Offseason Breakdown: Miami Dolphins
With NFL training camps just around the corner, we’re taking a team-by-team look at how the offseason played out and what you can expect in 2012. Click here to read them all.
By the time the Miami Dolphins figured out how to win football games last year, they were 0-7 and Tony Sparano was on his way to being fired. Miami finished the year by winning six of its last nine games, but not one of those victories came over a playoff-bound team.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a lost season.
The onus for turning things around falls on Joe Philbin, who has never been a head coach before now. Philbin was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay from 2007-11, meaning he ran the Aaron Rodgers Show for four seasons. If he can somehow get his offense clicking to combine with a solid defense, the turnaround might happen faster than people think.
2011 Record: 6-10 (third in AFC East)
Key Additions: TE Michael Egnew, LB Gary Guyton, S Tyrell Johnson, WR Legedu Naanee, CB Richard Marshall, OT Jonathan Martin, WR Chad Ochocinco, QB Ryan Tannehill, QB David Garrard, DE Olivier Vernon
Key Subtractions: CB Will Allen, G Vernon Carey, OT Marc Colombo, QB Chad Henne, DE Kendall Langford, WR Brandon Marshall, LB Jason Taylor
Team Strengths: OT, CB, DE, DT
Team Weaknesses: G, WR, S
Three Things to Watch:
1. Who will win the QB competition?: This is an obvious place to start, but it is also the biggest question facing Miami’s new coaching staff. Before the draft, the Dolphins went out and signed David Garrard, who sat out all of 2011 with a back injury. Garrard replaced Chad Henne in the QB mix, but it was Matt Moore who appeared to have the inside track on this year’s No. 1 job after he posted a 6-6 record and respectable 87.1 QB rating taking over the starting duties from Henne early last year.
Miami then went out and used the No. 8 pick to take Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, an athletic and talented prospect with minimal game experience at quarterback.
It’s anybody’s guess who winds up winning the race. Philbin talked about getting each of his three quarterbacks reps with the first-team offense during minicamps and beyond, which indicates that the competition remains very open and Garrard, Moore and Tannehill will each get ample opportunity to prove his worth.
The safest bet at this point: Moore winning the job, with Tannehill taking the backup job and Garrard being sent packing. But any scenario is possible at the moment.
2. Did Miami find its missing pieces?: Part of the problem for Miami’s quarterbacks last season was finding someone to throw to — Brandon Marshall led the way with 81 catches and 1,214 yards, but his mere presence was disruptive enough that the Dolphins traded him to Chicago for a very low price (two third-round picks) this offseason. Aside from Marshall, no one topped Davone Bess’ 51 catches, and there was a distinct lack of playmaking.
Miami is hoping at least one player emerges out of free-agent additions Legedu Naanee and Chad Ochocinco, or late-round draft picks B.J. Cunningham and Rishard Matthews. The wild card in the mix might be second-year man Clyde Gates.
The Dolphins need someone to step up (and Ochocinco to show his tank’s not on empty) or they may not be done making additions here.
The situation is a little more settled in the secondary, but it’s still an area of concern for Miami. Last season, the Dolphins allowed more passing yards than all but seven other teams (3,992).
Their safeties were particularly ineffective, which is why Miami told Yeremiah Bell to hit the bricks, then added ex-Viking Tyrell Johnson. Also new to the fold is cornerback Richard Marshall, who signed after departing Arizona. He’ll team with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith to give Miami a solid top three at corner. Miami has to hope all that movement is enough to improve things in the defensive backfield.
3. Will the switch to a 4-3 work?: Cameron Wake had 8.5 sacks last season and 14 in 2010 working as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 set. Philbin and new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle are going to a 4-3 base defense this year, however, meaning Wake shifts from OLB to defensive end.
The change also likely means more snaps for DTs Paul Solial and Randy Starks, plus a more central role for Karlos Dansby, who will man the middle linebacker spot.
This is a gamble for the Dolphins — despite giving up a bunch of passing yards, Miami’s defense was the heart and soul of a struggling team over the past few years; the run D allowed just 95.6 yards per game, third-best in the NFL. The 3-4 did make it tougher to match up Miami’s primary defense against, say, New England’s wide-open, two tight end attack. But any time you completely shift philosophies, it’s a challenge.
Outlook: New coach, new coordinators, new defensive scheme … rookie quarterback? No matter how you slice it, the Dolphins are set up for a rebuilding year, and we didn’t even touch on Miami slotting second-round pick Jonathan Martin into the starting lineup at right tackle.
The good news for Miami is on the defensive side of the ball where, assuming the switch from 3-4 to 4-3 doesn’t completely ruin the cohesiveness, the Dolphins should again field a competitive unit. If nothing else, that should help them hang around in a lot of football games.
Reggie Bush is coming off a 1,000-plus-yard season, too, so Miami has at least one proven weapon to turn to on offense. The difference between a last-place finish in the AFC East and a surprising playoff run could depend on how well the pieces around Bush come together. Picking a quarterback soon would help that cause.