The responsibility of guiding the Miami Dolphins offense now falls directly on Ryan Tannehill. While he will have his struggles at times, Miami must stick by him all season.
With that said, he obviously can't do it alone. This is a team devoid of offensive weapons save for the position of running back. While it's tempting to think that the Dolphins might go for a ground-and-pound approach this season, Joe Philbin's and Mike Sherman's history in the NFL would say otherwise.
It is imperative that players step up on offense for Miami if it wants its first-round pick to develop and eventually succeed. Here are five players who must step up this season in order for this to happen.
Right now it's two offensive lines rolled into one. The left side boasts the best left tackle in the NFL in Jake Long, a very good guard in Richie Incognito and the ever-improving Mike Pouncey at center. Nobody is worried about those three at this point in time; we know what we will get from them.
But the right side? Not good.
Jonathan Martin is the right tackle. Based on his draft position, he's not only supposed to be the right tackle in 2012 but for the next 10 years—and possibly even shift to the left side if anything were to happen to Jake Long.
But right now? He doesn't look very good, and I'm being very generous in that observation.
Martin must do a better job protecting Tannehill. I see good work with his hands, but his footwork leaves much to be desired. He doesn't seem to put himself in the right position to get the best leverage against the opposing lineman. In due time this should be coached out of him; however, with a rookie quarterback, there's not much time left.
Martin has to improve—yesterday—and ensure that Tannehill remains upright throughout the season.
Give a quarterback a good tight end and he will have at least three more completions and 20 more yards per game. Anthony Fasano has already proven himself to be a good and reliable tight end.
Long relegated to being a blocker and checkdown option, this should be Fasano's opportunity to shine. He has the best hands on the team and has quietly put together a very good training camp.
However, his blocking will be important as well. As the team still develops the right side of the line, Fasano will have to pick up some slack to protect Tannehill as well as run-block.
A tall order to be sure, but one that Fasano has proven time and time again he can handle.
Miami's other tight end, Charles Clay, is another vital cog to the offense's success.
Clay had a productive rookie season last year with 16 catches for 233 yards and three touchdowns. He is another safety valve and end-zone threat for Tannehill and the Dolphins' offense.
Unlike Fasano, Clay can also be used as a fullback when needed, giving the Dolphins plenty of chances to use both players as targets on the same play.
The more catches Clay and Fasano have, the better Tannehill will look throughout the season. They will also make the receivers look better.
Since signing with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2008, Davone Bess has been the most reliable receiver in Miami. (Please, don't correct me and say Brandon Marshall—he was far from reliable and is best described as "mercurial.")
His stats have proven this: 260 receptions for 2,669 yards and 11 touchdowns in that span.
He's head and shoulders above the rest of the receiving pack in Miami—and would've been ahead of Chad Johnson as well—and because of that he has that much more pressure on him.
Bess is the only wide receiver that can be trusted at this point.
It will take time for Brian Hartline not only to come back from his injuries, but also to develop a rapport with Tannehill. Roberto Wallace and even Mr. "7-11" Chris Hogan have looked good but still have their flaws—Hogan will play primarily on special teams this season.
The only other two receivers who could have an impact are Julius Pruitt and Legedu Naanee. B.J. Cunningham and Jeff Fuller are projects at this point in time.
That leaves it all up to Bess in the receiving corps for Miami's offense to succeed. Not only does he need to be his old reliable self, but he must also do so much more.
Reggie Bush has set himself some lofty goals for this season.
I want the rushing title. This offseason I’ve been working towards that goal. Just being effective like I was this past season.
Every time I rush the ball, I want four yards, I’m keeping my focus simple and small, but at same time helping my team progress.
-Reggie Bush on his goals for 2012
Reggie will have to do much more than be the best running back for Miami.
He's going to have to be their speed threat in the passing game. Screen passes will have to come his way and at times he's going to have to line up as a receiver.
Bush isn't going to win the rushing title. It won't be due to lack of production, just simply his other roles will leave him with a lack of carries. At least Miami can afford this option with Daniel Thomas, rookie Lamar Miller and Steve Slaton also in the backfield. No one is worried about Miami's running game, which is why you haven't seen it much in the preseason.
But Reggie will have to be more than a pure fantasy threat and stat-hoarder. He must also be a vocal leader. On the last Hard Knocks, we saw Bush leading the way, from his meeting with Jake Long, Karlos Dansby and Coach Joe Philbin to his work ethic. Bush is showing himself to be a true team leader and will likely be the offensive captain this season.
He's also their most important player and someone who will make Ryan Tannehill's progression this season that much easier.