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  Team Coming Together, But Problems Linger
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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It’s “so far, so good” for the Dolphins, through almost two weeks of two-a-days and a scrimmage. Still, with the regular season opener just about a month away, areas of concern remain.


For the coaches, it’s at the point where their players need to be put through a live preseason game in order to be able to take the next evaluative step. For the players, they are sick of the two-a-days and are ready for some fresh meat. Their opportunity will come next Monday, when the Dolphins face the Jacksonville Jaguars at LandShark Stadium (7:30pm ET, Local TV – WFOR).


Meanwhile, here are my impressions of what we’ve seen thus far in camp.


High Points:


  • A solid stable of receivers with a mix of strengths. I’m thinking offensive boss Dan Henning will draw up situational packages with different skill groupings to generate better mismatches. I do expect the Dolphins to keep six receivers, with Ted Ginn, Jr. locked in at split end. At flanker, it’s a VERY tough call right now between Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo. Both men have starting experience, though I give a slight edge to Bess at this time as Camarillo might not be 100% yet. This decision could come down to the final preseason game.

  • A strong overall corps of linebackers, among the best in the NFL, some with very credible defensive end ability. The number of different looks that Paul Pasqualoni will be able to employ, and the different talents he can mix into those looks, will challenge the preparation abilities of opposing staffs. Because of the quality depth, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Dolphins rotate guys in and out to keep legs fresh as the season rolls on.

  • Quarterbacks, the best group the Dolphins have had in over a decade. They have a high quality starter in Chad Pennington, an intelligent, hyper-accurate guy who knows how to win. Don Shula recently compared him to Bob Griese, high praise indeed. Back-up Chad Henne continues to demonstrate why the Dolphins see him as their future, though he still has a ways to go before he’s really ready for full time duty. Rookie Pat White, raw but talented, might eventually force a paradigm change in how we view starting quarterbacks in the NFL (that is, two starters…one for the conventional offense, one for an alternative system, like the Wildcat). When was the last time you felt this good about the quarterback position overall? It might be 1997, when they had Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar, and Craig Erickson.

  • A glut of high quality running backs; Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and the ever improving Patrick Cobbs are among the best corps of run-catch halfbacks in the league. FB Lousaka Polite looks to be a load once again. Would the Dolphins listen to a trade offer from a team in desperate need of help? I wonder.

  • Great stability at offensive tackle, the best they’ve had since the mid-90s with Richmond Webb and Ron Heller. Jake Long looks stronger and bigger, but without any apparent loss of mobility; I could watch him and Jason Taylor dance all day and not get bored. Vernon Carey, once a bit of a question mark, now shows signs that he could be ready to take his game to the next level; expect him to get more national recognition as the Dolphins win more. Andrew Gardner might be this year’s rookie surprise; we’ll learn more about him in the preseason games.

  • Will Allen and Yeremiah Bell are tough to beat. Allen, in the prime of his career, seems determined to earn the title of “shutdown corner”; not much is getting past this guy in drills. SS Bell, perhaps the best overall defensive back over the past three seasons, could be ready to garner Pro Bowl consideration.


Areas of Concern:


  • Special teams continue to appear unsettled as Tony Sparano and John Bonamego are still trying to identify the best group of players to man the coverage teams. K Dan Carpenter has been missing field goals far too often in camp, and is still inconsistent with his kickoffs (distance and direction). He hasn’t been bad by any means, but needs to step it up. To that end, the Dolphins decided to bring in some competition in Connor Barth. As usual, special teams will get a lot of scrutiny in the upcoming preseason games.

  • Overall the secondary still looks vulnerable, giving up too many big plays in practice. The weakside CB position continues to be wide open. Rookie Sean Smith, showing off excellent ball skills, is slightly ahead of fellow rookie Vontae Davis at this point and is getting more time with the first teamers. Smith has also leap-frogged veteran Eric Green, a free agent pick-up. Starting free safety Gibril Wilson has looked beatable at times in downfield coverage. Did the Dolphins make a mistake in not re-signing Renaldo Hill? Could rookie Chris Clemons supplant Wilson at some point this season?


Other notes:


  • With the exception of NT Jason Ferguson, the Dolphins won’t be able to get a better handle on the defensive line until after the first preseason game. They do appear to be deeper this year at defensive tackle, where back-ups Paul Soliai, Lionel Dotson, and Louis Ellis have done some good work. While Kendall Langford seems entrenched at left end, right end is still a question mark. With the aforementioned quality depth and flexibility at OLB, it’s possible that the Dolphins may keep as few as seven defensive linemen.


  • As RG Donald Thomas gets healthy, it seems inevitable that he will re-claim the starting job he lost last year when he suffered a season ending foot injury. It’s not that Shawn Murphy has been bad, but he hasn’t yet demonstrated the promise that Thomas has. Said Sparano, “I think (Thomas) is progressing well. He's progressing faster than I thought just from the injury itself. (Thomas) has a lot of work we have to get done with him. He does bring some physical tools out there though. He had a rep in practice yesterday that from a physical standpoint I haven't seen in a while."
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