Training camp preview: Will Dolphins rise under Gase?

Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.

Today, we take a look at the Miami Dolphins. Click on the tabs above to see previews for the rest of the AFC East. For the rest of the NFL, click here.

Training camp report dates: Rookies and veterans on July 28.

Training camp location: Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University, Davie, Florida.

Offseason in a nutshell: This is a team in transition, masquerading as a playoff-caliber team after another aggressive free agency period. Around the league, the belief is that new coach Adam Gase is worth at least a few more wins for the culture-starved Dolphins on presence alone. The team went from the timid Joe Philbin to powder keg Dan Campbell all within a few weeks. Their franchise quarterback allegedly didn't get along with practice squad players. Their star defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, told his fellow defensive teammates that only a certain number of them were good enough to play with. Gase, who could be considered a member of the Nick Saban and John Fox coaching trees, immediately brought a sense of unity and stern calmness to the Dolphins. Will that be enough? The team added Mario Williams this offseason and plans on pairing him with the 34-year-old Cam Wake off the edge. They let go of Olivier Vernon after he was offered an absurd amount of money by the Giants and took discount fliers on former cornerstone-type players like Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, who could produce but might end up as big-named place holders.

Player to watch: Running back Jay Ajayi. Refusing to over spend on a running back in free agency is typically a great decision and for the Dolphins, sticking by Ajayi might end up paying off. We'll find out early on in training camp just how badly Ajayi wants to be an every-down back seeing as he had a clear offseason assignment: Learn the passing section of the playbook and become a more capable receiver out of the backfield. At one point in his collegiate career, he was nabbing 50 balls a season. Gase's playbook is a little different and demands more than carrying the football from a running back. If he's not getting heavy reps across all downs, it might be a sign of changes to come.


1. Will Kiko Alonso hold on to the middle linebacker spot?

After watching Alonso in Eagles camp last summer, I can say my interest level was high. He looked every bit the star hybrid linebacker Chip Kelly was looking for -- the type that is currently in high demand across the board in the nickel-dominant NFL. He was overmatched physically that season, though, and is looking for a way to spark his career with the Dolphins. Presumably, Zach Vigil and Mike Hull are the only players standing in his way, but with a new defensive coordinator in town, anything is possible. Vance Joseph will be in a base 4-3, but Alonso will earn his stripes in the nickel just like every true linebacker in the league.

2. Do the receivers make a leap in their first training camp under Gase?

It's an interesting position to watch not only because of Gase, but because the Dolphins are soaking up knowledge wherever they can get it. Wideouts Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker were both hanging around minicamp and offering some tips and insight. Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen is also an underrated football mind and has been associated with the elevation of some notable receivers over the past 15 years. While we know that Jarvis Landry is a valuable No. 2 or No. 3, the hope is that real progress is made by DeVante Parker. A name to watch: third-round pick Leonte Carroo. Carroo was Gase's first hand-selected wideout and is drawing comparisons to a young Anquan Boldin. He ran with the first team during minicamp, according to The Palm Beach Post, but does that change in late July?

3. Will the team make another splash before the end of camp?

Once the preseason muddle clears, the Dolphins should be in decent shape in terms of cap space, though they may wait until after the first game of the regular season to sign someone like Arian Foster, in order to avoid being locked in for the entire season. VP Mike Tannenbaum has been knocked around for his cap management in the past (even though his "salary cap hell" season was easily solved with three quick moves), but his personnel department has had a pretty good track record of finding veteran free agent contributors throughout the years. In fact, a lot of those findings were the building blocks of the team's two AFC championship runs with Rex Ryan. This team could use experience at running back and guard, especially if Laremy Tunsil doesn't catch on right away or Billy Turner doesn't hit his marks.

Way-too-early season prediction: I currently see the AFC East pecking order as Patriots, Bills and then a complete wild card. The pairing of Tannehill and Gase is enticing given Gase's track record with quarterbacks. If that improved relationship is worth another two wins to the Dolphins, then they end up at a not surprising, but not bad 8-8 on the season.

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