Unless you’ve been living under a rock(or don’t follow football) you’re no doubt aware that this has been an offseason of change for the Dolphins. From changing their logo and jerseys to overhauling their linebacking crew they certainly weren’t afraid to make changes. The public is split on whether or not all of these changes actually made the team better. Some(fans, mostly) are claiming the Dolphins will battle the Pats for the division title, while most experts think they’ll sit exactly where they did in 2012 safely in 2nd.
WR – Mike Wallace
LB – Dannell Ellerbe
LB – Philip Wheeler
LT – Jake Long
LB – Karlos Dansby
RB – Reggie Bush
In 2012 the Miami Dolphins offense was underwhelming at best. Sitting at 27th overall and with only 3 TDs from wide receivers it was quite obvious that something had to be done. It was no secret that the team coveted the Steeler’s impending free agent Mike Wallace and the minute free agency opened the Dolphins gave him a hefty contract that included 30 million in guaranteed money. They didn’t stop there however, as they went out and picked up Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller to give Ryan Tannehill some serious passing options to complement Wallace and 2012 breakout Brian Hartline. Unfortunate as all can be, last week Keller was injured for the season on a dirty hit by Texans DJ Swearinger leaving the Dolphins with some very inexperienced options to fill in. Their passing game will no doubt be better but losing Keller will probably prevent it from being really really good.
The running game has also gone through a massive change as Reggie Bush has been allowed to take off to Detroit. The Dolphins felt that they have enough talent with last year’s breakout Lamar Miller being the go-to guy and Daniel Thomas backing him up. Thus far in the pre-season Thomas has been the better option but he’s had good camps before and then gets injured or a case of fumblitis. He’s a fine second option when he’s healthy but if he has to be “the guy” it could mean trouble. That said Miller should be fine. He has the tools and once he get’s better in the passing game he’ll be a formidable back.
Tannehill will go as far as his line let’s him. They were bad in 2012 and they’ve lost Jake Long. As tough as it is to say, they’ll be better without him. He was a force when he was healthy but he hasn’t been 100% healthy in the teams last 20+ games and that has put added pressure on the rest. Some, like Richie Incognito really rose to the challenge but others like Jonathan Martin still have a long way to go. Martin has been great in the pre-season but he’s definitely the key to line’s success in 2013 and will be more of a factor in Tannehill’s progression than anyone else on the team.
Ellerbee, Wheeler, Brent Grimes, Dion Jordan, Jamar Taylor, Will Davis. 6 men who will play a key role on the team in 2013. None of them played for the team in 2012. If we add starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson who joined the team late last year and was used sparingly we have 7 key pieces who had “almost” nothing to do with the team last season and this is just the defensive side. Talk about changeover.
The line remains as strong as ever. Cameron Wake is one of the most dominant players in the NFL and this year will eventually be joined on the other side by Dion Jordan who many are comparing to Dolphins great Jason Taylor. He’s recovering from injury now but once he gets himself healed up he should be starting by week 6. In the meantime Olivier Vernon will be in his place and few in the league share his incredible work ethic. He had a breakout year in 2012 and came to camp in even better shape this year. He is determined to get more snaps and if Jordan isn’t starting by midseason it will have more to say about Vernon than the youngster. In the middle the Dolphins have their own version of Vince Wilfork in Paul Soliai. He may be the second most under-appreciated player in the league. He does his job consistently and rarely misses a thing. Lastly Jared Odrick fills in the rest of the line. He’s big, mean, and finally looking ready to fulfill the promise that made him a 1st rounder in 2010.
The linebacking crew is largely new as only Koa Misi will return as a starter. Ellerbe and Wheeler should help improve the passing defense, especially the short yardage plays. They are both considerably quicker than those they are replacing and should help the team immensely. The only real loss to the team will be the loss of Dansby’s leadership. He led the team in tackles last season whilst basically being limited to one arm for half the year. He has aged and slowed, and certainly was overpaid, but he went to war for the team and Ellerbe and Wheeler will have to prove that they’ll do the same.
Bye Bye Richard Marshall. Who saw that coming? Many will argue that with Brent Grimes(massive upgrade from anyone they had in 2012) added and Will Davis and Jamar Taylor on the way, Marshall and his large contract were expendable but perhaps this season will prove otherwise. Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll will split the duties starting opposite Grimes but Davis has had a strong camp and could be knocking on the door. If he and Taylor develop the way it looks like they can, this unit will become a strength. Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons will look after the safety spots and after the year Jones had in 2012 only good things are expected.
Dan Carpenter has been ousted as the team’s kicker by Caleb Sturgis and no one really knows what to make of the situation. As Sturgis was injured at the beginning of camp this decision had to be more about Carpenter, although the 58-yarder Sturgis drilled against Jacksonville probably helped. Brandon Fields is still the best punter in the game and will continue to be until I say otherwise. Marcus Thigpen was top 5 in both categories in 2012 and will look to continue that success.
Joe Philbin had an interesting first year as head coach of the Dolphins. He showed great class in his handling of the circus that was Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, as well as his decision to start Ryan Tannehill right out of camp. He left a few questions when the leadership contingent of Jake Long, Reggie Bush and Karlos Dansby all went elsewhere during the offseason. Surely he didn’t make those decisions outright but he must have had some imput.
The Studs: Mike Wallace is expected to see a lot of action this year as the no-doubt #1 WR. Expect 1,000+ yards and 8-10 TDs
The Workers: Lamar Miller should get the bulk of the carries on a team that has recently preferred running to passing. Tannehill may be a decent sleeper option as a QB2. Hartline won’t break 1,000 yards again in 2013 but could be around 800.
Sleeper: Dion Sims will get every chance to usurp Charles Clay as the top tight end, He has a fair amount of offensive upside and is quite fleet of foot.
Overrated: Lamar Miller is the 37th ranked player in Yahoo and should probably be closer to 60th. He’ll get decent numbers but he’s not a star yet.
Should Win: @Cleveland, Buffalo, San Diego, Carolina, @NY Jets, @Buffalo, NY Jets
Favourite: @Tampa Bay,
Toss-Up: @Indianapolis, @New Orleans, @Pittsburgh
In Tough: Atlanta, Baltimore, @New England, Cincinnati, New England
Thoughts: The Dolphins are blessed with a schedule that allows them to play the Bills and Jets twice each. They also get to play against the NFC South where they should be able to hang with everyone aside from the Falcons. Facing the AFC North won’t be easy but if they can somehow split they’ll be in great shape. They’ll look to avenge a loss to Indy last year where they really feel they should have won, and if the Colts are believing the hype this may be a good opportunity for a mild upset. If they play as well as they can they can finish 10-6, but if they don’t improve on the areas they need to they could be as bad as 6-10. 8-8 seems most likely.