Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Wide Receiver & Tight End

Should we expect another 1,000-yard season for Brian Hartline in 2013?

Yesterday, we discussed how dreadful Miami’s secondary was a year ago. Today, we move over to the skill players on the other side of the ball.

The Dolphins’ passing attack wasn’t inept in 2012, but they did possess one of the blandest corps of pass catchers in the entire league.

Not being able to stop the pass and lacking playmakers at receiver and tight end is a major major problem in this league. So, just like with the secondary, a renovation effort was in order at receiver and tight end over the offseason.

The Dolphins resigned Brian Hartline and added Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller in free agency. Suddenly, second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has something to work with.

It will be a crucial training camp and preseason for Tannehill and his new weapons. Chemistry must manifest by the end of Miami’s five-game exhibition slate or a slow start with a rough opening schedule could doom the franchise’s playoff hopes.

There are also jobs to be won. Two favorites emerged during OTAs for the fourth and fifth receiver spots, but those openings are far from solidified. At tight end, a battle for the No. 2 role behind Dustin Keller is expected to transpire, as will a heated competition for the final roster spot at the position.

We’re only two days away from the Dolphins’ reporting date. Let’s preview the receivers and tight ends:

SAFE

Mike Wallace, WR: The Dolphins were accused of overspending when they handed Mike Wallace a $60 million deal in March. But if he’s still the field-stretching, playmaking receiver he was in four years with the Steelers, he’ll be worth every penny for an offense that was in dire need of a player with that skill set.

Pairing a deep threat like Wallace with Ryan Tannehill’s big-arm is a match made in heaven. But fans should be equally excited about how Wallace will open up the entire offense for the running game and the rest of Miami’s receivers and tight ends.

Defenses will fear him. Safeties won’t have the luxury of creeping up near the line of scrimmage as they must respect Wallace’s ability to get open deep on any given play.

That will only free up Brian Hartline, Dustin Keller and company underneath. It’ll also make life easier for Lamar Miller and the Dolphins’ rushing attack.

Pro-Bowl caliber production should still be expected from Wallace, but his biggest impact may be found on other players’ stat lines.

Brian Hartline, WR: Was Brian Hartline’s 1,000-yard season in 2012 an anomaly or a sign of things to come?

He was somewhat forcefed as Miami’s No. 1 last year and with Wallace, Keller and Gibson in town that trend won’t continue. But Mike Wallace brings attention. Attention from opposing defense’s No. 1 cornerback and coverages shaded his way.

Hartline will benefit from not having to face some of the league’s best defensive backs and space aplenty underneath the safeties to rack up receptions as a chain mover. Tannehill is also more comfortable with Hartline and should look his way often initially.

With that said, Hartline is a limited receiver. Always has been, always will be. He doesn’t consistently separate down the field and has never been a factor in the red zone.

But he’s sure-handed, runs great routes and can make spectacular grabs in tight coverage. Another 1,000-yard season isn’t out of the question.

Dustin Keller, TE: The Dolphins haven’t had themselves a legitimate seam-stretching tight end in years. Former nemesis Dustin Keller can provide just that with a clean bill of health.

Ryan Tannehill is best when throwing outside the numbers, but having a go-to target over the middle like Keller will surely help him develop that aspect of his game.

Keller hasn’t been one of the league’s most productive tight ends when it comes to touchdowns, but I suspect he’ll be a big factor in the red zone this year in Miami.

Committing to Keller for only one season was a big win for general manager Jeff Ireland. The sixth-year pro will be highly motivated for big numbers in 2013 in order to cash in with a multiyear deal next offseason.

Brandon Gibson, WR: Replacing Davone Bess with Brandon Gibson in the slot hasn’t been met with consensus approval from the fan base. Bess has been the more productive receiver over the course of their careers and was a fan favorite in Miami.

But Joe Philbin prefers a bigger target catching passes out of the slot for his quarterback. At 6’0”, Gibson provides the Dolphins with at least that. He also managed five touchdowns in 2012 with the Rams, giving Miami another capable weapon for when the field begins to shrink.

Gibson may have to hold off the fast-rising Armon Binns, though, if the former continues to play well after several impressive showings during OTAs and minicamp.

