Training Camp Tour: Can Dolphins rookie Laremy Tunsil win starting job by Week 1?
DAVIE, Fla. – On Wednesday, the PFF training camp tour made it’s southernmost stop, taking in Dolphins camp from the team’s facility in Davie, Fla., before heading north again towards Atlanta. This was by far the hottest it has been at any point in the tour, necessitating regular water breaks during practice in a way no other camp has yet required. The media was only by the field for the first portion of practice before being sequestered to an elevated, shaded area with fans and cold drinks, but the players were in the blazing sun throughout, and it’s tough to overstate how hard that must be for them.
[More: Get the full PFF training camp tour schedule here.]
Best backup in football?
Ryan Tannehill is the unquestioned starter in Miami, but Matt Moore has a good case to be seen as the best backup QB in the game, and could probably start for a few quarterback-needy teams. Backup quarterbacks can sometimes maintain that kind of reputation for years after it is merited, simply because they may never see the field to prove otherwise, and Moore hasn’t played more than 56 snaps in a season since 2011, but on Wednesday’s evidence, he’s still well capable of getting the job done in the NFL.
Leading the second-team offense, he lit up the Dolphins’ first-team defense on a couple of drives for scores, one on a coverage bust to rookie Leonte Carroo (Rutgers), and another a more methodical drive that ended in a shorter score. I suspect this says as much about the Miami defense as it does Moore, but he looked sharp and in command of the team all practice long, and is clearly a step above almost any other backup you can think of throughout the NFL.
Tannehill, for his part, looked okay in the practice, connecting with some nice throws, but also making a few mistakes and missing on a couple. Rookie Brandon Doughty (Western Kentucky) was the third QB in any drill, but seemed at times to actually get fewer reps than Zac Dysert. Doughty made an ugly read when sliding away from pressure and should have been picked off, but came back with a few nice throws, and was working after practice for a while on his own.
Rookie Laremy Tunsil taking second-team reps
Laremy Tunsil was working with the second-team at left guard primarily, but did see the odd rep at left tackle. The first-team offensive line was comprised of Branden Albert, Dallas Thomas, Mike Pouncey, Jermon Bushrod, and Ju’Wuan James left to right. Tunsil looks the part as an athletic specimen, and was good on the move in Miami’s outside zone-heavy running schemes. He also looked very solid in pass protection, but did have a couple of bad reps in there, too.
Thomas played well at left guard and looks to be in that spot on merit at the moment, but it’s tough to believe that he can hold off Tunsil for too long, even if he deserves to. The Dolphins invested a high pick in Tunsil, who was seen by many as one of the best five players available in the entire draft. His future is obviously at left tackle, ultimately, but the Dolphins will want to start seeing return on that investment early at guard if they can. In 421 snaps at Ole Miss last season, Tunsil didn’t allow his QB to hit the ground, and only surrendered five total pressures. He will need to adjust to the NFL game, but the upside is too great to see him sitting on the bench for long, especially if Thomas shows the form that saw him rank as the single-worst guard in football last year.
Running backs in the new system
The running back situation in Miami is interesting, given that the team is moving to a very outside zone-heavy system, much like we have seen the Houston Texans run in the past. Arian Foster (Texans) is therefore a perfect fit for the system, but is not yet ready to be thrown into action, and head coach Adam Gase said after practice that he won’t even play in the first preseason game. Foster’s millstone has always been injuries, and Jay Ajayi has had his share of those throughout camp, but in Wednesday’s practice, at least, the latter looked excellent.
The Miami offense was able to open up big holes for the running backs against this defensive front, again a concerning red flag for a unit that did not have a good day stopping the offense’s progress. Ajayi looked decisive and powerful, and he also made plays in the passing game, laying out for a deep pass down the left sideline that drew applause from the watching crowd. It also no doubt endeared him to his head coach, who said afterwards that it was the first time he’d seen somebody lay out for a pass in camp like that for around five years. Right now, Ajayi is in the driver’s seat for the starting job, and looks like a back very capable of being productive in this system.
Ajayi only played 164 snaps last year, but graded positively in every game that he featured in, so the signs are good.
Other camp notes
– Rookie WR Rashawn Scott (University of Miami) made a couple of nice grabs on dig routes in quick succession, scoring on the second one with a catch and run. He did, however, allow the ball to get stripped after the first, but it’s unclear how much he had given up on the play after the contact, or “tackle,” in what was only thud-contact tackling.
– Tony Lippett was working with the first team as the starting corner opposite Byron Maxwell (Eagles). Gase likes Maxwell’s size and ability to press, but Lippett is an interesting name, having been primarily a college WR. He only played 137 snaps as a rookie, but graded well in those opportunities, allowing five catches on the nine passes thrown his way. He graded very well in limited cornerback snaps in his final college season as he moonlighted at defensive back for the Spartans, so a full-time cornerback role would be an interesting test.
– The Dolphins had an autograph line set up for players to work through as they headed inside from practice. Several players worked their way down one side of the corridor of autograph hunters, but special mention is worth giving to defensive back Rashaan Melvin (Patriots), who worked his way down both sides of the tunnel until he had signed everything he could find.