Barry Jackson

Former GMs, executives assess Dolphins’ roster

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi scores on a 2-yard first-quarter touchdown run against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (David Maialetti/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi scores on a 2-yard first-quarter touchdown run against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (David Maialetti/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS) TNS

So what can we expect from these Dolphins?

I solicited views from three former NFL general managers/front office executives:

Offense:

1) Former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly: “If healthy, this is the best offensive line Jay Cutler has played with. DeVante Parker has been showing what he can do; Julius Thomas can be a mismatch guy and Jay Ajayi is obviously a good back.

“Cutler can be an above average quarterback; he has more throwing talent than Ryan Tannehill, and so it’s possibly an upgrade from Tannehill. Cutler can be better on the deep ball than Tannehill. But when he faces pressure, we will see how Cutler does. Green Bay owned him forever when they pressured him.”

2) Former Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik: “They should be in the top half of the league in points per game. Wide receiver is going to make them dynamic. Parker brings all the elements you want in a top receiver… Love Ajayi’s toughness to pound into people and the breakaway speed he showed. He wishes he could play Buffalo every week…

“Adam Gase understands how to use Thomas as a red zone threat. And they have the premier left tackle in the NFL; when you watch Laremy Tunsil on tape, he’s got all the tricks. I feel good about Jermon Bushrod at guard. Mike Pouncey is still one of the best centers in the NFL and with Pouncey healthy, it’s still a well above average offensive line. Ja’Wuan James is a quality NFL starter.”

3) Former Raiders and Patriots executive Mike Lombardi: “I think Cutler is better than Tannehill and I’m sure Gase will say all the right things but thinks that as well. If you put [Dolphins brass] on truth serum, they say [they prefer Cutler].”

“[One positive is] Chris Foerster is one of the best line coaches in football. Everywhere he’s been they know how to run the outside zone effectively.”

Lombardi likes Ajayi, but “no matter who’s the back with the system they’re running, it can be fairly effective.”

Lombardi isn’t convinced Thomas will be what he was in Denver: “A lot has to do with durability. He has to prove he can stay healthy. Jury is out on that one. Twenty four touchdowns in 28 games with Denver, but until he stays healthy, that’s on paper.

“At receiver, it’s a nice combination with those three players. Parker will become a bigger player in their scheme. Jarvis Landry is hard to cover. Kenny Stills is hard to defend vertically.”

Defense:

1) Casserly: “I have a lot of questions – can Charles Harris come through? Been disappointing so far. Can Cam Wake stay healthy? What does Lawrence Timmons have left?

“Xavien Howard I like as a press corner, but their No. 2 / No. 3 corner [is questionable]; Alterraun Verner is instinctive without great speed and Byron Maxwell is a backup corner. I still have doubts about whether they can stop the run and also have some doubts about the pass defense.”

2) Dominik: “They still have to prove they can stop the run. That’s still an Achilles’ heel, as is team speed on defense. The issue is all about the pad level with Jordan Phillips. It’s a good group of ends, and I think Timmons is still a good starting linebacker; you can’t underestimate his intelligence and he has a couple good years left.

“But they need more juice, more speed in the back seven. Nate Allen and T.J. McDonald are not fast players. They can hit people. When McDonald comes back from suspension, they have a bigger, more physical safety in McDonald or you could opt for the agility of Allen. McDonald is the better player.

“Cornerback is still a work in progress. Bryon Maxwell is OK – he’s ideally a No. 2 - but you need one of the young guys to step up.”

3) Lombardi: “They have a lot to prove on defense. Lot of question marks there. If you are going to beat the Patriots, you’ve got to be able to dominate the game with your defense. Those new names sound good on paper, but Timmons isn’t the same player he was in Pittsburgh.

“The key to their front is Charles Harris; if he’s in the game, people are going to challenge him to play the run. That won’t be effective if they don’t have the lead. [But] I like their ends. Andre Branch played as well as I’ve ever seen him play. With William Hayes, the scheme they run in Los Angeles has allowed him to be a good player.

“A lot will depend on whether they hold up inside, and there’s big pressure on Jordan Phillips. There are times he looks really talented and times like he did at Oklahoma, where he’s not the same guy. You hope to get 25 good plays a game from him.”

Overall:

1) Casserly: “They are in the mix for the wild card, potentially a better offensive team than they were a year ago. But with their schedule, they could be better this year and not win 10 games. It’s an uphill battle to make the playoffs.”

2) Dominik: “This is a playoff quality team. I think they’re a wild card participant, a nine or 10 win team.”

3) Lombardi: “Miami is a good team, hard to play offensively. The Cutler 2015 version can challenge for a wild card berth assuming their defense is better. And I’m not sold on that. And the schedule will be harder. They still have to prove they can beat New England.”

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