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Omar Kelly: Which Dolphins unit is the strength and where are there areas of concern?

Omar Kelly, Miami Herald on

Published in Football

The Miami Dolphins have made progress as a franchise the past four seasons, producing four straight winning seasons and two straight playoff berths, and the team assembled a roster they hope can deliver the first playoff win in 24 years.

Miami wrapped up the offseason training program earlier this month and won’t return to the facility until late July when training camp begins.

Until then, players are on their own to run routes, study the playbook and keep themselves in shape.

Here’s a look at Omar Kelly’s superlatives of the Dolphins’ spring, analyzing what the media was allowed to see as the team prepares for the 2024 season.

Top performer: De’von Achane

It’s not difficult to explain why the tailback who set an NFL record for yards per attempt (9.4 per carry) as a rookie is the top standout in football without pads. Any time Achane caught the ball he just ran away from the linebacker or safety responsible for covering him. Achane’s stronger — not bigger — and his speed is still jaw-dropping. The hope is that he has a better grasp of the offense in Year 2, and if that’s the case we might see him share the workload with Raheem Mostert 50-50.

Biggest addition: Calais Campbell

Even though Campbell hasn’t officially signed, and hasn’t taken a snap in the Dolphins defense because he’s a late addition, we’re talking about a potential Hall-of-Fame player being added to a defense that was gutted on the defensive line by free agency. Campbell, whose 105.5 sacks ranks him behind Von Miller and Cameron Jordan among active NFL players, is well-versed in Anthony Weaver’s defense from their time together in Baltimore. He might be turning 38 in October, but is coming off one of his best NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

Most improved player: David Long Jr.

Long Jr. led the Dolphins in tackles (103) last season, and only played 75 percent of the snaps because Vic Fangio didn’t trust him in pass coverage. But Long has worked on his drop backs, and has a good grasp of Miami’s defense because there’s a ton of carryover of the defense from his time with the Tennessee Titans since Weaver worked under Mike Vrabel. Long’s biggest issue throughout his career has been his ability to stay healthy, and now that Jordyn Brooks and Anthony Walker are onboard there’s less of a need for him to play every snap unless his play merits it.

Most impressive rookie: Patrick Paul

I recently asked offensive line coach Butch Barry if he has ever coached an offensive linemen as big as Paul, and his response was no. Paul’s 6-foot-7, 330 pound frame, and ridiculous long arms, reminds me of Bryant McKinnie. The issue is that his footwork and hand use could use some help. But that’s what coaching is for. The hope is that when pads come on he will perform at a higher level against the speed demons coming off the edge. Paul will get plenty of work as the first-team left tackle during training camp because Terron Armstead’s workload is usually limited.

Area of concern: Talent at defensive line

 

Before Campbell was added the Dolphins the defensive line was Zach Sieler and an assembly line of NFL journeymen and rookie hopefuls. Miami wisely recognized the issues they had in life after Christian Wilkins added a player who was on the NFL’s 2010’s All-Decade team and produced 56 tackles, 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in the 17 games when he played for the Atlanta Falcons. The hope is that Campbell hasn’t lost a step, and that someone else on the defensive line steps up.

Area of strength: Wide Receiver

Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are one of the best receiver duos in the NFL, and the Dolphins added Odell Beckham Jr. to upgrade the team’s third receiver. While Beckham wasn’t a dominant player with the Baltimore Ravens last season, the three-time Pro Bowler is still a reliable receiver who can easily beat 1-on-1 coverage. If one of Miami’s front line receivers gets injured then Braxton Berrios, River Cracraft, Erik Ezukanma, Anthony Schwartz and rookies Malik Washington and Tahj Washington would be required to step up. At this point, at least one NFL receiver will be hitting the waiver wire.

Biggest surprise: Liam Eichenberg

While Eichenberg hasn’t proven he’s a bona fide NFL starter in his three previous seasons with the Dolphins, he also hasn’t been in a position to settle into one spot the past couple of seasons. Last year, he was called on to play center because of Connor Williams’ injuries, and was doing so with a leg injury for the final month of the season. What Eichenberg, a 2021 second-round pick, needs is a legitimate shot to settle into one spot (possibly right guard) so we can determine if he’s starter material.

Pushing for playing time: Jeff Wilson Jr.

Every time Wilson Jr. touched the football this summer he was running hard, like a man whose career was in the balance. Wilson survived the veteran salary shakedown this offseason, getting his salary reduced by $1.5 million. Then the Dolphins traded a 2025 third-round pick to select Jaylen Wright in the fourth round, adding him to an already crowded backfield. The six-year veteran needs to have a strong camp, and exhibition season to ensure he survives the final cut.

Needs the most work: Teair Tart

There’s a special respect earned when an undrafted rookie blossoms into an NFL starter, and that’s what Tart, a former Florida International standout, did in his first four seasons. He’s the most accomplished of all the defensive linemen Miami added outside of Campbell. But the 27-year-old must turn the volume up on his conditioning.

Biggest mystery: Cam Smith

We will quickly learn if Smith’s lack of playing time last season was warranted because Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller will likely be on a load management program during training camp and the exhibition season, which they might not participate in. The Dolphins’ 2023 second-round pick has solid press coverage skills, but he’ll need to learn how to play zone effectively to earn playing time in Weaver’s defense.

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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