TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: RECEIVERS

As the Dolphins head to training camp, we break down every position, with its strengths and weaknesses, as well as which players figure to be on the 53-man roster. What follows is a look at the wide receiver and tight end positions.

Just like Ricky Williams is the Dolphins' best running back in many years, the same could be said about Chris Chambers when it comes to wide receivers.

Chambers was simply sensational down the stretch last season before an ankle injury slowed him down. He has all the athletic ability you'd want in a wide receiver, and any fear of a sophomore jinx is alleviated by the fact that Chambers has a great work ethic.

Coach Dave Wannstedt said early in the offseason that Chambers would be a starter in 2002, and that didn't come as a surprise to anyone.

At the start of training camp, Oronde Gadsden would appear to be the favorite to start opposite Chambers. He appears to be recovered from what once looked like a severe shoulder problem.

Gadsden isn't a burner, but he gets open and his hands might be the best in the league now that Cris Carter has retired.

The other player with a shot to start at wide receiver is James McKnight. He did some good things in his first season in Miami, but his season was remembered more for a couple of big drops.

McKnight has tremendous speed, and he'll be a big factor in the offseason regardless of whether he starts.

The other receiver who appears a shoo-in to earn a roster spot is veteran Dedric Ward. He was slowed by injuries at times last season, but also came up with some clutch catches (most notably against Oakland and Buffalo).

The Dolphins probably will keep five wide receivers, and the fifth spot figures to come down between Jeff Ogden and rookie Sam Simmons.

Both double as punt returners, and they figure to split those duties during the preseason. Ogden has been a dependable receiver for the Dolphins the last two years and he was terrific as a punt returner in 2000. But he slipped in that department last year, and needs to regain Wannstedt's full confidence.

Simmons is small and not particularly fast, but he was very productive at Northwestern.

The other wide receivers on the roster at the start of training camp — after Shawn Terry was waived and Joey Getherall failed his physical — are Robert Baker, Ronney Daniels, Margin Hooks, Albert Johnson and Sulecio Sanford.

Of those players, Baker has the best chance of landing a roster spot. He has been impressive in a couple of training camps with the Dolphins, only to be derailed by injuries.

Looking at the tight end position, things appear much clearer in terms of who will make the roster.

The Dolphins probably will wind up keeping four tight ends because of Ed Perry's prowess as a long-snapper.

The other three figure to be Alonzo Mayes, Jed Weaver and Randy McMichael, with Shawn Draper the odd man out.

Draper, who has been bounced between offensive tackle and tight end since his days at Alabama, is more of a blocking specialist, and he doesn't really fit the mold of a Norv Turner tight end.

Of the other three, the most intriguing player might be Mayes. The Dolphins always have been intrigued by his potential, but the guy hasn't played a down in a regular season game yet.

In addition to his history of injuries, he's not exactly been known for being the best-conditioned athlete on the team. This is a make-or-break camp for him, and he could go anywhere from being the starter at tight end to being released.

Weaver will enter camp as the starter. He started 10 games as a rookie in Philadelphia a couple of years ago and started seven games with the Dolphins last year.

He's a good receiver who fits the Turner mold, but the argument could be made that he's not as physically gifted as either Mayes or McMichael.

McMichael, the rookie from Georgia, is an interesting prospect as well. He's a bit lean and probably won't be much of a blocker, but he has receiving ability and has the chance to earn significant playing time with a strong training camp and preseason showing.

The bottom line is tight end might offer the most competitive battle for a starting job this summer.


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