Burning Questions for Miami Dolphins Training Camp
The 2012 season for the Miami Dolphins was a season of low expectations that would get exceeded by October. This led to higher expectations that would bring disappointment by November before giving us a 7-9 season.
Miami then sought to re-make themselves in the offseason by attacking their weakest areas while also getting younger as a whole.
Now the Dolphins are expected to make some noise in the AFC thanks in part to the new faces as well as the continued development of their youngsters from last season. How the new pieces fit and how the young guys develop will be the storylines to watch.
Here's a look at each of these questions as the Dolphins open camp in Davie.
Can Miami's Secondary Match Their Front Seven?
We're going to talk about Miami's front seven in greater depth in this piece; however, one thing we do know about the front seven is that it looks like it will be one of the best in the NFL.
The same thing could be said for Miami's front line last year, which did an excellent job stopping the run and often did get pressure on the quarterback. But that didn't prevent teams from being able to throw on the Dolphins, which they did well and did often.
The reason for that was that Miami's secondary was a weak spot. Some of that you can attribute to the fact that Cameron Wake was Miami's only real pass rushing threat—which the drafting of Dion Jordan should fix.
But you can also look at two other factors as to why Miami's secondary was weak: injuries and the fact that the players didn't fit the scheme.
The second factor has been fixed by the Dolphins thanks to the drafting of Jamar Taylor and Will Davis as well as the signing of Brent Grimes. However, the first factor is still a major concern when you look at the fact that Grimes, along with veteran Richard Marshall, are both coming off of injuries that ended their 2012 seasons prematurely.
Even if the secondary remains healthy through the whole season, can they play at a level that doesn't totally negate the level of play from Miami's front line?
Most importantly, can they cause turnovers? That will be the difference between the Dolphins' defense being a top-15 defense and a top-five defense.
Jonathan Martin: He Is Literally the Question
Normally I save the biggest questions on a piece like this for one of the final slides. However, Martin's a question in himself and is not only an important question, but one that will determine the fate of the Dolphins in 2013.
Martin's in his second year in the NFL and unlike his 2012 draft-mate Ryan Tannehill, he didn't exactly play well enough to show a lot of promise going forward.
Now Martin has had a full offseason where even his own coaches and front office showed some amount of doubt in him—as proven by the overtures towards the Chiefs in attempting to trade for Branden Albert during draft time—and has been identified at times as a weak link.
All while having to replace a former Pro Bowl left tackle and protecting the blind side of Ryan Tannehill.
No pressure right?
The good news is this: Martin is more athletic than Jake Long, and therefore better suited for Miami's blocking scheme. He's also young, meaning there's time for him to learn. And most importantly, left tackle is his natural position and he won't be switching positions throughout the year like he did last season.
This should work in Martin's favor, but there's no guarantee of that, which has some fans a little apprehensive.
Can Lamar Miller Live Up to the Hype?
One Dolphin who has seen a lot of love during the off-season has been Lamar Miller, who is expected to have a huge year in 2013.
Miller has spent the offseason working with 49ers running back Frank Gore, where he has impressed both Gore and Steelers linebacker Sean Spence—both of whom, like Miller, are alums of the University of Miami—with his ability.
Miller also earned the praise of running backs guru Pete Bommarito, who called Miller "The fastest running back I've ever seen," mighty impressive when you take into account the list of backs Bommarito has worked with in the past.
Its safe to say that Miller is getting a lot of hype heading into this season, but the question is, can he live up to it?
It's hard to remember but Miller is still technically fighting for the starting running back job against Daniel Thomas. That will be the first step towards Miller living up to the hype.
The way the Dolphins have run the organization, it isn't just about how you run the ball that gives you an edge in the starting lineup but also about how you block in passing situations, which Miller has had his issues with.
If he continues to struggle there—and if Vontae Leach isn't signed—then you won't see Miller on the field as much as you would expect, and it will be tough to see how good he really is if we don't see him on the field.
What Should We Expect out of Dion Jordan This Season?
Miami doesn't often trade up in the draft, so you know a player must be really special if they felt the need to do just that. Enter Dion Jordan.
The question for Jordan is, what can we expect out of him? Do we expect him to win the starting defensive end job from Week 1 on? That might be harder than many would expect when you consider the depth Miami has along the defensive line and at linebacker.
Can we expect to see Jordan play linebacker from time to time? I believe we should, and we should also expect to see Jordan being used to cover the tight end in certain situations like a linebacker.
But expect the most out of him as a defensive end, usually on passing downs and not so much on every down during his rookie year. The Dolphins will likely break him in slowly that way before giving him the starting job from the very beginning.
Will Ellerbe and Wheeler Be a Significant Upgrade over Dansby and Burnett?
Prior to the offseason, you figured Miami was set at linebacker for at least one more season with veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett to go along with Koa Misi.
Suddenly Dansby and Burnett were no longer Miami's linebackers, and a change was made when many thought there wasn't one to be made.
The reality is the change was made to get younger as well as save money in the long run. Next season, Dansby and Burnett would've faced free agency as part of a Dolphins class of free agents that also includes Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Chris Clemons and—most importantly—Reshad Jones.
