Underneath the excitement of Dolphins fans who celebrated the hiring of former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin last winter was the lingering knowledge that Miami was about to install a Green Bay-style West Coast offense without A) Aaron Rodgers, or B) even a fraction of the wideout talent present on the Packers' roster.
For those of you playing at home, the two items mentioned above represent the most important cogs in the West Coast offense wheel: a smart, decisive and accurate quarterback, and a receiver group who can run ultra-precise routes, consistently get open and create yards after the catch. To even consider installation of the WCO without either cog would be a poor display of judgment.
To consider installation of the WCO with Miami's personnel at quarterback and receiver would borderline on football suicide. Just say no, boys and girls.
But then the Dolphins drafted Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill eighth overall last April, and got the ball rolling on a brand-new offensive culture in South Florida. Intelligent, accurate, mobile, thick-skinned, and blessed with a strong arm and quick-ish release, Tannehill embodies all of the traits Philbin needs in his WCO operator. Is he as good as Rodgers? Obviously not. Could he be as good as Rodgers someday? Hard to say. Could he become good enough to dominate in Philbin's brand of the horizontal-based passing attack? Most definitely.
So that's one major task in the can, provided Tannehill blossoms into the savvy franchise-caliber passer Miami has so sorely lacked over the past 12 years. Finding that quarterback is the hardest part in building a football team capable of long-term success, but it takes two to tango in the passing game, and there's still that gruesome Miami receiver group to address.
Oh, how effective Davone Bess and Brian Hartline would be in this offense if they were lining up with faster, stronger receivers able to put legitimate fear in opposing secondaries (think: Greg Jennings, Jeremy Maclin, Reggie Wayne, Titus Young, etc.). Instead, the Dolphins treat Bess and Hartline like they are Crockett and Tubbs. That would make sense if this was season five of Miami Vice, in which Don Johnson's hockey mullet was trying to take over the show, and Phillip Michael Thomas was much too busy talking about his plans to win Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys (he proceeded to win none of the four).
Regardless, the Dolphins' on-the-cusp-of-getting-cancelled version of Miami Vice is plenty effective at getting open underneath and making tough catches. Hell, they can even get behind coverage once in a while and haul in a long ball. You're much more likely to get the former than the latter from these guys, though, and that's why it's borderline pointless to feign commitment to the West Coast offense with just two capable receivers in tow. That'd be like playing Texas Hold 'Em against a guy who's only allowed to hold one card. Regardless of how good a player he is, you'll run at him every time because you know it's unlikely he'll drop a monster hand on you. No team is afraid of Davone Bess taking a quick slant and tearing off an 85-yard run. No team is afraid of Brian Hartline shaking down their best cornerback for 60 minutes. These guys are pivotal role players in what is, in theory, an ultra-balanced passing attack. They're not big guns, however, and you can bet the rest of the league knows it, too.
Maybe rookie wideout Rishard Matthews gets it together and becomes a fast, big-bodied target for Tannehill. Maybe rookie tight end Michael Egnew gets it together and forms a formidable tandem with Anthony Fasano.
Or maybe the Dolphins' front office gets it together next spring and finds Tannehill the high-end receiver weaponry he desperately needs. He's been lucky enough to see huge production out of running back Reggie Bush thus far this season, and Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller could be stars in waiting, but judging by the Packers' lack of enthusiasm toward running the football during Philbin's stay as offensive coordinator, it's probably a safe bet to suggest that Miami is emphasizing its rushing attack right now because it's passing attack is a unicycle in a world of high-powered motorcycles. Still, Bush, Thomas and Miller are a pretty fancy hydra in any NFL backfield.
Which brings us to the way in which Miami can make its passing game as effective and sound as its running game: draft an f'n receiver or three next offseason!
It's possible that Green Bay's no-receivers-in-the-first-round draft approach made the trip with Philbin down to Miami, and while it would be great (repeat: great) to draft a receiver like Cal's Keenan Allen or USC's Robert Woods, the Dolphins might do themselves a favor by waiting until the second round (where they'll likely have two high picks). Suppose they want to add a Randall Cobb/Percy Harvin-like playmaker to the bunch.
Hello, Tavon Austin from West Virginia!
Suppose the Dolphins want to add a Jennings-like playmaker.
Aaron Mellette from Elon? Come on down!
Suppose the Dolphins want a versatile James Jones-like presence in the receiver corps.
Dear Terrance Williams, Get your ass to Miami.
The receiving talent next spring won't dry up after the second round, either, which is great news for a Dolphins team that could probably use a middle linebacker, pass-rusher and lockdown corner, as well.
(Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Stedman Bailey from West Virginia, and I think he's currently a third-round guy, though playing with arguably the best quarterback in the nation right now might change Bailey's course, however. I am also liking Kenny Stills from Oklahoma, and he's probably the eighth- or ninth-best receiver in the country right now, rankings wise).
In the West Coast offense, it's not about Megatron-like size and speed, or Larry Fitzgerald-like hops. No, what Miami needs are receivers who run great routes, catch everything thrown their way, generate tons of YAC and even block. Those guys are typically littered throughout day two of the draft, so it's up to Miami to make sure they hit right on the four picks they have in rounds two and three.
If they do, it could mean smooth sailing for a young quarterback who needs all the offensive help he can get.