The Miami Dolphins face a ton of uncertainty going into the 2011 season. After two consecutive 7-9 seasons, Miami has to improve this year, or there will be big changes in the coaching staff and the starting lineup.
Head coach Tony Sparano's job is on the line, quarterback Chad Henne can't afford a slow start, and a rookie will probably start at running back, not to mention the fact that the league is currently under lockout.
With the absence of offseason signings and trades due to the lockout, we're left with less news to report on and more predictions to write about. Here are some projections for the upcoming NFL season in Miami.
But, Chad Henne will start Week 1, lose the starting position and win it back by Week 8. Hear me out on this.
Rumors have been swirling that Young is interested in Miami and vice versa. Many Dolphins fans have been calling for Henne's head since early last season.
The Dolphins will sign Young. Head coach Tony Sparano will ultimately start Henne for the season opener, but, like last year, a couple of mediocre games will put Henne on the bench for at least one start.
Young will take over but fail to play effectively, and Henne will regain the starting position with a re-energized hunger, producing better stats throughout the rest of the season.
Brett Favre called Davis "the best cornerback no one knows about." Say what you want about Favre, but he knows football, and Davis is ready for a breakout season.
Though he only intercepted one pass in 2010, Davis had some great games last year, and he and the rest of the secondary dropped many potential interceptions. Davis and the entire secondary will hang on to more picks this year, and Davis will be voted into his first Pro Bowl.
Brandon Marshall's first year in Miami didn't live up to the preseason hype. Marshall only caught three touchdowns, though his other numbers were good: 86 receptions and 1,014 yards.
Miami struggled to score in 2010 and settled for field goals far too many times. This season, with a new offensive game plan, Davone Bess working underneath and rookie Edmond Gates stretching the defense, Marshall will be a Pro Bowler in 2011.
His 40-yard dash has been reported at consistently under 4.5 seconds, he'll have had more time to develop chemistry with Henne, and improved pass protection will help Marshall get more than 100 receptions.
Misi wasn't spectacular in his first season in the NFL. Cameron Wake, outside linebacker opposite Misi, had a Pro Bowl season, and Misi only registered 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks. That's going to change this year.
Wake took opposing offenses by surprise in 2010 with 14 sacks, all in the first 13 games. At the end of the year, teams seemed to have figured out how to better block him, holding him to eight tackles in the final three games, all Miami losses.
In 2011, Wake should expect extra attention and more double teams.
This will open up Misi, who I expect to have a breakout year. Wake's numbers will dip but not very much, giving Miami two solid pass rushers on the edges.
Carpenter made 15 field goals from a distance of 40 yards or longer. He attempted 41 field goals in 2010, and in one three-game stretch he made 13 out of 13. He was a workhorse for Miami, with one forgettable 0-4 game against Buffalo.
Miami's offense couldn't score touchdowns. Too often they settled for field goals in Dan Henning's conservative offense and relied on Carpenter way too much.
This year the offense will be more aggressive, score more touchdowns, and Carpenter will add in more than 25 extra points.
Remember Miami's defense in the good old days, the late '90s and early '00s? Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain on the corners, Zach Thomas in the middle and Jason Taylor rushing off the end.
Miami had one of the NFL's best defense for years. They are almost back to this status with an entirely different group of players.
This is a swarming defense, with an excellent linebacking corps and defensive line loaded with young talent. The secondary needs to be more disciplined than last year and not drop so many interceptions, and I think they will.
They gave up a lot of big plays and didn't create enough turnovers last season, and that will be fixed this season.
Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake are respected defensive leaders, and the secondary has a ton of potential. If defensive end Jared Odrick lives up to his first-round pick in the 2010 draft, this defense will bring too many problems for opposing offenses.
The second-round pick from Kansas State will be the feature back for Miami after Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are not brought back.
He'll be running behind an improved offensive line, in a better offensive scheme and probably won't be sharing many carries with other backs. Look for Thomas to be a serious candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
No matter how long the lockout lasts, once it ends the team will have less time to learn Brian Daboll's playbook and fewer opportunities to work on special plays and formations like the Wildcat.
More emphasis will be placed on the basics and fundamentals, and the Wildcat won't be used as much as years previous.
However, when the Wildcat is called, it will render more than the 3.3 yards per play in 2010. An improved offensive line, a running back with quarterback experience and a versatile rookie tight end (Charles Clay) who can also take handoffs will open up the Wildcat, not to mention Vince Young's potential ability to contribute.
The formation was no longer a surprise last season but will have a small resurgence in efficiency this year.
Miami will win 10 games, with most of the credit due to the defense, and clinch a wild-card berth. The Dolphins haven't won a playoff game since the 2000 playoffs and are long overdue.
Henne will improve in statistics and leadership, the offensive line's improvements will help enhance the offense's scoring, and the defense will create turnovers and opportunities.
Miami won't get much farther than the first round. There's not enough experience on either side of the ball for a serious deep playoff run. But it will be a good season in Miami, with plenty to build on.