Coming off an 8-8 season marred by poor offensive line play and the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga—arguably the cause of the former—the Miami Dolphins have a lot of holes to fill throughout their depth chart. The team has not had a winning season since 2008 and have enjoyed just two over the last decade.
The Dolphins went out and made some key additions during the offseason, however, and they are hopeful those moves will have a positive effect on their playoff aspirations in 2014.
With that in mind, here are five key position battles to keep an eye on throughout the summer.
Rishard Matthews and Brandon Gibson both had strong campaigns for the Dolphins last season, but they now have some stiff competition in rookie wideout Jarvis Landry for the slot position. It’s a good problem for the Dolphins to have, obviously, but it’s possible there may not be enough room for all three of these men on the roster.
Landry joins the team with an impressive junior season at LSU in the rearview. He led the Tigers with 1,193 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, and could prove to be a lethal threat down field and over the middle for the Dolphins. The second-round pick will require time to adjust to the NFL game, but he has the talent to make an immediate impact.
Gibson and Matthews aren’t going to go down without a fight though, as both players were among the Dolphins’ top five receivers in 2013. Gibson, the original slot receiver, had 30 receptions for 326 yards and three touchdowns before going down with an injury in Week 8.
Cameron Wake is the incumbent No. 1, of course. But once again Dion Jordan will look to unseat Olivier Vernon on the opposite end.
The third-overall selection in the 2013 draft didn’t exactly have the best rookie season. With a full season under his belt and opportunity to put in a whole offseason with the Dolphins, he should be in line for an improved sophomore season.
Former Dolphin Jason Taylor had nothing but great things to say about the second-year defensive end:
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) June 10, 2014
You can’t forget about Vernon though, who is coming off a good season in Miami during which he recorded 11.5 sacks. At 23 years of age, he could be primed for another big season of improvements himself.
Brent Grimes is expected to lock down one half of the field, but what the Dolphins decide to do thereafter is unknown. Ideally, Cortland Finnegan is 100 percent healthy and able to man the No. 2 role, but it’s possible Jamar Taylor or Will Davis can emerge and usurp that role. Should that be the case, Finnegan has the versatility and athleticism to move inside to play the slot and do work as the nickelback.
Unfortunately, all three of those players have had their fair share of injury problems. It would not be surprising for those issues to arise once again. For the Dolphins’ sake, you hope that will not be the case as the secondary was one of their biggest strengths last season.
Fourth-round rookie Walt Aiken is another option to contribute in some form. The Liberty standout has great size and speed for the cornerback position, but he’ll likely have to work his way up the depth chart through practice and special teams play.
Most of the Dolphins’ 2013 line is gone and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, they didn’t fill all the holes they created by cutting ties with guys like John Jerry and Richie Incognito.
Pro Football Focus has free-agent signing Shelley Smith and rookie Billy Turner tabbed as the starting guards, with Nate Garner and Dallas Thomas as backups. Smith should be a quality starter, but there is reason for concern with Turner going from undrafted free agent to starting left guard without a snap of professional football under his belt.
For what it’s worth, Thomas has been starting on the left side in OTAs opposite Smith with Turner and Garner as backups. Turner may have a future in the NFL, but I see no reason to thrust him into a starting role so soon.
Heading into the season, it was probably assumed by most that Knowshon Moreno would be No. 1 in the Dolphins’ backfield. More than likely, that will still be the case for the season opener.
But Lamar Miller has emerged early in OTAs and apparently leads the race in the running back competition over Moreno and Daniel Thomas.
The Dolphins have been waiting patiently for the 2012 fourth-rounder to develop into the feature back they believe he can be. If he can continue to perform well in practice, Miami could have a formidable duo of running backs on their hands to help bolster their offensive attack in 2014.