AFC East: Miami Dolphins
- It was a shaky day for the Dolphins' first-team offense. The first two plays in team drills were a timeout and fumbled snap by quarterback Ryan Tannehill and new center Shelley Smith, who is filling in for injured Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey. There also were drops by receivers, two near picks by Tannehill to cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor and not much going in the running game. Miami's defense definitely won on Friday. “It's the first day, it's not going to be the prettiest practice we have,” Tannehill said afterwards. “Obviously, I don't think today is the practice we wanted to have with the balls on the ground and the sacks. But we have to have something to build off of. The quicker we can get those corrections made, the better we will be.”
- The first-team offensive line had three changes from the final day of minicamp. Smith moved from left guard to center in place of the injured Pouncey (hip). Free-agent pickup Daryn Colledge was put in at left guard and Dallas Thomas moved from left guard to right guard. Miami head coach Joe Philbin said nothing is set in stone. “I will tell you that we will be looking at a number of different combinations,” Philbin explained. “This is practice No. 1. This is the way we want to look at it today."
- Dolphins fans in attendance Friday got to see something they rarely saw last season. Tannehill and No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace connected on a deep ball in what was easily the play of the day. Wallace beat second-year cornerback Jamar Taylor by a couple steps and Tannehill hit Wallace in stride for an approximately 40-yard gain. Tannehill and Wallace struggled with deep-ball connections last season.
- Here is more good news for the Dolphins: Everyone passed their conditioning tests. There had been issues with other teams around the NFL with players failing conditioning drills and missing the start of training camp.
- The Dolphins have an interesting balance this summer with second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. He was suspended four games for violating the NFL's conduct on performance enhancing substances but can participate in training camp and the preseason. Jordan's role as the third defensive end didn't appear different Friday from what we've seen in minicamp and organized team activities. The Dolphins must balance getting Jordan reps to get him ready for later and reps for players behind him who will fill in during the first four weeks of the regular season. “We're disappointed in that, but Dion's going to be out there,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey explained. “He's going to be out there competing. He's going to be out there growing.”
Pouncey didn't shed much light on the off-the-field issue other than refer to his lawyer's statement. But he is optimistic about his rehab and trying to get back in the Dolphins' starting lineup as soon as possible.
"I'm very confident; I feel I'm already ahead of schedule," Pouncey explained. "My goal is not to miss any [regular-season games]. But I've just got to be smart about it so I won't have any relapses when I come back. I'm just going to listen to the team doctors and Coach Philbin. Whenever they tell me I'm ready to go, then I'm going."
It's always tricky when a player talks about returning to good health -- especially a player as tough as Pouncey. It appears Pouncey has a high threshold for pain and wants to return earlier than expected. But it will be a balancing act with team doctors to make sure Pouncey doesn't extend himself to rush back on the field. He's currently on the physically unable to perform list.
Pouncey said he first "felt something" during the spring in his hip and got it evaluated. The situation wasn't getting better. Therefore, Pouncey and the Dolphins decided it was best to get the hip surgery before the season.
Although nothing is set in stone, Shelley Smith started at centerin place of Pouncey during Friday's first practice. The Dolphins are expected to have five new offensive linemen in Week 1 when they host the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium.
Despite the injury, Pouncey believes the Dolphins have the makings of ending their five-year postseason drought.
"That's our only expectation -- to make it to the playoffs," said Pouncey, who is on the physically unable to perform list. "We were so close last year. I know that's in the back of a lot of guys' heads."
Although nothing is set in stone in July, it's an interesting starting five for the Dolphins, who will have five new offensive linemen play in Week 1 of the regular season against the New England Patriots.
"I think we have a lot of potential and we've got a good group of guys in the room," Smith said of the offensive line. "We have a good coaching staff and I feel like we're working our butts off to fulfill our potential."
Pouncey could miss as many as eight weeks of the regular season. Therefore, Miami's coaching staff must get this decision right if the Dolphins plan to improve last year's shaky performance on offense. Miami was ranked No. 27th in total offense and set a franchise record with 58 sacks allowed.
The good news is Miami has about six weeks and four preseason games before the start of the regular season to figure out this quandary on the offensive line.
