NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps over the next few weeks. Jeff Darlington details his visit with the Miami Dolphins. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)
WHERE IS NFL.COM?
A small army of about 30 men were scattered throughout the Dolphins' practice facility Friday, each one a member of the "Hard Knocks" staff with a camera ready to record every movement. On the other side of those lenses, a new coach (Joe Philbin) was installing his system, two quarterbacks (David Garrard and Matt Moore) were battling for a job and a wide receiver (Chad Johnson) was trying to rekindle his career. Yes, the Dolphins are very publicly trying to get their team back on its rails as training camp starts. But nobody knows how this screenplay ends.
1. Ryan Tannehill has his work cut out for him. As Tannehill missed his first day of Dolphins practice while contract negotiations continued (the draft's No. 8 overall pick eventually signed his four-year contract late Saturday), David Garrard and Matt Moore are digging deep into a competition for the starting job. Moore took first-team reps Friday, and Garrard got them Saturday. But even once Tannehill does get into camp, it has become quite clear he's a long way from making the leap into a starting role. He'll have the advantage of familiarity in the offense (offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was his coach at Texas A&M), but Garrard and Moore proved during the offseason that each is clearly more prepared to become the Day 1 starter when the regular season begins.
2. It's boom or bust for Chad Johnson. The wide receiver looked solid in his first practice Friday, but he'll need to maintain consistency if he's going to earn a job in South Florida. With Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee battling Johnson for reps, the Dolphins will want the 34-year-old receiver to be clearly ahead of the pack if they are going to spend a roster spot on a player who will be taking repetitions away from several other development receivers. So yes, Johnson has every chance to shine for a team that needs his firepower on offense. But the margin between starring and getting cut is very, very thin.
3. It's time for the defense to blossom. Linebacker Karlos Dansby enters camp looking like he got himself into seriously good shape this offseason, which is a good sign since the Dolphins really will need Dansby to make an impact as a player and a leader this year. The Dolphins' defense has the potential to be a solid group. Now, they need some players to step into a more vocal and Pro Bowl-caliber role. Plenty of possibilities -- from Cameron Wake to Vontae Davis to Paul Soliai to Randy Starks -- have the potential to do just that. Still, this group has the look of a crop of talented teenagers who need to blossom into men.
THE NEW GUYS
Jonathan Martin. The Dolphins have been far from adequate on the right side of the line through the past few years, failing to match a left side that includes Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long. But the team's second-round draft pick might be the answer to fixing all of that. Martin is a beast -- the type of player who actually could be a future starter on either side of the line down the road. For now, the team will just try to mold him into an instant starter to become the type of bookend worthy of complementing a near-perfect player in Long on the other side.
Legadu Naanee. During his five seasons in the league, Naanee slowly but consistently has improved into a solid role player in the wide receiving corps for the Chargers and, last year, for the Panthers. He had a career-high 44 catches for 467 yards in 2012 -- but his real potential might be that he has averaged 10 or more yards per catch each of the past three seasons. Don't forget about Naannee as the Dolphins sort through a busy group of pass catchers who all have some great opportunities ahead this year.
Lamar Miller. The Dolphins benefited from Miller's draft-day slide by picking up the former University of Miami running back in the fourth round. Now, the question: What do they do with him? It seemed reasonable to expect Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas to get most of the repetitions, but Miller has the type of potential to change all of that. He looked very much like a rookie in Friday's first practice, but it might not be long before Miller gives the Dolphins a reason to be glad they kept him in his hometown.
"We're going to study the tape and watch the tape and evaluate there and see. I know a lot has been written and there has been a lot of speculation about who is ahead, and whether this guy is behind and he's not ready, but that is news to me. We are still evaluating all quarterbacks, Pat Devlin included, and we'll make a decision when it becomes evident."
-- Head coach Joe Philbin
1. Vontae Davis still talks with confidence, but remember last year when he said he and Sean Smith would be the best cornerback duo in the NFL? It seems this year he'll try to show it rather than say it. Smart move. ... 2. While Tannehill started training camp as a contract holdout, he actually was training with Chris Weinke at IMG Football Acadamy in Bradenton, so at least he's staying in shape as the negotiations were ongoing. ... 3. Philbin has gained the respect of the locker room to this point. He has a quiet but motivational vibe about him -- almost in a Tony Dungy-like fashion.
The new hope in Miami is a very good thing. The Dolphins have become more transparent as an organization, and it seems general manager Jeff Ireland is turning into a seasoned personnel man willing to open his mind to more creative possibilities than he has in the past. But the Dolphins still don't have a roster filled with experienced, proven leaders. And until they blossom into such, we're looking at a team that's likely once again to be on the wrong side of the playoff picture.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.