AFC East: Dion Jordan
The only question here is whether Devlin can hold off undrafted rookie Brock Jensen for the No. 3 quarterback job. Neither quarterback stood out in the offseason, but Devlin has the slight edge because of experience.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
The Dolphins would like to have someone step up and challenge Thomas. Undrafted rookie Damien Williams from Oklahoma could be a sleeper to watch. But it's too premature to put Williams on the 53-man roster over the veteran Thomas before the pads come on.
This is a deep group with a lot of competition. Williams will be pushed for the final spot by Armon Binns and rookie Matt Hazel, who is practice-squad-eligible.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor uses some two-tight-end sets. So there might be room for a fourth player such as Dion Sims. But we are sticking with three for now.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
- Mike Pouncey
- Branden Albert
- Ja'Wuan James
- Shelley Smith
- Daryn Colledge
- Sam Brenner
- Dallas Thomas
- Billy Turner
- Nate Garner
- Jason Fox
Pouncey’s hip injury puts a major dent in this much-maligned group to start the season. Miami will have five new starters in Week 1.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
- Cameron Wake
- Olivier Vernon
- Randy Starks
- Earl Mitchell
- Jared Odrick
- Dion Jordan
- Derrick Shelby
- A.J. Francis
This is the strongest area of the team. The Dolphins can come at opponents in waves in the trenches.
This group must improve its play from 2013. The Misi experiment at middle linebacker is particularly important to watch.
This is a solid mix of youth and experience. As long as second-year players Taylor and Davis come of age and Finnegan stays healthy, the depth will be improved from a year ago.
This group is all about position flexibility. All four players must be able to play back in coverage and closer to the line of scrimmage in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s scheme.
This trio will remain the same for the second straight year.
Is Jordan a good fit for Miami's 4-3 defense? Can he produce more than he did during a disappointing rookie season? Was Jordan a wasted No. 3 overall pick?
It's no secret Jordan had to get stronger to become an every-down defensive end. Holding up against the run was the primary concern of Miami's coaching staff last season, and it's why Jordan played almost exclusively on third downs and obvious passing situations.
Jordan, 24, got noticeably stronger this offseason. That was evident during organized team activities and minicamp; Jordan's upper body and arms were bigger and more well-defined. He said he's about 17 pounds heavier than a year ago. Having a breakout season didn't seem far-fetched.
But Jordan hurt himself and the Dolphins before a crucial season in which the team must make the playoffs or risk wholesale changes.
"I recently learned from the NFL that I tested positive for stimulants that are banned under the NFL policy," Jordan said in a statement. "I worked carefully with my advisors and the union to investigate the test results, and I take full responsibility for the test results.
"I'm very sorry for the impact of this situation on my teammates, coaches, [owner] Stephen Ross, the entire Dolphins organization, fans and my family as well. I will continue to work extremely hard during training camp and preseason. During the suspension, I will stay in top shape and will be ready to contribute upon my return.”
Jordan is the third defensive end in the rotation. Miami has good depth there with Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, 2013 sack leader Olivier Vernon and backup Derrick Shelby, a group that should be able to perform without Jordan for the first month of the season.
In other words, Jordan's four-game suspension is a mild loss to the Dolphins. That's telling, considering that he was expected to be a franchise building block on defense.
Jordan has athleticism and ability. And now he has 12 games this season to prove he can still be a valuable part of the Dolphins' organization.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014
That has put leadership as one of the top items that will help make the Dolphins successful in 2014. The roster has talent. But last year's scandal and late-season collapse cost Miami a playoff berth.
According to Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, lack of leadership isn't an issue.
"Obviously, it's unfortunate what happened [last season] and we're not going to dive too deep into that," Wake said. "But, as a whole, you look around this team [and] there are guys that may be vocal or guys that maybe do it by example. We have leaders all over the place."
Wake is part of a defensive line that must provide leadership on and off the field. In addition to Wake, arguably the team's best player, Miami's defensive line also has 2013 sack leader Olivier Vernon, dynamic second-year player Dion Jordan and veteran defensive tackles Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell.
On paper, defensive line is the deepest area of the team and will be expected to set the tone on a weekly basis.
