Position battles are a big part of training camp to be sure, but there are also specific individuals that fans are particularly interested in. Whether they want to know whether or not the player will crash or burn, or perhaps reach a new level of greatness that they hadn't before.
It's these players that make training camp all the more intriguing, and it's these players that teams' futures often ride on once the regular season rolls around. So with all that said, let's take a look at the top ten players to watch during the Miami Dolphins 2016 training camp.
1. Ryan Tannehill
Obviously we can't have a piece about training camp without bringing up the franchise quarterback. Whether you like it or not, Ryan Tannehill is the starting QB for the Miami Dolphins and he is the one the team has built around in 2016 and they're counting on him to lead them to victory.
The problem is - as per the usual - can he do it?
Naysayers will say no, and of course supporters will say yes. It's the endless cycle of wins, losses, stats, film and whatever else you want to use to make your case. Tannehill has played well at times, even looked elite in small instances, and he's also struggled mightily and made other teams' QBs look amazing by comparison.
And that's where Adam Gase comes in. He's been a quarterback's dream coach ever since he entered the NFL. Peyton Manning praised him for his ingenuity, Jay Cutler bought him a suit because he "fixed" him and got him to care about football again. Wes Welker visited mini-camp and offered his experience to the younger players because of the respect he has for Gase.
It's a far cry from whatever Joe Philbin did during his tenure as the Dolphins head coach.
With an offense that was all too predictable and with his hands tied as he wasn't allowed to audible, Tannehill was still able to throw for over 4,000 yards, 24 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. But the team only won six games, and so Tannehill was once again questioned as to whether or not he was a good enough QB.
Now with a new coach who has given him free reign over the offense, one who supports him and is looking to emphasize his strengths and mask - while simultaneously improving - his weaknesses, the hope is that Ryan Tannehill will finally take that next step and become a top ten quarterback in the NFL.
If the team starts winning, then Tannehill will be regarded as such.
2. Jay Ajayi
Now that Lamar Miller has departed to Houston for big money (and an actual chance to run the football), that leaves second-year running back Jay Ajayi as the default player to fill the role he left behind.
Ajayi was drafted by Miami in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft because of his knee condition, and without it he probably would have been drafted much higher than that. He has speed and power and he can break tackles, but the real question is whether or not he can handle the workload and stay healthy.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported after the draft that Ajayi's knee was bone on bone, and concern grew regarding whether or not the Boise State alumni would need microfracture knee surgery in the future. On top of that, Ajayi also broke some ribs in the 2015 preseason and spent the first seven weeks of the regular season on the short-term IR.
When he was healthy however, Ajayi was able to show a lot of promise and got the fan base excited whenever he had the ball. He only ran 49 times and got 187 yards, which averages out to 3.8 YPC which is okay, but nothing spectacular. But it was the big plays that got fans excited.
More than once, Ajayi was able to break free and run for large chunks of yardage, his longest run was for 24 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10, and he ran for 20 yards earlier on that same drive. That was one week after his regular season debut against Buffalo when he made a 23-yard run.
Big plays appear to be Ajayi's M.O. at this point in time, but there are concerns that Ajayi's running style could lead him to injure himself all over again. Add that to his already sketchy history with injuries, and it's clear that it's more important to watch and see if Ajayi can develop a sense of self-preservation as the starting running back.
Obviously, Ajayi is fun to watch because he runs so hard (and borderline recklessly), but if he's going to be the starting running back for the future, he'll have to learn to gauge situations and know when it's better to take a different approach. This training camp, he'll have that opportunity.
3. Laremy Tunsil
This is going to be one of the most important things to watch during this year's training camp. Reports from OTAs and mini-camp indicated that Tunsil was struggling to make the transition from tackle to guard, although he and his teammates alike would say otherwise.
Every year it seems to be the same problem. The Dolphins try and take the cheap option at guard instead of spending money and picking up a quality veteran, the competition turns out to be incredibly underwhelming, and then Dallas Thomas wins the battle by default and somehow does badly when the season starts.
This time the Dolphins drafted arguably the best offensive lineman in the draft - arguably the best player in the draft period - and still Dallas Thomas is the starter at left guard going into camp.
Is Miami really that unlucky, or are they being punished for being cheap?
