Miami Dolphins: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities
The work that's left for Miami is now internal. It's about getting the offense on track, fixing the flaws in the Dolphins defense and getting the new additions acclimated into the team.
Can we rank the offseason priorities that still need to be addressed? Yes, we can, which is what we will be doing here. Each priority will be ranked based on how important it is to the team and how important it is to the success (or failure) of the team in 2014.
5. Building the Secondary
The Dolphins had to rebuild their secondary in the 2013 offseason. They did so by signing Brent Grimes and drafting Jamar Taylor and Will Davis; meanwhile, the remaining members of the Dolphins secondary got further acclimated to the scheme.
The result was a good one, as Miami went from being the 27th-ranked pass defense in 2012 (a pass defense that allowed 248 yards per game and 18 touchdowns while only recording 10 interceptions) to being the 16th-best pass defense in the league in 2013 (and, more importantly, recording more interceptions—18).
The Dolphins would like to further improve on one of the few areas of real progress during Kevin Coyle's tenure at defensive coordinator, and while improving their linebackers would help (we will get to that later), further upgrades in the secondary are on the horizon.
The first step came in free agency, when the Dolphins re-signed Grimes, then signed safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Cortland Finnegan while jettisoning the inconsistent Nolan Carroll (who did improve in 2013) and the oft-injured (but great when on the field) Dimitri Patterson.
Then, in the draft, Miami added Walt Aikens, a big boundary cornerback who gives the Dolphins secondary a much-needed element it hasn't had.
The final piece would be the development of second-year players Taylor and Davis. Taylor should contend for a starting job against Finnegan, while Davis should fight for the nickel corner job.
4. Fixing the Issues at Linebacker
The weakness of the Dolphins defense last year was the linebackers, who provided a creamier middle for offenses to attack than a double-stuffed Oreo cookie.
This offseason, the Dolphins attempted to address that weakness; however it was difficult given that they have $78 million tied up in their linebackers (with $35 million guaranteed).
Because of that, the Dolphins' only real upgrade option was the draft, but they found a great upgrade in Jordan Tripp.
Can Tripp (along with second-year player Jelani Jenkins) rise up and compete for a starting linebacker position? Would the Dolphins be better off moving Koa Misi in the middle?
There's a lot we will learn in minicamps, OTA and then training camp.
3. Sorting out Ryan Tannehill's Weapons
You can't really say that Ryan Tannehill doesn't have receivers around him anymore. You can say that they could be better, but the unit as a whole is fairly solid.
And that was before the Dolphins added two receivers in the draft in Jarvis Landry and Matt Hazel. With those two in tow, it's going to be a battle at any wide receiver position not held by Mike Wallace or Brian Hartline.
Landry will likely take the third receiver slot, partially because he has attributes that were missing from Miami's receiver unit last year and partially because two of the three receivers he's competing against (Armon Binns and Brandon Gibson) are coming off of knee injuries.
How will the Dolphins wide receivers look this season? It will be fun to find out.
2. Getting the Running Game in Gear
The Dolphins offense will only go as far as Ryan Tannehill takes it, but he's going to need some help. This help specifically must come from the running game, which last season straddled the border between merely competent and straight up atrocious.
When it was competent, Miami won, as the Dolphins were 6-4 when they rushed for over 90 yards.
When it was atrocious, Miami often lost, going 2-4 when it failed to hit that 90-yard mark (one of those wins came against the New England Patriots, when it ran for 89 yards).
Fixing the offensive line might help out the running game, but some of this work will have to come from the backs themselves.
I expect a two-back system in Miami, featuring the newly acquired Knowshon Moreno and third-year player Lamar Miller. Miller has more home run potential, but in year three he's still a bit of a mystery. Moreno is coming off of his best season, but bear in mind he did have Peyton Manning as his quarterback, as well as an excellent offensive line blocking for him.
1. Revamping the Offensive Line
The crux of Miami's offensive issues was its offensive line in 2013.
The unit was bad on the field, and some players behaved worse off of it. Three of the players involved in the Bullygate scandal are now gone, and two of those players were among the worst football players on the team (I'm referring to John Jerry and Jonathan Martin).
The Dolphins aggressively addressed this line this offseason with their free-agency acquisitions and the draft. Now, the question is who to put where.
From the looks of it, Miami will play at least two rookies along the offensive line, with Ja'Wuan James at right tackle and Billy Turner playing one of the guard positions. If it works out, general manager Dennis Hickey practically won the draft and the Dolphins should be on their way to the playoffs. If it doesn't, both Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin could be out of a job.
Bonus Offseason Priority: Changing the Dolphins' Perception and Reputation
This is an off-field issue for the Dolphins, which is why it isn't ranked.
It's also an important offseason priority for the Dolphins, one that can be changed only with time (although winning definitely helps).
The perception and reputation of the team isn't very good right now, and that's a fact. The Dolphins have been making the news for all of the wrong reasons, and it's very concerning—at least it is to myself, and I'm sure it is for coach Joe Philbin, general manager Dennis Hickey and owner Stephen Ross as well.
I wrote about this last week, and I was not only critical of Mike Pouncey and Don Jones (two players who were in the news for the wrong reasons during draft weekend), but the organization as a whole (I disagreed with Jones' punishment despite disagreeing with what was said in the tweet itself).
The reason for Jones' punishment made sense in the Dolphins' bubble in Davie, Florida, but let's not fool ourselves—it was a public relations move done in response to the white noise surrounding the team following Bullygate. It was one of many moves made by the Dolphins this offseason to attempt to distance themselves from that past.
The draft was another piece of the puzzle in the team distancing itself from the past. Miami went for high-character players regardless of what school they went to. That wasn't the only factor in drafting players (the Dolphins' draft class is a talented group that filled most of Miami's needs), but it was a factor.
Miami is working toward fixing its off-the-field issues, and so far as an organization, it's doing a fairly good job, despite the miscues by the two players last week.
Solving the off-field issues will come with time, though, because that's the only thing that can heal those problems.