Camp Preview: Positions of intrigue

K Dan Carpenter

As the Dolphins prepare to head to training camp, their roster appears more solid than it was at this time last year with fewer starting positions seemingly up for grabs. But there still are some areas that should be interesting to watch as Joe Philbin's troops get ready for the 2013 season.

Here's a quick look at the positions that deserve the most attention this summer:

FULLBACK — Jorvorskie Lane has been living the dream since last summer, earning his first NFL job four years after he left Texas A&M. Not only that, Lane found himself as a starter. But it sure looks now as though the Dolphins are looking to replace Lane. They claimed fullback/H-back/tight end Evan Rodriguez off waivers after a couple of off-the-field incidents led to his release from the Bears; they brought fullback Ryan D'Imperio to minicamp on a tryout basis; and, most importantly, they reached out to veteran fullback Vonta Leach and might still end up signing him. If Leach signs, Lane is as good as gone and the Dolphins will have themselves a proven commodity at fullback. If Leach doesn't sign with the Dolphins, Lane still needs to pick up his game to convince his coaches he's the long-term answer.

TIGHT END — The signing of former Jets starter Dustin Keller in the offseason should give the Dolphins a downfield threat at the position that's been lacking in recent years, but Keller's health needs to be monitored after he battled injuries last season and then had to sit out the June minicamp. Beyond Keller, it also will be intriguing to see which of the young tight ends on the roster can emerge to earn playing time. Charles Clay has shown flashes in his first two seasons in Miami but needs to be more consistent; Michael Egnew needs to take a big step forward after his rookie season was pretty much a washout; Kyle Miller will get a chance after joining the team last November; and then there's rookie fourth-round pick Dion Sims, who lost a lot of weight after looking more like an offensive tackle in his final season at Michigan State.

GUARD — Free agent pick-up Lance Louis was limited to conditioning work in the spring while he continued to recover from a torn ACL sustained last November, but he could be a factor depending on how quickly he can get back on the practice field. In fact, if Louis can get himself back to 100 percent before too long, he clearly could challenge for the starting job at right guard.

DEFENSIVE END — This has become intriguing because of the fact that Jared Odrick spent all of the OTA practicing at defensive tackle. Odrick started at left defensive end last season, but the reality is that Odrick's physical dimensions and skill set make him better suited to play tackle in a 4-3, which was exactly the case when he was at Penn State. If Odrick remains at tackle during camp, that means that somebody has to step up to the challenge of lining up as a starter opposite Cameron Wake. That somebody would have to be either second-year player Olivier Vernon or rookie first-round pick Dion Jordan. Of course, Jordan can't do any lining up until he signs his first contract, and as of noon on Thursday that hadn't happened yet. Even then, remember GM Jeff Ireland's comment on draft weekend that he anticipated Jordan playing a specialized role as a rookie. Ultimately, the Dolphins always have the option of returning Odrick to defensive end because he did a solid job at that spot last year, even though he wasn't quite the dynamic pass-rushing presence the team would like.

CORNERBACK — The team really lacked depth at this position last year, and that was exposed after the Dolphins traded away Vontae Davis and Richard Marshall later had to go on IR because of a back problem. Depth certainly doesn't appear to be a problem anymore; in fact, if there is a problem, it's deciding what to do with all the options available. Former Pro Bowl selection Brent Grimes looks really good in the spring, particularly since he's coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, and he figures to be a lock to start. It's on the other side where things will get interesting. The Dolphins could go with Marshall, who also was back practicing on a full basis in the spring; or veteran Dimitri Patterson, who started the last two games last year after being claimed off waivers from Cleveland; or Nolan Carroll, who started 10 games last year and drew praise from Coach Joe Philbin for his work in the spring. Then you have the two draft picks, second-round choice Jamar Taylor and third-round selection Will Davis. Taylor is expected to be ready at the start of camp after having sports hernia surgery in the spring, but it might be too much to ask for either he or Davis to start as rookies. Another factor to remember here is Patterson's $4.5 million base salary, which is awfully steep if he doesn't wind up starting. If the Dolphins end up making a trade this summer, this is the most likely position that will be involved. Either way, how the cornerback puzzle plays out should be fun to watch.

KICKER — Last but not least will be the kicking battle. Or is there one? Let's face it, Dan Carpenter better badly — and we mean badly — outperform rookie Caleb Sturgis this summer to keep his job because his $2.6 million base salary is awfully high for a kicker (the second-highest in the league, according to spotrac.com) and because the Dolphins invested a fifth-round pick in Sturgis. No question, it will be interesting to see how much pressure Carpenter can put on the Dolphins to keep him around.

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