Postcard from camp: Dolphins
David Garrard looked sharp in practice -- better than Peyton Manning in Denver
Veteran Chad Johnson, coming off a bad season, has a chance to win a WR job
Miami's under-construction offense will be tested early by several strong defenses
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about Dolphins camp in Davie, Fla., which he visited on Aug. 1. Read all of our postcards here.
At the Dolphins' training complex in Davie, Fla., on a perfectly normal dog-day-of-training-camp day: 93 degrees, oppressively humid and no breeze. I watched the Dolphins work for 2½ hours, their fifth practice of camp. The first 35 minutes or so was loosening up and walking through some plays in the club's practice bubble, the rest on the Dolphins' well-manicured fields.
1. Holy cow: This team practices fast. I like coaches who think and then do things that make sense, even if they sound nutty. Joe Philbin did some thinking and came up with a plan. He knew there would be two major issues he'd face in training camp: how not to fry his team to death in the south Florida heat and humidity, and how to get all three quarterbacks enough work, so he'd be able to have enough evidence when it came time to pick a starter. Though the CBA allows him to practice once a day in pads for three hours, he decided (in most cases) to not exceed 2½ hours. And to get his quarterbacks enough work, he decided to have stereo 11-on-11 scrimmage sessions in the padded practices, one quarterback taking a snap and running a play, followed in seconds by the other quarterback taking a snap and running a play in the opposite direction. Brilliant. And it makes for a practice that seems to set land-speed records. I've never seen anything quite like it.
2. For one day anyway, David Garrard sure looks like the starting quarterback. Upstairs in the press area watching practice, traveling partner Neil Hornsby made a list of the top quarterback performances we'd seen on our (so far) eight-camp trip. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers were at the top of his list; I agreed. After that, he had Carson Palmer, and then Peyton Manning. But the more I thought of it, the more I thought Garrard should be no lower than four -- ahead of Manning. He was terrific consistently through practice, hitting a bomb to promising free agent Roberto Wallace down the right side, throwing well on the run across his body, and, in general, looking extremely comfortable in a West Coast offense, which is new for him. "This guy's got something to him,'' said Philbin. "I like what I've seen." I'm told he's looked the best overall in Miami's camp work.
3. Cameron Wake, one of the game's best pass rushers, is adjusting to going back to his CFL position -- defensive end -- in the Dolphins' new 4-3. Everyone of influence in camp, including Wake, tells me it's no big deal, switching schemes and moving closer to contact on each snap in the 4-3. But Wake put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason to cope with the rougher physical toll defensive end will take; will that affect his outside closing speed on quarterbacks, so valuable in his 22.5 sacks over the past two years? "I don't think it's going to be a negative for me at all,'' Wake told me. "I'm getting as much practice going up against Jake Long so I can be ready for the best tackles. Like, when we're in drills, and it's someone else's turn, and Jake's up, I say, 'Excuse me,' and I take that rep.''
Charles Clay, fullback/tight end. There's a huge opportunity for a big blocker who can catch in the Philbin offense, but if Clay has many more days like he had Wednesday, he'll be blowing his chance to get significant playing time as the starting fullback. He dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone from Matt Moore in one 11-on-11 drill, and followed that with a drop in the open field from David Garrard. He must have been feeling awful about it, because when he went to the sideline after the second one, he dropped and did a long set of pushups, as apparent penance. Better days are ahead, Clay must hope. Or there won't be many more days as a Dolphin.
Chad Johnson, wide receiver. Johnson, playing for his career after a miserable season in New England in 2011, has always been as good an act as he is a football player. He showed that again Wednesday with the press, showing off black fingernails (from his friendship with Gene Simmons of KISS), saying he was going to take his receiver-mates to a strip club on a night off, and volunteering that if he didn't make the Dolphins, he was thinking of going into porn. He said one serious thing that's a fact: "I approach this camp as one having to earn a spot, one having to prove himself again, which I shouldn't have to do, but after last year, I was horrible. I mean 15 catches, come on. I'm working like a rookie again, I'm flying around like a young dude, being detailed, being consistent, working on my one weakness which has always been blocking." There's a starting spot to be won while Brian Hartline rehabs a lower-leg injury, and GM Jeff Ireland and the coaching staff seem inclined to give Johnson every chance to win it. "He's out at practice 15 minutes early every day, strapped up and ready to go,'' said Philbin. "He wants it.'' It's there for the taking.
Didn't have a chance to eat with the Dolphins, but the SI-EvoShield road trip, which began with this camp stop, meandered to Flanigan's Seafood Bar and Grill for a tasty blackened tilapia sandwich on a bun (B-plus) and cole slaw (C-minus, way too runny), along with a Diet Coke with lemon. Quite a nice lunch/dinner, or linner, before the SI.com group made the 3½-hour drive across the state to Tampa for our next stop.
The good news: Miami doesn't play big, bad New England until December. The bad news: By then, it might not matter. The Dolphins don't have an impossible pre-Thanksgiving schedule, but the strong defenses of Houston, Oakland, Arizona and the Jets will test Miami's under-construction offense five times in the first seven games. The Dolphins had better rally behind Garrard or whoever wins the starting quarterback job and become competent early, or this could be a long year.