It was an offseason marked by big-league signings for the much maligned Jeff Ireland. One could make an argument for the 2013 roster being the most star filled in well over a decade for the Dolphins. The question now becomes will the Dolphins take the next step towards contending with the Patriots in their division.
It’s quite conceivable that the Dolphins could and should compete for a playoff spot but there are still some significant questions remaining to be seen. With training camp slated to kickoff in a little over a month, the Dolphins have to prove the rebuild process is in the rearview mirror and they can compete with the Pats.
Ryan Tannehill was solid in year but has to take steps towards eliminating costly mistakes in year two – if Miami truly has playoff aspirations. Jeff Ireland all but eliminated any excuses for Tannehill in year two. Tannehill’s receivers accounted for three TD’s in 2012 and was the clear focus of the early stages of free agency. Mike Wallace, the former Steelers vertical threat, can take the top off the defense at will but has to prove he can be effective underneath the defense in Mike Sherman’s offense.
The running game will be intriguing as I expect to see more zone-read implemented this season – Tannehill accounted for 181 rushing yards over the last six games in 2012. With Reggie Bush in Detroit, the Dolphins will be looking to sophomore back Lamar Miller heavily in the run game. Miller was a bright spot in limited opportunities in 2012. Miller was a bit slow to pick up the nuances of the playbook and pass protection in year one but an offseason of work should help him breakout in 2013.
On the coaching side, Joe Philbin will be looking to build on the underrated job he did in his first season at the helm. Philbin, quietly, was solid in 2012 – proving that he could transition from coordinator to head man with little learning curve. The expectations were low in 2012 but grow this season as the Dolphins are expected to compete with the Patriots and outpace the Bills and Jets in the division. A training camp without the HBO crew will be welcomed by Philbin and his staff as they have their work cut out for them to get this team to gel.
Left Tackle Woes
The biggest area of concern for the Dolphins has to be centered around the development of Jonathan Martin. Jake Long is long gone…bet you haven’t heard that before. In all seriousness – the Dolphins protection of Tannehill is a major concern and the hopes rest in Martin’s development in year two.
Martin was average, at best, in 2012 as he split time between right and left tackle. I thought Martin was better on the left side than the right but still needs to prove he can get the edge against quicker edge rushers. Martin will be aided by the addition of veteran Tyson Clabo. Clabo will slide in quite comfortably to right tackle and frees up additional help on the left side for Martin.
The camp battle to watch will be at right guard with former Bear Lance Louis and John Jerry battling it out for the starting gig. Louis is returning from an ACL injury but has played well when healthy.
The ability of this offensive line to gel in camp will be a telltale sign to the Dolphins success in 2013 – or lack thereof.
The Dolphins went after upgrades in terms of speed on the defensive side of the ball. Kevin Coyle wanted to get more aggressive on defense and he has the tools to do just that in 2013.
The Dolphins traded up to get Dion Jordan in the draft with a clear eye on adding a pass rusher opposite Cam Wake. Wake was the sole edge threat in 2012 and the ability to knock Tom Brady off the spot has been a sore spot for the Dolphins in years past. The addition of Jordan and development of former Hurricane Olivier Vernon should add to Coyle’s ability to attack the edges.
Gone are Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Dansby and Burnett were the team’s leading tacklers in 2012 but gave Coyle little in terms of athleticism. Enter Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. Wheeler is a significant upgrade on the weakside and should be able to rush off the edge and will be able to cover tight ends down the seam. Ellerbe’s tutelage under Ray Lewis and company in Baltimore should pay dividends for this defense from the onset.
It gets interesting in the backend. Sean Smith was allowed to walk – albeit at a significant price tag. Smith will be replaced by Brent Grimes – a Falcon castoff. Grimes has proven to be a topflight corner, if and when healthy. Grimes is returning from an Achilles injury and will either be the steal of free agency or a bust.
The training camp battle to watch on the defensive side of the ball will be at RCB, where Richard Marshall and Jamar Taylor will battle it out. We had a first-round grade on Taylor, who lasted until later in the second. Taylor could give Marshall all he wants in training camp and should win the starting spot. Another rookie, Will Davis, could make a mark in year one and make things real interesting at the corner spot.
Dimitri Patterson – Expect this one to happen. The Dolphins added a ton of depth through the draft and free agency and Patterson’s dismissal throw $4.6 million to the cap.
Lance Louis or John Jerry – The loser of the RG battle could be sent packing. The Dolphins drafted Dallas Thomas – who could fill any of three OL spots. I expect one of these guys to be sent packing.
Nolan Carroll – Like Patterson, there just may be no room for Carroll. He’s a solid depth guy but the logjam at corner could have him working his way onto another roster.