Friday Mailbag: Dolphins Prepare for New NFL Season

The Miami Dolphins have hit the practice field, the NFL Draft is in the long distant past now and before we know it, the 2014 season will be underway. At times, the offseason can be torturous, but it also creates time to reflect and speculate on the year of football to come.

This week, we bring to you the first of what we intend to be many mailbag features throughout the season. Have a question of your own? Send a tweet over to @LouisMusto or @SportsTalkFLA and we’ll fit it into next week’s edition!

Walt Aikens is a guy I really like from the Dolphins’ draft class this year. He was one of the major standouts for me among small-school prospects along with Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir, who I thought would go earlier than Aikens but didn’t get picked until two picks later by the Cleveland Browns.

As for being a starter, I wouldn’t bet on it this season. Brent Grimes has one side of the field already locked down, and competition for the No. 2 job appears to be between veteran Cortland Finnegan and second-year players Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.

While Finnegan’s been fighting some nagging injuries, Taylor and Davis have been impressing at Dolphins camp. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either one of them heading into the season opener against the New England Patriots as the starter.

Aikens will have to work hard this summer to earn consistent playing time on defense, but I projected good things for him this season with a stat line as follows: 36 tackles, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble. He may not be ready to catch on as a starter just yet, but I think he’ll be a valuable contributor on defense and special teams throughout the year.

I had to go back to the film to really compare Charles Clay (I’m assuming that’s who you meant?) to the Eagles’ Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, as well as to get a good look at some of what we can expect to see from Bill Lazor offensively in Miami.

It’s worth noting that while Lazor’s offense will bear some similarities to what Chip Kelly is doing with the Eagles, you can probably bank on Lazor featuring a bit more pass plays than the balanced attack seen up in Philadelphia.

Of course, that’s not a bad thing for Ryan Tannehill after seeing what former third-round pick Nick Foles was able to do last season (the NFL’s top-rated quarterback) and, as a result, Charles Clay should be in good position to see his production numbers spike once again.

The Eagles got 68 receptions for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns out of their two lead tight ends (Brent Celek and Zach Ertz), with both being popular targets for Foles throughout the season. Lazor’s spread offense will feature a number of quick passing plays similar to the Eagles’ offense, and I’d expect the tight end to be one of Tannehill’s primary outlets over the middle quite often.

Brandon Gibson had a good start to last season before an injury sidelined him for the year. And unfortunately, the NFL is all about what you’ve done for me lately. So the Dolphins went out and got a great prospect in Jarvis Landry, who racked up over 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season at LSU. Gibson has some stiff competition there for the lead slot gig and I’m not too sure he’s going to be able to hold off the rookie for long.

Speed aside, Landry is a dynamic player who can do a variety of things well from anywhere on the field. Experience may put Gibson over early, but I think he’ll be the team’s fourth receiver by mid-October at the latest. Of course, that’s all assuming Gibson can get back to full health soon. He’s expected to ready for Week 1, but he just took the practice for the first time on Tuesday.