"When it comes down to it, the D-line's the heart and soul of the defense and, if we're not doing what we have to do, then things start falling apart," Vernon said. "That's just one thing we're trying to focus on now and make sure it goes into the season."
Many in South Florida and around the country will be monitoring the Dolphins' locker-room leadership this upcoming season. It will still take the team coming together and leadership if Miami wants to end its five-season playoff drought.
"I was never of the impression that [leadership] was lacking. But, just like I don't feel like my strength is lacking or my conditioning is lacking, I'm going to work on that as well," Wake said. "Working on leadership, making it a more prominent part of our organization, I don't see anything wrong with that."
Here are five things we learned about the Dolphins in minicamp:
1. Tannehill, offense shows growth
2. Hope for second-year players
Thoughts: It is well documented that the Dolphins got very little from their rookie class last season. Miami had the third fewest snaps from rookie players in 2013, and many in South Florida had written off players from that class as draft busts in the making. But as the offseason progressed and peaked at minicamp, second-year players such as guard Dallas Thomas, defensive end Dion Jordan and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis made more and more plays in practice, proving that there is hope for Miami's much-maligned 2013 draft class. Miami's second-year players could play a key role in whether the Dolphins make the jump this year from an average team to a team with playoff potential. All the aforementioned players had a productive offseason.
3. Offensive line still a work in progress
Thoughts: The Dolphins' two offensive lines in the white-and-aqua scrimmage allowed seven sacks. That stat was reminiscent of last season, when Miami's offensive line allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterback sacks in 16 games. The Dolphins invested a lot of money and resources into this group with the expectation that the pass protection with be much better. Miami paid $47 million for Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. The Dolphins also spent a first-round draft pick on rookie right tackle Ja'Waun James and signed guard Shelley Smith in free agency. With four new starters, Miami's offensive line must get on the same page in training camp.
4. Dolphins in relative good shape
Thoughts: This is the time of year when freak injuries happen in the NFL. Around the league there have been several injuries during the offseason program. The Dolphins are fortunate to not be one of those teams to suffer anything catastrophic. Miami did a good job with maintenance of veteran players such as cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Jared Odrick, wide receiver Brandon Gibson and linebacker Koa Misi. The only player to keep an eye on in the next month is running back Knowshon Moreno. The Dolphins kept him out of minicamp and has been mum on his injury, but Profootballtalk.com reports Moreno has an ailing knee. Moreno is competing for a starting job at running back with Lamar Miller and must be healthy in order to win the job.
5. Receiver position toughest to gauge
Thoughts: Miami's coaching staff will have a tough time in training camp narrowing the roster down to six receivers. The Dolphins currently have a deep group of 13 receivers led by starters Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. But it's the various receivers behind them that will make it a tough decision. The Dolphins had various production from receivers at different times in minicamp and organized team activities. Players such as Gibson, rookie Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews, Damian Williams, Armon Binns and Matt Hazel all had their moments. Miami will be looking for the most consistent receivers to step forward in training camp. The three-way competition at the slot position between Gibson, Landry and Matthews is particularly intriguing. It's been close the entire offseason.
Here are seven observations from Tuesday's practice:
- It was a strong day for the Dolphins' defense. Miami's defense was disruptive all practice and, by my count, recorded three interceptions and at least four would-be sacks. (The defense is not allowed to hit quarterbacks in practice.) The Dolphins' defense has been together for three seasons and has been well ahead of the offense on days practice was open to the media. “There's going to be days where one side of the ball has the upper hand,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “It looked like the back end and the linebackers, we were doing some good things from a coverage standpoint.”
- Miami receiver Brandon Gibson continues to make progress from last year's season-ending patella tendon tear. Gibson participated in team drills for the first time this offseason. He still doesn't look 100 percent but is moving around relatively well. At this point Gibson looks well on pace to be ready by Week 1.
- Dolphins cornerback Jamar Taylor had arguably his best practice of the offseason. Taylor, who got reps on the first team, recorded a sideline interception off Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Taylor also showed some athleticism by blowing up a running play. Taylor was injured must of last year but is making strong strides this offseason.
- The Dolphins' coaching staff is putting several veterans on the maintenance program during minicamp. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and cornerback Cortland Finnegan sat out team drills Tuesday. It is unknown if that will change during the week.
