The Dolphins are hoping that breaking one long tradition leads to the end of a shorter, more immediately meaningful one.
By drafting Ryan Tannehill in the first round, the team ended a nearly 30-year run of avoiding the position at the top of the draft. Whether Tannehill turns out to be another Dan Marino (the last first-round Dolphins quarterback) or not, the Dolphins hope that he and new coach Joe Philbin can get the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Tannehill will have to win the starting job to do that, of course, and his ability to do that is just one of the many questions that the team will have to answer to close the door on their playoff drought.
Cameron Wake has 28 sacks in three seasons since leaving the CFL, good enough to land him a new contract in the offseason. Now that he’s been paid, Wake will have to figure out how to make the same kind of pass rushing impact from an end spot in the 4-3 base look that the Dolphins are moving to this season. Unless the money goes to his head, that shouldn’t be a problem.
No one would have predicted Reggie Bush for a late bloomer when he left USC, but that might just be the case. Bush averaged five yards a carry last year and topped 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, finally showing that he could be successful as a feature back. There’s been a lot of talk about using him as a receiver this season, which says much about the state of the receiving corps, and Bush is going to get a lot of work all over the place as the team covers for deficiencies elsewhere.
Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland took a lot of heat this offseason, but he can point to the signing of Karlos Dansby as something he got right. Dansby anchored a defense that performed admirably last season without getting much help from the offense. If Randy Starks and Paul Soliai do their jobs up front, Dansby should rack up tackles by the dozen this season.
Teams with three-way battles for the starting quarterback job do not have a long history of success in the National Football League.
Any attempt to write off the acquisition of Chad Ochocinco as simply being about adding a star to the Hard Knocks cast is easily refuted by a look at the depth chart at wide receiver. Ochocinco isn’t the player he was with the Bengals, but he might be just as close to being a number one receiver as anyone else currently in town.
Yeremiah Bell left and Tyrell Johnson arrived, but the Dolphins safeties don’t look any better than they did last season. Considering how many yards opposing offenses threw for last season, that’s not a particularly good thing. Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons and Tyrone Culver are back and perhaps the Dolphins will stumble into a useful duo, but the odds are the rest of the defense will have to carry this weak link.
We’ve already hit the rookie coach, rookie quarterback, the moves at safety and the walking reality show at wide receiver, so let’s move on to the trade of last year’s leading wide receiver. Brandon Marshall’s 81 catches and 1,214 receiving yards were pretty much the entire passing offense last season, so the decision to trade him to Chicago explains why wide receiver features so prominently in their weaknesses. Starting fresh with Philbin may have necessitated trading the volatile Marshall, but it probably won’t help them on the field.
We mentioned Tannehill, who will be playing for his college coach in new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. The Dolphins are moving toward the West Coast offense after Tony Sparano’s more grinding approach, something that will take some time especially without ideal players at key positions like quarterback and wide receiver.
Second-round pick Jonathan Martin replaces Marc Colombo at right tackle, which gives him a strong chance of being seen as an upgrade when the year comes to an end. The Dolphins are solid at center and on the left side, so getting something from Martin would really help the offense.
Jason Taylor retired and Kendall Langford left as a free agent, which means Jared Odrick will have to step up to a more prominent role at defensive end. He had six sacks last season, but wasn’t good enough against the run.
Tannehill will resume his battle with David Garrard and Matt Moore when camp opens, although he’s positioned as the longshot at this point. Garrard is reportedly in the lead despite missing last year with a back injury and never playing in the offense before, which might leave Moore in position to take over midseason when a starter falters for the third time in his career. Or Moore could win the job and try to better his brief stint as the Panthers starting quarterback. Either way, it will prove to be the best drama on HBO since John From Cincinnati.
If Philbin’s Green Bay tenure is any guide, there will be playing time for all the tight ends on the roster but it will be interesting to see how the order shakes out. Although Anthony Fasano has been a capable starter, Charles Clay and rookie Michael Egnew could wind up being better fits for the offense as the season plays out. Clay could become a Swiss Army knife type player based on what he flashed in 2011.
The Dolphins signed Richard Marshall from the Cardinals and say that they will use him in the slot with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith outside. Smith struggled last season, though, and if he picks up where he left off the Dolphins might revisit their initial thoughts on the matter.
In some cases, winning six of your last nine games would be cause for optimism about the year to come. That’s not really the case in Miami where so much has changed from that team.
Better days may yet be ahead, but the shift in schemes and philosophies and the drafting of Tannehill make this look like a year to use as a bridge to those better days. The defense should be okay and they always played hard last year, but an okay defense and effort isn’t going to cover for the flaws on the offensive side of the ball too often.
The problem could come if they do it often enough to have the team in contention for a playoff spot at 6-6 entering Week 14, which isn’t unthinkable when you look at their schedule. Figuring out if Tannehill’s the leader for your offense would be a fine development for the Dolphins, but it will be hard to do if he isn’t the quarterback at that point.
It’s a nice problem to have, of course, but if the Dolphins are gonna need Tannehill to work out for them if they want to wait another 30 years before picking a quarterback in the first round.