The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Miami Dolphins - INSIDE SLANT
Even as the Miami Dolphins prepare to begin training camp practice July without two key players -- center Mike Pouncey and running back Knowshon Moreno -- there will be plenty of other things to take their mind off of something they can't do anything about.
Pouncey underwent hip surgery last month and is expected to miss three months. Moreno had arthroscopic knee surgery and should miss five weeks. The Pouncey injury prompted the Dolphins to sign guard Daryn Colledge.
Meanwhile, on the field, quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs to look consistently better than he did during some of the spring workouts when the offense was far from consistent.
And off the field, Joe Philbin may be fighting to keep the head coaching job under new general manager Dennis Hickey, who was hired in the wake of last year's controversial bullying incident involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.
If that isn't enough, here are other things of interest that will be featured in the Dolphins training camp:
KEY POSITION BATTLE
Middle linebacker: Miami shifted strong-side linebacker Koa Misi to middle linebacker and Dannell Ellerbe from the middle to the strong side. The Dolphins drafted linebacker Jordan Tripp (fifth round/Montana), but it appears they'll go with the same trio of starters from last season.
If Misi doesn't provide a boost, there is little reason to think this unit will improve after being tagged as the defense's weak link last year when it ranked 24th against the run, yielding 124.8 yards per game on the ground.
--OFFENSIVE LINE: If rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James proves he is worth a first-round draft pick, then the Dolphins still have concerns at guard. The Dolphins gave up a NFL-worst 58 sacks last season. James, from Tennessee, has been decent during OTAs, but he's still a rookie playing a pivotal position.
Meanwhile, right guard Dallas Thomas and left guard Shelley Smith have never been full-time starters. The Dolphins added Colledge, but it remains to be seen how much that will help.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
--Dion Jordan, DE: The No. 3 pick of the 2013 draft is one of several "must prove yourself" players, which include Tannehill, wide receiver Mike Wallace and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.
Jordan ended last season with just two sacks and 26 tackles while playing in a reserve role, and it appears he won't start this year either because defensive ends Cam Wake (8.5 sacks) and Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks) are back. Jordan, who has added about 10 pounds of muscle, will likely struggle against the run once again. That means he has to find a way to be a difference-maker as a pass-rushing specialist. If Jordan doesn't play a major role in the defense this season, he'll be classified as a draft bust.
BEST LONGSHOT ROOKIE
--Steven Clarke, CB, Vanderbilt, undrafted rookie: He lined up with the first-team kickoff coverage unit in minicamp and he also got a look at second-team nickel (slot) defensive back. Clarke plays fast and doesn't seem lost, even when he played with and against the first-team units.