The Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Miami Dolphins

Scott AltmanCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2012

The Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Miami Dolphins

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    If you power ranked the NFL's most entertaining teams, the Miami Dolphins would rank toward the top. 

    Don't believe me?

    Consider this: For starters, their front office is something of a circus sideshow. Owner Stephen Ross has made his share of public gaffes—courting Jim Harbaugh comes to mind—and GM Jeff Ireland is one of the most enigmatic figures in football, and his list of mishaps grows by the day. 

    Literally. 

    Ireland cursed out a fan last weekend. 

    Beyond the negatives, the Dolphins also have a top 10 draft pick starting at quarterback (who just happens to have a drop dead gorgeous wife), a former Heisman Trophy winner and reality TV star at running back and one of the more vocal players in the league at middle linebacker. 

    Even if the Dolphins finish the season with a dismal record, they're bound to keep you entertained with these storylines. 

Ryan Tannehill's Maturation

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    When you draft a quarterback with the eighth overall pick and start him right away, he's going to dominate headlines for the foreseeable future. 

    Ryan Tannehill is no exception.

    Tannehill took a roller coaster ride through his first two NFL starts. In Week 1, Tannehill looked crisp and calm in the first quarter, but imploded after a string of interceptions in the second quarter.

    Week 2 was a different story, however. Tannehill led the Dolphins on an opening drive score, and although he flatlined in the second quarter, he finished with a tremendous second half and notched his first career victory.

    Although his numbers may be underwhelming, Tannehill has actually outplayed—or stayed on par with—most of his fellow rookie quarterbacks who are in starting roles.

    Name Completion % Passing Yards TDs INTs QB Rating
    Ryan Tannehill 57.6 419 1 3 62.6
    Andrew Luck 56.6 533 3 3 75.2
    Robert Griffin III 70.9 526 3 1 111.6
    Brandon Weeden 52.8 440 2 4 57.6
    Russell Wilson 61.6 304 2 1 81.8

The Dolphins' Dominant Front Seven

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    Two weeks into the regular season, the Miami Dolphins' defense ranks fourth against the run.

    This isn't exactly a surprise. In 2011, the Dolphins boasted the league's third best rushing defense, and in 2010, it ranked seventh. But, the front seven's utter dominance of two top-10 rushing attacks is a bit surprising. 

    In Week 1, the Dolphins held one of the NFL's best running back tandems—Arian Foster and Ben Tate—to just 85 yards on 31 carries. This last week, Miami held another elite running back—Darren McFadden—to a dismal 22 yards on 11 carries. 

    Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are literally wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines. Their combination of technique, skill and power will prove overwhelming for even the best offensive lines. With Cam Wake generating chaos from the edge, there's a good chance no player will rush for more than 100 yards against the Dolphins this season.

    Jared Odrick's play has been underwhelming, but there's no reason to panic about him yet. 

Reggie Bush's Push for the NFL Rushing Crown

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    In May, Reggie Bush made a bold—some might say outlandish—proclamation:

    "I want the rushing title," Bush said, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "This offseason, I've been working toward 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 the same time helping my team progress."

    Bush couldn't compete with the likes of Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Lesean McCoy, could he?

    Well, after two weeks, Bush isn't just competing with them—he's outperforming them. His 241 rushing yards is second only to C.J. Spiller, who has 292. He's tied for second in rushing touchdowns and is currently averaging six yards per carry.

    Although Bush won't rush for 150 yards every week, he can make a push for the rushing crown if his play persists. 

Brian Hartline's Emergence

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    When Jeff Ireland traded Brandon Marshall and chose not to draft or sign a big name wide receiver, he gave a huge vote of confidence to Brian Hartline. 

    Marshall's departure propelled Hartline into a prominent, starting role even though he accrued a pedestrian stat line—109 receptions for 1,670 yards and five touchdowns—in his first three NFL seasons. 

    Hartline missed all of minicamp recovering from an appendectomy, and then missed all of training camp with a calf injury. His extended absence cast doubt about his outlook and chemistry with Ryan Tannehill. 

    However, he put all concerns to rest in Week 2. 

    Tannehill targeted Hartline on 41 percent of his passes, and they connected nine times for 111 yards. 

    In a Dolphins offense that sorely lacks a go-to wide receiver, Hartline is stepping up to fill the void. As he gets healthier and develops more chemistry with Tannehill, he might only get better. 

Offseason Stars Fading out

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    A slew of Miami Dolphins turned heads in training camp, briefly inspiring hope that the team may take the NFL by surprise and make a playoff push. 

    Most of those players aren't on the team anymore (David Garrard, Chad Johnson, Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt).

    However, two of them still are: Charles Clay and Legedu Naanee. 

    Both were major disappointments through the first two weeks of the season, and in Naanee's case, through the entire preseason as well. Naanee has been targeted only three times and is yet to register a single reception. Clay, meanwhile, has been targeted only four times and has just one reception for two yards. 

    It's hard to understand why Naanee hasn't been cut yet—though Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel points out his special teams value—and it's hard to see him contributing any time soon. 

    Clay, on the other hand, played well in the preseason and is still making the transition from fullback to tight end. So, while he deserves some slack, he's been a disappointment nevertheless.

Michael Egnew's Vanishing Act

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    Here's what I said about Michael Egnew in my draft report card from April:

    The Dolphins finally drafted an athletic, seam-threat tight end. 

    Unfortunately, I think they drafted the wrong one. 

    Jeff Ireland traded down in the third round and scooped up Missouri's Michael Egnew, a highly productive, speedy tight end. It's almost a stretch to call Egnew a tight end, though. He was rarely asked to block in Missouri's offense, and he struggled in the combine's blocking drills.

    Essentially, he's a one-trick pony.  

    Egnew needs to get considerably stronger, or he'll only be able to play on obvious passing downs.  

    Grade: C+

    It turns out strength and blocking was only one of Egnew's weaknesses. He struggled with dropped passes throughout the preseason and was inactive for both of Miami's first two games. It's way, way too early to call Egnew a bust, but third-round picks should, at the very least, be active on a weekly basis. 

    If Egnew doesn't turns things around quickly, then he might not last more than a season or two with the Dolphins.