The 2012 Miami Dolphins will feature a new head coach and
staff, new offensive and defensive systems, and a heavy roster turnover that features
only 32 faces from last season together with 11 rookies (as of this writing).
This all adds up to a full scale re-building effort. Anyone not fitting the
vision that Head Coach Joe Philbin has established for this team is no longer
employed in South Florida.
This is what change looks like.
Dolfans, from owner Stephen Ross to the guy seated in
Section 420, wanted this. But make no mistake about it: this journey will come
with plenty of short term pain. Despite the protestations of GM Jeff Ireland,
all signs point to the Dolphins having given up on making the playoffs this
season and, perhaps, even earning a winning record. There can be no other plausible
conclusion when good players are cut or traded away on the eve of the season
While the playoffs are highly unlikely this year, young
promising players will now have more snaps and development time. It tells us the
long term vision has become the most important thing to the franchise, the
promise of tomorrow.
Many Dolfans are OK with having patience, convinced that
life under Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells was not going to get better anytime
soon. It remains to be seen how ďOKĒ these fans will be once October rolls
around; it all depends on how quickly this new vision can come together.
With new priorities apparently set, and the season opener coming
up on September 9 at Reliant Stadium versus the Texans (1pm ET, CBS), the time
has come to examine the Miami Dolphinsí keys to a successful 2012.
1) Rapid grasp of the West Coast Offense.
There is very little commonality between the system Sparano
ran the past four seasons and the one Philbin and Mike Sherman brought in from
Green Bay and Texas A&M respectively. So the challenge for the guys on
offense begins there. During the preseason, it was clear that there is more
thinking than reacting going on; this always inhibits top performance. How long
this learning curve takes to master is the biggest key to scoring points and having
a chance to win some games. Be letís be clear: the core of this unit is here,
now, on the roster. There is no cavalry coming over the hill.
2) Position QB Ryan Tannehill for a successful rookie season.
Perhaps the most important accomplishment this season will
be Tannehillís development. Itís easy understand the
urgency in finding out if he is the QB of the future. Weíve seen that he has the
talent; he outplayed last yearís MVP Matt Moore during the preseason. But is he
positioned for success, or has Philbin essentially thrown him into the deep end
of the pool? Can the offensive line protect him? Are there enough good veteran
playmakers around him to help him succeed? Does 19 college starts plus action
in four NFL preseason games give him the experience he needs to produce? Itís
up to Philbin and Sherman to make sure Tannehill doesnít cross the fine line
between learning under fire and suffering broken confidence.
3) Successfully Fit the Defensive Scheme to the Playersí
The signs from the preseason suggest that defensive
coordinator Kevin Coyle doesnít have the horses yet to run a full time 4-3 in
2012. Cameron Wake, moved from ROLB to RDE has shown signs of being unable to
stand up to the run. Kevin Burnett, slated as the starter at ROLB, missed
almost all of training camp due to injury, as did MLB Karlos Dansby. Both are
big question marks in their new roles. LOLB Koa Misi doesnít seem fast enough,
or agile enough, to cover his responsibilities and larger geography in a 4-3
scheme. CBs Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain arenít walking through that door,
and Sean Smith and Richard Marshall havenít done a very good impersonation of them.
Thatís a problem in a scheme which depends heavily on man-to-man coverage by
the corners. At safety, who will replace the leadership of the departed
Yeremiah Bell (now plying his trade for the rival NY Jets)? Coyle must be smart
and objective about his decisions because a strong defense is the Dolphinsí
best chance to keep them in games this season.
4) Stabilize the Offensive Line.
The offensive line is two stories in one. The left side
story, starring premier LT Jake Long, with tough LG Richie Incognito and all-rookie
C Mike Pouncey, is one of comfort, confidence, and domination. The right side
story, featuring unsteady rookie RT Jonathan Martin, and a very uncertain
situation at RG, is one of concern, worry, and vulnerability. Unfortunately the
Dolphins canít run to the left on every snap, nor will they convince opponents
to go easy on the strongside anytime soon. Remember, the line is the engine
that makes an offense go, so they have to get this fixed if they are going to
do anything this season.
5) Joe Philbin Shows He Has the Right Stuff.
Philbin has made some decisions thus far that have drawn praise
for showing toughness and conviction, and others that have left people
wondering if he really knows what heís doing. Some have already drawn
comparisons of him to Cam Cameron, which is neither
flattering nor accurate. But Philbin has opened himself up to these criticisms.
For example, with so much to do to get the Dolphins back on a winning track,
was the risk and distraction of Hard Knocks necessary? Was he wise to build a
staff with so many greenhorns, Sherman excluded? Is he flexible enough to work
with challenging veterans like Chad Johnson and Vontae Davis, or is he just a
keen judge of winning character and ability? Does he truly understand the strengths
and weaknesses of his players, or is he foolishly asking them to do things that
donít play to those respective strengths? One thing that Philbin has drawn
universal praise for is his straightforward and transparent style in working
with the media and fans, a refreshing change from the stifling policies of the
past. In the end, Philbin will be judged as all coaches are judged, by how much
his teams win. A good goal for this team, as presently constructed and facing
an easier schedule, would be an 8-8 record. If this comes to pass, few should
question his prowess and all should regard 2012 as a success.