"We're always attempting to get the five best players that we possibly can out on the field at one time," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. "I will tell you that we will be looking at a number of different combinations. This is practice No. 1. This is the way we want to look at it today."
The Dolphins invested a lot of many and resources to improve their offensive line. Miami spent $47 million to solidify the left tackle spot with Albert, used a first-round pick on starting right tackle Ja'Waun James and signed Smith in free agency to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.
The offense was shaky Friday. For example, the first two plays involved a timeout and fumbled snap. In fact, Smith and Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill had two fumbled exchanges during team drills. That must be fixed if Smith aims to replace Pouncey long term.
"I put it on me, that's always my responsibility," Smith said of the poor snaps. "That's something we have to keep working on and getting better. Turnovers and ball security are big emphasis."
Pouncey had major hip surgery this summer and reportedly could miss as much as eight weeks of the regular season. Moreno had a cleanup procedure on his knee and should return before the end of the preseason.
Both players are expected to eventually be key members of Miami's offense. Pouncey is arguably the Dolphins’ best offensive player. Moreno, who started last year for the Denver Broncos, signed a one-year contract to compete with incumbent starting tailback Lamar Miller.
The Dolphins opened training camp on Friday. Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey also said everyone passed their conditioning tests.
Following an 8-8 season, the Dolphins will begin their 2014 journey Friday at 8 a.m. ET when they open training camp. We will be there for every practice this summer to bring you all the latest.
We will have a full report from Dolphins camp later Friday. But for football fans who cannot wait and need instant information, I recommend you follow my Twitter account @JamesWalkerNFL. That is where I will provide live updates from Dolphins practice as it happens.
The Dolphins enter training camp with optimism and a lot of questions. It should be an interesting journey that begins today.
ESPN.com’s Dolphins blog will be there every step of the way for Miami’s training camp. Here are some things we will be monitoring closely as practices begin:
1. Dolphins' plan at center
2. Ryan Tannehill's development
3. Rookie development
In an important season, the Dolphins cannot afford to have a repeat of 2013 with their rookie class. Miami needs valuable draft picks such as Ja’Wuan James, Jarvis Landry, Billy Turner and Walt Aikens to immediately contribute and find roles. The Dolphins got very little from last year’s draft class, and it was a significant reason they were unable to get over the hump. For Miami to reach its potential, the Dolphins must get quality production from both their first- and second-year players.
The only question here is whether Devlin can hold off undrafted rookie Brock Jensen for the No. 3 quarterback job. Neither quarterback stood out in the offseason, but Devlin has the slight edge because of experience.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
The Dolphins would like to have someone step up and challenge Thomas. Undrafted rookie Damien Williams from Oklahoma could be a sleeper to watch. But it's too premature to put Williams on the 53-man roster over the veteran Thomas before the pads come on.
This is a deep group with a lot of competition. Williams will be pushed for the final spot by Armon Binns and rookie Matt Hazel, who is practice-squad-eligible.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor uses some two-tight-end sets. So there might be room for a fourth player such as Dion Sims. But we are sticking with three for now.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
- Mike Pouncey
- Branden Albert
- Ja'Wuan James
- Shelley Smith
- Daryn Colledge
- Sam Brenner
- Dallas Thomas
- Billy Turner
- Nate Garner
- Jason Fox
Pouncey’s hip injury puts a major dent in this much-maligned group to start the season. Miami will have five new starters in Week 1.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
- Cameron Wake
- Olivier Vernon
- Randy Starks
- Earl Mitchell
- Jared Odrick
- Dion Jordan
- Derrick Shelby
- A.J. Francis
This is the strongest area of the team. The Dolphins can come at opponents in waves in the trenches.
This group must improve its play from 2013. The Misi experiment at middle linebacker is particularly important to watch.
This is a solid mix of youth and experience. As long as second-year players Taylor and Davis come of age and Finnegan stays healthy, the depth will be improved from a year ago.
This group is all about position flexibility. All four players must be able to play back in coverage and closer to the line of scrimmage in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s scheme.
This trio will remain the same for the second straight year.
NFL Nation's James Walker examines the three biggest issues facing the Miami Dolphins heading into training camp.