This would've greatly restricted who Miami could go out and grab in free agency as a veteran presence at linebacker. So it only made sense that they took advantage of two very good and young linebackers that became free agents this season while letting the veterans go.
Financially, this option hurt the Dolphins less, but what will it do for them on the field? Can either of these two make up the leadership lost by not having Dansby and Burnett? Can they stop the run as well as their predecessors have been able to? Can they cover tight ends better than Dansby and Burnett?
Will the Ellerbe and Wheeler signings be bargains, or busts?
What Will Be Mike Wallace's Overall Impact?
Mike Wallace was the crown jewel in the Dolphins' 2013 free agency binge, and the one player they didn't want to come out of free agency without.
They already accomplished the goal, and now Wallace is a Dolphin who thus far has said all of the right things about Ryan Tannehill and his potential, even comparing him to his former quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
However, Wallace will have to do more than just catch the football in order for his signing to be looked at as a success.
His catches will have to equal touchdowns, for one. He also has to be consistent enough that it allows Miami's running game to get started while also allowing his fellow wide receivers, who will be discussed later, to get free and make the catch when Wallace is double-teamed.
Wallace will get that benefit of the doubt at the start of the season from opposing teams who will likely double-team him. But if he suffers from the same case of the dropsies that he seemed to suffer from in Pittsburgh (note: Wallace still didn't have as many dropped passes as Dolphins receivers did last year), then that respect might fade, causing Miami's offense to practically fall apart.
How Will Miami's Revamped Receivers and Tight Ends Look?
Before we talk about how Miami's offense is a lock to be improved, keep this in mind: the Dolphins' leading rusher from 2012 is a Detroit Lion, the player with the most touchdown catches last season is a Kansas City Chief and their second-leading receiver from last season is now a Cleveland Brown.
So yes, the Dolphins gained a lot during this offseason. But they did lose some as well, and there are questions in terms of who will be playing where and how much playing time will they get, especially among the wide receivers and tight ends.
Miami's top two receivers? That's practically set in stone with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline as your number one and number two options.
Number three looks to be a battle between Armon Binns, who performed well during OTAs, and free agent acquisition Brandon Gibson who seemed to disappoint during said OTAs. Binns will likely wind up at the four spot, but so far has been a challenge to the three.
Meanwhile at tight end, Dustin Keller is likely the starter as well as a slot receiver when need be, but it will be interesting to see the competition between 2012 third-round pick Michael Egnew and 2013 fourth-round pick Dion Sims.
Egnew has the edge due to being in the NFL for one year, but Sims seems to be the more complete player. It's definitely a competition worth watching.
More important than these training camp battles though will be how well the winners of said battles perform once they win their jobs. That remains to be seen.
Can the Dolphins' Front Seven Be Among the Best in the NFL in 2013?
We've set it all up to this question, first by asking if the secondary could play up to the level of excellence seen by the front seven, then by looking at both Dion Jordan and the new linebackers.
Now here's the big picture question surrounding what looks to be Miami's deepest positions: is this front seven likely to be one of the best in the league in 2013?
There's more than enough talent to make that happen; just the fact that a player who was traded up for will have to fight for the starting job should tell you exactly how good this front line really is. However, will everyone develop the chemistry needed for this front seven to excel?
The NFL is a pass-first league now, and defending the pass isn't just about having a secondary to create turnovers and defend wide receivers, but also about having a front seven to pressure the quarterback. The latter is actually more important, since pressure leads to passes not being thrown at the optimal time, which can lead to turnovers. Pressure could also lead to sacks and strips.
Now Miami has a young and aggressive front line, one that could be one of the best in the NFL. Will it reach that level?
How Will Ryan Tannehill's Development Help (or Hurt) This Team?
Miami has plenty of brand new shiny pieces on offense, but in the end, it's up to the quarterback to make it go.
Tannehill showed promise in 2012 despite having bare-bones talent on offense. Now he has a sure-handed tight end, a speedy wideout that matches his arm strength, and a wide receiver unit that goes at least four deep.
Add in a Pro Bowl center and a pretty good offensive line—that does have a question mark we talked about earlier—and Tannehill has no excuses.
Already Tannehill is getting plenty of hype from all over the league. Both Chris Mortensen and Ron Jaworski of ESPN believe that Tannehill will have a big year in 2013, while his own receivers have managed to say the right things about his progress.
But there is still the dreaded sophomore slump that hangs over the Dolphins' season like a guillotine. Tannehill's progression and play will likely be the difference between whether the Dolphins make the playoffs or are viewed as an also-ran once again.
Are the 2013 Dolphins the Team to End New England's AFC East Dynasty?
The New England Patriots haven't appeared as vulnerable as they do right now.
That's the perception around the league, and a follow-up to that assumption is the perception that if there's any team that could end New England's dominance over the AFC East, it's this year's Miami Dolphins.
Will that be the case? That's something that won't be answered after training camp obviously, but will be the biggest burning question surrounding the Miami Dolphins throughout the 2013 season.