- After a plan to renovate Sun Life Stadium was passed by the Miami-Dade County Commission in a 7-4 vote, Philbin credited owner Stephen Ross. “Most important to me is it shows the commitment our owner, Stephen Ross, has to making this a world-class organization,” Philbin said.
- Miami rookie defensive end Terrence Fede had the play of the day. Fede, who is 6-foot-4 and 277 pounds, dropped in coverage and made a leaping interception off Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore. Fede then advanced the ball about 10 yards as his defensive teammates celebrated.
- Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan continues to flash in practice. He had another would-be sack on Tannehill coming off the corner. Jordan put on about 17 pounds of muscle since last year and looks ready to make a second-year jump after an ineffective rookie year.
Miami will continue its three-day minicamp on Wednesday morning.
The Dolphins drafted Taylor in the second round last year despite a pre-draft kidney ailment and subsequent sports hernia that kept him out for most of the offseason. Taylor spent the regular season fighting off injuries and trying to earn playing time. He finished with just 40 snaps on defense.
“It's getting there. He's definitely coming back out,” Taylor said recently during organized team activities (OTAs). “That person ya'll seen talk a lot, it's getting there. But I got to learn. I got to crawl before I can walk. I'm out here trying to pick these older guys' brain.”
Taylor is surrounded by veterans in the secondary such as safety Louis Delmas and cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan happens to be Taylor's biggest competition for a starting job this summer. The Dolphins are having a three-way battle between Taylor, Finnegan and Will Davis for the right to start at cornerback opposite Grimes.
If Taylor can win a starting job -- or even the nickel cornerback role -- it will be a sizable turnaround from last season.
“I think it's more motivation for myself. I have high expectations of myself,” Taylor said. “I can't really worry about what everyone else thinks, as long as I get the respect of my teammates, my coaches and myself.”
Last year wasn't just a poor start for Taylor. The entire 2013 Dolphins draft class had little production. Miami had the third-fewest snaps (1,126) by a rookie class in the NFL last year. Only the AFC champion Denver Broncos (1,066 snaps) and Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks (1,111 snaps) had less production from their rookies.
The Dolphins are hoping players such as Taylor, Davis, defensive end Dion Jordan and guard Dallas Thomas all can make the jump in Year 2 and find significant roles on the team this season.
“I think it was a learning experience for all of us,” Taylor said. “We all came here on our high horse and we got humbled real quick. I think we got to keep working. I expect all of us to do good, keep learning, play fast and compete.”
Here was Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's thoughts on his second-year defensive end:
"Oh yeah, but we have a different Dion (Jordan) as well. The thing was last year, we came very close in the preseason to have to make a decision whether or not we were going to basically redshirt Dion or know that we were going to get limited snaps from him. All of the talk in the offseason that centered around, ‘Well, he wasn’t utilized, he didn’t do that.’ Well, honestly, we knew going into the year that he had not had the offseason, that he was coming off of an injury and would it be in the best interest of our team to have him, even for limited snaps, we made that decision. Certainly, Dion wished he had a bigger rookie season and so do we, but we have great expectations for Dion Jordan coming into this year. You cannot have enough great pass-rushers and, we feel that with Dion at full speed, we have a prime-time player that’s going to explode this year.”
It is interesting to think Miami almost put Jordan on injured reserve last year following offseason shoulder surgery. Jordan didn’t get healthy until during the season, and by that point he was already behind in the rotation. It also didn’t help Jordan that starting defensive end Olivier Vernon emerged and led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks. Jordan finished with two sacks and 26 tackles off the bench. But backup experience for Jordan is better than no experience.
This year it will be up to Coyle and Miami’s coaching staff to find a way to get Jordan more reps. Cameron Wake and Vernon are the starters. But Jordan is putting in the work to become a better all-around player and needs more snaps to make an impact.
Here are some additional observations from Monday's practice:
- Keep in mind that it's very early, but I've been pleasantly surprised so far with the development of second-year guard Dallas Thomas. The Dolphins are playing Thomas with the first team at left guard, and he's holding his own next to Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. Thomas suffered through injuries and looked mostly confused last year as a rookie playing guard and offensive tackle. But he's healthy and more experienced this year. Thomas has to hold off rookie third-round pick Billy Turner in training camp.
