are exciting times for the Miami Dolphins.
agency has been a rousing success on paper, yielding a bounty of very
talented players. The bell cow of the lot is WR Mike Wallace
(Steelers), a gamebreaker in the mold of Mark Duper, the type of
receiver the team hasn’t had since Irving Fryar plied his trade
almost 20 years ago.
now comes the highly
anticipated NFL Draft. The Dolphins possess a hoard of high draft
picks, even gaining two extra picks as compensation for past free
agents lost. With the progress made in free agency, General Manager
Jeff Ireland is now in a unique position…being able to draft more
for top talent versus need.
really a special opportunity:
Ireland has a chance to virtually eliminate the gap between his
Dolphins and the New England Patriots. How long have Dolfans been
waiting for the chance to do THAT?
is even a new team logo and overall brand impression, long promised
by owner Stephen Ross and much desired by many progressive-thinking
faithful. Reaction is mixed, but it screams change and a fresh start.
Dan Marino tweeted “#NewEraNewLook”.
of this excitement has somewhat
blunted the pain of the past four consecutive losing seasons, with
real hope blossoming in perfect synchronization with the spring
season. It’s easy for Dolfans to conclude that the losing streak is
over, and that the playoffs must be a foregone conclusion.
says here that’s a leap we shouldn’t make just yet.
Dolphins did lose some good players to other teams. The reasons for
this were varied, though the real cause for concern is that some of
replacements currently on the roster are either downgrades or
second year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin ready to handle left
tackle for 16 games? Will he prove a solid replacement for Jake Long
(Rams)? Some say he doesn’t have to be that good, and he’s a lot
less expensive than Long. But make no mistake: the spotlight on him
will be very hot. If QB Ryan Tannehill gets injured in a game by a
guy that Martin should have handled, the uproar and second-guessing
will be deafening. That’s not to say we should expect Martin to
fail, but he has a lot of work to do before he can be considered a
good NFL left tackle, let alone a player the caliber of a Jake Long.
is what coach Joe Philbin wants to see out of Martin for the sale to
what about second year running back Lamar Miller, is he really ready
for prime time? Is he ready to replace Reggie Bush (Lions), a man
with 2,000 yards over his two Dolphin seasons?
Philbin cited “consistency” when referencing Miller’s biggest
need. Hey Joe, don’t forget pass protection!
about third year man Daniel Thomas? We haven’t seen much from him
to suggest he’s anything more than the second coming of JJ Johnson.
He’s oft injured and also struggles in pass protection. Really, he
is eight games away from earning a big fat bust tag.
and…you guessed it… “consistency” are Philbin’s keys to his
be clear: THE reason why Bush wasn’t re-signed is that Ireland made
a big investment in these young backs, trading up for Miller and
Thomas, and needed to show a return. Bush simply stood in the way of
that. It’s a huge risk letting their best offensive playmaker last
season get away, but Ireland is determined
to take that risk.
are some other questions that remain to be answered.
biggest remains quarterback Ryan Tannehill. His future as an NFL QB
is not yet validated. He had a decent rookie season and made the sort
of progress you wanted to see from a raw college prospect. Now comes
Year Two, where truly elite QBs generally make a big leap forward.
This year Tannehill has the tools he needs to be successful: his
favorite target (Brian Hartline) is back, as is Davone Bess, and now
he has Wallace and Brandon Gibson (Rams) too. And Dustin Keller
(Jets) should prove to be a better target at tight end over the
departed Anthony Fasano (Chiefs).
now it is up to him. Other pretenders to Dan Marino’s throne failed
at this point in their careers. Will Tannehill succeed where the
the shock of free agency came with the unexpected release of
linebackers Karlos Dansby (free agent) and Kevin Burnett (Raiders).
They were the top two tacklers on the team last season, each netting
over 100 stops in total. This was very impressive. But Ireland and
coach Joe Philbin weren’t much impressed, and decided to instead
opt for youth NOW. Enter Dannell Ellerbe (Ravens) and Phillip Wheeler
(Raiders). Logic says they should do well behind Paul Soliai and the
franchised Randy Starks.
hope is that Ellerbe and Wheeler give defensive coordinator Kevin
Coyle a new dimension or greater flexibility to employ on game days.
For example, Ellerbe should be more effective against tight ends
running down the middle. But are they “upgrades” over Dansby and
problem that needed to be solved: cornerback. Ireland and Philbin
decided it was time to go in a different direction by allowing Sean
Smith to leave (Chiefs). When we consider all the redzone TDs allowed
by Smith over the years, it’s easy to understand the decision.
Smith’s departure follows the trade of Vontae Davis to the Colts;
this effectively writes off Ireland’s heavy investment in the
former starting duo.
replace Smith, Ireland signed former Pro Bowler Brent Grimes from the
Falcons to a one year deal. The reasons are simple to understand:
Grimes is still recovering from an Achilles injury, and there are
some very good CBs at the top of the upcoming NFL draft.
the name Xavier Rhodes from Florida State. He has the ability to play
multiple techniques, is lightning fast, has Nnamdi Asomugha size, is
good against the run, and hits with force. As things stand as of this
writing, he is a very real and attractive possibility for the
Dolphins with their 12th
it’s hard to know yet what these changes (and
others not named here) will really mean to the team’s fortunes. We
need to keep watching the movie. Even intangibles such as team
chemistry need to be rationalized, especially with the number of free
agents infused in such a short time. A lot still needs to happen for
these Dolphins to be seriously regarded as a playoff contender.
temper your excitement just a bit. The signs are very good, but don’t
forget the past four seasons. Judge March in December. Only then will
we really know what the impacts of the changes really are.