The offense is still the troubling thing for the Dolphins because five weeks of practice and three exhibition games haven’t solved issues that need desperate attention before the season begins in earnest.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill still needs to make faster decisions and be more consistent with his accuracy, particularly on deep passes.
The running game still needs establishing because it needs to be a crutch for Tannehill while he improves. And right now it is mostly working as if on crutches.
The tight end position is suddenly a major worry because Dustin Keller, the most productive offseason acquisition in training camp, is out for the season with a terrible knee injury.
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The offense also has key players — John Jerry and Lance Louis — who still are not quite ready for the season’s start because of injuries.
But amid those myriad questions and problems the Dolphins are privately maintaining a hopeful, positive attitude because while their offense might be covered in darkness now, light seems to be on the way.
Take tight end for example.
Keller’s knee injury was a blow felt for several days within the team. It truly hurt.
But out of that calamity, the Dolphins this week saw hopeful signs from their young tight ends that maybe, perhaps, conceivably everything will be all right.
Charles Clay, the most likely candidate to be Miami’s so-called seam threat, was exactly that during a fine week of practice. He probably caught more such passes during the past week than he had the previous four weeks.
Rookie Dion Sims, meanwhile, continued to be both a blocker (which everyone expected) and good pass-catcher (which was not expected by anyone outside the organization). He has shown himself to be football smart. He has shown himself to be a factor for the season.
Sims is a quiet young man the Dolphins hope can make big noise this season.
Even Michael Egnew, the player offensive coordinator Mike Sherman threatened to cut on the spot during a team meeting last season, is looking good. Although he started camp slowly, he has lately strung a series of good practices together — something he never did last year.
Egnew’s play speed is improved. He’s catching the ball with his hands. And he’s holding on.
What seemed like an unlikely attempt to make the team early in camp is all but assured Egnew of a roster spot now.
“The loss of Keller is disappointing because he was making so much progress even as a blocker, and then fitting into our offense,” Sherman said. “The other three guys have really done a nice job. Obviously, they have a lot on their shoulders now with the loss of Dustin, so they need to be able to pick up the slack there.
“I think the tight ends have really made a lot of improvement. I think [tight end coach] Dan Campbell is a tireless coach and stays after them and gets the best out of his players.”
The Dolphins lately have seen a different Mike Wallace as well.
Wallace, everyone knows, is a proven player. There are no issues with him. But early in camp he injured his groin and when he returned, he didn’t immediately look his old blazing-fast and smooth self.
But almost overnight late last week Wallace began to run better. And he began to connect with Tannehill on dynamic long passes. And that carried over to the exhibition game in Houston.
And this week, Wallace seemed to practice faster yet. He was not only catching 60- and 75-yard bombs in practice, he seemed to do it with little effort.
The Dolphins haven’t had a dynamic deep-threat receiver like this in a practice since, well, think back to Irving Fryar in the 1990s.
If Wallace and Tannehill are to be a potent combination and bring the kind of big-play excitement too long absent from this team, the offensive line will have to give the quarterback time to throw.
The offensive line is looking better lately, too.
Jonathan Martin, frankly terrible in practices the first week of the camp, looks like a different player now.
Coaches want him to have better timing when he uses his hands on defenders to knock them off course. Check.
Coaches want him to hold his own in pass rushing. Check.
And everyone wants him to block as well as Jake Long did in the running game at the height of Long’s time in Miami. Well, Martin isn’t there yet, but he’s progressing in that department, too.
There’s a reason you haven’t heard a peep of criticism about Martin lately.
Earlier this week, coach Joe Philbin was asked if he believes the right guard spot has been solidified this preseason.
“Probably not,” Philbin said.
True, but John Jerry is at least practicing again. He has to get in better shape and strengthen his knee but he will have a couple of more weeks to do that before the regular season.
Behind Jerry, meanwhile, Louis and Nate Garner are coming on strong. Louis played his first game last week and continues to get better with each passing week. He’s nine months post knee surgery and is still on the bubble to make the team, but if he survives the cuts, he will be better in October than he is now and better still in December.
Garner, out the last couple of weeks with a shoulder injury, will return to full practice next week. That’s important because he’s valuable as a backup guard and right tackle.
Does all this hopeful news solve every problem the Dolphins offense faces? No.
But for a unit that has been groping around in the dark, it offers a coming light.