Tunsil putting the pads on and trying to block Ndamukong Suh is going to be the ultimate challenge for the Ole Miss standout as he resumes his transition from tackle to guard. There are those concerned for Tunsil's long term development if he moves from his natural position for a season or two until Branden Albert moves on, but Jonathan Ogden - a long time Ravens star - played guard in his first season before becoming the Ravens franchise left tackle for the rest of his career.
It can definitely happen, it can be done and Tunsil has the talent to do so. But first he'll have to find the strength to stop guys much bigger than he's used to and somehow overcome Dallas Thomas. The play of the guards has impacted the play of Ryan Tannehill a lot over the past few seasons, Tunsil is being counted on to finally give him a stable offensive line.
4. Jarvis Landry
Recently there's been a lot of debate about wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and it's centered around exactly how good he really is. This offseason, both Adam Gase and Landry himself seem determined to find that out too.
Landry's been labeled as one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, but Landry has been trying to beat that label and become one of the best wide receivers period, working on the outside more in practice and becoming more well-rounded with a little help from players like his former LSU teammate Odell Beckham Jr. and Steelers WR Antonio Brown.
But more than that, Landry is being looked up to as a leader for the receivers, as even though he's only going into his third season, he's already one of the most experienced guys in that room. Along with Kenny Stills, the young rookies will be looking up to him and asking him for advice on how to do things.
That in and of itself will be worth watching in camp.
Up until now, Landry has been the young guy with a lot of talent and potential with the necessary fire in his belly to put it to use. Now, he'll have to try and inspire others and be the adviser rather than just worrying about himself.
It should be interesting to see how the rookies respond to Landry's tutelage, as well as seeing if Landry can do more than just be a slot receiver.
5. Kiko Alonso
The Dolphins made a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso near the beginning of the offseason, but there was a lot of mixed feelings from the fanbase after the trade for many different reasons.
In the case of Alonso, his injury history is a major concern. After his amazing rookie season with the Buffalo Bills, he's been plagued by ACL problems, limiting his playing time and even making people wonder if he would ever be good again.
So far, all indications are that Alonso is returning to form and will be the Dolphins starting middle linebacker when the season starts, but then there are other issues being brought up - such as Alonso not being a good fit to be the middle linebacker in the Dolphins 4-3 defense.
There are those who have suggested that Alonso would be better served as an inside linebacker in a 3-4, which is what he was during his fantastic rookie year. Perhaps they have a point, but already Alonso seems like a better choice than any of the other starters Miami has used in the past couple of years, like Koa Misi or Kelvin Sheppard.
So not only will training camp show what Alonso can do with pads on in the 4-3, but it will also give some indication as to how healthy he is. He's a hard hitter and he can go downhill at great speeds, but can be a run-stuffing middle linebacker that Miami has been so desperate for?
With Vance Joseph making use of the Wide 9 to boost the pass-rush, he'd better be. Now that the field has been opened up even more, the pressure has only increased on the linebacker corps to stop the run, and Alonso is going to be the anchor for that whole unit.
6. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
This is the first player on the list that isn't one of the obvious starters who merely have something to prove. I don't count Laremy Tunsil despite him being currently behind Dallas Thomas. If he loses to Thomas, there are bigger problems afoot.
We've already gone in-depth about why Ekpre-Olomu could be the best thing that happens to the Miami Dolphins this season, but now that training camp is rolling around, and Ekpre-Olomu is tired of being treated like a china doll, he's going to get his chance to prove it.
He's been getting chances to play on the outside and in the slot during OTAs and mini-camps, and his recovery is apparently going smoothly if the former Oregon star's comments are anything to go by.
But the slot is so far being firmly held by second-year player Bobby McCain, and the outside starting spots belong to Byron Maxwell and (presumably) either Tony Lippett or rookie Xavien Howard, who both better fit the physical mold desired by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Ekpre-Olomu has all the talent in the world, he would've been a first round pick if his knee hadn't been such a major concern to teams who had him in their sights. Now in training camp, he'll have to show the same aggressiveness and potential he did at Oregon, which won't be easy since he's got to play catch up in his transition to the speed of the NFL.
If it works out the way Miami hopes, then Miami has an extra first rounder in the secondary by technicality. If it doesn't, then he can be cut from the roster with minimal repercussions. The ultimate low-risk, high-reward gamble.
7. Isa Abdul-Quddus
This Dolphins roster has a lot of long and hard to pronounce names on it, but that's neither here nor there.
