The Monday s Morning Quarterback is making a tour of all 32 NFL franchises this summer, with veteran football writer Peter King providing thoughts from each team's training camp. Over the weekend, the tour stopped in Davie, Florida to visit with the Miami Dolphins. While King's five thoughts on the Dolphins are not ground breaking observations, they are valid points about the team, and how they can get from an 8-8 record in 2013 to something better this year.
Looking at King's comments, he starts his thoughts on the Dolphins with the change in Joe Philbin as to how much interaction he has with the players, following last year's bullying scandal focused around Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.
I think coach Joe Philbin is going to be far more attuned to what his players are thinking and talking about than he was in 2013. You remember 2013, with the Incognito-Martin scandal. Philbin has had every player on his roster on his couch upstairs here at the facility to talk to them, since April 21; private conversations, "What do you think?", "What can we be doing?", "Give me your input." So, Philbin is listening to his players and has his finger on them much more, this year.
King is absolutely correct here: Joe Philbin is much more involved with the team this year, on the individual level. He is personally conducting bed checks, and he is deliberate in his interaction with the players. Philbin is not going to allow anything like the bullying scandal to happen again, and he is making sure it is not a problem by making sure he is visible, accessible, and more involved than he was last year.
After Philbin, King turns his attention to quarterback Ryan Tannehill:
I think Ryan Tannehill is still adjusting to a new system put in this year by new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. This system emphasizes throwing the ball down-field a little bit more than under Philbin's more West Coast scheme, so I think you are going to see the receivers eventually be happy. But, how soon will that be? They're still getting used to that.
For the first time since high school, Tannehill will be in an offensive system not designed by Mike Sherman. That is a major adjustment that the third year quarterback has to make, and it is one that he should be able to master eventually. Just how long it takes him, as well as the offense as a whole, to get the nuances down will determine just how far Miami can go this season. If Lazor is able to implement an offensive scheme that mirrors Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia, and the offense is able to execute it, Tannehill should be in for a big year - and the wide receivers should be happy fairly quickly.
As for the training camp story that more worries Dolphins fans this summer, the offense line, King states:
I think the offensive line story is going to be a major part of whether this team succeeds or fails. On opening day in September, there could be five new starters, compared to the 2013 season, especially with Mike Pouncey out injured at the start of the year. You're going to have two new tackles, two new guards, and a new center, and that is going to tell a lot of the tale of whether Ryan Tannehill can succeed in this new offense.
Once again, nothing overly surprising with that assessment, and it is the truth about this season for Miami. Success or failure, especially early in the year, may not be based on Tannehill's mastery of the offense, the defense's ability to stop opposing clubs from scoring, or how accurate second year kicker Caleb Sturgis is on long field goals. It may simply come down to can an offensive line of five brand new players come together to pass block and open up holes for the running game? The Dolphins face the Atlanta Falcons in the first preseason game this week, and are still tinkering with the lineup along the offensive front. It is a major concern, and it is one to which no one will really have an answer until the season starts.
King turns his attention to the defense for the last two thoughts, starting with Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake:
I think on defense, what the Miami Dolphins have to do is, they have to make sure that Cam Wake, who has turned into one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in recent years, is turned loose enough to torment the quarterbacks on their schedule. By that, I mean, he's got to be freed up more to make sure he is unblocked near the line of scrimmage. That's really important.
Unfortunately for Miami, getting Wake into a situation where he is unblocked is a lot easier said than done. Teams absolutely roll protection toward him and would rather see if someone else can get to their quarterback than to be beat by Wake. Fortunately for Miami, Wake is dominating enough that, unless you blatantly hold him (and that seems to happen a lot), he can still find a way through the blocks. The Dolphins are also very deep at defensive end behind the All-Pro, with Olivier Vernon tallying 11.5 sacks last year and 2013 third overall selection Dion Jordan looking more like a defensive end and less like a player without a position so far this year. Add in developing rushers Derrick Shelby and Terrence Fede, and Miami could become an opposing passer's nightmare (especially once Jordan finishes serving his four game suspension to start the season).
Finally, King looks at Miami's cornerbacks and safeties, where level of play concerns are secondary to simply being able to play:
I think in the back end of the Miami defense, they must stay healthy. Right now, Louis Delmas, former Lion, always hurt at safety. Cortland Finnegan, who as nicked up a lot the last couple of years in St. Louis. Those two guys must stay healthy for the defense to perform at its optimum best.
The Dolphins should have answers if Finnegan or Delmas do continue their trend of being injured, specifically in Jamar Taylor at cornerback for Finnegan and Jimmy Wilson at safety for Delmas. Miami, however, did sign both of the veterans to come in and have an impact on the defense, and it is much easier to have that impact on the field, as opposed to standing on the sidelines. Miami has had success in the past with taking oft-injured players, and getting full seasons out of them: running back Reggie Bush averaged 15.5 games played per season the two years he was in Miami; in five years in New Orleans, he averaged 12 games a year, and last year with the Detroit Lions, he played 14 contests. The Dolphins took a shot last year in free agency, signing cornerback Brent Grimes, who had played just 13 games in the previous two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and was coming off a torn Achilles tendon; he played all 16 games for Miami, recorded four interceptions, scored his first career touchdown, defended 17 passes, had quarterbacks shy away from throwing toward him, and earned his second career Pro Bowl berth.
Those success do not mean both, or either, Delmas nor Finnegan will succeed this season, but at least Miami has proven it can happen.
King laid out five thoughts most fans of the Dolphins could have also expressed, but, in the case of Miami, they really are the five thoughts most important to the team and its success on the field this year. Sometimes the most obvious answers are the right answers. Hopefully, King's five thoughts all wind up in Miami's favor this season, and the Dolphins are able to put the bullying scandal, a porous offensive line, and five straight non-winning seasons behind them.