Miami Dolphins' Offseason State of the Union
Unfortunately, the injury bug has already made its way to Davie, Florida, with a couple of key players already going down.
Despite that, the offense has had plenty of buzz with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor leading the way, and there are a few other units on the team—namely defensive line—that appear to be loaded with talent.
But on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are also a few other units that have their fair share of question marks.
With that said, here is a look at the team's current state of the union.
Injuries Are Already Becoming a Problem
The pads haven't even come out yet and already the Dolphins are dealing with injuries to a pair of players that were expected to be a major part of their offense.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Mike Pouncey underwent hip surgery on Monday and is expected to miss at least three months, while Knowshon Moreno will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery this week and miss four to five weeks.
Obviously, Pouncey is the big blow here, as the Pro Bowl center was going to be relied upon heavily as the lone returning offensive lineman.
With Pouncey out, there are a number of different ways the Dolphins can go.
For starters, they can plug in Sam Brenner—who is listed as the backup center on the depth chart—and continue with Shelley Smith, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner fighting it out for the two guard spots.
They could also slide Smith over to center and play Turner and Thomas at guard.
You should also keep an eye out for undrafted center Tyler Larsen to not only make a team, but fight for that starting spot throughout training camp. If he can impress, he may end up winning the job.
Either way, this all but guarantees the Dolphins will be heading into opening day with five new starters on the offensive line.
As far as Moreno goes, the veteran running back will likely miss the start of training camp, but should be back sometime before the preseason.
This will give Lamar Miller plenty of opportunities to win the No. 1 running back job before the battle even gets started if he can impress right away in training camp.
It also means that Daniel Thomas may be kept around longer than we hoped as an insurance policy.
Rookies Will Be Heavily Relied Upon
Last season, Dolphins rookies totaled the lowest amount of playing time out of any class in the entire league.
Miami had nine players add up to just 866 total snaps, as they were the only team in the league that didn't get at least 1,000 snaps from its rookies, via Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post.
For the sake of the team's overall success in 2014, that type of output would be a death sentence.
That's because, unlike last year when the Dolphins were just hoping for production from its rookies, this season they will be counting on it.
Ja'Wuan James is already written in as the starting right tackle for the season, and any change to that would mean something has gone terribly wrong.
Meanwhile, there has been plenty of buzz surrounding wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and he'll be counted on to be a major weapon for Ryan Tannehill throughout the season.
Billy Turner is also going to see his fair share of opportunities now that Pouncey is going to miss some time, and the team would love nothing more than to see him step up and win a starting job in training camp.
You can also add in Arthur Lynch and Jordan Tripp as two more players that are going to be counted on to produce in their roles.
As resistant as Joe Philbin has been in the past to playing young guys, he has no choice in many cases this season, as much of the success and failures of this team will be dependent on how these rookies perform.
Expect a High-Octane, Explosive Offense
Last season the Dolphins offense was the epitome of predictability, and as a result, scored a meager 19.8 points per game—26th in the league.
However, things this year are going to be very different with Bill Lazor taking over duties at offensive coordinator.
Already Miami's offense has shown a number of different formations, motions and quick-hitting plays that were nowhere to be found last year with Mike Sherman.
There have already been rave reviews from many of the players, including wide receiver Brian Hartline, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
It’s really interesting. I’ve never been in an offense like this, how it’s called, how it’s run, the combination routes. There’s a lot of things going on that I haven’t done. It’s really exciting and actually, I’m really enjoying it. You can tell it puts a smile on my face. I can’t wait to learn more, do more and then put it into action.
You can count Mike Wallace as another one of the players that is enjoying the new offense as well, with Lazor moving him all over the field to give the defense different looks, via Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
[Defenses] can't key on me. Last year they knew where I was every single play. I was there every game, in the same spot. When you move around it is harder for the defense to know where you're at. Harder for them to adjust.
Even new cornerback Cortland Finnegan has given his praise of the offense, saying that he's never seen a team play as fast as the Dolphins did during OTAs, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
After years of having an offensive coordinator that appeared to be calling plays in the Stone Age, it's refreshing to see new and innovative ideas on that side of the ball.
The Defensive Line Has Sky-High Potential
Scan through the defensive line depth chart and you will find six different players that could potentially make the Pro Bowl this season.
Just take a look at some of these players:
- Cameron Wake and Randy Starks have each made multiple trips to Hawaii already.
- Olivier Vernon is just 23 years old and is coming off an 11.5-sack season.
- Jared Odrick graded out as the 13th-best defensive tackle in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
- Earl Mitchell played out of position last year and still anchored the Houston Texans run defense, allowing just 3.1 yards per carry when on the field compared to a 4.2 average when off it, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald.
All those great players and I still haven't even gotten to the one that could potentially be better than them all—Dion Jordan.
He's a player that Hall of Famer Jason Taylor said could be even better than he was.
Put simply, the Dolphins defensive line is absolutely loaded.
Obviously, only four of these six players will start, but you can expect a consistent rotation, which should in turn result in plenty of fresh legs late in games.
If Wake, Starks and Odrick can continue their productivity, Mitchell can find his role and Jordan and Vernon can continue to develop, this could turn into the most dominant defensive line in the NFL.
There Are 3 Units with Plenty of Question Marks
As dominant as the defensive line is expected to be, it's a lot more difficult to predict the performance of some other units. There's simply no denying that the linebackers, offensive line and running backs have their fair share of question marks.
Admittedly, much of the concerns about the offensive line and running back positions have to do with the injuries to Pouncey and Moreno.
There's no way to know how quickly an offensive line that just lost a Pro Bowl center and is playing with five new starters is going to jell and develop.
There's also no way to know how the Dolphins running backs are going to perform if Moreno has to miss any significant amount of time.
Lamar Miller seems primed for a breakout season but after him, the depth chart is either filled with unknowns (Mike Gillislee, Damien Williams, Orleans Darkwa) or players that can't be counted on (Daniel Thomas, Marcus Thigpen).
The best hope for these two units is that Moreno and Pouncey can come back as quickly as possible and be counted on throughout the season.
However, the same hope can't be said for the linebackers.
Despite being the weakest unit on the Dolphins defense last season, not much has changed at the linebacker position over the offseason. Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler both still seem locked in for major roles this season, with the only real change being Koa Misi switching to a new position in the middle.
Jelani Jenkins is also expected to get much more of a role this season, along with fifth-round draft pick Jordan Tripp.
Either way, there's no way to confidently predict any type of success from this unit until we actually see it on the field.
In the End, It's Playoffs or Bust
At the end of the day, when ultimately deciding if the 2014 Dolphins will be a success or a failure, it all comes down to one thing—the playoffs.
As much of a roller-coaster ride as the 2013 season was, the overall outlook of the season would have been much different in the end if the Dolphins could have won one more game and gotten into the playoffs.
They failed to do that in monumental fashion, and as a result, the season was viewed as a disaster.
Now take those feelings, add in what appears to be a productive offseason and even higher expectations and the stakes are at an all-time high in 2014.
The Dolphins failing to play in January will result in a lot of changes to the organization from top to bottom. Joe Philbin is a virtual lock to get fired if the Dolphins were to have a repeat performance of last year, but he won't be the only one.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will also likely get the pink slip, and it's possible that general manager Dennis Hickey may have a quick exit from Miami as well.
The new coach or general manager would then reevaluate Ryan Tannehill as the possible franchise quarterback and continue on to make sweeping changes to the roster.
As frustrating as the offseason was after the way 2013 ended, things will be much worse this time around if the team has similar results.