2016 NFL Season Preview: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins haven't advanced to the playoffs since 2008. That seven-year drought looks to continue even with the optimism surrounding a new head coach and a refurbished stadium. Enter head coach Adam Gase who has been lauded for the tutelage he provided Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, and Jay Cutler. While Gase has had much success as a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator position it's an entirely different animal to deliver as a head coach with immense pressure tied to it. He inherits a franchise that has become an also-ran in the NFL because of what ails most teams. The inability to get it right at the quarterback position. Attached to the hip of Gase's success is the much-maligned QB Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill enters his fifth season as the starter with fans and pundits alike unsure of whom he really is as a player. Is he closer to the player who completed 17 straight passes in the midst of throttling the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans? Or perhaps he's the player that bewildered versus divisional opponents in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. Either way Tannehill's contract extension in the off season of 2015 is structured in a way that could signal his final year as a Dolphins' quarterback. With last year's offensive coordinator Bill Lazor out as well as head coach Joe Philbin (reportedly not the biggest fan of Ryan Tannehill), one aspect that can trigger improvement is the ability for him to audible at the line of scrimmage and have more control of the offense.
To help aid in Tannehill's progression is an offensive line bolstered by drafting Ole Miss' LT Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil, who's early projections in draft had him going in the Top 5, fell all the way to 13 (thanks to a mysterious video appearing on social media) in a fortuitous bounce for Miami. He's joined by free agent acquisition G Jermon Bushrod who has a few pro bowls under his belt. With holdovers C Mike Pouncey, RT JuWann James, and LT Branden Albert the offensive line features four 1st round picks. RB Arian Foster was brought to pair with RB Jay Ajayi to replace the explosive Lamer Miller (signed with the Texans). Foster tore his Achilles in the Dolphins romp against Houston and the jury is out on if he is able to remain healthy for a full season. Either way the Dolphins must develop some semblance of balance. Often times they abandoned the run game when Lamar Miller had it going or it was a close game. It speaks in part to why they have allowed over 80 sacks in Tannehill's four seasons. Flanked at receiver is the fan favorite Jarvis Landry (NFL record for receptions in the first two years) and the talented DeVante Parker. Parker whose rookie season was cut in half by injuries has struggled with his availability still. Reports of poor habits and conditioning speak to his hamstring issues but Miami needs him to manufacture big plays in the passing game.
The defense experienced biggest turnover in terms of personnel losing starters DE Olivea Vernon, CB Brent Grimes, and emotional leader S Louis Delmas. Former No.1 pick Mario Willams steps in to replace Vernon who finished with double-digit sacks. Williams seemed to be in purgatory with Buffalo but is "primed and ready" to tandem with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh. At the middle linebacker position the Dolphins have been trying to replace Zach Thomas for almost as long as they have tried to replace Dan Marino. In a draft day trade they acquired Kiko Alonso from the Philadelphia Eagles to man that position. Also included in that trade was CB Byron Maxwell. Maxwell signed a lucrative deal in 2015 with the Eagles leaving the Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately he was synonymous Texas Toast from the opening game on. The hope is that a more familiar scheme will allow Maxwell to return to form. He replaces "Optimus Grimes" who was largely a Decepticon by the same token. With Vance Joseph taking over as the defensive coordinator from the Cincinnati Bengals the schism that ensued last season with Suh about how is he is utilized should be eliminated. But even with the likes of Reshad Jones at safety the defensive backfield remains in flux.
Will the new partnership of Gase & Tannehill render different results at the QB position? Ultimately not enough to keep Tannehill as a quarterback in Miami. The resounding notion is that "he is who is he is." In 2015 Tannehill produced 24 TDs and 12 Ints, which are solid numbers, but his leadership remains unsolidified. Whether it was Greg Jennings or Rishard Matthews, teammates and most notably WRs have questioned if Tannehill can steer the ship.
Can the pass rush protect a questionable secondary? A few years ago putting the likes of Suh, Wake, and Mario Williams would make any opposing QB quiver. Wake is 34 and coming off an Achilles tear, Suh remains an enigma, and Williams only tallied five sacks last year leading to whispers of a decline. At times this pass rush will be formidable because of the mentality of Wake and I suspect that the rest of the defensive line will follow his lead. If that can be maintained for an entire season remains to be seen. Xavien Howard, a rookie out of Baylor figures to be the second corner opposite of Maxwell and there's going to be a learning curve. Both the defensive line and defensive backfield will probably not be on one accord.
Will the Dolphins be dominant at home? With an overhaul and a new name, the Hard Rock stadium has all the bells and whistles to translate into to more super bowl berths for the city of Miami. From a team perspective from Onwer Stephen Ross to each member of the team, everyone is excited. The design of the stadium is akin to the Seahawks home field and figures to hold in a lot of noise. Wins will ultimately dictate the atmosphere and the Dolphins may not win enough.
Outlook: The Dolphins have hovered around 6-10 and 8-8 for the last few seasons and this season figures to be no different. There are very few sure things surrounding this team. Outside of Jarvis Landry & Reshad Jones the Dolphins will remain in search of consistency throughout the roster. Final Record: 7-9