ARE THE DOLPHINS FINALLY TURNING THE CORNER?
Does everybody else feel as though this year is slightly different to many of the recent years? Could it be that the Dolphins are finally doing things right? Yes, we have heard it many times before and at this point in the season every team is a Super Bowl contender. We aren’t bold enough to say that Miami is going to the Super Bowl this year but the optimism just seems different. What we are hearing is a lot of positivity, players are buying into the system that Adam Gase and Vance Joseph are installing and they all seem to be loving the versatility that it brings. Even Ndamukong Suh is having a good time and is joking around, this from a man who has in the past been like Obi-Wan Kenobi and kept himself to himself.
There are a number of reasons to think that the Dolphins may actually win more games than they lose this season. Firstly the offensive line has improved since last year and it isn’t just the starters, there is now quality depth. At the moment we know who four of the five starters will be, Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil, Mike Pouncey and Ja’Wuan James. Lets not get fooled by the talk that Tunsil has to earn his playing time, you don't get drafted that high with his potential not to start even if it is a new position. The other guard spot however is up for grabs and it will be interesting to see who steps up and gets the nod. Will it be Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner or Jamil Douglas, as they are the natural guards? But would it be a surprise if they experiment with Jermon Bushrod, John Ulrick or Sam Young during camp? There may be a few problems at the start as the line comes together but it should be better than last year, or wouldn't take much.
With the improved line should come improved play from Ryan Tannehill as he will have more time to throw the ball, add in the fact that he will have freedom to change plays and we should see improved QB play. He won’t have any excuses with the players catching his passes, he is spoilt for choice with Devante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims returning but will also have a couple of new options with Leonte Carro, Jakeem Graham and Thomas Duante around to throw to and depending how many wide receivers they keep, either Matt Hazel or Griff Whalen.
One of the positions that has a question mark over it is running back as Lamar Miller left for Houston in the off-season. This has thrust Jay Ajayi into the starting role but he seems to be grasping the opportunity and showed flashes last season. If he falters then Kenyan Drake is there to step into his shoes unless Isaiah Pead, Damien Williams or Daniel Thomas shows enough to leapfrog over Drake during camp. Who ever carries the ball should have an easier time because of the big men in front of them, so although there are questions about the position the line should make the RB carrying the ball better.
One the other side of the ball there is optimism that the line will be better than last year even with the loss of Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby. The reason that the line may be improved is due to the arrival of Mario Williams, Andre Branch, Jason Jones and Chris Jones. You could look at Williams last season in Buffalo, we would agree that he didn’t play that well but feel as though he didn’t fit well in Rex Ryan’s system and he definitely didn’t like it. We expect him to play with a big chip on his shoulder and return to his usual form.
To help bolster the line the Dolphins signed Andre Branch, Jason Jones and Chris Jones, all have started before so provide quality depth. Lets not forget that Chris McCain flashed promise but always seemed to be floating between LB and DE, it now seems that he may have stuck at DE which is probably the best fit as he seemed to be a pass rusher rather than linebacker. The other good news is that it appears as though Cam Wake will be fully recovered by the time the regular season kicks off.
Earl Mitchell is back but is going to get pushed hard by Jordan Phillips and possibly Chris Jones who has come over from New England but was injured all of last season. And then there is Ndamukong Suh, you have probably read that he had a poor year because he only had a few sacks but if you look further he had more tackles than most seasons, to go along with the usual handful of deflected passes, 20 QB hits and 17 tackles for loss, not that shoddy really. All in all the line shouldn’t see a drop off in performance and hopefully will give opposing QB’s less time to throw while clogging up running lanes as well.
The biggest problem with the Dolphins is the players behind the defensive line and this may be where the season comes undone. Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins return but are now joined in the middle by Kiko Alonso. Now, if Alonso he can stay healthy and return to his rookie form it is a huge upgrade, but that is the problem, it is a big IF! Gambling on him to stay healthy for the whole season is a very risky strategy unless you have a good back-up. This could be said for all three projected starters as they aren’t the most robust linebackers in the league. Behind them are Neville Hewitt, Mike Hull, Zach Vigil, James-Michael Johnson, Spencer Paysinger and a trio of rookies, so the starters better not get injured. We can’t count out Dion Jordan if he ever returns, but for now he isn’t on the team and his future is up in the air so we will leave that for another day.
The last line of defence is where it gets really interesting as there are more questions than answers. Currently there are nine cornerbacks on the roster, favourites to start on the edges are Byron Maxwell and rookie Xavien Howard. Behind them there are a bunch of players that will be vying for playing time. Most of them are young with little experience, but who is to say they won’t be good enough. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is an intriguing player, he was a highly regarded CB who saw his stock fall in the 2015 draft because of injuries and as yet hasn't played a snap in the NFL. Tony Lippett showed promise at the end of last season, so he will be in the mix as will Bobby McCain, Jordan Lucas, Tyler Patmon and others. It is an unheralded group behind Maxwell so it will be interesting to see if anybody steps up during training camp.
Safety was looking worrisome until Reshad Jones ended his holdout, having him back is a great relief and he should carry on where he left off last season. He will potentially have a new partner in Isa Abdul-Quddus who was one of the top ranked safeties during the last 8 weeks of the 2015 season. To earn the starting spot he will have to fight off Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens and Shaniel Gary but if his 2015 playing time is anything to go by we should see him start, with the latter players providing back-up.
At the moment kicking duties remain the same as last year unless Marshall Koehn can kick Andrew Franks out in training camp. There is no such competition at the moment for Matt Darr so unless he has a really bad camp he will be the teams punter.
It will be interesting to see how the team shapes up during training camp, hopefully they will come through it unscathed with the future looking brighter, but there is a worry that the secondary will be a mess, be continually picked on, give up too many points and try as they might, the offense won't be able to keep up. Looking down the schedule they are going to face AJ Green, Antonio Brown, Sammy Watkins, Brandon Marshall and Keenan Allen to name but a few so they had better get it sorted out quickly.