The Miami Dolphins starting lineup seems to be clearing up more and more each day. After going into training camp with expected competitions at left guard, center, right guard, and No. 2 receiver on offense, defensive end, both weakside and strongside outside linebacker, possibly cornerback, and free safety on defense, and punt returner and kick returner on special-teams, we learned early on that Brian Hartline was the man opposite Marshall, Cameron Wake was thankfully the team’s every-down answer on the weakside, and Will Allen wasn’t healthy enough to make a run at Davis or Smith.
The first two preseason games have done a good job of clearing up just about everything else, but we likely have to wait until after Friday night to edge the starting lineup in stone.
Even though there are still two remaining preseason contest, the third game is typically used as a dress rehearsal, and having most, if not all,of the position battles settled is a good way to solidify chemistry and cohesiveness before things get real in a couple of short weeks.
And the final exihibition game usually provides an opportunity for those players on the roster bubble to make their final push to make the team, with minimal reps for starting caliber players. So lets take a look at which competitions are clinched, and which ones still have a little bit of convincing to do.
Right Guard: John Jerry
Early on it looked like the third-round pick out of Mississippi was only getting first-team reps so the coaching staff could get a feel for what he can bring to the table against a first-team defense. Jerry had a few bumps in the road early on in camp, and didn’t exactly standout in the team’s intrasquad scrimmage, but ran away with the competition in the first two preseason games. He’s shown the potential to be mauling run-blocker, and has arguably been the most consistent of any of the Dolphins’ interior lineman.
Right Defensive End: Jared Odrick
We haven’t heard Sparano name a winner here yet, but judging by how solid Odrick looked in the first two games, it wouldn’t make much since to plug in a veteran like Marques Douglas and consequently halt the rookie’s progression. Odrick continues to look like a quality NFL starter already, with potential upside that could eventually lead to him becoming one of the top 3-4 ends in the league. Charles Grant may be providing the most pass rush of any of the Dolphins’ defensive ends so far, but he is almost exclusively spending time as Kendall Langford’s backup on the left side. If he had a chance at unseating Odrick, it would make sense to work him in on the right side.
Strongside Outside Linebacker: Koa Misi
Regardless of which South Florida reporter you side with, when discussing how Misi has looked thus far, he’s clearly ahead of Ikaika Alama-Francis. Misi still isn’t showing much of a pass rush, but he is good enough at the other elements of the position to hold down the starting job opposite Cameron Wake. Is he starting quality, yet? That’s still up in the air.
Punt-Returner: Davone Bess
No, Bess isn’t going to break off many big returns, but it’s evident that the coaching staff trust him over all the other options. His decision making has always been trustworthy, but he can’t afford to muff any punts, or fumble any returns like last season.
On the Verge-Offense
Left Guard: Richie Incognito
Just when you thought the competition at left guard was finally settled, Donald Thomas received some first-team reps in practice this week. Incognito returned to starting duties the next day, however, but it’s clear that he probably needs a solid performance Friday night to secure the job. He’s as tough as they come, but his mediocre pulling seems to holding him back.
Center: Jake Grove
Joe Berger had the upper hand heading into Saturday night, but Grove may have landed a knockout blow after outplaying Berger pretty decisively. Like I have said from day one, the only reason this is a competition at all is because Grove’s costly contract doesn’t quite seem worth it when Berger’s solid play isn’t a huge drop-off. But when Kris Jenkins and Vince Wilfork come to town in Weeks 3 and 4, I don’t think there’s any question about who needs to be lined up as starting center. That would be Jake Grove, $30 million contact and all.
On the Verge-Defense
Free Safety: Chris Clemons
Well, it’s been two weeks since Sparano said Clemons was a solid performance away from writing his name in pen as starting free safety. Some poor tackling in the opener and an invisible showing Saturday night later, and Clemons still hasn’t been crowned the starter just yet. Based on the fact Reshad Jones hasn’t been overly convincing either, outside of one fumble recovery, Clemons is still in the driver’s seat. I expect things to stay that way given how many reps that have been invested in Clemons, but if Jones were to go out and steal the show in the final two preseason games, an upset would possibly begin to brew.
On the Verge-Special-Teams
Kick-Returner: Nolan Carroll
Yes, Carroll was outstanding in kick-return duty on Saturday night, averaging 25 yards per return and breaking off a 36-yard return, but consistency is in order before we can just hand him the job, in my opinion. Does anybody remember Chris Williams last season? One dazzling display of kick return ability, in one game, had everyone calling for him to make the squad. Then, of course, was the infamous face-mask muff the following week. I’m certainly not saying that will happen to Carroll, but he’s not out of the woods yet.