A few days ago, we took a look at the SB Nation article naming Reggie Bush as one of the NFL players with the most to prove this offseason. While most of you disagreed that a 1,000 yard rusher needed to prove anything to a Miami team who have him securely entrenched as the starting running back in an offensive system that should fit his abilities as a player, there was some legitmacy to the idea that Bush has to prove himself this year.
Ben Volin at the Palm Beach Post today posted a similar look at theDolphins, ranking the top ten players who have something to prove this offseason. However, Bush was not included on the list. Instead, Volin took a look at some of the players who really do need to have a strong showing this year, with either their position with the team in danger, or their contract situation could lead to problems in the future.
For example, Volin ranks defensive end Cameron Wake as the tenth player most in need of proving something this year. Wake held out from the team's early voluntary workouts this year, in an effort to get a new contract. Despite the fact that his past performance drastically outplayed the $650,000 he was scheduled to make this year, his new $17 million deal could add pressure to Wake. The Dolphins only established pass rush threat has passed 30-years-old now, and did not have the same productivity last year that he had the year before. Granted, some of that could be attributed to the lack of a second pass rusher for Miami, but it could also be a sign that Wake is starting to crest and is on the downslope of his prime. As Volin put it, "The contract didn't make Wake's life easier - just gave him a whole new set of challenges."
Also making the list were wide receiver Brian Hartline and cornerback Sean Smith, holding spots two and three respectively, and for similar reasons. Both players are entering the final year of their contracts, and will be asked to step up their play from last year. Hartline is being leaned on to be the teams top wide receiver after the Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears. Smith, who has, at times, looked like a dominating cornerback, struggled for the majority of the season last year, and has demonstrated a lack of maturity, frustrating Tony Sparano and the previous coaching staff - and leading to Smith being benched in 2010. Both players have to step up this year if they hope to maintain their positions with the Dolphins, and if they want to get a big contract after this year.
There are two players I would have at least considered in the top ten Dolphins who need to have big years this year, with one of them probably beating out Wake for the tenth slot. I would suggest that tackle Jake Long and running back Daniel Thomas have something to prove this year.
Both players are coming off of injury filled years, and Thomas probably has more to prove than Long. The sophomore running back was supposed to add a power game to Bush's speed running attack, and Thomas did show flashes of that potential. However, a hamstring injury would nag him throughout the season, causing him to miss multiple games and questions about his ability to contribute to a team stacked at running back right now.
Meanwhile, Long is looking to rebound after a season involving knee issues, a back injury, and a torn biceps muscle, missing games for the first time in his four year career. While Long was still named to the Pro Bowl, meaning he has never not been selected as an NFL All-Star in his career, the fact that people have started to question whether the 27-year-old's body has started to breakdown on him already, and the possibility of Jonathan Martin being a replacement for Long being raised, don't bode well for one of the league's top left tackles. Long is entering the final year of his rookie contract, making $11.2 million this year. The Dolphins have the option of placing the franchise tag on Long after this season, but a long term deal, rivaling the seven-year $84-million deal Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas signed last year, is the ultimate goal - and Long has to prove he is healthy and still the dominating left tackle of the past four years to get that deal.