Photo by Joy Addis Suddeth

Miami Dolphins Camp Disappointments, LB Battle

The Miami Dolphins have a tough competition for the LB position.

Miami Dolphins OTA’s and minicamp wrapped up this past week and it comes with some disappointing analysis regarding two of the team’s 2017 acquisitions.

 

Sun Sentinel’s Omar Kelly, who covers the Dolphins on a daily basis, considers tight-end Julius Thomas and linebacker Raekwon McMillan as 2 of the most disappointing players in camp on the offensive and defensive side.

Julius Thomas was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for a Dolphins 2017 7th-round pick back in March. The trade was seen as a low-risk, high-reward move for Miami. Thomas struggled on the field and dealt with injuries as a Jag, but the Dolphins desperately needed a tight-end as their group ranked in the bottom categories of the league, and did not get better with the eventual departure of Dion Sims to the Bears. Thomas’ big contract with the Jaguars was restructured, lowered, and filled with incentives as he switched teams. Dolphins lost left tackle Branden Albert(along with his pricy contract), but broke even as left guard Laremy Tunsil would take his place.

However, the seam and red-zone threat the Dolphins were hoping to acquire has not made his presence known thus far this offseason, and has not developed a report with his new quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

“Thomas’ presence is supposed to open up the field for everyone on offense, but there seems to be a chemistry issue with Tannehill that needs to be figured out because the six-year veteran was a non-factor in most of the practices the media witnessed,” Kelly wrote. “At this point it looks like Miami got the Jacksonville version (30 receptions and four touchdowns last year) of Thomas and not the Denver one that produced 24 touchdowns in two seasons. But maybe the play-calling in the spring didn't cater to Thomas’ strengths.”

The former and now-returned “Orange Julius” has been saying all the right things in camp, but appears to still be learning the offense. He is not settled-in and will need time to turn the playbook to instinct, learn his blocking assignments, as well as his option-routes. Ryan Tannehill also struggled to develop chemistry with tight end Jordan Cameron during his 2-year tenure. The good news for Thomas is that he has his off-time, training camp, and preseason to improve. Tannehill and Thomas will need to privately workout together if they want to fix this problem before training camp starts.

As far as 2017 2nd-round draftee Raekwon McMillan goes, Kelly is not convinced he has won the last open spot for linebacker and thinks other players could still be in the mix.

“It is probably unfair to expect a rookie to outright win a starting linebacker job during OTAs and minicamp, especially with all the things being thrown at these draft picks in a short period of time,” wrote Kelly. “But McMillan, this year’s second-round pick, didn't outshine Mike Hull to lock down the third starting linebacker spot. It will be interesting to see what happens when Koa Misi, who has been sidelined by a neck injury all offseason, is cleared to practice and enters the competition.”

This was my concern when the Dolphins decided to pass on 2017 Top 5 linebacker prospect Zach Cunningham for what many considered a 3rd-round talent in Raekwon McMillan who had questionable coverage ability.

However, McMillan’s offseason with the Dolphins has not been an easy task. During OTA’s, the Dolphins were constantly mixing and matching their linebackers in different spots on the field. For a rookie like McMillan, learning linebacker responsibilities is hard enough for 1 position. By mixing and matching spots, you are asking him to learn all three positions at once. And learning all 3 positions simultaneously is no easy task for a rookie—ask Leonte Carroo.

Mike Hull and Koa Misi might be in the mix due to their veteran experience playing with the Dolphins, but they are not best suited talent-wise for the outside position either.

Back in January, Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero reported the team was considering using Hull at the Middle Linebacker spot during the December period, in order to fully utilize Kiko Alonso’s instincts, playmaking ability, and athleticism in coverage. Ultimately, this idea was rejected due to the fact that it would mean switching Alonso to a position he did not play all year and the possible chemistry issues that could arise. But moving Hull to the outside could be an even worse idea. Coming out of the draft in 2015, Hull was considered better at middle than outside, because of his lack of athleticism and liability in man coverage. And if the Dolphins were considering moving him to middle instead of placing him on the outside last year, then that analysis continues to be true.

 Koa Misi is one of the Dolphins longest tenured players left on the team at 8 years, took a pay-cut this offseason in order to stay on the team after suffering a season-ending neck injury. This makes 2 years in a row that Misi has been placed on Injured Reserve to end the season(2015- placed on IR with back injury). Due to his injury history, lack of career production, and salary($1.12M)—Misi is lucky to still be on the Dolphins and should only be considered for depth purposes.

Linebacker Neville Hewitt is probably the best fit for the team’s final outside position. He’s not perfect, but his speed, athleticism, and coverage ability outmatches the skills of the previous 3 players. Best of all, he’s young and has experience playing at the position for the Dolphins last year.

As of now, the 3rd spot of the Dolphins linebacking core is still in question. Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons are locks, but an interesting camp battle for the final starting spot will be something to watch this summer.

FINS UP!

 


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