The 2013 Miami Dolphins were inconsistent, disappointing and downright deflating at times.
The biggest issue with the 2013 Dolphins was the meager 19.8 points per game average. This can't be debated. If you can't score 20 points in a game then you will usually lose, which makes it a miracle that the Dolphins were even 8-8 and in playoff contention.
Why did the Dolphins fail to score 20 points on any given Sunday? The two (main) culprits were: 1) the atrocious offensive line, which saw eight different starters and a "bullying" scandal along a unit that is built on chemistry and 2) former OC Mike Sherman, who was fired due to his dull offense's predictability (GO-GO!) and lack of creativity.
The Dolphins' offensive line allowed 58 sacks in 2013 and paved the way for less rushing yards than the franchise's most horrendous group ever, the 1-15 team of 2007.
Sherman had been Ryan Tannehill's coach since 2007. Tannehill hasn't played in an offense that didn't have Sherman's fingerprints on it since he was in high school. Sherman has been in the process of molding Tannehill throughout the young QB's whole career. Yet, Sherman was still let go. That alone tells you that it was time for Sherman's stale offense to be replaced.
When you have a young quarterback who is entering his "put up or shut up" third season in the NFL, like Tannehill, you want to put that quarterback in position to succeed. This is done by putting pieces around that QB that will make his job easier. That's why this offseason was all about Ryan Tannehill.
Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross hired Dennis Hickey to be the surgeon to repair an injured, defeated, barely clinging to life Dolphins' team, Six Million Dollar Man-style.
I like to imagine that when Hickey was handed the contract, the first the he saw was bold writing that read "FIX THE OFFENSIVE LINE". By finishing 8-8, despite the terrible trench play and questionable coaching (a topic for another day), the Dolphins proved that a good core group of players is in place. The thing holding the team back happened to be the area that former GM Jeff Ireland neglected the most in his final year as GM: offensive line.
Hickey stepped into the free agency spotlight with the signing of LT Branden Albert only minutes into the start of the free agency period. Albert, joined by the single carry-over from the 2013 line, Mike Pouncey, created an offensive line with two Pro-Bowlers but three spots unaccounted for.
The Dolphins then signed Shelley Smith, a versatile, athletic, career-backup guard who has started only eight games in his three NFL seasons. Smith will have an opportunity to earn one of the starting guard positions, but nothing is certain at this point.
Hickey entered the 2014 NFL Draft with huge holes along his offensive line and only two clear-cut starters. This made it obvious that a big man would be taken early and that there would likely be more than one selected (I thought there would be three).
Last Thursday Ja'Wuan James became the first player ever taken by Hickey as the lead man in the Dolphins' draft room. James is a seasoned right tackle who has started 49 games at the position in his Tennessee career. James is a quick-footed, mountain of a man who will be the day-one starter at right tackle for the 2014 Dolphins.
James' run blocking is a bit questionable and could use work, but Dolphins new o-line coach John Benton should help with that. Benton coached the Texans' o-line, which featured only one first rounder, into a dominant group, with the Texans' owning the best offensive line in football in 2011 with two RBs combining for over 2,100 yards (Miami's whole team ran for 1,440 in 2013).
Billy Turner was selected in the third round to presumably play one of the guard spots with left guard making more sense at you would prefer not to start to rookies next to each other.
Turner is a North Dakota State product who was a man amongst boys against his FCS level of competition, very similar to the "Blind Side" movie where Michael Oher's character is just a mammoth compared to everyone else. Turner absolutely mauled people while at North Dakota State, but his pure size and strength won't be enough in the NFL and he will need to play with better technique. I predict Benton will work closely with Turner during the offseason activities.
The Dolphins also added wide receiver Jarvis Landry to a deep receiving corps. This is because the Dolphins want to create mismatches all over the field. The Dolphins are truly taking the "competition never hurt" approach to get the best group of receivers on their roster, and I like it. Tannehill will have viable options all over the field.
Bill Lazor was also added to this staff as the offensive coordinator, replacing Sherman. Lazor was the QB coach in Philadelphia, where he helped turn Nick Foles into the top rated passer in the NFL and a Pro Bowler last year. The hope is that Lazor not only brings some of Chip Kelly's offensive flare and creativity, but also that he works closely with Tannehill to develop him in the same way that he did Foles.
Of course, he will need an offensive line to throw behind for any of it to matter.
The additions of James, Turner and Benton were huge for the Dolphins this offseason and were an enormous step in the offensive line rebuild that has been taking place. This year is Ryan Tannehill's time to shine bright or burn out, and everyone in the building knows that without adequate trench play that the latter will be his destiny.
Not only does Tannehill need time to see the field and throw the ball before having pass rusher in his face, but he also needs an running game that is better than 27th in the league to take some pressure off of Tannehill's right arm. Tannehill had 12 games with at least 35 passing attempts, after only five the year before, and the offense had four games with less than 25 rushing yards (including totals of 14 and two, both franchise lows at the time).
The one-dimensional nature of last year's offense puts too much stress on Tannehill to allow the Dolphins to be in a consistent position to win games, which is why the front half of this draft, and most of free agency, was for Tannehill. Tannehill will now sit behind a rebuilt line when he throws the ball with an experienced running back, Knowshon Moreno, who can pick up blitzes behind him, something that Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas struggled with last season.
The addition of Landry provides a reliable slot receiver who many (including myself) think will contest Hartline as Tannehill's best friend on the field.
The Dolphins' 2014 offensive line will have two Pro Bowlers (Albert and Pouncey) and the best available men out of a first-round pick (James), a third-round pick (Turner), a 2013 third-round pick who couldn't get on the field when the Dolphins were desperate for offensive line help (Dallas Thomas), a guard who has started only eight games in his career (Smith), a career backup (Nate Garner), an injury prone player with potential (Jason Fox) and an undrafted free agent who cracked the starting line-up in his rookie season (Sam Brenner).
Not a lot of those names tickle you with excitement, but there is no doubt that the starting five in 2014 will be better than last year's.
The Dolphins' 2014 season hinges on two things, 1) Tannehill's ability to play with a new offensive coordinator in a new system) and 2) the line's ability to gel and work together, but I am confident that John Benton will make the transition smooth for each player.
This offseason was all about Tannehill. Protecting him, giving him weapons across the field and giving him a coach that will hopefully push him into the elite category of quarterbacks. No shocker there though because after all, without a good QB you won't win anything important. If Tannehill doesn't turn out to be the franchise savior then many people will lose their jobs when Stephen Ross pushes the reset button again.