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Even In A Dismal Season, There Are Bright Spots

Miami Dolphins v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

As the 2018 Miami Dolphins reach their bye week, there are once again more questions than answers. As of this writing, no one seems to know who will be quarterbacking this team for the remainder of the year, much less next year. Who will line up at the three interior offensive line positions going forward? Who is Brice Butler and why was he signed to the 53 man roster over the WR’s the Dolphins had on their practice squad who already know the offense? What is Adam Gase’s future with the team, and has he learned anything from his mistakes thus far? What, if any, interest does Miami have in former first round quarterback bust Paxton Lynch, originally drafted by the Denver Broncos two years ago?

And that’s just the offense; we already know that Gase doesn’t know a whole lot about defense. If he did he wouldn’t have made Matt Burke the defensive coordinator. Thank goodness Gase isn’t trying to call the defense, in addition to being the offensive coordinator and a personnel guy. The defense is giving up a league worst 142 rushing yards per game and fifteen of those runs have gone for more than twenty yards, three of which went for more than forty. Things have gotten so bad that several former players, including Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka, said recently that they were frustrated by the team’s performance this season. One of our readers asked me last week how it was that I had been excited to be a Dolphin fan a few months ago but am not excited now. If the last Miami Dolphin to be named Super Bowl MVP is frustrated with the team, chances are pretty good that we can be frustrated with them, too. Csonka was probably excited about the Dolphins last Summer, as well, but a man’s got a right to change his mind. While we’re on the subject of defense, let it be known that the Buffalo Bills, despite having endured some truly horrendous play from their quarterbacks most of this season, are number one in the NFL in total defense after ten games, giving the Kool-Aid drinkers one less excuse for why the Dolphins stink on defense. And Buffalo may yet have their quarterback of the future, if 2018 first rounder Josh Allen improves as expected. Just for good measure, the Bills also have a 3-7 record, and would be drafting ninth overall in round one if the season ended today.

Still, there are some young players that the team can build around, and that can give us hope for the future. If the most important player on an NFL team is the quarterback, left tackle is not far behind. From the moment Roger Goodell called his name on draft day in 2016, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil has been one of my favorite players on the team. Despite the Dolphins having the 31st ranked offensive line by Pro Football Focus, Tunsil has been absolutely outstanding this season. Still just 24, he should anchor the Dolphins’ line for another decade or so. Since he was also born and raised in the State of Florida, he may not try to escape the suffocating South Florida heat in free agency, as so many other offensive linemen have done in the past. Although he didn’t develop as quickly as many of us had hoped during his first two years (he played left guard as a rookie), before it’s all said and done, he could go down as Miami’s best first round pick since Dan Marino in 1983. > > Despite the demise of Tony Lippett and the decline of Cordrea Tankersley, the Dolphins have the makings of one of the league’s top secondaries, in right cornerback Xavien Howard and free safety/cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. In my more than forty years following the Dolphins, never have I wished for a player to be drafted in the first round and then actually watched the team select him. I never thought Tunsil would be available at number thirteen two years ago, so he doesn’t really count. All Winter and into the Spring last year, I wanted the ‘Mink Master’ in the worst way, so much so that I was hoping the front office would find a way to trade up for him. I never believed we could actually get him, and he’s played even better than I would have thought possible. Some may have preferred Derwin James, but James is more of a strong safety type, and not nearly as versatile or instinctive. Fitzpatrick possesses the ideal blend of athleticism, intelligence and tenacity you want in an NFL defensive back, and his ability to line up at different positions in different defensive packages will become even more valuable when someone considerably more enlightened than our current DC is heading up that unit. Like his offensive teammate Tunsil, Fitzpatrick played his college ball in the SEC.

Speaking of defensive players, what in the heck happened to linebacker Kiko Alonso this year? Written off by many observers a year ago, he’s returned with a vengeance this season. After notching seven interceptions his first five years in the league (he missed the entire 2014 season for Buffalo, due to a knee injury), Alonso already has three this season for Miami and would probably warrant Pro Bowl consideration, if not for the national bias against the Dolphins, which is also due to poor team play. At 28, he should still have several more impactful seasons for a defense that sorely needs them. Adding Tunsil and Alonso in the same draft (Miami traded down from the eighth pick to thirteenth with Philadelphia, for the rights to Alonso) was a master stroke by the Dolphins. Although, like most rookies, he’s been up and down this year, fellow linebacker Jerome Baker has also been impressive at times for Miami. With a better defensive line and better play in the middle, Baker could really come on for the Dolphins the next few years. So, it isn’t all gloom and doom for Miami. At a point in the season in which wins are actually losses in sheep’s clothing, while losses are wins clad in tar and feathers, sometimes it’s better for fans to walk around looking like a ruptured pillow than to have the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes. The Dolphins have moved up several spots in the draft, after losing to the Packers, and while I was impressed by their refusal to lay down against Green Bay, I also know that this is a team that needs all the help it can get. As more than one of our readers has pointed out, we don’t want Gase to be able to tell team owner Stephen Ross after the season that the Dolphins are just a couple of players away. If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we can all agree that this team is a couple of drafts and a couple of free agency crops away, at the least. The sooner ownership and the front office realizes that, the better off the team will be in the long run. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be at least a little excited about the offseason.