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Five questions: Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill Getty Images

The Dolphins held their playoff destiny in their hands heading into the last two weeks of the regular season, a fairly remarkable position given the turmoil on and off the field caused by an offensive line that was far harder on members of the Dolphins than they were on the opposition.

Miami couldn’t beat either the Jets or the Bills in those final weeks, however, and Miami missed the playoffs before making major changes this offseason. General Manager Jeff Ireland was fired, four-fifths of the starting offensive line changed and a new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, was brought in to help coach Joe Philbin try to make the playoffs for the first time since coming to Miami.

If you saw our preseason power rankings, you’ll know that there isn’t much optimism at PFT about that happening. If the Dolphins are going to prove us wrong, these are five areas where they’ll need to get positive answers.

1. Is Ryan Tannehill the answer at quarterback?

Tannehill entered the NFL with limited experience as a starting quarterback, but the Dolphins took him eighth overall in 2012 and teamed him with his college coach Mike Sherman in hopes of making a quick transition to the NFL. Tannehill has done that in one respect as he’s made all 32 starts through his first two seasons and he’s shown the kind of tools that you want to see from a starting quarterback. Consistency has been an issue, though, and it remains unclear whether or not he can vault to the next level.

Having an offensive line interested in stopping defenses from pounding him to the turf would be a good start, but Tannehill can also help himself by making quicker decisions before the pressure gets to him. Playing in Lazor’s system should help with that, although there will still be a need for Tannehill to show he can make the right decisions whether or not a defender is bearing down on him.

One way to help could be to get Tannehill throwing on the move more often as he’s been more successful in that area than he’s been when he delivers his passes from the pocket. His athleticism has always been a plus and Sherman’s scheme didn’t always take full advantage of that in Tannehill’s first two seasons. He’s played well in the first two preseason games, which creates some optimism for what’s to follow.

2. Will shuffling the linebackers lead to better results?

The Dolphins brought in two free agent linebackers last year and said goodbye to Karlos Dansby only to see Dansby thrive in Arizona while Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler helped man a linebacking corps that struggled against the run and the pass. Ellerbe played in the middle last year with Wheeler and Misi flanking him, but things will look different this time around.

Misi is in the middle, a new position for him, while Ellerbe has kicked outside in hopes that he’ll be freed up to make more plays from that spot in the defense. The group had a poor first preseason outing, which has opened the door for fifth-round pick Jordan Tripp to gain some snaps with the first team. Whoever winds up filling out the group come the regular season, there needs to be a serious improvement in execution if the Dolphins defense is going to be stingy.

3. Will Mike Wallace’s second year in Miami be more productive than his first?

Wallace came to Miami with a contract that says he’s a centerpiece of the offense, but he didn’t wind up making that kind of impact on the field. Wallace caught 73 passes, but averaged a career-worst 12.7 yards per catch as his speed never led to the kinds of big plays down the field (six catches in 36 attempts of more than 20 yards) that marked his career with the Steelers.

Lazor has plans to use Wallace in a wider variety of ways this season, but neither reports from camp nor preseason play has shown a serious difference on the field. As the most dynamic receiver on the team, Wallace will have to be a major part of the offense for Tannehill to make the kinds of strides that the team wants to see him take this season.

4. Can the offensive line come together on the fly?

The good news for the Dolphins is that the bar was set so low in 2013 that it shouldn’t be hard for this year’s group to be better. The bad news is that being better than the 2013 Dolphins doesn’t mean that the line will be good enough to keep the offense moving.

Left tackle Branden Albert is a clear and big upgrade, but the rest of the line is still a mystery. Center Mike Pouncey hopes to avoid the PUP list, but will miss some time as he recovers from hip surgery and the loss of that anchor could have a ripple effect on a line that will start inexperienced players (tackle Ja’Wuan James, guard Dallas Thomas and guard Billy Turner) and/or underwhelming veterans Shelley Smith, Daryn Colledge and Dallas Thomas.

While the pass protection got all the notice last year, the Dolphins also fell short in the ground game. The backs on hand aren’t world-beaters, so there will be pressure on the line to be much better in that area as well because a little more balance would go a long way in Miami.

5. Do they have enough in the secondary?

The Dolphins were dealt a blow this summer when starting safety Reshad Jones was suspended for the first four games of the regular season, leaving cornerback Brent Grimes as the only sure thing in the secondary to start the season.

They are going to need safety Louis Delmas to stay healthy, cornerback Cortland Finnegan to rebound from a poor 2013 season and at least one member of the Jamar Taylor/Will Davis/Walt Aikens group of young players to make strides in order to be a group that scares opposing offenses. If those things don’t fall into place, they’ll be short even after Jones returns to the lineup and there will likely be some long days for the Miami defense.

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22 Responses to “Five questions: Miami Dolphins”
  1. thevikesarebest says: Aug 20, 2014 1:43 PM

    6-10

  2. 6ball says: Aug 20, 2014 1:45 PM

    .
    The Dolphins are like Swiss cheese with random holes throughout.
    .

  3. ProDolphinsTalk says: Aug 20, 2014 1:50 PM

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Yes
    4. Yes
    5. Yes

    Result: 10-6

  4. ampats says: Aug 20, 2014 2:15 PM

    Week# 1 0-1

  5. weepingjebus says: Aug 20, 2014 2:29 PM

    Tannehill has potential, but he needs more year-to-year consistency in the offensive personnel to develop fully. Defense is also a question mark, and the schedule this year is not very forgiving — they play only a few weak teams, and those are on the road. I think the Pats and maybe the Jets (really) come out of the division this year, but next year the Dolphins will be decent or maybe even good if they can stabilize things around Tannehill more.

