajayi went from being left home in week 1 to the team’s most dependable running back it’s not hard to imagine it wasn’t a fluke. Now the offense will lean more heavily on him as he’s gained the team’s trust. It’ll mean now he’ll be asked to do even more. Will he build off of last season with a revamped offensive line? If he has worked on it this offseason, how much will they involve him in the passing game? Ajayi showed he deserves to be an every down player last year but he’ll need to expand his game past a one trick pony to make it worth it.
Isaac Asiata: When the Dolphins chose Asiata in round 5 of the Draft, many thought it to be a steal. Asiata was projected closer to round 3-4 but was selected in round 5. He’s got the physicality to be something special but his size scared some teams off. Now the Dolphins will need him to be the steal of the draft if he can push a starting spot. They shifted their offensive line around this offseason to get younger and cap friendly. Now they’ll need their guards to step up in a big way. Asiata has competition at guard this offseason, but if he’s even close to as mean, as they say, the competition will be short and sweet.
Julius Thomas: It goes without saying that Thomas needs to be on the watch list. Not only did the Dolphins need a replacement for Jordan Cameron, but needed him to be the player he used to be. To be fair, Thomas struggled in Jacksonville but name a player who hasn’t. Miami assumes they’re getting the player who was part of Gase’s offense in Denver rather than the struggling tight end from the other part of Florida. Thomas should have plenty of room to work with a number of weapons the Dolphins have. His presence alone should take pressure off receivers and allow him to be a threat in the end zone. He and quarterback Ryan Tannehill should be able to develop chemistry early on and Thomas should rejuvenate their struggling tight end position.
There’s no doubt that Miami will need all the help they can get against their tough schedule. The team will have to prove early on that they weren’t just a team of good fortune. Head coach Adam Gase has the team thinking differently and the results showed up on game day. Can he avoid the coaches version of the sophomore slump? It’ll be a long road, but it won’t be a lack of talent if they don’t get there. The Miami Dolphins have enough players to produce, now they just need to go out and win.