Bill Lazor's offense: There is a new sheriff in town responsible for adding life into Miami's struggling offense. The Dolphins hired Lazor, a former quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, to take over for Mike Sherman after Miami's offense became stale and predictable last season. Lazor may be the biggest key to getting the Dolphins over the hump. Miami's 27th-ranked offense held the team back during its 8-8 season. Lazor is bringing an up-tempo style and many of the principles he learned from Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Early indications are that Lazor is a demanding coach who expects a lot of his players. Lazor threw a lot at this group in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp and had mixed results. There were mixed protections, dropped balls and overall sloppy play at times, which is expected at this stage. Still, Lazor's scheme is getting rave reviews from Dolphins players on both sides of the football. The key will be for the offensive players to pick up the scheme well enough to have early success. According to Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the entire offensive playbook was installed before training camp. The Dolphins cannot afford to be sloppy and unorganized on offense early in the regular season. They will play a pair of division games in Week 1 and Week 2 against the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, respectively.
Ryan Tannehill: A case can be made that quarterback play is the key to every season in the NFL. But never has the spotlight been brighter on Tannehill. The kid gloves are off and this a crucial third year for the former first-round pick. Is Tannehill a franchise building block or just another average quarterback? He's shown reasons to make a case for both sides. But the Dolphins are standing behind Tannehill for at least one more season to see if he can improve on his 15-17 career record. This year Tannehill must prove he can lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. The wild card is Tannehill is learning a new offense for the first time in his career. He played for Sherman at Texas A&M and the Dolphins, which used the same offense that was built around his skills. It's unknown how Tannehill will respond to playing in a different offense. Tannehill made plays in OTAs and minicamp, but he certainly didn't look dominant. His accuracy was off at times and he didn't make many deep-ball connections, which has been a weakness of his for two years. Tannehill must build on his offseason performances and strive for more consistency in training camp and the preseason.
Linebacker issues: The Dolphins enter training camp without a natural middle linebacker in the starting lineup. Miami addressed a lot of holes this offseason, but the team is going into the season with the same group of linebackers that struggled stopping the run and couldn't defend slot receivers or tight ends with any consistency. The Dolphins believe they've found the answer by moving Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker and swapping Koa Misi to middle linebacker. Miami's coaching staff believes Ellerbe will be free to make more plays outside, while Misi's athleticism will translate better in the middle. Misi has never played middle linebacker in his NFL career or at the University of Utah. This is a risky experiment by the Dolphins at an important position. The middle linebacker is often the quarterback of the defense. Misi will be responsible for making the play calls, lining up players and patrolling the middle of the field. The good news is there is still plenty of time for this group to get in sync during training camp and the preseason. The Dolphins invested a lot of money in their linebackers, so they are sticking with them for at least one more year.
Date: Nov. 27, 1994
Site: The Meadowlands
We have a winner. Dan Marino's fake spike in 1994 against the rival New York Jets garnered nearly 80 percent of the votes as the most memorable play in Miami Dolphins history -- and I agree with the selection.
For starters, there is no debating that Marino is the best player in Dolphins history, and this was the most memorable play of his storied career. Marino had everyone fooled by yelling "Clock! Clock! Clock!" before throwing a perfect back-shoulder throw to receiver Mark Ingram for a game-winning touchdown. The Dolphins won despite trailing 17-0 in the third quarter.
This is not to discredit the other two finalists. Hall of Fame coach Don Shula's hook-and-lateral call in January 1982 was a perfect play. But it happened in the second quarter of a playoff game the Dolphins eventually lost to the San Diego Chargers.
Greg Camarillo's 64-yard touchdown catch in 2007 might be the most exciting overtime play in franchise history. But the Dolphins were 1-15 that year. There were no high stakes other than to avoid the embarrassment of being the NFL's first 0-16 team. (By the way, the Detroit Lions set that mark the following year.) Also, the quarterback on Miami's overtime play was Cleo Lemon. You're going to choose Lemon's best play over Marino's best play?
All in all, there have been many tremendous plays and tremendous players throughout Miami's storied history. The Dolphins' franchise has won two Super Bowls and still boasts the only undefeated NFL team to win a championship. And now, after a tough run over the past five seasons, Miami fans hope the Dolphins will create more good memories sooner rather than later.
Special thanks to all the fans who participated this week.