Dion Sims, TE: The rookie tight end out of Michigan State will attempt to replace Anthony Fasano as the offense’s best blocking tight end.

Don’t label Sims just a blocker, though, because he does have some quality athleticism that could figure into the passing game.

He’ll have his hands full with Charles Clay and Michael Egnew as the three vie for the No. 2 tight end spot behind Keller. Sims should hold a slight edge on short-yardage situations, while Charles Clay might have the upper hand for situations geared more towards the pass.

POSSIBLE CUTS

Armon Binns, WR: Binns was perhaps the team’s biggest surprise during OTAs, consistently making plays and working his way into the starting slot role for a few reps.

At 6’3”, Binns is taller than the projected starters and the Dolphins may need his height in the red zone. Binns also has the route-running ability to work inside.

After an impressive offseason, Binns is favored to become the fourth receiver and may even challenge Brandon Gibson for snaps as the No. 3. But a disappearing act when the pads come on would negate his progress and place him firmly back on the roster bubble.

Charles Clay, H-Back: Two so-so seasons has many wondering whether or not Clay’s days in Miami are numbered. He’s a serviceable player, though, and the Dolphins move him around quite a bit as the H-back.

He doesn’t excel at anything in particular, but does just enough to remain a contributor in 2013. If Michael Egnew begins to live up to his potential or a longshot like Kyle Miller elevates his game, however, Clay will find himself fighting for his roster life in camp and the preseason.

Rishard Matthews, WR: A seventh-round pick a year ago, Matthews surprised many by making the team and racking up 151 receiving yards. He lacks any elite skill trait, but has sure hands and could be a reliable possession receiver if given the chance.

A solid offseason of work has Mathews right in the mix to land a roster spot for the second consecutive season.

Michael Egnew, TE: Is the hype surrounding Michael Egnew’s improvement legitimate? I’m not ready to buy in until I see it firsthand during camp and the exhibition games, but the Dolphins’ third-round pick in 2012 had an encouraging offseason.

He reportedly spent time practicing MMA to develop toughness and made several plays during OTAs. But we won’t know how improved Egnew is until the pads come on, when his blocking and physically will be put to the test.

LIKELY CUTS

Jeff Fuller, WR: As Ryan Tannehill’s former go-to target at Texas A&M, many believed Jeff Fuller had a good opportunity to make the team as an undrafted free agent last year.

He was virtually invisible last preseason, though, and was consequently let go when cuts were made. Maybe year two will yield more results for Fuller.

Marvin McNutt, WR: If there is one roster fringe receiver who is going to challenge Binns and Matthwes for a spot on the 53, many are putting their money on Marvin McNutt. The former Iowa Hawkeye and Philadelphia Eagle has some ability.

He’s a big body with long arms and knows how to use his size as an advantage. But McNutt might not have the speed to separate at the NFL level.

Kyle Miller, TE: The second-year pro spent the majority of his rookie season in Indianapolis before being claimed by the Dolphins in November. I would consider him more of a darkhorse than a longshot to make the team, as there is some uncertainty behind Dustin Keller at the position.

Brian Tyms, WR: Tyms spent the 2012 preseason in San Francisco after going undrafted out of Florida A&M. Now, back in the Sunshine State, Tyms will look to turn some heads in camp.

Chad Bumphis, WR: The undrafted receiver from Mississippi State is small (5-10, 195), but he’s exceptionally quick and could catch on as a playmaker out of the slot in Miami.

Jasper Collins, WR: A small-school prospect from Mount Union, Collins projects to play in the slot at the next level. Making the team is unlikely, but playing his way onto the practice squad would be a nice goal to have.

PREDICTIONS

Depth Chart

Wide Receiver
1. Mike Wallace
2. Brian Hartline
3. Brandon Gibson
4. Armon Binns
5. Rishard Matthews

Slot Receiver
1. Brandon Gibson
2. Armon Binns
3. Rishard Matthews
4. Marcus Thigpen (RB)

Tight End
1. Dustin Keller
2. Dion Sims
3. Charles Clay

H-Back
1. Charles Clay

Cuts
Michael Egnew
Marvin McNutt
Jeff Fuller
Kyle Miller
Brian Tyms
Chad Bumphis
Jasper Collins

Countdown to camp: 2 days


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