The 5 Biggest Issues Facing the Miami Dolphins with OTAs Wrapped
The Miami Dolphins are in the final week of OTAs but still have a number of issues and unanswered questions facing the team with training camp quickly approaching.
As would be expected, the offensive line is right near the top of that list, as nobody quite knows how quickly Mike Pouncey and the four new starters will be able to jell and play as a unit.
The play of the linebackers, another serious issue from last year, is also a major question mark this season, even after the team slid Koa Misi over to the middle.
While many of these issues and questions can be resolved over training camp, each of them also has the potential to possibly ruin the Dolphins' playoff chances this year.
With that said, let's delve into some of these issues and how they could possibly be resolved before the start of the season.
5. Who Will Be the No. 2 Cornerback?
Despite being the strongest unit of the 2013 Dolphins defense, the cornerbacks enter the 2014 season with a number of questions and concerns surrounding them.
For starters, who, if anyone, will be able to step up and win the job as the starting cornerback opposite Brent Grimes?
Jamar Taylor, Cortland Finnegan and Will Davis are all fighting for the position, although none would inspire any confidence if you are looking back at their 2013 seasons.
Taylor, the Dolphins' second-round pick, was virtually a non-factor all year, largely limited by a hernia surgery he had in May that impacted him most of the season.
Taylor missed a total of seven games throughout the year and was on the field for just a grand total of 45 snaps.
Davis, Miami's third-round pick, also struggled to get playing time thanks to being hobbled by a toe injury that caused him to be inactive for 10 games. He played just 65 snaps all season.
Finnegan, meanwhile, is coming off two straight horrendous seasons in St. Louis, the latter of which ranked him 109th out of 110 cornerbacks in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
There's no question that the Dolphins have loads of potential in their secondary, but until we actually see it play out on the field, this unit will have its share of concerns.
4. Can the Coaching Staff Improve?
While there will likely be plenty of improvement on offense, with Bill Lazor replacing Mike Sherman as offensive coordinator, how the rest of the coaching staff will fare in 2014 still remains to be seen.
The 2013 season was filled with disappointment for Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, and both coaches will need to have much better years if they are going to keep their jobs.
Philbin must show that he can do a better job of understanding the pulse of his locker room.
He failed to do that last year, and as a result, the Dolphins had to go through an embarrassing and distracting bullying scandal that resulted in two offensive linemen leaving the team.
He also needs to do a better job of making in-game adjustments and getting his team ready to play on Sundays.
Too often in 2013 did the Dolphins fail to show up against a lesser team, something that falls on the head coach and is simply unacceptable when you are fighting for a playoff spot.
Coyle, meanwhile, has shown a complete inability to maximize the talent of his players, and as a result, the defense has progressively gotten worse with each passing year since he was hired in 2012.
If he cannot find a way to generate production out of his linebackers, the Dolphins defense will struggle in 2014 just as much as they did in 2013.
3. Can the Offensive Line Jell?
The Dolphins front office made fixing the offensive line its top priority heading into the offseason, and they have done significant work to improve it.
After hiring John Benton as the offensive line coach, the Dolphins signed Branden Albert and Shelley Smith at the start of free agency before using two of their top three picks on Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner in the draft.
The team is also giving second-year player Dallas Thomas a chance to fight for a starting job as well, according to ESPN.com's James Walker.
While on paper, the unit looks much better than it did last season, bringing in four new starters is no easy task.
As much as we want to assume the 58-sack debacle of 2013 is long gone, a major improvement cannot be expected until this unit can play together and jell over the course of training camp.
2. Will the Linebacker Play Improve?
Despite being the weakest unit on the Dolphins defense last season, not much has changed at the linebacker position over the offseason.
Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler both still seem locked in for major roles this season, with the only real change being Misi switching to a new position in the middle.
In a perfect world, Misi will thrive in his new position and anchor the Dolphins defense all season.
This would allow Ellerbe to slide over and dominate at the weak-side linebacker position, where he is more comfortable, and in turn make the strong side a combination of Wheeler, Jordan Tripp and Jelani Jenkins.
However, as we all know, it's very rare that the Dolphins are ever in a perfect world.
Until Misi—or anyone else—can show the ability to lead the defense and control a game at the middle linebacker position, this will continue to be the weakest unit on the entire team.
1. Will Ryan Tannehill Take That Next Step?
As usual, all roads for the Dolphins eventually lead back to Ryan Tannehill.
Whether fans like it or not, everything the Dolphins have done over the course of the offseason will all be rendered meaningless if Tannehill can't take that next step and become the player we all hope he can be.
Tannehill had an up-and-down season last year but still improved greatly from where he was in 2012.
In total, he was able to raise his completion percentage by 2.1 percent (60.1 percent), throw for over 600 more yards (3,913) and double his touchdown total (24), while registering an 81.7 quarterback rating.
The Dolphins also aided him in 2014 with an overhauled offensive line, better offensive weapons and a far superior offensive coordinator.
Combine his natural progression with the major improvements on the offensive end, and fans should have every reason to believe that Tannehill will have a breakout season and become the team's franchise quarterback.
However, until he can actually do it, his play will be the biggest question mark and issue the team will face all season.
Tannehill failing will not only put a quick end to the Dolphins' 2014 season, but it will likely set this franchise back for another few years.