It's quite a relief the NFL Draft is over. There was so much anxiety this off-season for Dolphin fans. It started with Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in February and early March. Since we realized neither of them would be a Dolphin, all the speculation was based on whether Ryan Tannehill or another QB prospect would be Miami's new QB. I'm just thankful all that speculation and anxiety is over. Now we can move forward filling up the roster and looking forward to the 2012 season. Except the draft didn't answer everything. Of course, Miami had enough needs that it'd be naive to think a single draft would answer all their questions. So what questions remain?
QB: It's unlikely Ryan Tannehill will be the starter, at least until late in the regular season if Miami finds themselves struggling. There will still be a QB competition, but it'll between Matt Moore and David Garrard. Moore did well enough last season to give some hope for competent QB play in 2012, but he will need to improve to fit in the West Coast Offense. Moore will need to improve his footwork and will need to cut down on his turnovers. Likewise, he will have to work on timing as that will be an important factor in running an efficient offense. He did well enough last year with some improv work on scrambles, but you can't run an effective West Coast Offense with a QB that holds on to the ball too long trying to make a play work. He will need to be in sync with his receivers and throw timely, accurate passes.
RB: Reggie Bush did very well for the Dolphins last year and should give optimism to fans. Still, Bush will be in a new offense and will need to adjust as well. Bush will be running in a zone blocking scheme for the first time in his career. The system works best with one-cut RB's that can read the line and react. Dancing around in the backfield and impatient running will hurt the RB, regardless if they have 4.3 speed or 4.9 speed. Can Bush do it? It's definitely possible, but it'll still be an adjustment. This system is likely why Miami brought Steve Slaton back as well. Slaton performed well in Houston's zone blocking scheme and he will be a player to watch in training camp and preseason. It's a bit premature to take a guess and say he could be Miami's starting RB, but he could climb up the depth chart. Daniel Thomas will have to perform well being that he is not a Philbin guy and he could find himself being challenge early not just for the #2 RB position, but he could be fighting just to stay on the team. Lamar Miller could prove to be an exceptional RB if he picks up the zone blocking. He is not only very fast, but he gets to his top speed quickly. If he can have that initial patience and make that single cut, he can be a huge threat for Miami.
WR: I've been saying for awhile that I think Miami's front office is probably more comfortable with their receiving corps than the fans are. Still, I feel extremely uncomfortable with our receivers. The best you can do is hope that Philbin's system works like it did in Green Bay. After all, their receivers are not exactly an explosive bunch with elite speed, but they make big plays. Davone Bess does have the ability to perform better than many may think. Bess runs good routes and is able to maintain his speed through his cuts. With the system Miami will employ, Bess could still be a very effective receiver. Hartline too is good running routes and has good quickness, but only average top speed. Between Bess and Hartline, they have two good WR's that can run routes. Still, opposing safeties will creep up if Miami can't find a receiver that can be a threat to get behind the defense. This is where Legedu Naanee and Clyde Gates come in. Both of them have very good speed and can be threats to burn the defensive backs, but they both remain very large question marks. Neither of those two are even average route runners. They will have to show they can run their routes precisely and be able to come out of their breaks quickly. Even if one improves their route running, it would help improve Miami's receiver corps a great deal. That's a big if though. It's worth keeping a eye in Green Bay as the future of Donald Driver remains uncertain due to his contract. If the Packers ultimately release Driver, there will likely be a few people in Miami interested to take a look at him. We can hope all we want that Miami's receiving corps shows similarities to Green Bay's, but Miami clearly lacks established WR's and a true receiving threat like Greg Jennings. We also don't have someone like Aaron Rodgers throwing them the ball.
OL: It's not the tackles I have concerns about. I like the tandem of Jake Long and Jonathan Martin. It's the guards that concern me though. Artis Hicks was merely okay in Cleveland. Richie Incognito is a bull of an offensive lineman and has a great amount of strength, but those will not be the qualities needed in Miami's linemen. The zone blocking will require linemen that have good lateral quickness, not those that can go out there and plow linemen five yards down the field. Hicks at least has experience in zone blocking schemes, but he can only be expected to be an average guard, not a great one. Long's health will remain the top question on Miami's line, but beyond him, it'll be Incognito that I will keep an eye on.
The Pass Rush: Miami added a lot of complimentary players to their front seven. They went out and signed Jamaal Westerman and Gary Guyton in free agency. Westerman was always a good prospect with the Jets, but he was never able to establish himself as a reliable pass rusher. He had 3.5 in limited playing time sacks with the Jets in 2011 and that doesn't bring much hope. It was later discovered that Westerman had played the entire season with a torn groin. Can he finally establish himself as a reliable pass rusher opposite of Wake? Maybe, but that is still a gamble. it was enough of a gamble the Dolphins signed Guyton as well. Guyton may play OLB in 4-3 schemes while Westerman plays DE, but they may also end up competing with each other for time as a 3-4 OLB. Guyton is good signing for depth and his ability to lock down the running game, but pass rushing is the last thing you would ask Guyton to do. Miami also drafted Olivier Vernon in the draft to aid in the pass rush. Vernon is a tough player, but has not shown a ton of moves outside of his strength to rush the passer. He had a very good sophomore season in 2010 that was supposed to lead to him being among the better Hurricane defenders, but he regressed when he came back from suspension. How much you like Vernon probably depends on if you think the 2010 season was his norm or if his 2011 season was. Either way, Miami has a lot of potential to help provide a rush opposite of Wake, but they lack an established pass rusher. Much like Miami's receiving corps, the Dolphins will have to rely on someone to step up and fill that role.
The Secondary: Beyond Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, the entire secondary will be a huge question mark. Jimmy Wilson moved back to FS and Reshad Jones has the inside track to start at SS. Richard Marshall will move back to CB, but will play nickel CB for the Dolphins. While in Carolina, Marshall showed a lot of ability, but he was plagued by inconsistency. Marshall played very well as a FS with the Cardinals in 2011 and has a knack for finding the football. He has all the tools to be an excellent CB or FS. Still, nickel CB is a different position and there are some CB's that can play well outside, but struggle when they move inside. If Marshall performs well, Miami's corners can do very well in 2012. The Dolphins lack depth behind Marshall and will need Nolan Carroll to show a lot of improvement. The bigger question will be the play of Miami's safeties. All of the potential starting safeties for Miami have a lot of athleticism and potential, but they again lack an established player. If Miami's potential blossoms, their secondary can be scary good. More likely though, we'll probably see a secondary that shows a lot of athleticism and speed, but may have disappointing moments when inexperience allows the offense to make big plays.
Most of the focus will be on how Philbin and Mike Sherman develop Ryan Tannehill, but we must remember there will be many players that will need to be brought along. With new systems on both sides of the ball and a lot of young starters, it's possible the Dolphins will be maddening to watch at points in the season. There may be mistakes made that you think may be inexplicable, such as an opposing WR getting behind the defense without a Dolphin within 15 yards of him, but that often happens with young teams. This could cause Miami to lose games to opponents you would expect them to beat, but their athleticism could also allow them to beat teams considered to be better teams. Does this mean playoffs in 2012? My inclination would be to say it's unlikely the Dolphins will find themselves to make the postseason in 2012, but could be very good as early as 2013. Of course, my inclination for 2011 would have been to put the 49ers in 2nd or 3rd place in the NFC West and out of the playoffs as well. Teams often surprise the nation. I hope I'm wrong with my guess, but Miami is young and still has a lot of holes to fill. I do think there is a lot to be excited about as we watch a young team with a ton of talent. Of course, we finally have a first round QB we can pin our hopes to as well. That's something we should all be excited about.