Now that the lockout is over, most free agents have been signed, practices have started and the preseason is underway, legitimate predictions about the upcoming season can be made.
Rather than just make bold predictions, I've put them into three categories:
Bold: outlandish possibilities that just might happen.
Given: what fans should expect of the team.
Unholy: things that have a good chance of happening, but that fans do not want to hear.
Let's take a look.
Rookies do not often make the Pro Bowl, but Miami had a good enough draft to get one. Assuming that one Dolphin makes the Pro Bowl, here are my odds for each rookie:
Mike Pouncey (C): 45 percent
Pouncey is already listed as the first-string center on the depth chart, which means he will be on the field in Week 1. Pouncey is a first-round pick whose twin brother made the Pro Bowl last season as a rookie. He has the highest chance of any rookie to make the Pro Bowl.
Clyde Gates (WR): 20 percent
From the articles online it seems Miami's fourth-round pick has showed a ton of potential. He has apparently "Moss'd" Vontae Davis once on a ball downfield, but is still a very raw talent. Despite this, he is listed second on the depth chart behind Brian Hartline at WR and Davone Bess at KR/PR. He is ahead of last years rookies, Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace at WR, and if the Miami coaching staff wants Bess to stay healthy, they might not want him to be a return man. This leaves a lot of playing time for Gates if he can show that he is ready to be a big time talent in the NFL.
Daniel Thomas (RB): 15 percent
Thomas may be listed as Miami's second-string RB, but he will likely be getting the majority of carries. He is a physical, between-the-tackles runner and will get plenty of work in Sparano's run-first offense. If he produces this season, there is a solid chance he can make the Pro Bowl.
Philip Livas (KR/PR): 10 percent
If Livas can earn a spot on the roster and makes more plays such as the 75-yard punt return against the Falcons, he could earn himself a spot in the Pro Bowl. If Marc Mariani did it last year as a seventh-round pick for the Titans, Livas could do it this year.
Jimmy Wilson (CB) 5 percent
From what has been said online, Jimmy Wilson is a physical corner and a ball hawk at practice. Wilson could see some time at nickel back or if an injury to another corner occurs. If Wilson gets that chance, he could really shine.
Charles Clay (FB/TE): 5 percent
Clay is a versatile player and will likely see some time catching balls out of the backfield. If Clay outperforms Lousaka Polite, and Brian Daboll can use his skill set effectively, perhaps Clay could be a star.
Before the last game of last season, Miami did have a top-three defense. One game against the New England Patriots changed that and the Dolphins finished with the sixth ranked defense.
All of the unit's starters are returning with the exception of Channing Crowder, who will be replaced by Kevin Burnett. Burnett Provides an upgrade over Crowder and will hopefully take on his off-field leadership.
Also, CB Will Allen and last year's first-round pick DL Jared Odrick have returned from injury. Miami also added sack specialist and fan favorite Jason Taylor to provide depth and perhaps a mentor to young Koa Misi.
Miami's young tandem of corners in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith gain another year of experience and will turn into one of the best pass-covering duos in the league.
If the unit can stay healthy and produce more turnovers, opposing teams will fear Mike Nolan's defense.
Please don't kill me for this, but Cameron Wake will not match his 14 sacks for 2010.
There is a reason Wake did not have a sack in the last three games of the season—teams know who he is. Wake has made a name for himself as an elite pass rusher and will be drawing double-teams every week.
Even with the skill set he has, Wake will have a tough time overcoming this. If he is to match his sack total, Nolan is going to have to be more creative with his blitzing schemes.
Last season, Nolan was able to get by with just sending a four-man rush on most downs due to Wake's ability to put pressure on the QB. Since opposing teams are now aware of Wake, the Miami defense is going to rely on other players such as Koa Misi, Jason Taylor and the defensive lineman.
Expect the other defensive lineman, as well as the linebacker playing opposite of Wake, to thrive as a result of the attention he will draw.
I expect Miami to make it to the playoffs, but on defense alone.
Miami's defense should be in the top five this year with the big upgrade being Kevin Burnett over the loud-mouthed Channing Crowder. Burnett should be the main piece to take this defense from great to elite.
Over the past three years, 13 out of 15 teams with a top-five defense made the playoffs. Miami's defense should easily rank in the top five next season, so based on probability alone, they should make it to the postseason.
This is so long as Miami's offense puts points on the board. If the Dolphins' offense can find the end zone more often than Carpenter has to find the goal posts, it would bode well for a team plagued by mediocrity the past two seasons.
Defensive Lineman: Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Kendall Langford, Tony McDaniel, and Jared Odrick
Outside Linebackers: Cameron Wake, Jason Taylor, Koa Misi
Inside Linebackers: Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett
The five defensive lineman have the talent to be starters on any other defensive line in the league, and they're only playing in a 3-4. Miam's defensive line should be fresh on every set of downs.
Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor are sack specialists and should be able help to second year OLB Koa Misi.
Those players will likely be most of the pass rush, but if any extra is necessary, Miami has one of the best ILB tandems in the league with Dansby and Burnett.
Expect opposing QBs to crumble under Miam's pass rush.
Right now, Miami's run game is in the hands of rookie Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush. Thomas has yet to take a step in an NFL regular season game and Bush has been more of a situational back during his career at New Orleans.
There are a few areas of concern when looking at the duo that will replace Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown.
Reggie Bush has never been an every-down back, but he appears to be making a case to be one. He has been staying late at practices looking to earn the top RB spot on the depth chart. The red flag that pops up is the fact that Bush has been injury-prone over his NFL career.
Daniel Thomas is an unproven rookie who has never ran against NFL defenses. He was also known in college for having a fumbling problem.
Not to mention the O-line is still in limbo with Jake Long on the PUP list, Marc Coloumbo (statistically, one of the worst tackles in the NFL last season) at right tackle, Carey in his first season at guard, a rookie at center and a mediocre guard in Richie Incognito.
Running between the tackles will be difficult this season, which unfortunately is Sparano's favorite thing to do.
I don't know what category this falls under, but if Miami does not see playoff action Sparano will be out of a job.
As far as I have seen, the only thing Sparano does well is discipline his team. The most overlooked aspect of the 2010 Miami team was that they were one of the least penalized teams in the NFL.
Sparano needs to show that he is better than the past two 7-9 seasons and that he was right about Chad Henne. If not, Miami is in deep trouble.
A fired coach and perhaps new QB will put Miami right back in a rebuilding phase. Hopefull then Miami will then succeed and become a force in the NFL.
It's a toss up on what will happen, and only a full season of NFL action will decide what happens.