Dolphins Camp Week 1: Defensive Observations

A rundown of what we learned in the first week of training camp about some of the key players on defense, starting with Andrew Van Ginkel, Noah Igbinoghene and Nik Needham
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The Miami Dolphins arrived at their first break of training camp Sunday after conducting four practices at the Baptist Health Training Complex on the grounds of Hard Rock Stadium, including one open to fans on Saturday.

While it's obviously still too early to jump to conclusions about anything and everything when it comes to the Dolphins — and the other 31 teams in the NFL — there clearly were some things that stood out both positively and negatively during that first week of practice.

We took a look at the Dolphins offense earlier, so we'll now turn our attention to what stood out on defense.

THE XAVIEN HOWARD FACTOR

Obviously, nothing else that happened this week with the Dolphins — on offense or defense — was as significant as All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard requesting a trade via Instagram because of his frustration over his contract.

Of course, it's easy to get suspicious when Howard jogs off the field after warmups two days later with what head coach Brian Flores later termed an ankle injury. Howard was back at practice Saturday, although it was on a very limited basis.

When Howard gets back to being a full participant in practice is going to be a storyline until it happens or there's some kind of resolution to the impasse.

In the meantime, we're looking at other defensive backs taking turns with the first-team defense opposite Byron Jones, and it doesn't take a genius to realize there's quite the drop-off from what Howard brings to the defense.

2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene and Nik Needham appear to be the two guys who would be next in line, and it was Needham who looked to have the better week of practice.

If we're looking for a long shot to make the roster at cornerback, might be wise to look toward Terrell Bonds, who had some nice moments in coverage.

At safety, nothing really stood out, except for rookie second-round pick Jevon Holland dropping an easy interception on a Tua Tagovailoa pass thrown way ahead of his intended receiver — either a bad overthrow and a communication problem between receiver and quarterback.

It still looks like it'll be Holland or Jason McCourty as the starting deep safety, and making big plays in training camp is one way for the rookie to win the job. That was an opportunity missed.

One last thing on the secondary, remember that a lot of completions came on plays that were prolonged because of the practice setting, so it wasn't the unmitigated disaster some have suggested.

VAN GINKEL AND THE LINEBACKERS

Andrew Van Ginkel had a breakout performance in 2020 and if the first week of camp was any indication, expect more of the same.

He was a disruptive force all week as the most consistent performer at linebacker.

The best individual practice for a linebacker, though, came courtesy of free agent pick-up Brennan Scarlett, who was all over the place Saturday. He got to the quarterback for two would-be sacks — they're called that because they would be sacks in a regular season game if the defender didn't stop so as not to hit his own quarterback in a practice — and punched the ball away from Lynn Bowden Jr. after a pass completion.

Scarlett was seen as more of a special teams contributor when he signed with the Dolphins, but it might be time to adjust that projection.

As an edge rusher, we can tell you it doesn't take long to get impressed with rookie first-round pick Jaelan Phillips because of his size and movement ability. He looks like a keeper, which is what made it so disappointing to have him leave practice early Friday. The good news, though, is that his leg injury is not believed to be serious.

Because there were no pads in the first week, it was a bit difficult to gauge or fairly evaluate the work of new inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney, so we'll just tell you that this is one large inside linebacker.

THE DEFENSIVE LINE

We wrap things up with the big guys up front, with the same caveat that there were no pads.

In fact, if we're being honest, it was difficult to discern anybody really standing out.

That said, Christian Wilkins had himself a good week of practice up front as a disruptive force on passing plays.

Among key players, Raekwon Davis looks in great shape, which is a great sign as he looks to build on last year's All-Rookie performance.