Posted: 10:52 am Tuesday, June 5th, 2012
By Post Staff
A harsh reality of life in the NFL is that 99 percent of NFL athletes have something to prove every season. Only the rare superstar like Tom Brady or Larry Fitzgerald has his starting job guaranteed. For everyone else, every day is an opportunity to lose (or win) a job.
You always have the young rookies and veteran fighting to carve out a spot in the NFL, as well as the veteran special teams types. And the 2012 Dolphins have more players with something to prove than usual, because new coach Joe Philbin and his staff is starting fresh with its evaluations.
But, obviously, some players have more to prove than others. Here are the top 10 Dolphins players who have the most to prove during offseason workouts and training camp, as ranked by us:
1. OLB Koa Misi
This will be a critical year for Misi, the Dolphins’ 2010 second-round pick whose career hasn’t gotten off to a fast start. After a promising rookie year that included 11 starts and 4.5 sacks, Misi regressed in 2011, with just nine starts and one sack as he lost playing time to Jason Taylor. Misi has been running with the starting defense during OTAs, playing mostly weakside linebacker, and he will be given every opportunity to beat out Gary Guyton and rookie Josh Kaddu for the starting job. But if he doesn’t, it could signal the beginning of the end of his time in Miami.
2. WR Brian Hartline
The pressure on Hartline this year is two-fold. First, he has to prove that he can be a front-line starting receiver. The Dolphins opted not to replace Brandon Marshall after trading him away, with the belief that Hartline and Davone Bess can be the top two starters. Hartline has been solid and consistent in his first three years, with 109 catches for 1,670 yards and a 15.3 average, but the Dolphins need him to significantly improve upon his career bests of 43 catches, 615 yards and three touchdowns for the offense to be successful. Second, Hartline is entering the final year of his contract, and has a lot of money at stake. If he has a 1,000-yard season, he could cash in with a big contract. If he doesn’t perform, he could get significantly less.
3. CB Sean Smith
Faces a lot of the same pressures that Hartline does. Smith, the Dolphins’ second-round pick in 2009, has shown flashes of brilliance in his first three seasons. And a 6-foot-3 cover cornerback is not easy to find, so his physical abilities will always intrigue NFL teams. But he’s also been a knucklehead, losing his job in 2010 because of inattentiveness in meetings and film study, and generally frustrating the previous coaching staff because of his lack of maturity. Smith is also entering the final year of his contract, and could cash in with a huge contract if he acts like an adult off the field and plays like a Pro Bowler on the field. Or, he could find himself out of a starting job in Miami and fishing for a team to bid on his services next season.
4. S Chris Clemons
Clemons, the Dolphins’ fifth-round pick in 2009, didn’t enter the NFL with any real expectations. But he grabbed a couple of starts at the end of his rookie season and started 14 games in 2010 before having his 2011 season derailed by a balky hamstring and strong play from Reshad Jones. Clemons has been running with the starting defense during OTAs as Yeremiah Bell’s replacement at strong safety, but his spot on the team is hardly guaranteed. The Dolphins have several other options at safety – Jimmy Wilson, Tyrone Culver, Tyrell Johnson and rookie Kelcie McCray – and all happen to be cheaper than Clemons, who is set to make $1.308 million in 2012, the final year of his contract. If he doesn’t standout in OTAs and training camp, Clemons could find himself looking for another team.
5. RG John Jerry
Jerry has been a bit of a disappointment since being drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft. He started 10 games at right guard as a rookie, but has constant struggles with his weight (he’s listed at 6-5, 328 pounds) and was benched for most of 2011 before earning three starts at the end of the season to replace injured players. He’s been playing with the starters at right guard during OTAs, but Jerry, who was drafted for the power running scheme under Tony Sparano, needs to prove that he’s nimble and athletic enough to play in Mike Sherman’s zone blocking scheme.
6. QB Matt Moore
Talk about someone with a lot of money at stake this year. Moore, entering his sixth season, will be a free agent after the 2012 season, and another strong season could make Moore one of the most attractive players on the market next season (Moore, who went 6-6 as a starter last year, was twice named AFC Player of the Week and finished 12th in the NFL in passer rating, sees the three-year, $19.5 million contract signed by Matt Flynn this offseason and salivates). But if he loses the quarterback job to David Garrard or Ryan Tannehill, or just doesn’t play very well in 2012, it could dramatically hurt his free agent value. The competitor in Moore will never allow him to do this, but his best course of action might be to sit out 2012 so as not to hurt his value, which skyrocketed last year with his impressive performance as Chad Henne’s replacement.
7. WR Clyde Gates
The Dolphins have about nine young, unproven receivers gunning for the final three spots, so there is pressure on all of them to perform well this offseason. But there’s a little extra pressure on Gates, because he’s the highest draft pick of the bunch – a fourth-round pick in 2011. Everyone else went undrafted (Marlon Moore, Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt, Chris Hogan, Jeff Fuller), is a low-round pick (Rishard Matthews, B.J. Cunningham) or is a free agent with low expectations (Legedu Naanee). Even though Gates was drafted just last year, his roster spot is hardly guaranteed.
8. TE Anthony Fasano
Fasano is similar to Jerry, in that he was brought to Miami by a different regime and for a different scheme – the power running scheme run by Sparano, Dan Henning and Brian Daboll the past four years. Now he’s entering a completely different offense that emphasizes run-after-the-catch – speed has never been Fasano’s forte – and he has stiff competition in second-year H-back Charles Clay and rookie third-round pick Michael Egnew. Fasano is also entering the final year of his contract, so he must prove that he can fit in well with the new offense or else he could find himself out of a job. The only reason Fasano has less to prove than other players is because if he is cut loose, he is accomplished enough that a power running team will quickly snap him up (Sparano’s Jets and Daboll’s Chiefs instantly spring to mind).
9. DE Jared Odrick
The Dolphins didn’t sign a pass rusher in free agency, and used only a third-round pick on a very raw Olivier Vernon in the draft. That means Odrick, listed at 6-5, 304 pounds and drafted to be a bulky defensive end in the Dolphins’ previous 3-4 defense, now has to prove that he’s quick enough to get around the edge as a defensive end in the new 4-3 scheme. He did have a promising six sacks in a part-time role in 2011, and needs to continue to improve this year to help take pressure off Cameron Wake and prove that the Dolphins were right not to go harder after a pass rusher this offseason to replace Taylor.
10. DE Cameron Wake
After a long, winding journey that took him from Penn State to his couch in Maryland to the CFL to Miami, Wake finally got paid last month when he signed a contract extension that will guarantee him $17 million over the next three years. But Wake’s work is hardly complete. Was he worth the money? Will his work ethic change? Was his decline in sacks from 2010 to 2011 – 14 to 8.5 – a one-year blip or a trend? Now that he’s on the wrong side of 30, does he still have the same power and explosive first step? The contract didn’t make Wake’s life easier – just gave him a whole new set of challenges.