New Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan better be as good as advertised.
Because with training camp less than a week away, I am getting the distinct feeling that Miami's offense is going to have to carry the defense if the Dolphins are to be successful in 2010.
The temptation would be to pass off this opinion as an overreaction to this past week's Dolphins news. In case you missed it, nose tackle Jason Ferguson retired and Philip Merling (who was already under fire for allegedly assaulting his pregnant girlfriend) suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.
Miami loses two starters to its defense.
However, Ferguson was going to play—at most—half of the regular season due to a substance abuse suspension and Merling has underachieved for most of his career and might have been suspended for his off-the-field troubles.
Actually, the uneven balance of Miami's football team comes down to what I'd call "sure bets" and "uncertainties."
Simply put—there are more sure bets on offense and far more uncertainties on defense.
On offense, Chad Henne is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, and the Dolphins have better than average backup options with Tyler Thigpen and Chad Pennington.
Pat White reportedly looks a whole lot better (that wouldn't be hard) than he did last season.
There has to be some concern over Ronnie Brown's physical condition in his return from a Lisfranc injury and his ability to stay healthy. But Ricky Williams is a more than capable backup and Miami runs four deep at the position.
Brandon Marshall locks down the No. 1 receiver spot and the three competitors for the No. 2 job, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, and Greg Camarillo, have similar talents.
The offensive line is stronger and deeper than it has been since at least the Richmond Webb and Keith Sims era. The tackles are set with Jake Long and Vernon Carey.
We don't know who the sure-fire starters at the guard and center positions are, but it’s only because Miami has plenty of talent instead of a dearth of it.
The only true uncertainty on offense at this point, and of course injuries can change a unit's strength to a weakness in a heartbeat, is at tight end. Anthony Fasano is the clear starter, but after a 31-catch season for only 339 yards and two touchdowns in 2009, Miami will need help at this position.
While they won't be confused with the high octane offenses of the Saints or Colts, the Dolphins' offense is more of a sure bet than an uncertainty. Honestly, when was the last time you could say this?
On the flipside, the picture of defense is far more cloudy. Will the Dolphins start a rookie at right defensive end in Jared Odrick?
Will the move of Randy Starks to nose tackle work or will Paul Solai finally realize his potential?
Who will start at either outside linebacker position? Another rookie in Koa Misi?
Cameron Wake, whom the coaching staff still doesn't trust to stop the run or in coverage? Charlie Anderson, a career backup?
Can Channing Crowder return from his own Lisfranc injury and stay healthy enough to pair with Karlos Dansby to give Miami solid inside linebacker play?
Miami has sure bets at cornerback with young talent in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith and veteran Will Allen, providing Davis and Smith make the expected jump in maturity this season.
The safety position is in far more questionable shape. Yeremiah Bell made the Pro Bowl in 2009, but truth be told he was more average than good.
What happens at the free safety position?
Chris Clemons has 16 career tackles. Tyrone Culver is a career journeyman.
This is not meant to say that the Dolphins are untalented on defense, just unproven.
In short, with the defense having at least six new starters, there will be natural mental lapses and big plays allowed. There is a sizable adjustment period when you have this many new personnel.
Nolan is supposedly an innovator who can get the most out of lesser talent based largely on the Broncos' fast start last year. He has talent on defense in Miami, but the greater test might be of his patience.