5 Biggest Areas of Concern for the Miami Dolphins Heading into Training Camp
Show me an NFL team with zero areas of concern heading into training camp, and I'll just tell you "nice Madden lineup," while asking if you turned off the salary cap and the AI's ability to reject trades.
That's what parity, brought about by a hard salary cap, shared television deals and revenue sharing, has brought to the NFL.
The best teams are the ones that have the fewest weaknesses, as well as the ability to conceal said weaknesses.
Last season neither could describe the Dolphins as a horrid offensive line and weak linebackers doomed them to the purgatory of 8-8. These weaknesses, along with Ryan Tannehill's inconsistencies, were most glaring during their final two games of the season against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, games where the Dolphins were outscored 39-7.
It's a brand-new year for the Dolphins, and despite efforts to address their weaknesses in free agency and the draft, said areas of concern are still there. Here's a look at the five biggest areas of concern for the Miami Dolphins going into training camp, ranked from least important to most important.
5. Miami's Running Game
During the Dan Marino era, Miami couldn't run the ball to save their lives.
This was despite being in an era where running the ball was the order of the day in the NFL and having an offensive line that kept Marino upright the majority of the time.
Since then, I figured the Dolphins' running game would never be worse, and for years I was correct, as the Dolphins, while not a dominant rushing team, has had their fair share of good running backs who could reliably run for 1,000 yards.
With that being said, the 2013 Dolphins' running game was the worst Dolphins' run attack since Marino left, featuring a promising back who was too boom-or-bust and a running back who questions everyone with his ability to remain on the roster.
Miami set about fixing this over the offseason by signing Knowshon Moreno (happy birthday by the way; Moreno turns 27 as of the date of this piece's publishing) from the Denver Broncos, and it seemed like such a signing would work considering he ran for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Broncos last season and was an integral part of the offense, especially in pass blocking.
However, Moreno would suffer a setback since joining the Dolphins, as he's been relegated to the second team in OTAs while battling a knee injury that required surgery, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.
Lamar Miller has played with the first-team offense so far, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, and has done well so far. However, he still needs to improve on his pass blocking, and it would help if he could catch more passes out of the backfield.
4. Weak Linebacker Play
The 2013 Dolphins had all of the makings of a great defense, a dominant defensive front and one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
Yet despite having those great attributes, they ranked 21st in the league in yards allowed. How does this compute?
Simple: Between their strong defensive line and strong secondary, there laid a weak set of high-priced linebackers.
Pro Football Focus (subscription provided) gives you the reasons for said damage. Koa Misi was ranked 14th among outside linebackers with a grade of 5.6, including a grade of 9.2 against the run. That's the good news, the bad news is look lower on that page, and you'll see Philip Wheeler ranked at 35th with a grade of minus-19.5.
In case you're wondering, that's last place.
Looking at the middle linebackers, per PFF, and you'll find Dannell Ellerbe at 50 (out of 55) with a grade of minus-13.5.
Karlos Dansby, who was released to bring on Ellerbe, was ranked fifth with a grade of 16.0.
How do the Dolphins plan to improve? By switching up the positions. Dannell Ellerbe is now Miami's strong-side linebacker, while Misi will work the middle.
How well will this move work? It depends on Misi, who's never played middle linebacker before. The coaches have confidence in Misi right now, as seen by an offseason and draft where Miami didn't find immediate help at the position.
3. Offensive Line
How is this not No. 1? It was the worst part of the Dolphins' season last year.
That's a good question, and let me answer this by stating that quarterback and coach are bigger questions since those are the most important parts of a team.
But I will get to the inconsistent Mr. Tannehill and the befuddling decision-making of Joe Philbin later; for now, we have an offensive line that will be completely different in Week 1 of 2014.
There are five new starters, and they have had yet to take a regular-season snap together.
Granted, the last part of that sentence would be true even if Mike Pouncey was healthy and available for the Dolphins in Week 1, but he won't be due to hip surgery, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. Pouncey is expected to be out for three months, and Mike Coppinger of NFL.com reports that the Dolphins could place Pouncey on the PUP list, leaving him out until Week 7.
There is good news for Pouncey, as Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald reports that the Pro Bowl center will likely not face suspension for his role in last season's bullying scandal, meaning when he returns to the lineup, he'll be there for good (unless I'm wrong about his and his brother's innocence in last weekend's alleged assault, both claim they're innocent, per Omar Kelly of The Sun-Sentinel)
Outside of Pouncey, Miami's line also has a new addition in Branden Albert at left tackle, with his left-side running mate being second-year player Dallas Thomas. Miami's center could be Nate Garner, with former Ram Shelley Smith and first round rookie Ja'Wuan James on the right side.
Can this line be good? Absolutely, it's already an improvement over last year's line, and the Dolphins have yet to take a meaningful snap. Will it be better once Pouncey comes back? How can a line adding a Pro Bowler regress (I know it's possible, but it seems improbable).
This will be interesting to look at.
2. Ryan Tannehill's Inconsistent Consistency
If you don't have a quarterback, you don't have a shot.
Right now, the Dolphins don't really know if they have a quarterback, but they should know by the end of the season.
This isn't to say that Ryan Tannehill was bad, in fact, I liked what I saw out of him in 2013 and thought he was hamstrung by a bad running game, atrocious play-calling, worse coaching and a historically bad offensive line.
Despite all of that going against him, Tannehill still had a good, but not great, season, throwing for 3,913 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions with a completion percentage of 60.4 percent.
Despite all of this, three numbers stick out to me: his 81.7 quarterback rating, nine fumbles and 17 interceptions.
All of which should improve with a better offensive line, but there are many questions surrounding that unit (as we saw in the last slide).
A good reference for Tannehill and his inconsistencies is this throw chart compiled by Bleacher Report's AFC East writer Erik Frenz. What you'll see is a quarterback who got a bit jumpy even when he wasn't feeling pressure, especially toward the end.
Can that jumpiness be coached out of him? After a while, it does become instinct and affects a quarterback's play (see David Carr). If Tannehill can avoid it, he will put up a season that lets us know that he is the present and future of the Miami Dolphins.
In the end, it all starts at the top.
Can we trust Joe Philbin? Over these two years, we have said no, but at the same time, Philbin has made some changes.
Miami has a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, who's fast-paced offense seems to inspire some faith from the fanbase. Miami also has a new offensive-line coach in John Benton, a true upgrade over former offensive-line coach Jim Turner.
Turner was fired due to the bullying scandal; however, it should've been his unit's putrid performance that done him in.
Despite such changes, Philbin is still Miami's head coach, which has me in fear for this team. This is a coach who tends to coach scared, going not for the win but to avoid losing.
This is a coach who doesn't seem very plugged into the team. Yes, a lot of successful coaches delegate, but Philbin, at times, comes off as clueless to the goings-on of the team within the locker room and on the field.
Has Philbin improved? That's the Dolphins' biggest concern this season. If we see the same Philbin we've seen the last two years, then no matter what improvements the team makes, it's in trouble.