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Upside, Downside, Most likely - Dolphins Offense

By now, we Fin Fans have probably read about every new free agent acquisition, every draft pick, every coaching change, and every talking head’s opinion on what these changes will mean to the Miami Dolphins this coming season – MULTIPLE TIMES!

So rather than discuss the merit of these individual changes, or the perceived failure to address certain apparent areas of need, I thought I might try and take a look at the bigger picture.  Where is each overall unit at today?  What do these units look like heading into the season if everything goes right?  And what are the biggest risks if things don’t go as planned? 

For this post, we will focus on the Offense as a whole.

In taking a "systems theory" approach (systems theory just states that you can't evaluate a part of a system without taking into account the entire system), we must realize that the entire unit, offense or defense, can be either better or worse than the sum of its parts.  The effectiveness of a unit depends at least as much upon how the different parts work together, as it does upon the ability of the individual parts.

An Offensive Line unit needs raw talent at each position, surely.  But even a line with talent at each position will only be effective when they can work together as a unit.  We like to call this "chemistry".  Chemistry among the members of an Offensive Line creates a force that can open run lanes, and help make the Running Backs effective.  Effective Running Backs can take pressure off the Quarterback and help make the passing game effective.  Chemistry between a QB and his receivers will help to create positive yards in the passing game, and help the O-line be more effective by keeping them from becoming predictable to the opposing D.  And this, in turn, will open more space for the Running Backs.  The substitution of one player on the line can raise or lower the play of the entire Offense as a unit.

So let's start with upside!

What is the best case scenario if all of the injured players return to full strength; the newly acquired veterans mesh in the new system; the first or second year players (and we will include Henne in this group) develop to meet or exceed expectations; and the coaches (especially newly acquired Defensive Coordination Mike Nolan, we'll talk about him when we get to Defense) put the available talent best use?

Well, the Offensive starting lineup would probably look something like this:

O-Line – (LT) Jake Long, (LG) John Jerry, (C) Jake Grove, (RG) Richie Incognito, (RT) Vernon Carey
QB – Chad Henne; RB – Ronnie Brown; FB – Lousaka Polite; TE – Anthony Fasano; WR1 – Brandon Marshall; WR2 – Julius Pruitt

There are a few different ways you can rearrange the upside scenario, but a couple of things are given:

  1. There is very good depth at most positions on the O-Line, so if Jerry develops fast enough to beat out the other options for LG, it must mean he is pretty darn good.  Same applies to the competition for the right guard spot (hopefully Incognito will win it!).
  2. Regardless of who starts at RB, with a healthy Ronnie Brown in the mix, the stable of backs is talented.

So if things go well, we can expect Henne to naturally improve from last season to this season, but even over that natural progression, a better line (the line was great last season, but can be expected to be better this season if we avoid injuries and substitutions), better WRs, and a stronger running game should add to Henne’s improvement at QB.  Also, if we are to assume that this is a best case scenario, we must go ahead and assume that the Defense is able to get some stops.  This will allow Henne to avoid the mistakes that we saw from him last season, when we got behind and he started pressing, and taking more chances with the ball.

We can also hope to see Fasano return to his 2008 form, or even to have Nalbone or Sperry step up at TE.  I am not sold on Fasano, but with the rest of the offensive improvement, he can be expected to get the job done.

Finally, many of you are probably asking, "Why Pruitt?".  Well, it doesn’t have to be Pruitt, but as the #2 wide receiver, it would ideally be someone who can stretch the field.  That means that, right off the bat, Camarillo and Bess are out.  They are more reasonably #3 type slot receivers anyhow.  So if we are hoping that a developmental guy will step up as a speed guy, Pruitt has the best combination of size and speed.  He is 6’2", 206 lbs, with 4.42 speed.  Of course Roberto Wallace has better size at 6’4", 223 lbs, but reports of his speed come in around the 4.53 range.  And Ryan Grice-Mullen, running a 4.44 40 is about as fast as Pruitt, but smaller.

With most of the major holes filled on Offense, the one thing yet missing is the speed WR to stretch the field deep.  With Marshall as the #1 WR, if one of these guys steps up to fill the #2 WR role, and the quality of depth for the #3 and 4 WR spots, this receiving actually looks very strong.

And since we are asking Santa to bring us our new toys five months early, let’s go ahead and ask for a Kory Sheets to make the team as our scatback.  Rumors are that the guy has 4.39 speed and can test a defense side to side.  I love Cobbs, but he doesn’t have this kind of speed.  If Sheets turns out to be good on returns, we just might get a chance to see him lighting up the opposing defense out of our offensive backfield.


So our upside is scary good!  But what about our downside?

Let me just list the things that can throw a monkey wrench into upside:

First, development of players is always unpredictable.  John Jerry may not even get into the lineup this year.  Or a #2 WR with speed might not emerge.  In that case, we are probably dealing with Donald Thomas or Cory Proctor at Guard, and Hartline, Camarillo, or Bess as the number two wide out.  A bigger concern than either of these two spots would be QB.  If Henne does not develop over last season, or actually regresses, there is no guarantee that Pennington’s shoulder is going to be ready to go, or that Tyler Thigpen will prove a serviceable option. 

Second, injured veterans not getting back to 100%.  Ronnie Brown; Jake Grove; Patrick Cobbs; Greg Camarillo, all are still question marks coming into training camp.  Of these, Grove and Brown are the two most important, and both have replacements that are adequate, but their talent would be missed.  The bigger concern would be Brandon Marshall.  While no one talks about it much lately, he IS coming off of hip surgery, and for him to have a setback would be devastating.  With Marshall out, the offense could quite possibly regress from last season, depending on the status of other developing and recovering players.

Last, new injuries are always a possibility, but the two players whose loss would cause the biggest injury to the offense as a whole are Jake Long and Chad Henne.  If either of these men went down, there are no proven replacements of similar talent on the roster.


So what is the prognosis for the Miami Offense?  What is the likely scenario?

There is good depth across the line and with the exception of Jake Long, we demonstrated last season how well we can sustain injuries without a huge drop off in performance.  And I think it is fair to expect actual improvement on the line over last year due to stability (last season was a fluke with the number of injuries), the return of Jake Grove, and competition among Incognito, Jerry, and Thomas.  If they team wants to continue to run the Wildcat, they will need to find a replacement for Smiley as a pulling guard.

Chad Henne has demonstrated the ability to improve from game to game, and should be even better with a full offseason as the starter under his belt (don’t forget, last year in camp he was the #2).  And he should have a better receiving corps this season to help him out.

Even if Ronnie Brown or Patrick Cobbs are not quite 100%, Ricky, and Hilliard should do well behind a better line, and with a better passing game.  Chances are that at least one of the two will be ready to go.

The chances are slim that an actual undrafted or practice squad guy will step up and become a legitimate #2 speed WR.  So we are probably looking at Hartline or Camarillo being the #2 WR, with Bess in the slot.  Still, with Marshall as the #1 WR, this will create more opportunities in the passing game and the run game.

Bottom Line:
I expect to see Miami’s Offense this year be able to score quicker that last season, without deviating from a primary philosophy of running the ball to control the clock.  I would expect more overall points on the board, from less stalled drives, due to a stronger line, sharper QB, and better WRs.

The future of the Wildcat will largely depend on Ronnie Brown's health.  I think this season, the Dolphins will be able to manage without it, if Ronnie is not back to full speed.  Assuming that Ronnie Brown is 100%, I believe that the Wildcat will  remain a part of the basic Offense.

This weekend, I will take a look at the Upside, Downside, and Most likely of the Miami Defense.