By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on March 28, 2014
It's been a busy offseason so far for the Miami Dolphins, highlighted by free agent signings like Branden Albert, Louis Delmas and Knowshon Moreno. In addition to the new veterans, seven new rookies will be selected during May's draft. Even with all of the new faces, improvement from returning players will be relied upon to help the Dolphins get over the hump and into the playoffs.
Here are five unheralded Dolphins who must step up in 2014.
Cortland Finnegan and last year's second-round pick Jamar Taylor are projected to compete for the starting cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes. Finnegan has struggled as of late and Taylor is unproven, however. If neither materialize, 2013 third-round selection Will Davis will be the next in line. At the least, Davis will need to provide Miami's secondary with depth. A big jump is in order after Davis played a mere 65 snaps as a rookie.
The Dolphins have invested a lot of coin in their wide receiver corps, but have yet to identify an ideal red zone target. At 6-foot-3, Armon Binns has the height to emerge as that player, but must prove he is fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered last training camp and that he has the physicality to fight for jump balls. Binns impressed during workouts last summer, but needs a stellar exhibition season to assure himself a roster spot.
The Dolphins could use another productive tight end to pair with Charles Clay. They may address the void during May's draft with a seam threat or more of an in-line blocker. The answer may already be on the roster, though, in second-year tight end Dion Sims. With only six catches and poor running blocking grades as a rookie, Sims has much room to grow if he wants to surface as a dependable No. 2 tight end during his second season.
Jelani Jenkins flashed his worth in coverage during Miami's Week 15 matchup with the New England Patriots last season. On 20 pass coverage snaps, Jenkins didn't give up a single reception while filling in for Philip Wheeler at weakside outside linebacker. Expect Jenkins to steal more of Wheeler's snaps in 2014 if he can continue to develop the other aspects of his game.
The Shelley Smith signing addressed one guard spot for the Dolphins, but the other remains a question mark. With only short-term solutions available on the market or via trade and no proven commodities attainable during May's draft, in-house candidate Dallas Thomas has a great opportunity to steal the show. Thomas struggled mightily at tackle last preseason, but has a higher ceiling inside at guard, where he could earn a starting role.
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