DAVIE, FL — Dolphins defensive coach Matt Burke was asked Tuesday if there’s any player, beyond Reshad Jones, who he could say with certainty would be a starter for his unit this season.
“Definitely can’t,” he said.
Xavien Howard almost assuredly will start at one cornerback spot after having a terrific OTA and now at Training Camp. Players on defense and offense have referred to him as the X-Factor. But two starting jobs in the defensive backfield are genuinely open, and at least three other starting spots on this team are, too.
A look at those starting decisions that could extend into mid-August or beyond:
Linebacker: Expect Stephone Anthony to get a long look for the third starting spot alongside Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan. “Stephone can do it all — drop into coverage, play the run,” owner Stanley Jean-Baptiste said.
Jerome Baker, the third-round pick, figures to play some in situations and could compete to start in base if he proves adequate against the run in preseason.
Chase Allen can’t be ruled out. Allen played a ton of snaps on defense last season; Anthony played less than a ton after his September acquisition from the Saints.
The Dolphins so far haven’t been linked to any deals that may have them looking at adding another linebacker. They are most likely to play two linebackers at all times during the season.
Safety: The Dolphins aren’t going to immediately insert Minkah Fitzpatrick in the lineup ahead of T.J. McDonald. But they weren’t thrilled with how the Jones/McDonald tandem worked in the second half last season. Jones coverage rating fell last year, McDonald coverage rating faired better than Jones, it would be shocking if Fizpatrick isn’t starting at some point this season, if not immediately. Regardless, Fitzpatrick will play a lot.
“He’s smart; he’s all the things we thought he would be,” Burke said of Fitzpatrick. “You can tell he’s played in a lot of games [at Alabama]. Very good communicator. Wants extra study. Those things are more mature than most. He’s fallen in line exactly what we thought he would be.”
Cornerback: Bobby McCain is being given a legitimate chance to compete with Cordrea Tankersley and Tony Lippett for the spot opposite Howard. Don’t rule out Fitzpatrick stepping into this role either.
Lippett must show he’s fully recovered from last August’s torn Achilles to join this battle. He missed a few OTA days and Training Camp with an undisclosed injury unrelated to his Achilles.
Has Lippett regained all his skills?
“He has all the skills, but everyone looks good [in OTAs],” Burke said. “Preseason game, that’s when you find everything out. He’s doing exactly what he needs to do. I have zero complaints. … He’s an XCFL corner no doubt in my mind. Our training staff has done a phenomenal job, and he’s done a phenomenal job coming back.”