Miami Dolphins

Grading the Miami Dolphins entering 2015 season

Cameron Wake is the longest-tenured member or the Dolphins’ defensive line, which is expected to be the strength of the team.
Cameron Wake is the longest-tenured member or the Dolphins’ defensive line, which is expected to be the strength of the team. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Quarterback | B

He has a new contract, so he’s not worried about money. He is not learning a new offense, so he’s not worried about playing faster. Some of the receivers he didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with are gone, so that’s kind of a relief. Ryan Tannehill seems primed for a pretty good season. The issue is the offensive line is still a question mark, and Tannehill needs to gain cohesion with his new set of receivers. Tannehill and rookie DeVante Parker got no work together in training camp, and that probably signals a slower-than-usual start for the combination. Matt Moore is a solid backup. He can win in short spurts. The Jets and Bills probably wish they had him.

Receivers/tight ends | B

The Dolphins spent close to $100 million on receivers in the spring of 2013. They got rid of most of them by the spring of ’15. The new receivers — Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker — are supposed to fit the Miami offense better and be better off the field, as well. We’ll see. It is hard to replace the effects of Mike Wallace’s speed even if Tannehill rarely connected with him on long passes. And Brian Hartline was a two-time 1,000-yard receiver even if his statistics fell off the table last season. One thing is certain: If Parker can get and stay healthy, he’s going to be a red-zone threat the likes of which the Dolphins have not enjoyed in a long time. The loss of Charles Clay stings, but Jordan Cameron is a superior red-zone threat when healthy. So can he stay healthy?

Running backs | B-

What we have here might not be a talent problem but a philosophy problem. Lamar Miller is more than solid. He helped the Dolphins average 4.6 yards per rush on first down last year. But he only got the football 216 times. Can offensive coordinator Bill Lazor be less passcentric and use Miller more? We’ll see. Damien Williams is likely going to be the backup again, at least early in the season, because he does a lot of things right — pass protection being key among those. The Dolphins have some unproven talent behind them but, well, if they’re playing ahead of Miller at any point, something went wrong.

Offensive line | C+

Can Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert stay healthy? Can Billy Turner or Jamil Douglas play right guard? Can Dallas Thomas play left guard? Can the Dolphins find and keep a cohesive starting unit? That’s a lot of questions, folks. On the positive side, Mike Pouncey is healthy and back to his more familiar center spot, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James is back where he belongs at right tackle after serving as the emergency left tackle last season when Albert got injured. One thing to remember: The offensive line was terrible in 2013 and only slightly better in ’14. So this year is bound to be an improvement.

Defensive line | A

This group has to be the team’s best unit. That should not be hard because the addition of Ndamukong Suh at a cost of $114 million in free agency and Jordan Phillips in the second round of the draft are supposed to easily replace the losses of Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. Suh’s presence will bring more neutral-zone violations because that’s one thing he does. But he also takes up space and blockers, and he stops the run and pushes the pass pocket from the middle. So now Cameron Wake probably won’t see double-team blocks. Maybe Olivier Vernon will be free because teams will slide protections to the other side. Depth here with veterans such as C.J. Mosley, Terrence Fede and Derrick Shelby is good.

Linebackers | C

Phillip Wheeler is gone. So is Dannell Ellerbe. With that experiment ended, the Dolphins are still tinkering with their linebackers because they cannot be certain Koa Misi will stay healthy (he wasn’t last year and wasn’t in training camp) long enough to become a good middle linebacker. Chris McCain will get a chance to play the strong side. Jelani Jenkins is the unquestioned starter on the weak side. Kelvin Sheppard, who also vied for the starting job in the middle, could step in and perhaps move Misi to the strong side, as well. The Dolphins didn’t really improve this position to any great degree in the offseason, and it shows.

Secondary | B-

The injury loss of veteran Louis Delmas for the second consecutive season hurts because he did a good job of getting players aligned, and he brought toughness. Now that spot must be manned by a less-experienced player if it goes to Walt Aikens or Michael Thomas. The Dolphins need Jamar Taylor to step up on the boundary after two uneventful seasons to start his career. Brice McCain is an upgrade in the slot. And Brent Grimes will be a stalwart if he remains the player he has been the past two seasons. The hidden gem here is safety Reshad Jones. He’s seemingly ready to become a Pro Bowl player.

Special teams | C

Punter Brandon Fields was pushed hard during the preseason by younger, cheaper undrafted rookie Matt Darr, and the competition had not been settled as of this writing. Same for the kicking competition between Caleb Sturgis and Andrew Franks. Assuming the Dolphins go with the known quantities, it is obvious Fields and Sturgis are on notice that the leash is not very long — from game to game for Sturgis and not extending beyond this season for Fields. Jarvis Landry was excellent returning kicks last season, so he returns there, but the Dolphins need to upgrade at returning punts. John Denney, the dean of the Miami roster with 10 seasons of experience, remains a good long snapper.

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