Tannehill has stayed in that middle ground in two seasons. He has done enough to make the Dolphins believe in his potential but has yet to take the Dolphins over the hump. He set career highs last year with 3,913 yards, 24 touchdowns and an 81.7 passer rating. This is a huge Year 3 for Tannehill to prove he can be a franchise building block. Otherwise, the Dolphins may have to go in another direction in 2015, and that could set the franchise back another couple of years. It's also important to note that third-year head coach Joe Philbin is also on the hot seat this year.
The Dolphins have approximately $16 million in salary-cap room heading into training camp. That's a sizable amount, and Miami will most likely take much of that into next season.
A big reason the Dolphins have cap space is they are not spending an enormous amount of money on quarterbacks. Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick in 2012, is in the third year of his rookie contract. Other teams have doled out contracts of $100 million or more, with per-season salaries ranging from $14 million to $20 million.
At some point, the Dolphins will have to pay the going rate for a franchise quarterback when they find one. But is Tannehill a franchise quarterback? Will Miami have to pay Tannehill around $15 million per season for the long haul? Those things will be dictated by Tannehill's play over the next season or two.
This is the final of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Earlier this week we featured Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino's fake spike play against the New York Jets in 1994 and Hall of Fame coach Don Shula's "Hook and Lateral" play call in the divisional playoffs in 1982. Please vote for your choice as the Dolphins’ most memorable play.
Score: Dolphins 22, Ravens 16 (OT)
Date: Dec. 16, 2007 Site: Dolphin Stadium
Miami Dolphins were in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Miami, a proud franchise with two Super Bowl titles and the undefeated 1972 team, was on the verge of also becoming the first NFL team to finish 0-16. No team had accomplished the feat since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978.
The Dolphins were brutal in 2007. They averaged a measly 16.7 points per game and allowed 27.3 points per game. Cam Cameron was an awful choice as head coach and was fired after one season. The Dolphins also went through three starting quarterbacks in 2007 and lost their first 13 games -- often in blowout fashion.
Enter Week 15, where the Dolphins were again underdogs against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens were by no means world-beaters this season. They were 4-9 entering this contest. But Baltimore at least had talent, such a 1,000-yard rusher Willis McGahee and 1,000-yard receiver Derrick Mason on offense and future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense. Even in a down year, Baltimore was expected to win this game.
But in this game the Dolphins showed a resilience they had not shown all season. The Ravens jumped out to a 13-3 lead at halftime, and the Dolphins unexpectedly rallied in the second half behind quarterback Cleo Lemon (315 yards, one touchdown) and the game was tied 16-16 at the end of regulation.
In overtime, Lemon sent shockwaves throughout the NFL when he connected with receiver Greg Camarillo for a 64-yard touchdown throw to beat Baltimore and deliver Miami’s only win of the season. Lemon and Camarillo are two forgotten names when you think of the history of the Dolphins. But they prevented Miami from experiencing one of the most embarrassing chapters in franchise history.
Ironically, after the Dolphins narrowly avoided history, the Detroit Lions set the record a year later by going 0-16 in 2008.
@JamesWalkerNFL Greg Camarillo's TD catch to prevent the 0-16 season.. I nearly cried when that happened— Brit (@britmc) June 6, 2014
This is the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. Earlier this week we featured Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino's fake-spike play against the New York Jets in 1994. On Wednesday we also will feature receiver Greg Camarillo’s 64-yard overtime touchdown reception in 2007 that prevented Miami from becoming the NFL’s first 0-16 team. Please vote for your choice as the Dolphins’ most memorable play.
Score: Chargers 41, Dolphins 38 (OT)
Date: Jan. 2, 1982 Site: Orange Bowl
San Diego Chargers were on the verge of blowing out the Dolphins in Miami. San Diego jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the divisional playoffs. But the Dolphins mounted a comeback for the ages. A major part of that comeback included a perfectly run hook-and-lateral play at the end of the first half that rarely works at the NFL level.
Dolphins Hall of Fame coach Don Shula made the perfect call on San Diego’s 40-yard line. Quarterback Don Strock hit receiver Duriel Harris on a curl route and San Diego’s safety and cornerback bit on the route. Dolphins running back Tony Nathan timed the play and began streaking outside. He caught the lateral from Harris and ran in untouched for the touchdown to cut the halftime deficit to 24-17. It was a long shot that gave the Dolphins momentum going into the locker room.
