Miami Dolphins

Grading the Miami Dolphins entering 2016 season

Miami Dolphins Ryan Tannehill has a quarterback-friendly coach, and the team has removed distractions to help him reach his potential in 2016.
Miami Dolphins Ryan Tannehill has a quarterback-friendly coach, and the team has removed distractions to help him reach his potential in 2016.


Ryan Tannehill was the reason for a lot of offseason movement. The team hired Adam Gase as head coach in part so he could mentor Tannehill and raise him to a height he previously has been unable to reach. The team also got rid of some players (i.e. Brent Grimes) to make sure Tannehill's status in the locker room was not challenged. And so now with a new head coach and a locker room that supports him, Tannehill must reward the new environment with a good season. He showed signs in the preseason he was ready to deliver, showing better pocket awareness and being more aggressive keeping the football on read-option plays. Tannehill needs to play faster, however. He needs to recognize defenses faster. He needs to anticipate. Those things come with experience in the offensive system. Tannehill also has to win because that ultimately is how a QB is judged. The Dolphins are comfortable with their depth as Matt Moore remains the backup for the fifth consecutive season.


This group is under the microscope. Jarvis Landry is outstanding as a slot receiver — except he wants to prove he's more than that. Wherever he lines up, Landry will be Tannehill's go-to receiver this season as he has been the past two seasons. Kenny Stills is in a contract year and coming off his best training camp with the Dolphins. The Dolphins believe he will become an intermediate and deep target because teams will not be able to double him if they fear and respect Landry. DeVante Parker, in his second season, is going to be limited only by his ability to stay on the field. Parker has been injury prone early in his career but the Dolphins believe as he matures and if he stays on the field, good things will happen for him because his talent is so good. The Dolphins had preseason troubles with their tight ends. They didn't show up in the passing game and when they did, it was for the wrong reasons. Downfield tight end Jordan Cameron was in a slump most of the preseason, either not winning in one-on-one situations often enough or not catching footballs he should have caught. Dion Sims, a fine blocker, has not developed into a consistent target in the pass game.


Arian Foster has been an outstanding NFL running back. But injuries. Rookie Kenyan Drake was a good weapon at Alabama. But injuries. Jay Ajayi has potential to be a downhill back who carries the load. But injuries. The Dolphins’ top running back options have the makings of a solid talent stable, but the elephant in the training room is their penchant for being injury prone. The Dolphins don't expect to ride just one player but rather will distribute carries in games throughout the year. In games, the plan is to give one runner a series, rather than substituting from play to play as was the approach last season. Early indications are that Ajayi will be the starter and Foster will get carries later and work on third downs as he continues to return from his 2015 ruptured Achilles tendon.


Are you ready for this? The epicenter of the Dolphins offensive problems the past few years might be a team strength in 2016. Yes, that will require the team's plans panning out. It will require rookie pick Laremy Tunsil meeting the potential he obviously showed in becoming the team's first-round pick. Tunsil, making the transition from college tackle to NFL guard, will be the starting left guard. His pass blocking has been solid. His run blocking needs more work. It also means center Mike Pouncey staying healthy, something he hasn't been able to do the past couple of seasons and even during this preseason. It requires tackles Branden Albert on the left side and Ja'Wuan James on the right being the players they have been at peak health. That's a lot of ifs but in case something goes wrong — as it has quite often the past few years — the team has confidence that the depth on this unit is better than it has been in a long time.


This must be the strength of the defense if not the best unit on the team because if it disappoints in any way, the 2016 season is going to be a disappointment. That's how much the Dolphins are counting on Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Jones, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips and Andre Branch, among others. The team believes it can win some games by pressuring quarterbacks, stuffing the run and simply shutting down the opponent at the line of scrimmage. It's is a proven approach. The Denver Broncos dominated opponents up front last season and won the Super Bowl. But the pressure on the Miami line is greater because the Dolphins are hoping their pressure can cover for some deficiencies in the secondary. The Dolphins were the 28th-ranked run defense last season. This unit must play great run D to improve that ranking. All those plans and hopes rely on a resurgent season from Williams after he slumped in 2015 and a healthy year from Wake after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon last year. GRADE: A (or else).


The Dolphins are content with their starters. Their depth? That seems to be another matter. Kiko Alonso is the starting middle linebacker, and he is trying to prove he is more the player we saw as a rookie in Buffalo than the player in Philadelphia a season ago. Koa Misi, always solid, is also always a question mark because he has been hurt so often the past two or three seasons. When he's healthy, Misi is the best of this group. Jelani Jenkins is not the optimal size the Dolphins would like, but he is a smart player who makes few mental mistakes and uses good technique to do his job. Behind this group? Spencer Paysinger has veteran experience but is mostly a special teams player. Neville Hewitt has shown some promise and is growing as a player, but he obviously isn't starter-good at this point. Interestingly, the Dolphins chose to place Dion Jordan at the crowded defensive end spot rather than trying to squeeze him into a strong-side linebacker job with which he was familiar in college. This unit has offered precious few big plays for the Dolphins in past years. That needs to change.


The Dolphins have a plan for having a solid secondary. That plan includes having rookie second-round pick Xavien Howard playing up to his draft status immediately and winning a starting job at one cornerback spot. It includes Byron Maxwell playing as he did in Seattle years ago and not as he did in Philadelphia last year. It includes Chris Culliver, who is recovering from a significant knee surgery, getting healthy by October or early November and adding depth and a quality player at corner. It includes Bobby McCain playing well in the slot. That's the plan. The success or failure of the secondary will depend on how much of what the Dolphins hope will happen actually happens. The back end is not an issue. Reshad Jones seems ready to have another excellent season, and Isa Abdul-Quddus is nothing if not a vicious hitter who doesn't make a lot of mistakes in coverage. But, again, the corners?


John Sifford Denney (he gets his full name used based on his longevity) is the Dolphins long snapper who turns 38 years old in December. His coach, Adam Gase, is 38 years old. Yes, the 12-year veteran has quietly become a Dolphins institution. Interestingly, the Dolphins are trying to find some consistency within the ranks of their other specialists. Kicker Andrew Franks and punter Matt Darr, both rookies a year ago, are tying to build on a solid foundation from last year. The Dolphins are hoping to find a kick and punt returner to relieve Jarvis Landry of those duties so he can concentrate on playing wide receiver. Jakeem Grant, all 5-6 of him, has been the team's leading returner in the preseason, but there is not certainty he will have the job during the entire regular season.


The Dolphins are a young team that is likely to be stronger later in the year than earlier when they're still trying to establish a culture and gaining footing under new schemes on offense and defense.