For this week's installment of "3&3" I wanted to take a look into the future. (The future, you say?) That's right - all the way to 2010.
Let me explain. My idea for today, to make things interesting, was to think about what has to go right in '09 for the Dolphins to win the AFC East for the second consecutive season. Conversely, my "three down" will be what could go wrong and result in the Dolphins struggling and ending the season at .500 or worse. It's purely speculation, of course. But thinking about what might have to happen for the Dolphins to have a great '09 - as well as what would have to go horribly wrong for 2009 to turn into a disappointing season - should make for some decent discussion.
THREE REASONS FOR SUCCESS IN 2009
1. The receivers step up - All offseason we heard about how the Dolphins needed to go get a true #1 receiver. Some fans wanted Anquan Boldin. Others wanted Braylon Edwards. And even more fans were hoping/praying for the Dolphins to spend their first round pick on a wide receiver. But the Dolphins didn't pick a receiver until round three - taking USC's Patrick Turner. As it turns out, he could be just what the Dolphins needed - a big, physical possession receiver and redzone threat. Meanwhile, Ted Ginn is entering his third year and has been described in practice as "dominant" at times by Tony Sparano this offseason. And Davone Bess now enters his second season a year after having a tremendous season for an undrafted rookie free agent. If this unit can improve like we all hope they will and make plays, the Dolphins' offense can be pretty darn good.
2. The rookie corners are as good as we all hope they are - All offseason while others were clamoring for a receiver, I listed the secondary as the team's #1 need. And the Dolphins seemed to have done that as well - retaining Yeremiah Bell, signing Gibril Wilson, and drafting two cornerbacks on day one of the draft. If the Dolphins have another outstanding season in 2009, I think the play of rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will be a big reason why. The Dolphins face some explosive receivers this year and limiting the big plays will be critical to this team's success. We're all hoping that these two rookies develop in a hurry. If they do, that'll be one less worry week in and week out in '09.
3. Players other than Joey Porter prove they can get to the quarterback - Sure, the Dolphins finished 8th in the NFL in sacks last year with 40. But 44% of those sacks came from one man - Joey Porter. Among the NFL sack leaders, only John Abraham accounted for more of his team's sacks than Porter (49%). Joey simply had little help getting pressure on the quarterback. While that makes what Porter did last year even more impressive, it's a cause for concern for the Dolphins in 2009. They face some good quarterbacks and some very good receivers this year. If guys like Jason Taylor, Cameron Wake, Matt Roth, Kendall Langford, and Phillip Merling can't help out Joey and get in the opposing QB's face, 2009 could be a disappointing season.
THREE REASONS FOR DISAPPOINTMENT IN 2009
1. Chad Pennington struggles or gets hurt - We know that Chad Pennington is the leader in the huddle right now. He commands his teammates' respect at all times after what he did last year. But we also know that Pennington is far from a sure thing to repeat or better his 2008 performance. Last year was just the second time in his career that Chad has started all 16 games. And he has never had back-to-back seasons of double-digit starts. Now I know many of you think Chad Henne is going to be good/great. But let's face it - he's as unproven as it gets and, even if he does develop into an elite QB, it's not likely that he could play at that high level immediately in 2009.
2. The offensive line crumbles - By crumble, what I mean is that they all start getting hurt. This isn't really about either of the tackles, though. Jake Long and Vernon Carey have proven to be durable and reliable as bookends for this team. But the interior line is a different story. Last year, we saw both of Miami's starting guards go down to season-ending injuries. While Justin Smiley looks to be at 100%, Donald Thomas has already suffered an off-season injury. Even if he's back at 100% by camp, we can't assume he'll remain healthy. Throw in a center with an injury history (Jake Grove) and it's easy to see why many Dolphin fans will be reaching for the antacids whenever an offensive lineman stays down on the field after a play.
3. The defensive line takes a step back - With the release of veteran Vonnie Holliday and no safe bet at nose tackle behind the aging Jason Ferguson, the Dolphins are placing a lot of trust in young defensive linemen. Guys like Kendall Langford, Phillip Merling, Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Lionel Dotson, and Tony McDaniel will have to really step up their games to ensure Miami's run defense doesn't fold like a cheap suit. Miami was middle of the pack last year in yards-per-carry against (4.2). They can't expect to fall any lower and still have team success in 2009.