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Dolphins News: First Day of Mini-Camp
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Dolphins News: First Day of Mini-Camp
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Apr 26, 1997: -- First Day of Mini-Camp --

The Dolphins held their first day of mini-camp yesterday without Dan Marino and without wide receiver Lamar Thomas. Marino was in Buffalo, attending a roast for retiring Bill's quarterback Jim Kelly and Lamar Thomas was spending the day in jail for violating his probation - but more on that later.

The first day was a promising day for the team with a number of players already showing improvement from last year and the new players impressing JJ with their performances.

Right now, the battle at safety seems to belong to Corey Harris and Shawn Wooden. They lined up as starters with George Teague as the backup to Wooden. JJ seemed pleased with what he saw of Harris in his first day playing safety.

At right cornerback, Calvin Jackson lined up as the starter, despite the negative remarks that JJ has been making about Jackson in the off-season. Also returning to his old starting spot was offensive guard Chris Gray, who missed the final 5 games of last season with a broken leg.

Other players who impressed on the first day were Fred Barnett, who is continuing his recovery from his knee injury last spring. According to the Herald, Barnett is faster now that he's had a chance to rest his knee and rebuild it's strength in the off-season.

Also, defensive lineman Shane Burton showed up at a leaner, tougher, bigger 318 pounds. Apparently the off-season conditioning program has done him a lot of good. And tight end Troy Drayton has turned into one of the strongest men on the team, bench pressing 315 pounds 18 times in a row, tying Tim Ruddy for honors as the strongest Dolphin.

And the last bit of good news is that draftee linebacker John Fiala will not have to have arthoscopic surgery on his knee after all. It was thought that he might need surgery to correct some cartilege damage this spring, but it has turned out that he won't need any surgery after all.

However, all the news out of Davie isn't good. Free agent rookie cornerback AJ Johnson collapsed at noon and even though he recoverd enough to try to participate in the afternoon practice, he ended up being carted off to the locker room. He blamed his condition on the tar fumes that were coming from the construction at the training camp.

And wide receiver Lamar Thomas missed the first day of mini-camp after being jailed for violating his probation. Thomas pleaded no-contest on February 24th to two counts of battery against his fiance and was arrested again on March 29th for another count of battery.

Following his arrest on March 29th, Thomas was released on bail but was arrested again on Friday for violating his probation from the earlier charges. He will be released during the day Saturday and Sunday to participate in mini-camp, but will be returning to jail at night.

My Comments:

Most of the news coming out of mini-camp is very good. It's encouraging to see the off-season conditioning program producing results like Shane Burton's bulking up and Troy Drayton's strength improvements. Not to mention Fred Barnett's improved speed.

In Burton's case, he was already playing as a starter. With his improved strength and size, he could become a real force on the defensive line. And Drayton was already running over players - if he's even stronger now, that will just make him that much more dangerous, both as a receiver and as a blocker.

And perhaps Fred Barnett will regain some of his break away ability that he had before his injury last spring. A faster Fred Barnett on one side and Yatil Green on the other could be the best pass receiving duo in the AFC East.

I wouldn't read too much into Shawn Wooden and Calvin Jackson retaining their starting spots at this point. Jackson and Wooden already know JJ's defensive system and don't have to climb up that learning curve that the new players will have to climb. But you can bet that the new guys will get plenty of time to compete for starting roles.

On the other hand, cornerback AJ Johnson obviously is already in trouble. The combination of the South Florida heat and the tar fumes knocked him out, and while that isn't his fault, if he can't stay upright, he can't compete.

As for Lamar Thomas, he's now had 2 strikes. If he so much as sneezes at the wrong time in the future, he's history.

Personally, if JJ fired Thomas today, I would applaud him. There's absolutely no reason to keep Lamar Thomas on the team with all the receivers the Dolphins have. I am generally a pretty forgiving person - except where domestic violence is concerned. Thomas's behavior should not be overlooked or ignored.

However, as a practical matter, Thomas probably won't last through the summer anyway. With McDuffie, Barnett, Green, Dawsey and Jordan on the roster (not to mention 6 other rookies and free agents), Thomas is already expendable.

And so the season begins. This part of the year is always the most exciting for me, because almost all the news is good news and the new players are showing great promise. There are no losses on the schedule yet and no one has been waived.

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Curt Fennell, curt@phins.com, DOLFAN in New England

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Curt Fennell
DOLFAN in New England