The Miami Dolphins surprised a lot of people in 2012. With a decade-plus of mediocrity at its back, Miami entered 2012 with a fresh, young quarterback and blinking glints of hope. Rather than succumb to preseason expectations, the Dolphins rose to a 7-9 record, narrowly missing out on a couple of wins that would have made them playoff-worthy.
The Fins entered the offseason with a litany of holes to fill and the cap space to do it. After a bombastic free agency spending spree and a masterfully-handled draft, the Dolphins are turning even more heads than in 2012.
And so I'll go ahead and say it. The 2013 Miami Dolphins will be much better than the 2012 Miami Dolphins. They'll be markedly better. I hesitate to guarantee they'll make the playoffs because I tend to avoid such lofty proclamations when it's still May, but it's not outside the realm of possibilities.
The Dolphins will field an improved roster and a coaching staff with a year of experience tucked away in 2013. But if you still need further convincing, here are 10 reasons the Dolphins will absolutely be better in 2013.
Ryan Tannehill didn't experience the highs of his rookie peers last season. He wasn't the talk of the league like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, and he wasn't a pleasant surprise like Russell Wilson. But he also wasn't what most analysts predicted he would be.
Tannehill was supposed to be painfully raw as a rookie. He wasn't supposed to look like he was perfectly comfortable in an NFL pocket, but he did. He wasn't supposed to be able to read defenses and make the right throws like a 3 or 4-year veteran, but he did. He wasn't supposed to be the leader of a previously directionless team, but he was.
His stats weren't astounding. 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions aren't exactly numbers to write home about, but it's better than what was expected. With a vastly expanded armory of weapons to throw to, Tannehill's numbers should inflate in 2013. And with a year of experience under his belt, expect that interception number to dwindle a bit.
Additionally, Tannehill figures to be used more as a runner going forward. Miami has let it be known that it plans on instituting some read option packages for the athletic QB next year. Tannehill is a good runner, as evidenced by his 211 yards rushing and 4.3 yard average in limited opportunities last season.
Tannehill still isn't a guarantee to be Miami's next Dan Marino, but his rookie performance and natural abilities are enough to instill a ton of confidence in his future.
Reggie Bush was very good in his two years in Miami. But he's gone now, and in his place the Dolphins look to play running back-by-committee.
That may work in Miami's favor.
Lamar Miller figures to be the starter in Week 1. The second-year pro looked great on limited carries last year and has fans excited about his abilities. He's a slightly bigger back than Bush but has all the burst and quickness that Bush had in his younger days. Miller is also a better runner between the tackles, something Bush always struggled with despite all his improvements.
After Miller, a battle should emerge between Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee. Thomas is injury-prone and has underachieved in two years with Miami, but at his best he can be a good power back. Will the Dolphins finally get that on a consistent basis from Thomas this year? It's hard to say, but this is probably his last chance to prove his worth.
Meanwhile, Gillislee is a guy I lobbied for on multiple occasions. The former Gator has similar speed and quickness to Miller, yet he runs with great power that betrays his average frame. Gillislee and Miller could provide a nice one-two punch with Thomas acting as a sledgehammer on short-yardage situations.
Miami's biggest splash this offseason was signing Mike Wallace to a huge deal. Can he live up to that massive contract? Frankly, it won't matter. What he brings to this offense is enough to justify the move.
The Dolphins have their first legitimate deep threat in years. Wallace can stretch the field like few other human beings, giving Tannehill a chance to flex that big arm of his.
Wallace should also earn a lot of attention from opposing secondaries, meaning Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson should have a little more room to play. Hartline was the team's leading receiver last season, and with less attention being paid to him, he should be able to pick up right where he left off.
Trading Davone Bess to Cleveland is a bit of a blow, but the Dolphins are confident Gibson can fill Bess' role. While he's bigger than your typical inside receiver, Gibson has the talent to be a very good third receiver.
Keep an eye on undrafted free agent Terrell Sinkfield, too. He opened eyes by running the 40 in 4.19 seconds in March. If he can bring along some hands and route-running abilities to go with his blazing speed, Sinkfield could be a nice ace in the hole.
Anthony Fasano was a nice player and a good guy, but he wasn't the kind of receiving threat the current regime wanted at tight end.
A couple months ago, the Dolphins got their guy in Dustin Keller. The former New York Jet is a seam-stretching monster who terrorized the Dolphins in the past. Now it's the Fins who will reap the rewards of his performance.
There is a caveat, though. Keller is coming off an injury-plagued season that resulted in the worst statistics of his career. As a result, Miami only signed him to a one-year deal. Keller has a chance to prove his injuries were a fluke and potentially earn a long-term deal.
If Keller can return to his 2011 form—in which he caught 65 passes for 815 yards and five touchdowns—the Dolphins will have themselves a dangerous weapon at tight end.
Additionally, rookie Dion Sims is a great blocker who can be a big red zone target. There's also Charles Clay, who showed flashes of the sort of athletic play Miami wants out of its tight ends last season.
Overall, this appears to be a much-improved unit from 2012.
Miami's offensive line was middle-of-the-road in 2012. It allowed 37 total sacks, putting it at 18th in the league. The unit also allowed for a 4.1 yard-per-carry average, which was good for 20th in the league.
