By: Jason Sarney
The late, great Don Shula once said that playing football without pads is like playing tennis without rackets. While 2020 is as unique as any training camp period in league history, normalcy in some ways, shapes, and forms return when the helmets and pads come on Monday for the Miami Dolphins.
When the hitting starts and the football speed increases is when the answers to the following questions will become clearer. While each NFL team has their own varying degrees of questions, the Dolphins seem to have potential answers all over the place, yet, like a game of Jeopardy, many seem to know the answer before the question.
However, if we have learned one thing about the Brian Flores-led Miami Dolphins, it is to expect the unexpected.
Trying to jump into the collective heads of Flores, General Manager Chris Grier and the overall front office of the Dolphins is like taking a trip into a beautifully strange multiverse of scenarios and combinations. While there may not be 14,000,605 permutations and outcomes that can come from carving down an 80+ man roster to 53 and a practice squad, the vast number of possibilities this team can put together on the field could improve this franchises hopes for success in a "snap."
Speaking of snaps, and who will be instigating the start of every offensive football play, my first question is in part of the overall worry of the team.
Who will be the center, and who will play the other four offensive line positions?
We know the rookies, we know the veteran signings, and we know the returning Dolphins. Who will be the five linemen to improve the dead-last overall unit from 2019? The competition at center may be the biggest question mark of all, as guys like Ted Karras and Michael Dieter could battle it out, while the future of the position could very well be addressed next April.
As for the remainder of the offensive line, young Draft picks in Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt as well as first rounder Austin Jackson all have potential yet haven’t chiseled their names in stone yet in any area of the line. Donnell Stanley is an undrafted free agent looking for reps and the returning Jesse Davis should be considered as a contender for a few potential areas on the line.
The construction and gelling of this unit is of paramount importance.
Who will take the targets vacated with the opting out of Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson?
With Covid-19 as much a factor as anything in 2020, players opting out for health reasons mean that teams need to use that “next-man-up” mindset more than usual this season.
As for Miami, there are several contenders to who could fill that 3rd wide receiver job, or better yet, the title of the “Slot.” The answer here could be a loaded response and tricky at the same time. Veteran Isaiah Ford came on strong last season, and has proved he can be a NFL receiver while experienced players in Gary Jennings and Mack Hollins have their work cut out for them to make this team.
Undrafted rookies Kirk Merritt and Matt Cole have slot abilities to mix with return game potential as well as Special Teams coverage if you are the latter prospect. How many wide receivers will this team carry and will a newly signed Chester Rodgers be a viable candidate to make this team? We shall see, but Rodgers, who has a history of drops, could be a camp body helping with reps and may not be a lock to make the 53 once camp concludes.
Keep your eyes on Kirk Merritt, as he is out looking for something to prove as the highly skilled and athletic freak has the talent to be on a 53-man roster. He could be the next Preston Williams, as that has been a popular comparison based on his undrafted status and certain question marks that surround his abilities.
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There is another level to this question, as the slot area of the field could already have a major tenant in tight end Mike Gesicki. Gesicki played less than 25 percent of his 2019 snaps in-line as a standard tight end. He played around three-fourths of his reps as that slot-style receiver. Keep this in mind, the “slot” role could very well be filled in aggregate with several players in Chan Gailey’s spread offense, with a pair of them being featured in his popular four wide sets.
Then there is that obvious other question we all are debating, that being, “when will Tua Tagovailoa start?
This is a question and answer session for an entirely other day, simply because too many factors need to go into before a set answer. First and foremost, a franchise quarterback can not be thrown into a disastrous situation behind a porous offensive line. It’s a work in progress, much like the other answers to the questions that will come up in the next four weeks leading to when the Dolphins kick-off in New England against the Patriots on September 13th.
You can follow Jason on Twitter @OrangeAquaman and on YouTube at The Fin Addicts Network!
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