With the 2013 NFL season finally here, SB Nation wanted to stop by and ask us some questions about the Miami Dolphins, and what we should expect for this year. Any chance to talk Dolphins, I'll take.
1. Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?
The easiest answer here is Cameron Wake. The All Pro defensive end is a beast and he's a fan favorite. Obviously, Dolphins fans are going to be rooting for Ryan Tannehill to take that next step this year, and a lot of Dolphins fans will be rooting for Lamar Miller, as the former Miami Hurricane takes the starting running back position for the Dolphins. But, in the end, I think Cameron Wake, who always seems to do the right thing, say the right thing, and plays the right way (plus gets a ton of sacks), is the easiest player to root for.
2. If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...
I think this stays the same year after year, and I bet the guys over at Gang Green Nation would answer the other half of this annual home-and-home series. It's always the New York Jets. Add in that this year's Jets game in Miami is Week 17, with any potential playoff chances for the Dolphins on the line, and it adds in another level to the game.
Non-AFC East games, I would probably say the Baltimore Ravens game in Week 5, because you always want a chance to see the reigning Super Bowl Champions. But, it just will never match what a Jets game in Miami is like.
3. Which notable cuts did the Dolphins make?
There weren't a lot of big names that were released in the roster cuts this year. The biggest veteran name was probably kicker Dan Carpenter, who was released two weeks into training camp, with rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis taking over the position. They also let go guard Lance Louis, who was signed this offseason to challenge John Jerry for the right guard position, but Louis' knee has not responded after tearing his ACL last year, and the Dolphins let him go. Austin Spitler is another veteran who was released, but it was not really a surprise. He's been a reserve linebacker with the team, but was primarily just a special teams player, and with the younger depth coming up behind him, he was bound to be cut.
The younger guys had a few names that, as Dolphins fans, we were surprised they cut, or that they have not signed to the practice squad. Defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo has had a good preseason, including three sacks in the last four games, and seemed like a sure thing for the practice squad, but the team has, apparently, ruled him out. Wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Brian Tyms were both cut, but appear to be back on the practice squad.
The one player whose release came and we all knew it would be bad was defensive tackle A.J. Francis. Signed as an undrafted free agent, Francis was impressive throughout training camp and the preseason. He's someone who most teams would have kept, but with the depth along the defensive line, he was constantly a bubble player for the Dolphins. He fell to the wrong side of the cuts for some reason, but the team intended on bringing him back to the practice squad. Reports yesterday first had him turning down a practice squad offer from the New England Patriots, to return to the Dolphins, then, with Francis in the team facilities yesterday, word came down that the Patriots actually had placed a claim on him, so off he goes to an AFC East rival.
4. Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?
I'll give you two, then give you the real answer. Both running back Lamar Miller and defensive end Olivier Vernon should take big steps forward as they move into the starting lineups. However, it all comes down to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The team has built everything around him to make him successful this year, so he should be able to step up. But, when it all comes down to it, Tannehill has to make the biggest leap if the Dolphins are going to have success.
5. What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?
Seemingly low, but I will not rule it out. Unfortunately for him, it's not a matter of firing Joe Philbin, but it could be a matter of the team not renewing the contract of General Manager Jeff Ireland that leads to Philbin not being back. A new GM will be looking to bring in his own coach, so if Ireland is canned after this year, Philbin could be out the door after just two years on the job.
6. What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?
Perhaps one no one knows yet, but could by the end of the season involves Cameron Wake. Coming into his fifth year in the league, he is one of seven players in league history to record two 14+ sack seasons in his first four years. If he reaches that milestone again, he will join Reggie White as the only other player to have recorded three 14+ sack seasons in his first five years in the league. That's pretty elite company.
7. Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?
Caleb Sturgis is the obvious, easy answer, since he's the kicker. As for non-special teams players, third overall pick Dion Jordan will see plenty of time as a situational pass rusher, while Jamar Taylor and Will Davis will both see time at cornerback throughout the year. Maybe the rookie who will have the biggest impact will be tight end Dion Sims. With the injury to Dustin Keller this year, the development of Sims has been sped up, and he will probably see a lot of playing time. Offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, running back Mike Gillislee, and linebacker Jelani Jenkins will also probably make spot appearances and see time in special teams work.
8. Predict the order of finish in your division.
New England Patriots
New York Jets
9. What do you expect your season-end record will be?
9-7. Miami should be a better team than last year, a team that went 7-9. With all of the additional talent brought in to help Ryan Tannehill, who had a good rookie year overshadowed by three great rookie season, the Dolphins offense should be more explosive. The defense is going to keep the team in a lot of games this year, with a scary defensive line led by Cameron Wake, Paul Soliai, and Randy Starks - who may not even be the starter - all former Pro Bowlers. Add in Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Olivier Vernon, Brent Grimes, and Reshad Jones - not to mention third overall pick Dion Jordan, and Miami will be stout on defense. The Dolphins have all the markings of a Wildcard team this year; they may not claim it when everything shakes out, but the Dolphins should absolutely be in contention.