- Speaking of Turner, he looks a little raw in the two practices I've seen him. Turner still plays a bit high, which is understandable because he was a left tackle at North Dakota State. The stance at guard is much different. Turner also needs to work on some of his footwork and fundamentals, such as his punch, at the NFL level.
- New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is trying many new things, which is refreshing to see. Miami's offense was stale and predictable last year under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. But Lazor is doing several creative things, such as moving No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace around and using a lot of motion and tempo to dictate to the defense.
- Miami head coach Joe Philbin said the team should have about 85 percent of the new offense installed by the end of this week. One of the biggest storylines to watch this offseason is how quickly third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the group can pick up the offense. This week's practice was more crisp that last week's session.
- One interesting wrinkle I saw in practice Monday was Miami using Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller in the same backfield. There are plenty of possibilities with that pairing.
- Dolphins' second-year defensive end Dion Jordan continues to impress with his athleticism. This week he ran Miami tailback Mike Gillislee down from behind. Keep in mind Jordan is 265 pounds. Miami must find a way to get Jordan on the field. He looks ready for increased responsibility.
Fast forward to Tuesday where Taylor was in high spirits and candid with reporters. Taylor had a solid practice where he moved around well and appears to have his injuries behind him.
"I'm blessed -- that's the only word to describe it," Taylor explained. "When you're at your low, the only way to go is up. So it was humbling, it was very humbling.
"Coming out, you do so much in college and you see that this is the real deal. You're one-step behind and you can't be one-step behind. This is like an all-star team."
Taylor is competing with veteran Cortland Finnegan and fellow second-year player Will Davis for a starting job. Finnegan is getting the initial chance to start with first-team reps because of his experience. Taylor or Davis currently are playing in sub packages.
Miami did not get much from its rookie class last year. The Dolphins were ranked 30th in the NFL in rookie snaps with 1,126. Only the AFC champion Denver Broncos (1,066) and Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks (1,111) had fewer snaps.
First-round pick Dion Jordan, Taylor and third-round picks Davis and Dallas Thomas are all expected to compete for roles and provide depth this year. Any production in 2014 from this group would be an upgrade over last season.
"I think it was a learning experience for all of us," Taylor said of Miami's 2013 draft class. "We all came here on our high horse and we got humbled real quick. I think we got to keep working. I expect all of us to do good, keep learning, play fast and compete."
ESPN.com’s Miami Dolphins page will be live in Davie, Florida, to examine all the action.
Here are three things to watch:
1. Dolphins’ new offense
Analysis: I first got a peek at Miami’s new offense last week during rookie minicamp. First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor showed a lot of new formations and concepts that can challenge a defense. However, last weekend’s rookie camp probably only showed a small portion of the playbook. Expect Lazor to open up the offense this week with veteran players back on the practice field. The Dolphins are expected to be more up-tempo and dynamic than last year’s offense under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. This is an important time for Miami to develop an offensive identity and make a smooth transition.
2. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill
Analysis: Continuing the theme on offense, perhaps no player is more important this year than Tannehill. Miami’s third-year quarterback is a mediocre 15-17 in his career and is entering an important Year 3 with the Dolphins. This offseason is imperative for Tannehill. He is learning a new offense for the first time in his NFL career now that Sherman, his college coach, is gone. Tannehill also appears to have bulked up in the offseason after getting sacked a franchise-record 58 times. Tannehill must avoid a slow start and quickly master this new offense.
3. Defensive end Dion Jordan
Analysis: Like Tannehill, the Dolphins need another former first-round pick to develop into a franchise building block. Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, had somewhat of a redshirt season last year. He was the team’s third or fourth defensive end on the depth chart and played on special teams. Jordan must get stronger, particularly against the run, in order to become a complete player. The Dolphins had trouble getting him on the field consistently with the exception of obvious passing downs. I’m curious to see how much work Jordan has done this offseason in order to make an important jump in Year 2.
So how does Jordan -- last year's top defensive prospect -- rank with this year’s top defensive player: Jadaveon Clowney? ESPN.com’s Dolphins blog asked resident scout Matt Williamson this week about the Jordan-Clowney comparison.
