Number 1: The Defense
Over the past few seasons, one thing the Miami Dolphins could always rely on was their defense, particularly the run defense. The unit would consistently place in the top ten, while their overall defense was around the middle of the pack. Last season was a different story. For a better part of the season the Dolphins had trouble stopping the run. It was very uncharacteristic and something that the coaching staff will look to improve during camp. It wasn’t just the run game that struggled, though. Starting linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler drastically under-performed and, at times, the secondary was erratic.
Heading into training camp, it is no secret the defense must improve. In order to win in this league you must have a very good defense. The unit doesn’t have to finish in the top five or even top ten next season, but if they can finish in the top fifteen, I will be satisfied. The jury is still out, however. There are a lot of question marks heading into the season. Can Jamar Taylor and Will Davis stay healthy? Will Cortland Finnegan be able to bounce back after two down year’s in St. Louis? Can Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler prove they were worth the sizable contracts they received? While all of the question’s aren’t going to be answered in the first few days of camp, Kevin Coyle and his defensive group are definitely going to be practicing under a microscope.
Number 2: Charles Clay/Olivier Vernon, One Hit Wonders?
Every year there are always players that go under the radar during training camp, only for them to make a tremendous impact during the season. Luckily for the Dolphins, they had two players that surprised everyone. On the offensive side of the ball it was Charles Clay; who assumed the starting tight end job after Dustin Keller suffered a major knee injury, provided a spark in the offense. After struggling to find an extensive role in the Dolphins offense for two years, Clay finally was able to break through. His sixty-nine catches for 759 yards was good enough to place him in third in those categories, while his six touchdowns led the team.
On the other side of the ball, second year defensive end Olivier Vernon was arguably the top defenders on the team. His eleven and a half sacks not only led the team, but also placed him tenth overall in the entire league. A third round pick in 2012, Vernon recorded just three and a half sacks his first year. The eight sack increase was a nice surprise, as everyone’s attention was mainly on All-Pro pass rusher Cameron Wake.
After two breakout seasons, all eyes will be on these two players throughout training camp. It would be a great sign if these two can continue their development and not have drop off seasons. Clay and Vernon are still very young players (Clay, 25, Vernon, 23,) and are great pieces to build with. It is interesting to see how the two will fare coming off of career years.
Number 3: Ryan Tannehill’s Progression
And of course, I saved the best for last; Ryan Tannehill’s progression. As the eighth overall pick and starting quarterback of the Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill
is should be the leader of the football team. During his time in the league, Tannehill has not shown his ability to lead. Coming into his third season as the team’s signal caller, Ryan Tannehill must take more control of the team. Last season, the team crumbled down the stretch and for the most part, Tannehill was absent during this time. I’m not saying that he is to blame for the team collapsing, but it would have been nice to see him be a more vocal leader. The good news is things seem to be changing. During OTA’s Tannehill chewed out multiple players for missed assignments. This fiery leadership is something the Dolphins have lacked in the past and is something they desperately need. This is something that needs to continue during camp and apparently, all signs are pointing to it happening.
“I think now I’m more apt to step up and say something, make a statement,” Tannehill said. “That’s part of playing the QB position. Now I feel more comfortable. I have the respect of my teammates around me and I can do that.”
It’s not only the leadership that needs to improve with Tannehill. Last offseason, the Dolphins went out and made Mike Wallace one of the highest paid receivers in the NFL. His world-class speed was something the Dolphins were hoping Tannehill would take advantage of. Instead, the two struggled with their relationship on the field, as Tannehill would regularly miss Wallace. It is without question that Tannehill needs to improve his deep ball. His 32.8 completion percentage on balls thrown more than twenty yards placed him in the bottom ten in the league. That is just inexcusable.
It will be fun to continue watching Tannehill progress throughout camp. As I said in an earlier piece, the Dolphins will go as far as Tannehill takes them. This is a big year for the third year quarterback and it all starts today.
Thanks for Reading!