Miami Dolphins: Billy Turner
Walton started all 16 games last year for the New York Giants but knows his natural position is taken in Miami by Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. The Dolphins currently have two openings at guard, but that’s a position Walton never played at the NFL level.
What is a veteran offensive lineman to do?
“I’m coming to compete,” Walton said. “Wherever they want to try me at, put me in, it doesn’t really matter. I’m coming to push and trying to make this offense better. I come with the mindset of be ready to play guard, be ready to play center, be ready to help out this team any way I can.”
Walton has an interesting back story. His career took a bad turn in 2012 when he broke his ankle playing for the Denver Broncos. He sat out 12 games in 2012 and the entire 2013 season.
But Walton made a solid comeback and started all 16 games last year with the Giants. He told the Miami media that his ankle problems are behind him.
“Last year, coming back, I knocked off the rust at the beginning and then really felt like I caught stride and was playing a lot better towards the end of the season,” Walton said.
Walton admits he is definitely most comfortable at center. But he’s keeping an open mind in order to compete for playing time.
“The only thing I’ve ever played is center,” Walton said. “But I’m not a one-position guy in my mind. I’m ready to play whatever they want to try me at.”
With that in mind, let’s revisit Miami’s biggest remaining needs heading into free agency, which officially begins Tuesday:
- Linebacker: The Dolphins still need at least one linebacker (maybe two). Last week they cut former starter Philip Wheeler to save $3 million on their salary cap. Fellow former starting linebacker Ellerbe also is expected to be cut. Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi are capable starters, but Miami has at least one starting job open for next season. This could be a need filled via the draft.
- Safety: Miami is in the market for a starting safety for the third straight year. Chris Clemons re-signed with the Dolphins for one year in 2013, and Louis Delmas also signed for one year in 2014. Delmas tore his ACL in December and is not expected to return. There are reports linking Miami to former Buffalo Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy. I also like the match of former New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who is a Miami native and played his college football for the Hurricanes. Those are two affordable options the Dolphins could still handle after Suh’s monster contract.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Bill KostrounAntrel Rolle could be a candidate to fill Miami's need for a starting safety.
- Guard: The Dolphins haven’t done anything as of yet to address their guard position. Former starter Daryn Colledge is a free agent not expected to return and fellow starter Mike Pouncey will be moved back to center next season. The Dolphins may try to fill this position in-house with young, inexperienced offensive linemen Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas. But that’s a risky proposition. Protection for quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a high priority. He’s tough and durable, as evidenced by his 48 consecutive starts. But Tannehill has been sacked an astounding 139 times in three seasons. One issue is there are not many top-flight guards on the market in free agency.
- Cornerback: The Dolphins are in an interesting position at cornerback. They released veteran starter Cortland Finnegan in order to save cap room, but the Dolphins do not currently have a replacement. There are some veteran options in free agency and quality corners in the draft. However, my take is Miami should save its resources to address other areas and fix this problem in-house. The Dolphins have two high draft picks from 2013 in Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. With proper coaching and good health, Miami should be able to mold one or both of these young corners into contributors.
These are the top needs for Miami heading into free agency. But things always remain fluid this time of year. The Dolphins could have additional needs at tight end and receiver depending on what happens with the contracts of starters Charles Clay and Mike Wallace, respectively.
ESPN.com's Dolphins page continues its rankings of Miami's top-5 needs.
No. 3: Guard
2014 starters: Mike Pouncey, Daryn Colledge
Top free agents: Mike Iupati, Rob Sims, Clint Boling
Why it's an issue: The Dolphins don't just need one guard. They need two new guards entering the 2015 season. Colledge, 33, is a free agent who is unlikely to return. Meanwhile, Pouncey will move back to center next season, which is his natural and best position. Miami must do all it can to protect starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has been sacked 139 times in three seasons. Getting stronger up the middle is one way.
Walker's solution: The Dolphins should not spend top dollar in free agency on a guard. Yes, it's a big hole, especially with two positions to fill. However, Miami must coach up its young offensive linemen to step up. The Dolphins spent a pair of third-round picks on Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Thomas got a brief look at the end of the season with two starts but struggled and wasn't ready. If either prospect is worth their salt and the coaching staff does its part, at least one of these players should be ready to fill a hole in 2015. Turner has the most potential of the two with good size and a physical mentality. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to take a guard in the second round or lower.
