Is There Hope for This Year’s Dolphins?!

Dolfans, it is time to celebrate! Football season is back, and on September 5, the NFL season will be in full swing as the defending-champion Ravens take on the AFC’s Super Bowl favorite Denver Broncos. As exciting as that is, this year’s Miami Dolphins bring equal buzz after their busy offseason. All the new faces in town leave the team substantially different from last year, but are they better? Is there any hope on the horizon for this struggling team?!

The Miami Dolphins have been abysmal recently and their four-straight losing seasons have tied a franchise record with their first four seasons (1966 – 1969). One more and the Fins will be in the longest rebuilding phase in franchise history. That’s why Head Coach Joe Philbin let go of some veterans who took part in the team’s four-year slump (Jake Long, Anthony Fasano, Reggie Bush, Davone Bess and Karlos Dansby) and has brought in some fresh blood to breathe some new life into this team in hopes of building a new dynasty on a young foundation.

Passing game
Considering that pass-happy Philbin will implement a more aggressive west-coast offense this season, much of the Dolphins success will fall on QB Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill’s pocket presence was his greatest attribute as a rookie, and it served him quite well. Unfortunately, his tendency to lock-on to receivers, rarely throwing the ball away or checking down under pressure, frustrated fans last season. Tannehill also needs to improve on his timing with new wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, as he has displayed a tendency to release the ball either too early or too late. In the preseason duel against Jacksonville, Tannehill already showed that he had new tight end Dustin Keller’s timing down pat with a nice 24-yard pass and a beautiful 22-yard endzone strike.In any case, the Dolphins coaching staff and NFL analysts all across the country expect Tannehill to make a “sophomore jump” this season and place himself in the better half of starting quarterbacks by season’s end.

Running game
At tailback, ex-Hurricane Lamar Miller will step into the starting role with Reggie Bush gone. This speedster has the ability to break off huge runs every time he gets the ball, and while his agility is lacking compared to Bush, he will easily hold off plodding Daniel Thomas and stake his claim as the Dolphins’ feature back. Miller has the potential to quickly evolve into an elite NFL back, but the loss of Jake Long has hurt the Dolphins’ offensive line exponentially.

Offensive line
Jonathan Martin has tried to fill Jake Long’s shoes, but it seems those shoes are too big to fill. Martin has been swallowed up by the Dolphins’ defensive line in practice, and has left Tannehill running for his life throughout the preseason. Martin’s run-blocking is good, so Miller should run just fine behind the Dolphin’s line, but Tannehill will have trouble. Right tackle Tyson Clabo’s addition helps shore up the line. He was far better than Long last year, and his consistency earned him a Pro Bowl appearance in 2010.

Season schedule
The Dolphins’ have a tough schedule through the first half of the season. Their toughest stretch of the season is weeks two through five (@ Indianapolis, vs. Atlanta, @ New Orleans and vs. Baltimore). If the Fins can survive that first half of the season, they should fare well, as they face a much easier second half. A rather winnable string of matchups from Weeks 10 to 14 kicks off the second half of their season (@ Tampa Bay, vs. San Diego, Vs. Carolina, @ N.Y. Jets, @ Pittsburgh). They finish out the season facing their division rivals, and have the potential to get hot towards the end of the season and go on a playoff run if they can make the post-season.

Front seven
If his 15 sacks last year were any indication, Cameron Wake remains the Dolphins’ best defensive playmaker, but management has done a great job of adding defensive talent to complement Wake and to transform this defense into a premier pass rushing unit. Dannell Ellerbe was poised to replace Ray Lewis in Baltimore, but the up-and-coming middle linebacker elected instead for free agency and signed with Miami. The Dolphins traded up to get the third overall pick in order to draft the athletic freak from Oregon, DE Dion Jordan. Last year, the Dolphins allowed only 19.8 points per game (seventh best in NFL), and that number is set to decrease with the improved defensive talent. The Fins defense also had the lowest opponents’ red zone scoring percentage in the league last season. This unit will not be terribly difficult to accumulate yardage on, but there is no team in the NFL better at pulling off a goal-line stand than the current Miami Dolphins.

Secondary
While the Dolphins pass rush will be great, their defensive backs are good, but will struggle to stop the NFL’s better passers. Fortunately, the Dolphins drafted their cornerbacks of the future, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, in the second and third rounds, respectively. Jamar Taylor’s speed and athleticism are exceptional, and he should develop into a mainstay over time, but Will Davis looks to be a readymade star from day one. Davis’ ball-hawking skillset may push him up the depth chart enough to get a handful of snaps each week. Brent Grimes is looking like a shutdown corner in practice, but Richard Marshall’s inconsistency is a major weakness. Chris Clemons is a great run-support safety, but is only slightly above average in coverage. As awesome as strong safety Reshad Jones was last year, his risk-taking style may come back to haunt him when facing Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Matt Ryan.

While the 2013 Miami Dolphins are very different compared to last year’s team, they are not that much better. Sure, Tannehill will likely improve, the offense can now go vertical thanks to Mike Wallace, and an easy second half schedule may spark a playoff push. Additionally, the potential of pairing Cameron Wake with Dion Jordan will be a nightmare for quarterbacks. But the running game lacks the agility Reggie Bush brought to the table, and the gaping hole at left tackle will expose Tannehill’s blindside and leave him at-risk. Perhaps the largest obstacle to the ‘Fins success is the brutal first half of the team’s schedule that may ruin the Dolphins’ confidence if they do not fare well.

Is it unlikely that the Fins win the AFC East? Yes, but is it possible? Absolutely! Dolfans should be prepared to expect the unexpected. Keep hope alive Dolfans!

Jonathan is a sports lover and a freelance writer. Email Jonathan at ebankj9770@gmail.com.

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