The men who will be running the Dolphins’ offense and defense stepped behind the podium Monday and offered measured optimism about their units, and in Bill Lazor’s case, an element of mystery.
For competitive reasons, Lazor understandably declined to say why the Dolphins have not often, in the preseason, showcased the fast-pace offense that some players expected or how much of an uptempo attack will be used during the regular season.
“The strategy of how we would like to approach each game, we will probably keep those to ourselves,” Lazor said.
Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese said that the Dolphins intend to play at a faster pace beginning in Sunday’s opener against New England at Sun Life Stadium.
But Lazor, in his first year as Mike Sherman’s replacement, was very clear about this: He expects more from Lamar Miller, who is competing with Knowshon Moreno for the starting running back job.
Miller averaged 3.4 yards on 14 preseason carries, and “we’re expecting to have more production, just the numbers,” Lazor said. “I’ve seen lots on the practice field that tell me where we’re headed with Lamar, and I feel very good about it. But if you’re talking about the preseason games, his production needs to improve.”
He wants Miller “to be decisive in the backfield. I have no doubts about how explosive and productive he can be in space.”
Regarding Moreno, who ran for 64 yards on 10 carries in his one preseason game against Dallas, Lazor said: “You can’t argue with the fact that in the amount of time he has been on the field for us, he has been [productive]. I feel great about where he is, feel great about how he played against Dallas. Look forward to seeing more of it.”
Lazor likes how Ryan Tannehill has developed: “You are talking about a guy that has the desire to be great and the desire to work at it.
“[His] work off the field, he’s done a great job with that. We try to put him in really hard positions in practice to get him ready to do that in a game.”
Where has Tannehill shown the most growth? “We’ve seen him work to be decisive and on time and get the ball out of his hands,” Lazor said. “In the games, he’s proven he can do that. He’s getting the ball off on time.”
Lazor offered plaudits for rookie receiver Jarvis Landry (“I have no concern about Jarvis Landry being ready to play. In every preseason game, he’s played at a high level”) and doesn’t seem terribly concerned about the possibility the Patriots might again try to take away tight end Charles Clay, as they attempted to do in Miami’s win last December when they limited him to one catch — which happened to be a big fourth-down reception on the Dolphins’ game-winning drive.
“I have great confidence in his ability to get open,” Lazor said of Clay. “If you have an average player on him, he’s probably going to get open. I’ve seen the film from last year.”
The Dolphins ranked 26th in the league in scoring last season, at 19.4 per game. Coach Joe Philbin wants to get to 25 points per game.
Lazor declined to quantify his numerical goals but likes what he has seen: “Overall, we’re getting faster. We expect to be productive when we run the ball. We think we have good backs. I think we have a good offensive line. I like how quickly they’ve learned to communicate together. I feel very good about the talent level we have It’s time to put up some points.”
Lazor said he will not call plays from the press box, but on the sidelines instead, because “it’s a comfort level for me and for some of the other coaches and for the players.”
Tannehill told Griese that he gets the play call 10 seconds faster when Lazor is on the sideline.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle expressed optimism about his unit, noting they allowed the second-fewest yards per play in preseason.
Linebacker was a weakness last season, but Coyle is encouraged by how Koa Misi has adjusted to middle linebacker.
Also, “Dannell Ellerbe is comfortable where he is,” Coyle said. “We’ve seen productivity out of Philip Wheeler in defending the run and pressuring the quarterback, as well as the backup guys.”
And Coyle said: “I feel good about the secondary. Cortland Finnegan and Louis Delmas have been joys to coach. They bring a toughness, an edge. I expect [Delmas] to be a physical force for us.”
Landry and rookie running backs Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa are all capable of handling kickoff returns. “They’ve all shown flashes,” Philbin said.