  6. harrisonhits2 says: Aug 20, 2014 2:30 PM

    The Fins had some good moments the last couple years. Their glaring weak point was the Oline. Tannehill spent so much time running for his life that it was hard for him to perform well much of the time.

    If they’ve fixed that problem the Dolphins will be much better this year.

  7. phinfan says: Aug 20, 2014 2:53 PM

    #6) Running game…

  8. newguy925 says: Aug 20, 2014 2:56 PM

    This team has 4 really good players but none of them handle the ball and the rest of the team is in shambles due to the mismanagement of Jeff Ireland.

    Did you know: top paid receiving corp in the league this year? Just shy of 30 mil on the books for these guys. If you add the WR and LB cap hits it’s a 3rd of the cap. Think about the big names getting all that green…

    Lucky if they win 6.

  9. keenemarin says: Aug 20, 2014 3:20 PM

    I think all of these are related closely to the O Line. Once you get that sorted out, then you can answer questions like “Is Wallace any good?”, the running game suddenly gets dramatically better, and a balance between the air and ground is achieved.

    As soon as Tannehill isnt forced into pressured passes, then you will see improvement.

    Personally, I believe in him. He’s good. My five questions about Miami are (in order): RT, RG, C, LG, LT.

    Answer those questions, my beloved Dolphins, answer those.

  10. djscottyb says: Aug 20, 2014 3:25 PM

    1, 2, 3 – Yes 4 & 5 – No

    Our OL will come together enough to let Ryan throw – but not enough to help our sub par RB’s and running game. A 5 LB rotation including Tripp and Jordan (after suspension) will be a good thing. DB’s alway get hurt as the season goes on – I’m not too sure of our depth – not too much experience.

  11. cornersss says: Aug 20, 2014 4:40 PM

    Letting Dansby, Carpenter and Reggie bush walk hurt us bad.

    All BIG needs for this team now.

  12. nflgreedleague says: Aug 20, 2014 4:49 PM

    Not a bad write up except multiple report out of camp are that Tannehill’s long ball has significantly improved to Wallace and others. He will also be getting rid of the ball quicker so the pass protection will be okay. So far the running game is the big question mark.
    Week one will probably be a close one as the NE at Miami games usually are but I would not be surprised if Miami beats up on the Pats. Belichick hasn’t had a chance to learn Miami offensive signals yet and just because they have Revis doesn’t matter much because Miami has very good depth at the WR position. Does NE have 5 good DBs, I don’t think so.

  13. squashstroup says: Aug 20, 2014 5:57 PM

    So, what part of this team has no questions?
    D-line maybe.
    Considering their defensive line is the least impressive in the AFC east, I little confidence that any part of this team is solid.
    2015 top 5 pick anyone?

  14. laxcoach37 says: Aug 20, 2014 6:44 PM

    The Dolphins are young and solid, but questions in the ability to Run and the ability to stop the Run are the only questions and what separates this Team from the Playoffs and another mediocre year.

  15. laxcoach37 says: Aug 20, 2014 6:51 PM

    As for the secondary… Jimmy Wilson can play for the Suspended Rashad Jones just fine and perhaps you all did not know buy Will Davis is the highest rated CB in PreSeason and he is not even a Starter. We have 2 Pro-Bowlers for that. You guys always write articles based on the year before and do little to no current research. It’s like saying we are doomed without Dion Jordan. Who cares, we play fine without him. Is he a Bust, who knows? Either way we have not counted on him; so no loss. If he pans out when he returns at OLB even better. The Dolphins are on the rise. History says so… the NFL is cyclic.

  16. FinFan68 says: Aug 20, 2014 7:49 PM

    IF this team gets league-wide average play from the o-line it is a playoff team. If not, nope.

  17. keepyerstickontheice says: Aug 20, 2014 8:59 PM

    I wouldn’t worry about the Pats until you can beat the Bills. Or at least, score against them.

    Baby steps.

  18. paleandpasty says: Aug 20, 2014 11:13 PM

    Dallas Thomas is listed as inexperienced and as a veteran.

  19. joemontanawasthegreatest says: Aug 21, 2014 10:28 AM

    8-8 to 10-6 somewhere. Their oline looks vastly improved so far this preseason.

  20. humanbowlingball says: Aug 21, 2014 3:28 PM

    The Dolphins are not world-beaters but vastly better than PFT had them ranked (really, 31st?).

    Pretty sure that they will make PFT eat some crow. Even last year’s team with that disastrous o-line beat New England (once), Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

    Their defense is underrated. If the o-line is better they can at least equal last year’s 8-8 record and, with a little luck, maybe do even better and make the playoffs.

  21. promickey says: Aug 22, 2014 12:59 PM

    Well the number one question is on Ryan Tannehill who many still think was a stretch being the 8th overall pick in his draft. My guess is that if the Dolphins are not winning after 4 games Tannehill will be replaced by Matt Moore who is the better QB. Coach Joe Philbin needs to win and make the playoffs this season.

  22. donschmidt72 says: Aug 26, 2014 2:36 PM

    the o-iine will be what it is-worst case scenario same as last year. with that said I say cut Thomas and Miller keep Darkwa and Williams maybe they will surprise as we know what we have in Miller and Thomas and that is not much!! To beat the Patsies you must have ball control and eat up the clock. You must also put pressure on Brady. Brady does not perform well under pressure especially if that pressure comes up the middle!!! Bring your safties up and play man to man on the edge. The Patsies bread and butter is the short game dink passes to get yac. Make Brady beat you with the long game as this makes him stay in the pocket longer which plays in the hands of Wake and Vernon.

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