DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins finally have the go-to receiver they've long sought. They're set at quarterback with second-year starter Chad Henne, and Jake Long returns to anchor the offensive line.
But plenty of other starting positions are up for grabs as training camp begins Friday.
There's a void at free safety, three cornerbacks will battle for two jobs, and the defensive front seven is being revamped following the departures of Jason Taylor and Joey Porter. The offensive line faces a makeover, competition at the receiver spot opposite newcomer Brandon Marshall will be fierce, and even injury-prone Ronnie Brown faces a challenge for playing time at running back.
"There are going to be some hard decisions all over the football field to be made," coach Tony Sparano said. "That's when you know your team is getting where it needs to be."
Where the Dolphins want to be is the Super Bowl, and they've fallen short the past 25 seasons. Owner Stephen Ross has said he expects his team to play in the NFL title game this season, while most prognosticators figure a .500 season more likely.
Miami slipped to 7-9 in 2009, the second year of the Bill Parcells regime. It became a season of transition at quarterback, and Henne showed promise starting the final 13 games, but he threw only six touchdown passes to wide receivers.
To upgrade a lackluster pass-catching group, the Dolphins made Marshall their biggest offseason acquisition. The 6-foot-4 Pro Bowl wideout underwent hip surgery in May and was limited in offseason work, but he's expected to be close to 100 percent at the start of camp and figures he has plenty of time to get comfortable with Henne.
"We have a lot of practices starting in August," Marshall said. "We'll be fine. We will get a rhythm, and we will get a chance to get on the same page — not just with me, but the whole offense."
For the first time, Henne goes into camp as the No. 1 quarterback.
"It's a little bit different when you're walking into the huddle and you know that the eyes are all on you," Sparano said. "Chad now knows that's his huddle out there. So there's a little bit different swagger to him."
Brown's expected to be ready for the start of camp after missing the final seven games last year with a right foot injury. Ricky Williams replaced Brown and finished with 1,121 yards rushing, his highest total since 2003. He's 33 but could challenge for the starting job.
The offensive line is set only at tackle, with Long and Vernon Carey. Competing for playing time at receiver will be Greg Camarillo, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. And there will be jockeying for the backup quarterback job, with Chad Pennington returning from a right shoulder injury to compete with Pat White and Tyler Thigpen.
Even more unsettled is the defense, where an offseason shakeup started with the hiring of coordinator Mike Nolan to replace Paul Pasqualoni. Topping Nolan's to-do list in training camp will be to fill all of the roles in his aggressive 3-4 scheme.
Sparano liked the defensive changes he saw during spring minicamp.
"There's an attitude here and a philosophy from a defensive standpoint of creating turnovers, of scoring with the football," Sparano said. "Those things, from a defensive-philosophy standpoint, I can see differently. Our kids are buying into it."
Randy Starks must learn a new position, switching to nose tackle, with top draft pick Jared Odrick likely to replace him at end. Newly acquired veteran Karlos Dansby, rookie Koa Misi and pass-rushing specialist Cameron Wake are being counted on as part of a revamped linebacking group that lost 16 sacks when Taylor and Porter departed.
At cornerback, veteran Will Allen returns from a left knee injury to compete with Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, who started as rookies last year.
"We're just going to figure out who the best two guys are going to be," Sparano said. "I've asked this team to understand that right now we're at 80 players, and we're going to compete, and you're going to have plenty of opportunities. But when we get this thing down, people are going to have roles, and whatever those roles are, know that this team comes first."