Miami Dolphins: 5 Bold Predictions for 2011

Tyler ManginContributor IAugust 23, 2011

Miami Dolphins: 5 Bold Predictions for 2011

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    Ah, the preseason.  

    A time of unrealistic hopes for some, unimaginable fears for others.  

    The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, but finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack might not be enough for Tony Sparano to earn an encore performance in 2012.  

    What lies in store for the 2011 Miami Dolphins?  Let's take a look. 

    The Miami Dolphins' 2010 season was a disappointment in the eyes of many fans.  The defense impressed but the offense regressed.  

    The Dolphins dropped to 30th in scoring offense after finishing in the middle of the pack at 15th in 2009.  As a team, they rushed for 611 yards less than the previous year—nearly 40 yards per game.  

    Fortunately, the defense solidified under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and allowed the sixth-least yards per game.

    Despite back-to-back 7-9 finishes, Dol-Phans should have reason to be excited for 2011.  

    Gone are retirement-age Dan Henning (OC), Channing Crowder (ILB), Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams (RB), to be replaced by young and fiery Brian Daboll, Kevin Burnett, Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas.  

    The defense should continue its ascension to elite status, with six of the starting front seven returning, the continued development of the young secondary and the return of Jared Odrick and A.J. Edds (rookies in 2010 who missed most of the regular season).  

    If the offense can make even baby steps of progress, Miami will finish with a winning record and have a serious shot at a wild-card spot.

Brian Daboll Earns His Stripes as Miami's New Offensive Coordinator

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    Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross wanted a more exciting offense.  

    He couldn't woo Jim Harbaugh to replace head coach Tony Sparano this past offseason, but he did the next best thing by replacing ultra-conservative Dan Henning with former Browns OC Brian Daboll.  

    Actually, it's closer to the next worst thing, considering the Browns were the 31st-lowest scoring offense in the NFL, one tick behind Miami at 30th.  

    All kidding aside, Daboll is an upgrade.  

    He is young, aggressive and energetic; exactly what Henning was not.  

    In addition, Jeff Ireland has made it a point to add speed and sizzle by drafting deep-threat wide receiver Clyde Gates and trading for the ever-electric Reggie Bush.  

    These new weapons, along with Marshall, Bess, Fasano and Hartline, should provide a solid corps of youth and talent for Daboll to work with.  

    Expect to see Daboll move his personnel around to exploit coverage and create mismatches.  

    A good coach can adjust his scheme to fit the strengths of his players, which is something that Miami was missing in 2010.  

    The Dolphins seemed stale last season, but this season promises a breath of fresh air.  

    By all accounts, Daboll is an enthusiastic coach who listens to his players and has good knowledge of the AFC East defenses, having coached for both the Patriots and the Jets.  This alone should be enough to propel the Dolphins' offense into the top half of the league, if not the Top 10. 

Cameron Wake Proves His Dominance in 2010 Was Not a Fluke

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    Cameron Wake was a 27-year-old rookie for the Miami Dolphins back in 2009.  

    He has already earned a Pro Bowl appearance and was named AP Second Team All-Pro after only his second full NFL season.  

    Wake has lived up to the high expectations that were set when he was awarded the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player in consecutive seasons (2007, 2008).  

    Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked Wake as the fourth-most productive 3-4 OLB in 2010, ahead of Clay Matthews and just behind DeMarcus Ware.  

    Expect Wake to maintain his dominance, as the Dolphins defense appears poised for another step forward.  

    Consider this: Miami is entering its second season under DC Mike Nolan.  

    Koa Misi, also in his second season at SOLB, was ranked seventh at his position by PFF and will continue to improve opposite Wake as his technique develops.  

    Finally, the Dolphins have focused on generating pressure by welcoming back Jason Taylor as a situational pass rusher and Brian Cox as a pass-rush coach.  

    All of this should serve to keep opposing offenses from being able to focus solely on Wake, allowing him to repeat—if not improve upon—the success of his 2010 season. 

Sean Smith Earns a Pro Bowl Berth

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    Charismatic.  Confident.  Athletic.  Rangy.  

    These adjectives give an accurate description of 6'3" cornerback Sean Smith.  

    The fact is that he is relatively new to the position and is still developing.  

    Smith played wide receiver for a season at Utah before transitioning to cornerback for his final two years.  

    He is entering his third NFL season and is primed to build his reputation into that of an elite cornerback.  

    In 2010, Smith was benched in the early part of the season and didn't win back his starting role until Week 9.  

