Dolphins report: This is Pennington’s team

Friday was my visit to Miami Dolphins training camp, where I had the chance to watch practice and talk to coach Tony Sparano as well as OLB Jason Taylor, among others. Here are some of my observations on the Dolphins:

    (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

    Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington is the unquestioned leader of the offense. (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

  • Starting at quarterback, this is Chad Pennington’s team. Pennington looks relaxed, like he’s not worried about any pressure from second-year QB Chad Henne behind him. This whole organization — the front office, coaches and players — know it’s Pennington’s team. There is no QB battle in Miami.
  • That being said, Henne looked phenomenal during practice. The Dolphins run a three-second clock during drills, and if the clock runs down before the QB gets rid of the ball, a bell rings. If the ball isn’t thrown when the bell rings, it’s considered a sack. I counted 15 straight passes that Henne got the ball out of his hands before the bell rang. This is guy is really developing. I’m very confident that Henne will be very ready when the Dolphins put him in.
  • Rookie Pat White is working exclusively at QB. But he’s struggling with that three-second clock. The Dolphins know White can’t run in the NFL on a consistent basis like he did at West Virginia, so they’re preparing and teaching him to be an NFL QB. He did have his moments, though. White threw a touchdown pass on a skinny post to fellow rookie Brian Hartline and looked great doing it. But on the next play, White threw an interception trying to get the ball out of his hands. He’s very inconsistent at this point, and it will take time to get him ready. The Dolphins are very patient with him, and know he has a long way to go.
  • WR Ted Ginn has shown progress in going over the middle and running short routes. He’s always been able to run deep, but he’s now showing he can execute some of the other routes that are zone-beaters. Pennington’s strength is throwing crossing routes, and that hasn’t matched up with Ginn’s skill. I still don’t know that Ginn will ever be a true No. 1 receiver.
  • The Dolphins like WR Davone Bess. To me, Bess is really a slot receiver, but he’s worked his way into the two-receiver sets. When the Dolphins go to three wideouts, Greg Camarillo, who is not wearing a brace after missing the end of last season with a knee injury, will come in and Bess will move to the slot. It also appears the staff is building a package for rookie WR Patrick Turner in the red zone. He’s big, and the team likes him because he’s built differently than the other receivers — something GM Jeff Ireland has cited. Look for Turner to be on the field on third downs this season. Overall, this receiver group is average or below average, though. But the Dolphins won’t ask them to do a lot, because they’ll be running the ball.
  • I was impressed by RB Ricky Williams. He showed a burst of speed I hadn’t seen. On a flip-option play, Williams got the pitch and raced right past S Yeremiah Bell, getting the corner on him. I couldn’t believe it. Bell underestimated his speed just like I did. Williams looks like he’s in better football running shape than he was last year.
  • I talked to my sources in Canada about DE Cameron Wake, and was told he can really rush the passer but never faced legitimate offensive tackles in the CFL. Well, against LT Jake Long, he took a very wide rush and was sent airborne by a punch move. Sparano still believes Wake can make an impact when speed-rushing against backs. Ultimately, Long will be the best thing that has happened to Wake.
  • Expect Taylor to start for the Dolphins. OLB Matt Roth isn’t in camp with a groin injury. By the time Roth gets back, Taylor will have established himself as an every down player, starting opposite OLB Joey Porter. Taylor confided in me that Bill Parcells recently started speaking to him a lot — that means that Parcells likes him, and he’ll be the starter. I can see Taylor and Porter generating 25 sacks this season. There’s also no questions about Taylor’s ability in coverage. Watching him Friday, he has no problems as a zone defender in the flat. He’s an excellent athlete, and when he re-signed, he knew he would be used in this role.
  • The best on-field battle right now is at defensive end, where second-year pro Phillip Merling is being pushed by veteran Randy Starks for the starting job. Both guys are going after it, and the coaches have to love it. In fact, I think they’re leaning toward Starks right now.
  • At cornerback, it appears second-round pick Sean Smith is ahead of fellow rookie Vontae Davis, the team’s first-round choice. Smith ran with the first unit often Friday. Watching Smith reminds me of Perry Williams, who played for Parcells with the Giants. He was a big, tall corner who was good against the run and could disrupt routes. Look for the Dolphins to have Smith line up against bigger receivers like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Not because he can cover them, but because he can get physical on their releases and disrupt their routes. The coaches have a smile on their face when I ask them about Smith.
  • There are questions about the Dolphins at safety. To me, both Bell and Gibril Wilson are strong safeties — they’re better playing close to the line of scrimmage than they are in the open field. Offenses will likely spread out the Dolphins and attack them here.

My camp tour continues next week with my last four stops, as I head west to visit the Chargers, Cardinals, Raiders and 49ers.

– Pat Kirwan

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