Training camp is just around the corner. You can feel the anticipation all around the league as fans are eager to get a look at new rookies and new free agent acquisitions. I certainly feel a buzz in Miami as there are going to be a lot of people excited to see the players like DeVante Parker, Ndamukong Suh, and Kenny Stills. However, I feel like there are a few players coming into this training camp that may surprise you when it comes time to decide the 53 man roster. In this article I will review five players I think will end up outperforming pre-camp expectations.
Quarterback Josh Freeman
Similar to what they did with Brady Quinn last year, the Dolphins brought in this former 1st round pick to compete with Matt Moore. Josh Freeman is a rather odd story. He went from a young rising quarterback to being cut during the 2013 season by the Bucs. It would appear he did not mesh with then head coach Greg Schiano, who did really? The Vikings grabbed him and started him with almost no prep time and not surprisingly he failed.
Last year he was on the Giants from April –May 2014 then promptly cut. He did not play at all last season. Quarterback is a premium position in the NFL so being cut in the middle of the season and being cut in May last year suggests there must be some sort of issue with Freeman not related to his arm talent. He did not look too bad in Mini-Camp.
I think there is a pretty strong possibility Josh Freeman knows this is his last chance and will be doing everything in his power to get his career back on track. I think he is has a lot of talent so I would not be shocked to see him make the team as the #3 QB or even get an inside track as the #2 QB next season.
Miami needs to find ways to lower their cap number next year. Matt Moore will cost the team roughly $2.6 million. Freeman is playing for closer to $700,000. He will be getting to match up against other teams' backups in the 2nd half of preseason games and Miami is very deep at WR. He will have a very good chance to look good.
Running back Damien Williams
Miami is offering a huge opportunity for the #2 running back spot. Lamar Miller will be a free agent after this season and I suspect it will be difficult for Miami to retain him. That means if the #2 running back performs well this season, that player could be in line to take over the starting role next year.
The favorite in the mainstream media is that Jay Ajayi will win that spot. After watching Ajayi on film, he has some issues such as running upright into contact and abandoning his blocks to trying to outrun defenders.
I think it will take some time and coaching for him to develop in his first year. Damien Williams looked to be in great shape in Mini-Camp. I suspect he will win the #2 spot and Ajayi will be worked in slowly as the season progresses.
Safety Walt Aikens
Everyone is assuming that Louis Delmas will be immediately returning as a starting safety along with Reshad Jones. Make no mistake, Kevin Coyle likes to develop defensive backs and Aikens has some impressive size and athletic ability. He was able to get some playing experience late in the season. With Delmas returning from a serious knee injury and being a veteran, I see no reason for Miami to expose Delmas to a lot of reps during training camp and the preseason.
Look for them to give Aikens every opportunity to prove he is the future at the safety position, letting him play with the starting defense when training camp starts. Aikens better show up on his game and ready because with Michael Thomas, Cedric Thompson, and the multi-talented Tony Lippett competing in camp, he can’t afford to not progress his game forward.
Wide receiver Matt Hazel
Rishard Matthews found himself in the doghouse last year and he is entering this season with the likes of Greg Jennings, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker in front of him. Matthews is coming into his 4th season with Miami. I have a feeling Miami may try to trade Matthews if another team has an injury at WR. Hazel has several more years under an affordable deal with Miami.
I think Miami will give Hazel many opportunities to take the #5 WR spot away from Matthews, and if it is even close, the job will go to Hazel. Again, Miami will be looking for ways to manage the salary cap in the coming seasons. Working with Hazel to see if he can develop into the #4 WR for the 2016-2017 seasons makes a lot of cap sense if he has a good camp.
Offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach
Miami’s offensive line has too many questions for my tastes. Will Branden Albert return to form, and if he does when will that be? What will the team do if Ja'Wuan James or Jason Fox get hurt in camp? Who is going to start at guard? Linkenbach is a veteran lineman that can play both tackle and guard.
If there is an injury at either position they are going to need him to step up. I think it is safe to say Dallas Thomas has failed to fill the utility lineman role vacated by Nate Garner. Linkenbach appears to be the best suited to take over that role. I will be watching to see what kind of level of play he can provide.
This column was written by Chad Ronnebaum. Follow him on Twitter: @Gofins4SB
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