Player: Mike Iupati
2014 stats: 15 starts
Why he could fit: Iupati is a player I liked dating to the 2010 draft. The 6-foot-5, 331-pound was taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round and completed his rookie contract last season. He's now one of the top free agents on the market and arguably the best offensive lineman available. The Dolphins struggled at guard last year. Mike Pouncey played out of position and was inconsistent, while the left guard position was a rotating door with players such as Daryn Colledge and Dallas Thomas. Iupati joining Pouncey at center, Branden Albert at left tackle and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle would make for a strong and formidable offensive line. However, Iupati will not come cheap. It would be more affordable for Miami to address this need in the NFL draft or potentially internally by coaching up 2014 third-round pick Billy Turner.
Here is a recap of Miami's first-year grades:
- First-round pick OT Ja'Wuan James: A-
- Second-round pick WR Jarvis Landry: A
- Third-round pick OT Billy Turner: D
- Fourth-round pick DB Walt Aikens: C+
- Fifth-round pick LB Jordan Tripp: D+
- Seventh-round pick DE Terrence Fede: B+
- Undrafted LB Chris McCain: B
- Undrafted RB Damien Williams: B
Overall, the Dolphins got solid production from their rookie class. First-year general manager Dennis Hickey made several solid picks and also had some nice finds in the late rounds and undrafted players.
The key will be for Miami (8-8) to continue developing its young players in an effort to get over the hump and into the playoffs next season.
Next up we have third-round pick Billy Turner:
Position: Offensive tackle
Stats: Zero starts
Positives: Turner is young with good size. Those are attributes that could serve him well. He flashed in training camp and has the potential to be a good fit in Bill Lazor’s offense. But he has a long way to go. Turner did work his way up to be active for the final two games of the season.
Negatives: Turner proved to be too green to make a contribution. Perhaps that was due to his small-school experience in college at North Dakota State. There certainly were opportunities. Starting offensive tackles Branden Albert and Dallas Thomas both suffered injuries throughout the season. But Turner didn’t win over the coaching staff. Veteran backup Jason Fox got the nod and played decent football.
Rookie grade: D
Here is the final injury report for Miami:
Out: OL Nate Garner (illness)
Doubtful: RT Dallas Thomas (foot), RB Daniel Thomas (knee)
Questionable: LB Jelani Jenkins (foot), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder), S Don Jones (shoulder)
Probable: TE Charles Clay (hamstring, knee), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), LB Chris McCain (ankle), LB Koa Misi (hamstring, knee), LB Jordan Tripp (foot)
The Dolphins are getting healthy down the stretch. Last week, their linebackers were decimated with injuries. However, at least two linebackers -- Misi and Freeny -- are expected to return. Jenkins is listed as questionable but practiced all week and has a solid chance of returning to the lineup. The biggest injury on this list is Thomas, Miami’s starting right tackle. He missed practice all week and is not expected to play. Backup Jason Fox is projected to be his replacement. Rookie Billy Turner also could get some reps.
Here are some notes from Wednesday’s session:
- Both starting linebackers Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) returned to practice. The Dolphins definitely missed their starters in Sunday’s 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Misi and Jenkins practicing on Wednesday is a good early sign for Miami. Backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) also is practicing for the first time in four weeks.
- Dolphins starting right tackle Dallas Thomas did not practice during the portion open to the media. Thomas injured his foot in Sunday’s game against New England. Backup right tackle Jason Fox would be first in line if Thomas cannot play. Rookie Billy Turner also will get reps during the practice week.
- Backup running back Daniel Thomas (knee) also did not practice in portion open to the media. Backup offensive lineman Nate Garner (illness) was not present.
The Dolphins changed their practice schedule this week. They will hold Thursday and Friday sessions partially open to the media.
- Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel writes about safety Reshad Jones, who believes he’s playing like one of the top safeties in the NFL.
- Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald writes guards Billy Turner and Shelley Smith can’t crack the starting lineup.
- Alain Poupart of the Dolphins team site writes defensive end Dion Jordan is happy to be back.
- Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post writes the Dolphins must improve on special teams.
Here is an update of Miami’s latest injuries:
Did not participate: LB Koa Misi (ankle), DL Terrence Fede (knee), RB Knowshon Moreno (elbow), G Shelley Smith (knee)
Limited participation: LT Branden Albert (shoulder), TE Charles Clay (knee), S Louis Delmas (calf), LB Jelani Jenkins, C Mike Pouncey (hip), LB Jordan Tripp (chest), G Billy Turner (foot), LB Philip Wheeler (thumb)
Full participation: WR Brian Hartline (back), S Walt Aikens (hand), DT Randy Starks (toe)
Analysis: The Dolphins added several new injuries following their Week 2 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Albert, Delmas and Jenkins are among the starters who were banged up in that game. Pouncey practiced for the second day in a row and appears to be making progress. If he doesn’t return Sunday, Miami’s following game on Sept. 28 against the Oakland Raiders looks like a possibility. Moreno will not play and Misi’s chances aren’t looking good. For Kansas City, star running back Jamaal Charles (ankle) and safety Eric Berry (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.
- Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel writes the Dolphins must run the football to win.
- Greg Cote of the Miami Herald writes the Dolphins should allow quarterback Ryan Tannehill to pass or fail.
- Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports Dolphins center Mike Pouncey will not play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
- Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post writes rookies Billy Turner and Jordan Tripp returned to practice.
After watching potions of every practice during the week, here are the players I project you won't see during the game for Miami:
1. C Mike Pouncey: Miami’s Pro Bowl center continues to rehab his surgically repaired hip and needs more time.
2. LB Jordan Tripp: The rookie linebacker injured his chest in the preseason and has already been ruled out for Sunday.
3. DE Terrence Fede: A preseason knee injury has sidelined Fede for at least another week.
4. G Billy Turner: Miami’s third-round pick has a foot injury that continues to keep him in a boot.
5. LB Koa Misi: Like Turner, Misi also was in a boot all week with an ankle injury. Misi is listed as doubtful.
6. DL Bruce Gaston: He was a late addition to the roster before the Week 1 game against the New England Patriots.
7. OT Jason Fox: The Dolphins made Fox the inactive offensive lineman last week. That could happen again on Sunday.
Here are some notes and observations from Wednesday's portion of practice open to the media:
- Miami rookie linebacker Chris McCain was not present for his second straight practice for an unspecified reason. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin wouldn’t explain McCain’s absence on Tuesday, but the team will be required to list McCain on the injury report Wednesday evening. McCain made an impact in Sunday's win over the New England Patriots with a blocked punt and a sack. But his status is unknown for Week 2.
- The Dolphins also were without defensive tackle Randy Starks, who was in a boot and did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media. Starks did practice on Tuesday. Miami defensive end Terrence Fede, linebacker Jordan Tripp, guard Billy Turner and center Mike Pouncey did not participate in the media viewing portion of practice.
- There is some good news for the Dolphins on the injury front. Miami starting linebacker Philip Wheeler practiced for the second straight day. He was a late scratch last week due to a thumb injury. But his chances appear optimistic against Buffalo.
- Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Patriots. Wake recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Wake also won the award last season for his Week 9 performance in a win against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here are several notes from Tuesday's practice:
- The Dolphins are still banged up at linebacker. Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi (ankle) had a boot on his left foot and did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media. The same goes for rookie linebacker Jordan Tripp (chest). In addition, Dannell Ellerbe went on season-ending injured reserve. The good news is starting outside linebacker Philip Wheeler, who missed Week 1 with a thumb injury, did participate in the media viewing of practice. The Dolphins will need Wheeler's experience if he can get healthy.
- New linebacker Kelvin Sheppard made his Dolphins' debut in practice. The Dolphins signed Sheppard this week to replace Ellerbe. Sheppard, for those who are curious, will wear No. 97 this season.
- In other injury news, Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey (hip), guard Billy Turner (foot) and rookie defensive lineman Terrence Fede (knee) also did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media. Dolphins rookie linebacker Chris McCain also was not present in the media viewing portion. It is unclear why McCain wasn’t present.
After watching portions of every practice throughout the week, here are the players I project you won’t see in Sunday’s game:
1. LB Philip Wheeler: Miami's starting outside linebacker was ruled out with a thumb injury. Many will be watching whether the Dolphins play better or worse without Wheeler in the lineup.
2. C Mike Pouncey: Miami’s Pro Bowl center is still several weeks away from recovering from major hip surgery.
3. LB Jordan Tripp: The rookie linebacker has a chest injury and hasn’t practiced all week. Week 2 or Week 3 appears more likely.
4. DE Terrence Fede: He’s another rookie who missed every practice this week with a knee injury. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin rarely uses players on Sunday who don’t practice.
5. RB Orleans Darkwa: The Dolphins do not need four running backs on the active roster Sunday. There will barely be enough carries for Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller as it is. Even rookie Damien Williams may get a few leftovers.
6. G Billy Turner: Miami usually carries seven or eight offensive linemen into games. I project Turner, who was limited this week with a foot injury, to rest and be the odd man out.
7. CB Sammy Seamster: Despite the fact Miami doesn’t have a lot of corners, Seamster recently joined and needs more time to learn the scheme.
8. DL Bruce Gaston: On Thursday the Dolphins signed Gaston, who was cut by the Patriots, for an information download. It’s doubtful he will play.