“It never even worked in practice,” Nathan told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the play.
The astonishing play nearly deflated the Chargers entering the second half. The Dolphins scored 24 straight points against San Diego and tied the game in the third quarter. Miami even took a 38-31 lead in the fourth quarter to nearly pull off the improbable victory. But San Diego also showed resilience by scoring a late touchdown to force overtime and a sudden-death field goal to win it.
This playoff contest was voted “Game of the 1980s” by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Dolphins and Chargers had two 400-yard quarterbacks and 79 total points. Miami did not come out on top. But its hook and lateral remains the most memorable play in one of the best games in NFL history.
This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days, we’ll also feature: Legendary coach Don Shula's “Hook and Lateral” play call in the 1982 divisional playoffs against the San Diego Chargers; and Greg Camarillo's 64-yard overtime touchdown catch in 2007 that prevented Miami from becoming the NFL's first 0-16 team. Please vote for your choice as the Dolphins’ most memorable play.
Score: Dolphins 28, Jets 24
Date: Nov. 27, 1994 Site: The Meadowlands
Miami Dolphins. But no touchdown pass was more clever and more memorable than his fake-spike play against the rival New York Jets in 1994.
In an important division game, the Dolphins fell behind 17-0 in the third quarter and looked out of it. But Marino rallied Miami with 28 second-half points to pull off the 28-24 win.
Marino's most important throw came on the final drive. Trailing by three points, the Dolphins were deep into New York’s territory. After the Dolphins made it to the Jets' 8-yard line with the clock running, Marino yelled on the field "Clock, clock, clock!" while motioning to spike the ball with his right hand. Jets players froze at the line of scrimmage. But instead of spiking the ball, wide receiver Mark Ingram ran a quick out and beat a confused Jets cornerback Aaron Glenn for the game-winning touchdown. Glenn was picked on and allowed three touchdown passes by Marino in this game.
At the time, this November game had first place on the line in the AFC East. The Jets collapsed after this loss and went winless in five straight games to end their season. The Dolphins went on to win the AFC East, advance to the playoffs and lost in the divisional round. The wily veteran Don Shula outcoached a young Pete Carroll in this game.
Ingram and Marino were in the zone together. Ingram caught nine passes for 117 yards and all four of Marino’s touchdowns. But the pair were especially in tune on the fake-spike play. This remains the defining play in the career of Marino, who is the best player in Dolphins history.
Is Jordan a good fit for Miami's 4-3 defense? Can he produce more than he did during a disappointing rookie season? Was Jordan a wasted No. 3 overall pick?
It's no secret Jordan had to get stronger to become an every-down defensive end. Holding up against the run was the primary concern of Miami's coaching staff last season, and it's why Jordan played almost exclusively on third downs and obvious passing situations.
Jordan, 24, got noticeably stronger this offseason. That was evident during organized team activities and minicamp; Jordan's upper body and arms were bigger and more well-defined. He said he's about 17 pounds heavier than a year ago. Having a breakout season didn't seem far-fetched.
But Jordan hurt himself and the Dolphins before a crucial season in which the team must make the playoffs or risk wholesale changes.
"I recently learned from the NFL that I tested positive for stimulants that are banned under the NFL policy," Jordan said in a statement. "I worked carefully with my advisors and the union to investigate the test results, and I take full responsibility for the test results.
"I'm very sorry for the impact of this situation on my teammates, coaches, [owner] Stephen Ross, the entire Dolphins organization, fans and my family as well. I will continue to work extremely hard during training camp and preseason. During the suspension, I will stay in top shape and will be ready to contribute upon my return.”
Jordan is the third defensive end in the rotation. Miami has good depth there with Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, 2013 sack leader Olivier Vernon and backup Derrick Shelby, a group that should be able to perform without Jordan for the first month of the season.
In other words, Jordan's four-game suspension is a mild loss to the Dolphins. That's telling, considering that he was expected to be a franchise building block on defense.
Jordan has athleticism and ability. And now he has 12 games this season to prove he can still be a valuable part of the Dolphins' organization.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014