We are a little over a week removed from the first installment of this series- a weekly update of where the Dolphins’ various position battles stand- and some of the previously mentioned competitions appear already decided, while others seem no closer to crowning a starter. Of course, things could drastically change starting Saturday night when the Dolphins kick off the preseason against Tampa Bay, so I will remind you again that this is not a prediction on my part, just an updated scorecard on where we currently stand, or, to put it another way, my opinion on which competing players would start if Week 1 was today.
First things first, though, let’s get to the positions that are likely already decided. Chris Clemons, despite Sparano’s comments today that suggested the free safety would write his name in pen as the starter with a solid performance on Saturday, doesn’t appear to be facing much of a threat from Reshad Jones, Brain Hartline is clearly the No. 2 receiver if he stays healthy, and Cameron Wake is without a doubt the starter on the weakside.
Left Guard: Donald Thomas
I was tempted to put Nate Garner here, but, as you already know, he re-aggrivated his foot in today’s practice. With that said, I think this is becoming Donald Thomas’ job to lose. Yes, he’s been suspect in pass protection, but so has reportedly everyone else on the interior of the line. His run blocking skills, however, and his ability to effectively pull might be the class of Miami’s core of guards.
Center: Joe Berger
I haven’t really supported the competition at center because I feel Jake Grove is one of the better run blocking centers in football. But obviously, Sparano wants more from the position and believes in Joe Berger. If not, Berger and Grove wouldn’t have been rotation off and on since the spring. Grove’s recent bone bruise on his knee, which has sidelined him for the last few days, may have just conceded the advantage to Berger. Given that the Dolphins don’t work heavily on the running game during training camp, it’s hard for the media to evaluate how the two are coming along. That will change Saturday night when the bullets are live, so there’s still plenty of time for Grove to turn it around if he can get back to 100%.
Right Guard: Richie Incognito
Yes, John Jerry has spent ALL of training camp with the first-team at right guard, but the reasoning is obviously to speed up the rookie’s development. One thing is for sure, the best players will play come September. And right now, John Jerry isn’t the best option at right guard. Despite spending some time on the left side, I expect Incognito to move back to the right side, and eventually take over on the first-team.
Right Defensive End: Jared Odrick
If there’s one rookie who isn’t being thrust into the starting lineup for developmental reasons, it’s Jared Odrick. Odrick has reportedly been improving every single day, and appears to be the Dolphins’ best option at right end, even though Charles Grant has stepped up his game and Marques Douglas is an already proven run-stuffer.
Strongside Outside Linebacker: Koa Misi
It’s hard to get a feel for Koa Misi. Grant it, he’s been invisible so far in camp, but some members of the media sing his praises while others question if he’s ready. If there was any starting quality behind him, then that’s who I would expect to start. Outside of Ikaika Alama-Francis, with who the jury is still out, in large part because he’s new to the position, there’s really nobody likely capable of producing solid play.
Kick Returner: Patrick Cobbs
Guys like Taurus Johnson and Nolan Carroll will get their opportunities in the preaseason, but Johnson is a long-shot to make the roster and Carroll hasn’t returned kicks since high school. So for right now, you still have to go with a guy who has returned kicks with a moderate level of consistency in the past. And right now, that’s Patrick Cobbs. Things can change in a hurry, though, especially with multiple players expected to get opportunities.
Punt Returner: Davone Bess
I’m a little disappointed that Davone Bess is still being looked at as a punt returner. I love him as a slot receiver as much as the next guy, but he was honestly pretty dreadful as a punt returner last season. He had a few memorable muffs and doesn’t possess any big-play potential. Hopefully, either Brian Hartline or Taurus Johnson, who were listed as second and third on the team’s recently released depth chart, can eventually earn the job.