The Dolphins are halfway through their 18 training camp practices but crucial evaluation periods this summer are still in front of them. The team will hold a pair of joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of their first of three preseason games. Another set of joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles preludes their preseason finale.
Still, the first two weeks of camp have produced standouts, as well as disappointments. Here are four players who are rising and falling after the first half of training camp.
▪ Trill Williams: The second-year cornerback was one of two undrafted rookies to make the roster in 2021. Williams, a three-year player at Syracuse, didn’t play much last season and seemingly returned for his sophomore year back on the roster bubble. Byron Jones has started camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list and Xavien Howard has been limited in team drills, opening an opportunity for Williams and 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene. Although both young players have had their moments, both good and bad, Williams has been the more consistent of the two, using his size and physicality to often disrupt receivers and get his hands on the ball.
The Dolphins have their top-three corners set with Howard, Jones and nickelback Nik Needham. However, Williams is on the trajectory of solidifying a key backup spot with his performance.
▪ Jaelan Phillips: The entire defensive front could be acknowledged. Plenty of names, from starters like Christian Wilkins to bubble players like Porter Gustin have delivered dominant stretches in team drills. Phillips gets the nod here as a second-year player who looks poised to break out after registering 8.5 sacks as a rookie. He’s been a disruptive force as a pass rusher and has been up to the task of pursuing the bevy of speedy ball carriers the Dolphins offense has. Phillips acknowledged he still must improve as a run defender to be a complete player. But the start to his second training camp is a stark contrast to his first when he was limited by an injury and took some time to gain his bearings in the NFL.
▪ Braylon Sanders: After no undrafted rookie truly turned heads during organized team activities in the spring, Sanders has been the most productive undrafted free agent thus far in camp. Known for his big-play ability at Ole Miss — he led the SEC with 22.9 yards per reception in 2021 — Sanders has delivered the same type of plays at the Baptist Health Training Complex, getting behind defenders and establishing a rapport with fellow rookie Skylar Thompson. The Dolphins likely have one or two spots at receiver up for grabs, and Sanders is making a strong case to get one.
▪ Erik Ezukanma: As a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, Ezukanma is a lock to make the 53-man roster. Now the All-Big 12 selection from Texas Tech is giving coaches a reason to give him an offensive role this fall. Aside from Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Ezukanma has arguably been the most productive Dolphins pass-catcher this summer. He’s proven reliable, catching passes from all three quarterbacks, and has used his 6-2 frame well to bring in contested catches.
▪ Lynn Bowden Jr.: The logjam at wide receiver and limited opportunities in team drills means some pass-catchers have been left on the outside looking in. One of those players appears to be Bowden. His reps in 11-on-11 action have been scarce and he hasn’t been targeted often when he does see the field. Bowden’s skill set was one that appeared to be tailor-made for coach Mike McDaniel’s creative scheme. He hasn’t distinguished himself, though, and has the makings of someone on the wrong side of the bubble.
▪ Preston Williams: Williams is another player who has been caught in a numbers game and hasn’t received many targets so far. He appeared to voice his frustration a few days into training camp, tweeting, “just want [an] opportunity.” Since that post, Williams, who re-signed to the team on a one-year deal, hasn’t had any plays of note and has been out-snapped by Sanders and Ezukanma, among other players.
▪ Adam Shaheen: Shaheen was a starter to begin the 2021 season until a knee injury sidelined him and he lost his snaps to Durham Smythe, who parlayed a career year into a new two-year deal. Nothing about the start of training camp has seemed to change that pecking order and Shaheen looks like a player who will need a big performance in joint practices and the preseason to stick on the roster.
▪ Mike Gesicki: There’s no concern about Gesicki’s roster spot. He signed his franchise tag and has been present for training camp, even as his fit in McDaniel’s scheme remains a daily topic of interest. Gesicki’s usage during training camp has been one to watch, given his struggles as a blocker and the fact that tight ends will be often asked to block from an inline alignment. Gesicki has ceded plenty of snaps to Smythe, second-year player Hunter Long and even Cethan Carter at times. When he’s been on the field, Gesicki has infrequently been targeted. It could be by design; when he spoke to reporters last week, Gesicki noted that he didn’t take a single snap from a receiver stance during practice. His role in the offense, especially in preseason games, is a development that should be followed.