With optimistic reports continuing to pour in on the labor front this week, it seems as though only the Hall of Fame game remains in jeopardy as the owners and players appear on the verge of striking up a deal in the next week or so.
We probably shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch, but it’s at least time to start prepping for the beginning of the 2011 season.
If a new CBA is indeed in place by July 21, reports are that the Dolphins will be able to open camp as scheduled. That means Dolphins’ training camp is quite possibly only two weeks from today.
Previewing camp is no easy task this season. The roster is far from set with potential starters projected to be signed in free agency and several roster fringe undrafted rookies expected to be added once we’re back in business.
According to the tentative schedule, free agency is slighted to kick off July 28th if a new CBA is in place July 21st. That means the Dolphins would kick off camp a day before free agency.
So we’ll start previewing for Dolphins’ training camp 2011 by examining the positions that are virtually already set. Positions that won’t require nearly as much work for Jeff Ireland. So without further ado, here is the first installment of our training camp preview- a sign that football is (hopefully) right around the corner.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN FREE AGENCY
Fans love to throw out names like Plaxico Burress, Mike Sims-Walker, and now Donte Stallworth, but the truth is the Dolphins will have a complete receiving core if rookie Edmond Gates can emerge as the deep threat.
He has a lot to prove as a small-school rookie, but the Dolphins are going to give him every opportunity to develop into an asset for the offense in his first season. They’re not going to bring in a veteran that’s going to steal his reps. So don’t expect the Dolphins to sign a starting caliber receiver.
They may bring in a kick return specialist, but I see them letting Gates give it a shot. The Dolphins entered camp with 10 receivers a year ago, though, and with only 9 currently on the roster, they may look to add an undrafted rookie.
Brandon Marshall: I don’t feel that Marshall is under the threat of a possible suspension like some have speculated. With the facts at hand, he was nothing more than the victim when his wife plunged a kitchen knife into his abdomen. There’s nothing to see here and it’s time to put that one in the review mirror.
But there are also those that have speculated that the Dolphins could be pondering whether or not to cut Marshall. He may have done nothing wrong in the incident with his wife, but trouble does seem to follow him wherever he goes.
The Dolphins could save themselves $25 million over the next three seasons if they chose to rid themselves of Marshall and the baggage that comes with him within a 30-day window after the new league year begins. But there’s a reason they invested so much cash and two second-round picks in him a year ago. He’s a top five talent and he’s worth every penny.
Was Marshall spectacular in his first season in Miami? Not exactly. But he brings something to the offense they haven’t had in years. He’s the type of receiver that can take over games and help whoever the quarterback is take their game to the next level.
That didn’t happen in year one, as the Dolphins’ offense slumped to one of the league’s worst and Chad Henne took a step in the wrong direction. Dan Henning has been a popular scapegoat, and justifiably so, but I put most of the blame on the falloff of what was a top five rushing attack.
Take away a solid running game to lean on from a young quarterback and you get the result we saw last year. Without Marshall the Dolphins would have likely been the league’s absolute worst offense and a five-win team in my opinion.
The offense was pathetic at times, but at least they were able to move the ball fairly well between the 20s. Without an effective running game or a true number one target, they probably wouldn’t have even managed that.
Brandon Marshall is the offense’s most dangerous weapon. If the Dolphins are to make drastic improvements on that side of the ball in 2011, Marshall is going to have a stellar season. He’s certainly due for one and I’m expecting big things, but he’s going to need a little help from his quarterback and running game. But to even think about cutting this guy would be a mistake.
Davone Bess: Bess is a fan favorite in Miami, but league-wide, he’s quietly been able to establish himself as one of the game’s most productive slot receivers. But I no longer feel comfortable labeling him exclusively as a slot. He was just as effective when asked to line up on the outside in 2010. What he did in Oakland last season against Nnamdi Asomugha was a prime example of that.
He’s undersized and lacks breakaway speed, but his game isn’t void of much else. His quickness makes him a tough cover, he has reliable hands, and he’s been a third-down machine for the Dolphins in the past. One could argue that the Marshall and Bess tandem is a consistent starting quarterback away from establishing themselves one of the best receiving duos in football.
Brian Hartline: Brian Hartline may be the most underrated player on the entire roster. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to stay healthy in 2010, because he was in the midst of a breakout campaign when he went down in Week 13. Project his numbers throughout a full season, and Hartline was on pace to put up well over 800 yards.
He also actually showed the ability to create separation down the field. Chad Henne was just far too inaccurate on some of those deep shots last year. Regardless, Hartline may have a heated competition on his hands if Edmond Gates showcases big-play play ability early on.
Edmond Gates: I assume Gates is probably a little too raw and Hartline too proven for the Dolphins to really allow an open competition. But Gates could be a homerun in the preseason or early on in the year away from seriously threatening Hartline’s snaps.
The good news for both Hartline and Gates, though, is that new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll likes to utilize four receiver sets often. Gates is going to have plenty of opportunities to make plays for this offense.
With elite speed like his, hopefully he also has what it takes to by a dynamic return man. He didn’t play high school football and was far too valuable to return kicks for Abilene Christian, so he’ll be new to the craft. But it’s one of the storylines I’ll be following closely in camp because you want a playmaker with his ability to get as many opportunities as possible with the ball in his hands.
I was hesitant to label Gates a possible cut, but a complete dud of a training camp and preseason could leave him vulnerable to both Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore cracking the final 53.
Roberto Wallace: Wallace surprisingly made the team with a noteworthy preseason in 2010 to win the fifth and final receiver spot. I think he has an advantage on Marlon Moore in the battle for that spot this year, simply because the Dolphins don’t desire speed nearly as much with Gates now on board.
Marlon Moore: Moore was more productive than Wallace in 2010, though. His six grabs went for 128 yards, including the big 57-yard score against the Raiders. Moore would have significantly helped his cause if he was able to develop into a solid return man; something he was unable to do as a rookie.
Julius Pruitt: Has spent the past two seasons on the Dolphins’ practice squad and was even promoted to the 53-man roster when Brandon Marshall went down with a hamstring injury in 2010. Pruitt has an outstanding combination of size and speed at 6-2 and 4.3 ability. He’s gone mostly unnoticed in his first two training camps and preseasons in Miami, though.
Patrick Carter: The 6-3, 215 pound Louisville product has bounced around practice squads since going undrafted in 2008 and even had a brief stint in the UFL before joining the Dolphins’ PS in 2010.
Brooks Foster: As a former fifth-round pick, Foster has a solid combination of size and speed. Has some upside as a special-teams contributor and could push for a roster spot if he excels there in training camp and the preseason.
1. Brandon Marshall
2. Davone Bess
3. Brian Hartline
4. Edmond Gates
5. Roberto Wallace
COUNTDOWN TO CAMP: 14 days (pending on lockout)