What to keep an eye on as Dolphins open OTAs

The Dolphins begin OTA’s Monday in Davie

The Miami Dolphins begin organized team activities this week; the final phase of their offseason training program. OTAs will consist of 10 practices and a mandatory minicamp during which 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills will be permitted for the first time.

There is no live contract during OTAs, however, as the players will not be wearing pads, only helmets, jerseys, and shorts. Miami’s first OTA session will commence tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday with Tuesday’s practice being open to the media. The Dolphins will also hold OTAs on May 29-31 and June 3-6, and their mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 11-13.

Concrete insight into the 2013 Dolphins likely won’t be gleaned from these practices. But we will get some initial impressions of the new-look squad.

Here are some things to keep an eye on:

Randy Starks’ potential holdout

Dolphins’ defensive tackle Randy Starks has been a no show during the club’s offseason conditioning program. Starks was hit with the franchise tag in March but wants to be offered a long-term contract that keeps him in Miami for the foreseeable future.

OTAs are not mandatory so Starks’ attendance is not expected. He has said that he will attend the team’s mandatory minicamp in June, though.

Only sitting out OTAs likely won’t force the Dolphins’ hand. It appears as though Starks is riding the fence here and should commit to either a legitimate holdout where he threatens to miss minicamp and training camp practices or just joining his teammates for what’s left of Miami’s offseason program.

Who has leg up in position battles?

There will be several position battles to monitor this summer, some with starting jobs on the line. Competitions at running back, right guard, and cornerback are expected to be the most intense.

Although nothing will be decided until training camp and the preseason, we could get an idea of who has the early leads. With Tuesday’s practice being open to the media, we’ll see who is currently lining up with the first team. But take everything with a grain of salt because different players can line up with the starters on different days and we will only have insight into what transpires during Tuesday’s practice.

Early indications suggest Lamar Miller will be the starting running back, John Jerry will continue starting at right guard, and veterans Brent Grimes and Richard Marshall will be the first-team cornerback tandem. But that all is subject to change, especially at right guard and corner where Lance Louis will seriously threaten Jerry’s job when he’s 100% and rookie Jamar Taylor will have every opportunity to unseat Marshall.

Hybrid scheme from new-look defense?

There has been no indication that the Dolphins will alter their 4-3 defense. But they did load up on players that have experience in the 3-4 scheme this offseason, most notably first-round pick Dion Jordan.

I expect Kevin Coyle’s defense to remain a base 4-3, but we could see some 3-4 looks from the Dolphins this year. Even if more of a hybrid scheme is in the works, though, the team could choose not to reveal it during the practice sessions that are open to the media. So we probably won’t know exactly what the Dolphins defense will look like until at least training camp.

Injury front

An injury-free month of OTAs will be a successful month of OTAs for the Dolphins. No hitting obviously bodes well for team’s health, but there doesn’t have to be contact for a player to go down with a serious injury, especially as it pertains to knees.

There are also a few players returning from season-ending injuries they sustained a year ago. Potential starters Brent Grimes, Richard Marshall, and Lance Louis are coming off injury-shortened seasons in which they landed on IR.

Grimes, who is expected to lock down one of the Dolphins’ starting cornerback spots, is said to be near full recovery so it will be interesting to see if he’s limited at all during these practices. Richard Marshall confirmed last week that he’s been cleared to practice, but we’ll see how ready he is to hold off promising second-round pick Jamar Taylor.

Lance Louis, meanwhile, is a better fit schematically for the Dolphins’ zone-blocking system than incumbent starting right guard John Jerry, but he’ll have to prove he’s 100% before he seriously challenges him for that spot.

Will Ryan Tannehill begin to thrive with new arsenal of weapons?

The groceries have been bought. It’s time to prepare a gourmet meal.

The Dolphins did an excellent job of loading up on weapons for Ryan Tannehill this offseason. Weapons that the second-year quarterback will need in order to develop into the franchise player the Dolphins hope he emerges into.

The signings of Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, and Dustin Keller give Miami much more playmaking ability, improving what was arguably the blandest receiving corps in the entire NFL. But the biggest improvement must take place at quarterback.

Tannehill now has the pieces around him to be successful, but the onus is still on him and his development. We won’t know how improved Tannehill is until the bullets start flying at game speed and there is a live rush when the pads come on, but we need to see him begin to take command of this offense and this team.

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