According to Williamson, Clowney ranks ahead of Jordan coming out of college.
“If Jordan came out this year, he wouldn’t be the third overall pick,” Williamson explained. “Jordan is not Clowney. There was a really weak draft at the top [last year].”
Many consider the 2014 draft to be one of the deepest in years due to the record amount of juniors who declared this year. Jordan also left after his junior season but proved to be a raw prospect. Miami’s coaching didn’t quite know how to use the freakish athlete. They made him a backup defensive end to use on third down and he also became a key member of special teams.
Jordan did not appear to be an ideal fit for Miami’s 4-3 defense last season. Miami’s coaches were nervous about playing him against the run on first and second down. Jordan must add strength to his thin frame in order to be an every-down player. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said recently at the NFL owners meetings that they plan to get Jordan on the field more in 2014.
“For him to survive in a pretty base 4-3, Jordan needs to be Von Miller and not Jared Allen,” Williamson explained. “Miller plays off the line of scrimmage a fair amount. They drop him in coverage a lot and he rushes the passer on third down. Maybe that’s who Jordan should be.”
But for the Miami Dolphins, success or failure this season will depend more on the development of the 2013 draft class. Few teams got less production from their rookies last year than Miami. Only the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks had fewer snaps from first-year players -- and those teams, which competed in Super Bowl XLVIII, were stacked with established veterans.
The Dolphins, who faltered down the stretch and finished 8-8, did not have that luxury.
It's time for Miami's second-year players to come of age during an important time for many within the organization. Head coach Joe Philbin is entering an important third year after going 15-17 his first two seasons, and there could be a lot of change next year if the Dolphins aren't successful.
Most of Miami's top picks -- including defensive end Dion Jordan, offensive lineman Dallas Thomas and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis -- basically had red-shirt seasons in 2013, thanks to injuries, inconsistency and lack of confidence from the coaching staff. That lack of production was one reason why the Dolphins failed to get to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.
"They got less than anybody in the league out of their draft class, and they had high picks. That's a huge issue," ESPN.com NFL scout Matt Williamson said. "But if that group, the corners and especially Jordan, can play up to what Miami thought they were and what most people thought they were, the Dolphins could rebound."
"We have a lot of hope for the draft class from last year," Philbin said at the NFL owners meetings in late March. "A lot of them have been back early, working. You want to see development throughout the course of an individual player's career, but I think all of you guys would agree you usually see a significant jump between Year 1 and Year 2. These are guys we thought highly of a year ago when we drafted them.
"They had some injury issues that kind of curtailed their development in Year 1. So I'm excited about working with them, developing them and seeing them progress here this season."
The 2013 draft class was one point of contention last year between Miami's coaching staff and the front office. Philbin didn't feel his rookies were ready to take on larger roles. Jeff Ireland, then the Dolphins' general manager, believed in the talent of his draft picks and felt they were not being used properly. Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, was perhaps the biggest example.
Due to offseason shoulder surgery, Jordan missed time in training camp and the preseason. He never found his footing in the regular season and he fell behind veteran defensive ends Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby.
Williamson described Jordan as "a ridiculous athlete." He has immense potential but spent most of the season as the third or fourth defensive end and on special teams. He was involved in 321 snaps and had a disappointing 26 tackles and two sacks.
There have also been offseason trade rumors involving Jordan, which Philbin has denied. Miami's head coach expects Jordan to have a larger role in 2014.
"We feel like with a full offseason, with more time devoted to his fundamentals, he will have a better grasp of the position he's playing," Philbin said. "We do want to do a better job with the numbers, rotating him in. ... We want to get him more snaps on first and second down. "
The Dolphins also are counting on young corners Taylor and Davis, who were drafted in the second and third round, respectively. Both had injury setbacks last season and played a combined 104 snaps.
Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes will occupy one starting job, and Taylor and Davis will compete with veteran free-agent acquisition Cortland Finnegan for the other spot. Finnegan, a former Pro Bowl corner, is the favorite to start due to experience. But Philbin is not going in with any preconceived notions.
"I want to see the best player, whoever can help us win football games," Philbin explained. "Whoever performs the best should be the starting corner."