    However, Pro Football Focus lists Smith as the eighth-most productive cornerback in 2010, ahead of much lauded names, such as Asante Samuels, Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis.  

    Apparently he took last season's benching as a wake-up call.  

    According to Smith, taken from an interview with Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald, "I’m starting to take things more serious with a more professional approach."

    Smith tied for the league lead with five dropped interceptions in 2010, despite his limited playing time.  

    Look at it this way—even though he couldn't hang onto the ball, at least he was in the right position to make a play on it.  

    This season he will be playing alongside a young secondary that continues to improve and behind a front seven that generates pressure (10th in NFL with 39 sacks).

    If he can keep building his technique and football IQ, take care of his body and hang onto some of those easy picks, Smith will be on his way to the Pro Bowl.  

Daniel Thomas Slow and Steady. Mostly Slow.

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    Call it a gut feeling, pessimism, bias—whatever you want.  

    The film doesn't lie.  

    Daniel Thomas is a 6'0", 230-pound running back who doesn't pack much of a wallop.  

    His inability to punch it in twice at the goal line in preseason Game 2 against Carolina demonstrates this. 

    In his highlight film, Thomas is too often brought down by the first arm tackle that comes his way.  

    He isn't exactly explosive either, although he does have quick feet for a man his size.  

    On the bright side, Thomas was a workhorse at Kansas State, averaging 5.2 yards per carry while rushing for 2,850 yards and 30 touchdowns in only two seasons.  

    He is nothing if not durable and consistent.  

    Thomas has only played running back for three years and is still learning the position, having played quarterback in high school.  

    He still has plenty of upside and will inevitably be used as the Wildcat trigger-man, but the problem with Thomas is that he runs like a scatback in a fullback's body.  

    He will have to learn to decisively choose his running lane and use his size and strength to attack defenders before he can run reliably between the tackles.  

    Look for the Dolphins to bring in a couple of running backs after roster cut-downs to bolster bench depth, which currently consists of back-ups Lex Hilliard, Nic Grigsby and an aging Larry Johnson.  

    Although he was just drafted in April, Thomas will find that his coaches' patience and his number of carries will start to dwindle if he isn't getting it done by midseason.  

    The front office doesn't have a lot of time for their second-round pick to develop before they need to seek out real production.  

    It makes you wonder if they really are serious about making Reggie Bush the feature back.

Chad Henne Shuts Up the Doubters

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    Despite the front office's commitment to bring in competition for Henne, it is now a near certainty that he will be starting Week 1.  

    Support for Henne is split among the Dolphins fanbase—and for good reason—as he has delivered, at best, mixed results.  

    Entering his fourth season, Henne has started 27 games and won 13 of them.  

    He has thrown 27 touchdowns, 33 picks and completed 61.1 percent of his passes.  Not terrible.  Not great.  

    Most importantly, not enough to win championships, let alone make the playoffs (interestingly, Henne's stats over his first 27 starts bear a striking resemblance to those of Drew Brees, who threw 28 touchdowns, 31 picks and completed 59.4 percent) .

    This is an emotionally-charged topic in Miami.

    On one hand, The Patience Brigade (as Henne supporters have dubbed themselves) suggests that he was handcuffed last season by poor play-calling and a mediocre running game, and he deserves another year to prove himself in a more aggressive scheme with upgraded weaponry.  

    The other side of the fanbase seems to be acting as if they want change for the sake of change.  Draft Ryan Mallet or Colin Kaepernick.  Trade for Kyle Orton or Carson Palmer or Matt Flynn or—well, anyone with an arm and a pulse.

    Obviously, the general manager, Jeff Ireland, and head coach, Tony Sparano, are both on the hot seat after ownership flirted (embarrassingly and unsuccessfully) with bringing in Jim Harbaugh.  

    It stands to reason that they must see something in Henne that many of the fans don't if they are willing to hitch their careers to his success.  

    Henne has flashed brilliantly at times but is plagued by inconsistency.  

    However, Ireland and Sparano's confidence must count for something, and many of his teammates have commented that Chad is growing into his leadership role—organizing practices, teaching the offense, correcting errors and building a better relationship with Brandon Marshall.  

    All signs point to his maturation and development into a true professional.  

    Everyone who has watched him play knows that Chad has the physical tools.

    He just has to prove he has the mental toughness and consistency to win games at the highest level.  

    This is his season to put it all together, solidify his role as the starting quarterback and make the Dolphins "his team."