In other words, the offensive line wasn't in need of a dire overhaul, but there were areas for improvement. The Dolphins appear to have addressed those concerns.
The recent signing of Tyson Clabo is a huge move. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Clabo as the 14th best overall tackle and fifth best right tackle in 2012. He'll start over Nate Garner, allowing Garner to slip back into the versatile backup role for which he's best suited.
That means Jonathan Martin will continue to work at left tackle. Martin struggled at times last season, especially against premiere pass-rushers like Aldon Smith. But the second-year pro played left tackle in college, so I have faith he can find success on that side. After an offseason of bulking up and learning the position, I expect Martin to be improved in 2013.
Pro Bowler Richie Incognito will continue at left guard, while rookie Dallas Thomas will likely compete with veterans Lance Louis and John Jerry at right guard. Thomas or Louis will be an improvement over Jerry. And with Mike Pouncey acting as the anchor at center, Miami's offensive line should be much better in 2013.
OK, you got me. Cameron Wake is by no means new to the Dolphins. He racked up 15 sacks last season and was a complete stud. So how does he fit in as a reason the Dolphins will be improved next season versus last?
Well, Wake is an elite talent. At the very least, he guarantees Miami's defense won't take a step back in one area. He may not generate much discernible improvement, but he's absolutely a reason why Miami will be a good team in 2013.
The one move that impressed me the most this offseason was Jeff Ireland's bold acquisition of Dion Jordan. There was seemingly no evidence that Miami was after the talented pass-rusher, but Ireland wanted him and was aggressive in acquiring him.
Of course, the move wouldn't be as nice if Jordan wasn't a freakish talent. He's an athletic specimen who can be used in a variety of ways. Look for Jordan to get looks at defensive end, where he'll work in a hands-down stance. He'll need to grow accustomed to this stance, but I don't see that being an issue.
Putting Jordan down at end would allow Jared Odrick to slide inside and apply greater pass rush from the interior of the line. Suddenly, Miami's defensive line becomes more dynamic than it ever was.
Jordan should also see a lot of work at outside linebacker. His incredible speed and quick hands will allow him to blow past offensive tackles and harass quarterbacks. He's also agile enough to drop back into coverage and stick with tight ends, adding another layer to the Fins' defense.
Jordan has the potential to be the next Jason Taylor, but for now I look forward to his multi-faceted role in Kevin Coyle's 2013 defense.
Miami shockingly overhauled its linebackers in free agency, bringing on Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and dumping Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.
The goal was to get more athletic and explosive at linebacker. Wheeler and Ellerbe certainly fit those molds. Both are effective pass-rushers who can skillfully defend the run. Wheeler is also a good coverage linebacker, something the Dolphins sorely lacked in the past.
Koa Misi will continue his work at outside linebacker while likely rotating to defensive end depending on where Dion Jordan lines up. Olivier Vernon is also capable of playing outside linebacker, although he's perhaps better at defensive end.
I'm also intrigued by Jelani Jenkins. He was great at Florida, yet he'll need to get bigger and stronger to last in the NFL. His run defense also must improve, but he's great in coverage and can fly around the field. If he makes the necessary changes to his game, Jenkins could be a late-round steal.
Brent Grimes gets a chance to prove himself in 2013. He was a Pro Bowl corner in 2011, but after a torn Achilles tendon in 2012, Grimes comes with a big question mark. Like Dustin Keller, Miami signed Grimes to only a one-year deal with the possibility for an extension if he shows that he's recovered.
If Grimes can return to his 2011 form, then Miami will have the type of dominant corner it has longed for since the days of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
Drafting Jamar Taylor was another masterstroke by the Dolphins. The Boise State man was considered by many analysts to be a top-five corner. Walter Football listed him as the fourth-best corner in the draft.
Taylor impressed at the combine with a 4.39 40-yard dash time and impressive performances across the board. He's varied enough to be effective in man and zone coverage and has a nose for the football. He should be able to work his way to the No. 2 corner spot.
Richard Marshall should recover from his back injury last season and be the talented nickel corner the Dolphins brought him in to be. At safety, Chris Clemons is coming off his best season and should be motivated by his one-year deal to play hard and earn a long-term contract. Next to him is Reshad Jones, who came into his own last season and is being recognized as a top-five safety.
With the additions at corner, Miami's secondary should be better than the tattered mess it was in 2012.
Dion Jordan hoists one of the Fins' new-look jerseys.
This one may not appeal to the more pragmatic readers out there, but I believe the Dolphins' new look will inspire greater play in 2013.
As a personal anecdote, when I played high school football, we got brand new uniforms my junior year. The slick new colors and aggressive patterns influenced our attitude. We felt good; we felt mean. And we played like it. I don't see why the same thing won't happen with the Dolphins.
Yes, a professional football team shouldn't need new uniforms to play great, but that's not what I'm saying. Miami's new look signals a paradigm shift. This is a new Dolphins team for a new era. It's hard not to get caught up in the hype.
The lighter aqua and orange shades in Miami's new look hearkens back to the franchise's glory days, and that's how I expect the new Dolphins to perform—like it's the glory days all over again.
Love them or hate them, Miami's new uniforms will be another part of what drives this team to a strong 2013 season.