Miami got most of its rookie production last year from unlikely sources. Fifth-round kicker Caleb Sturgis proved to be the Dolphins' best rookie acquisition last season. He beat out longtime Miami kicker Dan Carpenter in training camp and led the Dolphins with 111 points.
The Dolphins also had decent production from undrafted rookie guard Sam Brenner, who made four starts and played 274 snaps. Brenner stepped up following the suspension of guard Richie Incognito in Miami's high-profile bullying scandal.
Brenner's production highlighted the fact that Thomas, a 2013 third-round pick, was too green to step in and be productive. Thomas was rotated between guard and tackle in training camp and never got comfortable in either position. Thomas must find a home at this season in order to provide quality depth.
In fact, it will be vital for Miami's entire 2013 draft class to find roles and contribute next season. The Dolphins used nine draft picks last year, and most have yet to make an impact.
"The Dolphins have a young quarterback [Ryan Tannehill], so they need to build a real core for the long term," Williamson said. "They need last year's draft and this upcoming come to build around Tannehill. They don't need to live for today. A strong core is more important than winning it all this year, although that philosophy can get you fired in Miami if you're 6-10."
But Jordan’s first year with the Dolphins was a mixture of injuries, confusion and lack of playing time. Jordan essentially had a redshirt year in Miami and finished with 26 tackles and two sacks. He finished the year as a rotational player who primarily played on special teams. But head coach Joe Philbin is expecting a significant jump in Year 2 from Jordan.
Philbin estimated that Jordan played about 20 snaps per game. The plan is to keep Jordan at defensive end next season. Jordan struggled with his strength following offseason shoulder surgery, and Miami’s coaches were not fully comfortable with Jordan stopping the run.
Miami also is deep at defensive end. Pro Bowler Cameron Wake and 2013 sack leader Olivier Vernon are the starters. Derrick Shelby also continues to develop and took reps from Jordan. All of those things limited his playing time.
But it’s time to take the training wheels off Jordan in 2014. He must get stronger and healthier in order to become a complete player. A defensive end in Miami’s 4-3 defense must be stout against the run and rush the passer. Jordan must develop from a third-down pass-rusher to an every-down player.
There was a report in CBS Sports this offseason that the Dolphins were trying to trade Jordan.
“I’m not sure where that came from,” Philbin said. “I expect him to make a significant jump from Year 1 to Year 2. We know this guy has a lot of talent. He loves the game. He plays fast.”
The Dolphins need better production from the entire 2013 draft class in order to take the next step. Jordan, second-round pick Jamar Taylor, and third-round pick Will Davis all missed significant time because of injuries.
But the offseason craziness with the Dolphins continued this week with a report from Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com indicating wide receiver Mike Wallace and defensive ends Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan are all on the trading block.
Here are some thoughts on Miami’s trade rumors:
- It’s difficult to believe the Dolphins and new general manager Dennis Hickey are discussing trades for all three players. Wake, Jordan and Wallace are among the most dynamic talents on the team, and good organizations do not dump talent unless it is rebuilding. The Dolphins have given no indication that they are in rebuild mode in 2014. Owner Stephen Ross is still upset the team collapsed at the end of the season and missed the playoffs. He wants to win now. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin also is on the hot seat and must win in Year 3. Trading Wake, Jordan and Wallace would be awful for his job security.
- Miami has more than $30 million in cap room to spend this offseason. The Dolphins are in position to be major players in free agency for the second year in a row. The team is not desperate for salary dumps to get under the cap.
- Focusing on Wallace, he has an extremely high cap number of $17.25 million in 2014. That makes Wallace virtually untradable with other teams. Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million contract that was designed to keep him in Miami for at least three seasons. Based on his contact, this is probably the most difficult year to make such a move.
- If I had to pick one player of the group most tradable, it would be Jordan. Former Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland was enamored by Jordan in college and traded up to the No. 3 overall pick to get him. However, Miami’s coaching staff couldn’t figure out a good role for Jordan all year and used him as a rotational defensive end and special-teams player. There are plenty of coaches who would love to get their hands on a talent like Jordan, who also is relatively affordable thanks to the rookie wage scale. But I expect the Dolphins to try to make it work this year instead of giving up after one season.