Postcard from camp: Dolphins
Chad Pennington is poised to build on his stellar first year with the Dolphins
Miami's wide receiver corps is very deep, with Ted Ginn Jr. leading the way
The Dolphins plan to use rookie Pat White in the Wildcat formation
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Andrew Lawrence had to say about the Dolphins' camp in Davie, Fla. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
Just a 22-mile drive north from downtown Miami in the higher ed. hub of Davie, Fla., Nova Southeastern University has doubled as the site of the Miami Dolphins' headquarters and training camp staging grounds since 1993. The team's training facility, which spans more than nine acres of the northwest quadrant of the school's bucolic campus, is set against a tableau that is typical South Florida: palm trees ring the facility's twin outdoor practice fields, finger-sized lizards skitter across the pavement for cover as you walk and temperatures hover between the high-80s and the low-90s. (A steady breeze helps take the edge off of 70 percent humidity.) When sunshine and blue skies gave way to lightning and rain on Thursday, the Dolphins retreated to an abutting practice bubble just across the way. Fans, who get in free, aren't allowed in there, but the outdoor fields' bleacher seats can accommodate about 2,000. During the Dolphins' first week of camp, about that many showed up each day slathered in sunscreen and swaddled in aqua and orange. One of the more fan-friendly features is the six-foot gate separating the bleacher seats from the field; it folds in half to foster more personal interactions between fans and players during post-practice autograph sessions.
1. If you thought Chad Pennington was good last year, wait until he figures out what he's doing. Signed about a month before the Dolphins home-opener after being unceremoniously cut by the Favre-hungry Jets, Pennington analogized his mad scramble to get ready for the start of the season to "being in the eye of a hurricane. You're just trying to stay calm in the midst of a bunch of chaos," he said. And he did so with aplomb in '08, posting the NFL's second-best passer rating (97.4), leading the league in completion percentage (67.4) while boasting the third-best touchdown-to-interception ratio (2.71). This year, the 10th-year pro is taking advantage of having spent a full offseason in Miami. When he isn't further immersing himself in the Dolphins playbook, he's seizing every occasion to collaborate with his teammates. "He meets with our line once a week and our receivers twice a week on his own," second-year coach Tony Sparano said. "I've never been around anything like it. And I mean, they're there, they're on time and they ain't gonna miss a meeting. And he's running the meeting."
2. If opposing teams aren't keeping an eye out to see which receivers the Dolphins end up cutting, they should be. Whereas last year Miami's skilled offensive talent was stockpiled in the backfield, this year a new surplus has developed outside the hashmarks. Ted Ginn Jr. currently occupies the top spot on the Dolphins depth chart, but the talent behind him is so close that general manager Jeff Ireland often finds himself tinkering with his receiver rankings. "Nos. 2 through 5 changes every day," Ireland said. "There's a lot of competition, but no stars at this point. We've got to find out who the players are that can give us chunks." Second-year pro Davone Bess has made considerable gains in strength and improved as a route runner. Rookies Brian Hartline (Ohio State) has flashed impressive hands, while Patrick Turner (USC) has shown impressive leaping ability and use of his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame. Fourth-year pro Greg Camarillo is back to familiar form and apparently fully recovered from the season-ending ACL injury he suffered in Week 11, while Ginn is doing a better job of getting into his routes quicker and flashing his sprinter's speed.
Those guys are among nine receivers Miami is currently carrying; Sparano said the team probably won't keep more than five. "We're gonna have some hard decisions to make," he said.
3. If there was any doubt the Dolphins are eager to improve their pass defense, just look at how many defensive backs they're carrying. As of Thursday they had 14, which was the most of any position. But then again, given how vulnerable Miami was against the pass -- their 227.8 yards allowed per game ranked 25th in the league -- maybe bringing in so many reinforcements isn't such a bad idea. One who will be pressed into duty right away is rookie Vontae Davis (Illinois). At 5-11, he has the size to match up against some of the division's corn-fed receivers and, having run a 4.49 40 at the combine, the speed to keep up with them. Look for him to lock up the starting cornerback spot opposite ninth-year pro Will Allen.
New Face, New Place
If sixth-year safety Gibril Wilson were any happier to be out of Oakland he'd burst. Ask him about the year he spent in '08 in football purgatory, and he'll tell you it "was just a blur. I'm glad that Al Davis let me go. That was probably the best thing that happened to me in a long time." Wilson, who was signed to a five-year, $27.5 million pact in February, leaves a team he describes as having a "loser mentality" and a porous defense that often tasked him with making "touchdown-saving tackles" for one that will give him the freedom to "roam a little bit and make plays on the ball," he said. What's more, he has high hopes for his new partnership with re-signed Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell. "We will be the best combo in the league," he said.