Camp Preview: The young wide receivers

With the first training camp practice scheduled for July 27, we examine some of the situations and positions we'll be watching throughout the summer. This installment takes a look at the team's large group of young wide receivers.

The wide receiver position has drawn a lot of attention since the end of last season, with perhaps only quarterback surpassing it.

It started with the trade of the mercurial Brandon Marshall to Chicago, followed by the concerns over the lack of star power in the wake of his departure. Then there was the signing of Chad Ochocinco, who once again is Chad Johnson and is hoping to have the same kind of success he enjoyed as Chad Johnson when he was with Cincinnati.

What's really intriguing about the Dolphins' wide receiver corps, though, is the abundance of young prospects at the position.

The Dolphins currently have 12 wide receivers on the roster, and eight of them have two years of experience or less.

That group includes Roberto Wallace (third-year player), Marlon Moore (third-year player), Julius Pruitt (third year), Clyde Gates (second year), Chris Hogan (first year) and rookies B.J. Cunningham, Rishard Matthews and Jeff Fuller.

If one assumes that Johnson and free agent pick-up Legedu Naanee will join holdovers Davone Bess and Brian Hartline on the roster — and it's a pretty good assumption — it means that those eight young receivers will battle for one roster spot, perhaps two if the Dolphins decide to keep six wideouts.

It shapes up as perhaps the best position battle of the summer.

"It's a competitive situation," Coach Joe Philbin said after one of the offseason practices. "On the one hand, at some point in time you would like to have some players make it easy and distinguish themselves, maybe make the picture a little bit clearer. At certain times we have had some guys have some real productive stretches. The consistency of catching the ball is something that Ken (O'Keefe) and Phil (McGeoghan) are working on and Mike (Sherman) is a little bit concerned about, as am I."

How the battle among the young receivers plays out will depend largely on who has the best training camp and preseason.

After playing for the Dolphins the last two years, Wallace and Moore clearly have an advantage over Hogan and the three rookies, and even Pruitt, who made his NFL debut midway through last season but didn't catch a pass.

Wallace got a strong endorsement in June from veteran quarterback David Garrard.

"I don't think of him as a young receiver," Garrard said. "If that's the case, Roberto is going to be a pretty good receiver in this league. He has the size, he has the speed and he has the hands. I thought he'd been in the league for a while. But he's that guy I've really been looking at, really been talking to and really trying to work with because I think he can really put it all together, and when he does, when he learns the offense, him and the quarterback can really manipulate the defense and almost start playing backyard football where we start coming up with some plays on our own.

"He can be a big talent, because he's already got the size, the speed and the hands. It's just getting reps with him."

Among the young receivers, perhaps the one to watch is Gates because he might already be facing a crossroad in his Dolphins career.

After arriving as a fourth-round pick last year, Gates flashed the big-time speed that made him such an intriguing prospect, but he has yet to show he can master an offense enough to make that speed translate onto the field.

His role last year was that of kickoff returner, but the Dolphins have another candidate to fill that role this year after drafting running back Lamar Miller in the fourth round.

Miller is too much of a talent not to make the roster, which means that Gates likely won't be able to stick around strictly with his kickoff returning.

Cunningham set a school record for most career catches at Michigan State, so he obviously can be productive, but he's going to have to flash very quickly to make the team because he doesn't return kicks.

Matthews does return punts, which might help his cause, but he's also among the long shots at wide receiver to make the roster.

Pruitt flashed intriguing potential the last two years, both as a member of the practice squad and on the active roster, but he's also raw and probably a long shot to make the team.

Of all the wideouts on the roster, though, Hogan appears to be the least likely to be around come the season opener at Houston on Sept. 9.

Of course, there's no guarantee the Dolphins can't make a surprise move and keep more of the young wide receivers instead of the four veterans on the team.

Again, it's all going to depend on who does what in August.

Chad Johnson is going to be the focal point in training camp because, well, he's Chad Johnson. But his young teammates at his position also bear watching.

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