After Louis Delmas got hurt again before the 2015 season even started, and Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas both failed to lock down the safety spot opposite Reshad Jones, Miami decided to go back to the Lions secondary and picked up another young man going into free agency.
Abdul-Quddus was a former Fordham standout and wound up starting for the Detroit Lions last season when James Ihedigbo got demoted after a disappointing first ten weeks in 2015. According to Abdul-Quddus, he feels a focus on improved tackling is what led to the Lions coaching staff giving him the starting job.
His 2015 made him a wanted free agent by several teams. He had 57 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the sixteen games he played, and he's started sixteen games total in his career, though he's only made two interceptions, both of which came back in 2012 when he started three games for the New Orleans Saints.
It's a big jump to make for someone who was primarily a special teams player and a backup option before earning the starting job, and there's no guarantee even now that he'll be handed the job when training camp rolls around. No doubt he'll be given first dibs, but Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas aren't about to sit back and just let him have it.
Reports out of OTAs and mini-camp were that Abdul-Quddus didn't catch the eye of reporters, which in the case of secondary players isn't necessarily a bad thing. It could either mean they're doing a solid job and aren't making mistakes, or it could mean he's not that impressive. Camp will reveal which is the truth.
8. DeVante Parker
This is an easy one, all eyes will be on DeVante Parker after he missed training camp during his rookie year, and everyone will be curious to see what Parker's role will be in Adam Gase's offense.
Gase discussed much earlier in the offseason that Parker was one of the players the Chicago Bears had their eye on in the draft last season, so now Gase is going to get a chance to make his plans become reality. But similarly to Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the Dolphins are being extremely careful with their 2015 first round draft pick due to injury concerns.
Parker missed the 2015 training camp because of a surgery he had meant to ensure his foot would be healthy in the long term rather than chance him getting hurt and having him in the short term, this will be the first year of that so-called "long term" situation.
Parker only managed to contribute in eight games last season, but it wasn't until Week 12 against the New York Jets that he started getting involved in the offense, and by the end of the year he'd racked up 26 receptions for 494 yards and three touchdowns, one of which was a leaping catch against the Baltimore Ravens.
It's those kinds of plays Parker was drafted for.
Ryan Tannehill has been looking for a wide receiver who can fight for jump balls, and that's what Parker excels at. The next thing he has to work on is route running consistency, which will be imperative for him to learn at the next level. Training camp will be the perfect chance for him to work on routes while guys like Byron Maxwell try to push him off his route.
9. Jordan Phillips
The 2015 second round draft pick is infamous for his ability to a standing back flip, which might be an interesting indicator of his athleticism, but doesn't really translate to the NFL. What does translate however is size, which Phillips has in abundance.
Standing at an imposing 6'6" and 330 pounds, Phillips only managed to make 19 tackles and two sacks, but he found a way to deflect four passes at the line of scrimmage while spelling Earl Mitchell as the backup defensive tackle. This year, Phillips is being given every opportunity to show that he can surpass Mitchell as the starter.
What Phillips excels at is rushing the passer, but what he needs to be able to do is use his size to stop the run, which was his weakness last season. Phillips will also have the added responsibility of giving Laremy Tunsil a taste of what kind of players he'll be facing on the interior.
Earl Mitchell is a solid veteran who can be counted on to do well, but not do anything spectacular. If Phillips can find ways to do things Mitchell can't, he'll likely be given the starting job.
10. Tony Lippett
It's a given that Byron Maxwell is going to be one of the starting corners, but it's a total unknown as to who will be the one starting on the other side of him. The competition is mainly between rookie corner Xavien Howard out of Baylor, and the Dolphins' project draft pick from last season: Tony Lippett.
Lippett is a 6'3" lanky wide receiver who has been converted to corner, and he spent his entire rookie season learning the intricacies of playing defense as opposed to running routes and catching footballs. Based off 2015, Lippett has promise but he also has a ways to go before he can reach his full potential.
Unfortunately, circumstances have forced his development to be rushed.
Now, Lippett is fighting Howard for a starting job and is trying to use his size and physicality in the new scheme put together by Vance Joseph. Training camp will likely be used solely to iron out the kinks in Lippett's game, and meanwhile Xavien Howard will be doing the same.
Watching who comes out on top will no doubt be fascinating, as Lippett has a very good set of opponents to go against in the likes of Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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