Barry Jackson

Former front office executives assess Dolphins

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehills attempt to throw as Dolphins offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil blocks Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tim Williams during an Aug. 25 preseason game.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehills attempt to throw as Dolphins offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil blocks Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tim Williams during an Aug. 25 preseason game. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

As the Dolphins begin their season Sunday, three people with nearly 50 years of high-level NFL front office experience weighed in on Miami’s roster. Some of the feedback:

Former Browns general manager and ex-Raiders/Patriots executive Mike Lombardi:

Defensively, “my concern is size and substance,” Lombardi said. “Their linebackers are small. They have to prove their defense will be physical enough. They gave up five yards per carry in preseason. If they play from behind, it will compound their [shortcomings]. If they get behind and can’t utilize the athleticism of their defense, people are going to pound them.

“Remember, the two best teams last year – the Patriots and Eagles – had the best first half scoring differentials. Cam Wake and Robert Quinn have to be the strength of their defense.”

As an FYI, the Patriots and Eagles averaged 16.5 and 14.7 points in the first half respectively last year, behind only the Rams. Miami averaged 6.8, lowest in the league.

Offensively, Lombardi believes we will know quickly if Ryan Tannehill is the long term answer and will be eyeing three things: “He has got to get better on third downs and play faster and make [more] critical plays in the fourth quarter.”

Lombardi has questions about the revamped offensive line, noting “they have to hope Laremy Tunsil will play left tackle [better than a year ago] and Ja’Wuan James will hold up and that Daniel Kilgore is an upgrade over Mike Pouncey at center.”

One other big key, Lombardi believes, is whether Mike Gesicki becomes a competent blocker, because “if he can block well enough where people have to play base defense against them, that will be a real advantage” to exploit, with Gesicki against a linebacker or safety. “Having a mismatch receiver with Gesicki is very valuable. And they have weapons with Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, but Parker has to take it to the next level.”

Lombardi’s book, Gridiron Genius, can be found HERE. He’s an NFL commentator/writer for The Athletic and GM Street Pod.

Former Packers and Falcons personnel executive Ken Herock, who still evaluates college tape and works with college players before the draft: “Their defense will be in disarray; I don’t think it will hold up. And I don’t think they will score a lot of points; 7-9 would be a great year.”

Offensively, “Tannehill is an average quarterback, and I can’t see him changing. He can’t be as reckless running the ball off the knee surgery. Kenyan Drake is coming on, but you need to cross your fingers that Frank Gore isn’t at the end. Kalen Ballage will be just a guy; won’t be anything special.

“Gesicki is the new tight end who doesn’t block, and that will show up eventually. From a standpoint of hands and running routes, he should be pretty good. Durham Smythe is an average player; will be a journeyman.

“The receiver group is average. If they can get Parker to ever play up to his abilities, they will be OK. I don’t think they will. Danny Amendola had success in New England [but] I see a lot of players leave the Patriots and don’t do [much].”

Defensively: “Their line is formidable, probably the strength of their defense,” Herock said. “But linebacker is not a very strong group. Kiko Alonso is their best linebacker but he slipped last year.”

On Minkah Fitzpatrick serving as the nickel corner initially, Herock wonders: “Why did you draft Fitzpatrick if you’re not going to play him all the time? I see him as another Eric Berry.” (Berry is the Chiefs’ five-time Pro Bowl safety.)

The longtime NFL executive, who has worked for multiple teams and requested anonymity, said his top concerns would be defensive tackle, quarterback, replacing Jarvis Landry’s production and potentially linebacker.

“Pass rush is the one area where they got better – and I think their offensive line can be above average - but they have so many question marks, more than most teams,” he said. “Amendola and [Albert] Wilson are not going to be able to replace what Landry gave you. Amendola has never been able to stay healthy. Tannehill is capable of getting them to 10-6, but obviously, he’s not elite and you can’t be sure [what you’re getting] off the injury. Gesicki’s blocking would concern me.”

Defensively: “[Ndamukong] Suh was a big loss, but remember this wasn’t the Suh [from Detroit]. Akeem Spence is an upfield, undersized guy. Maybe the rotation [of defensive linemen] helps them, but I’m not sure it’s [good enough]. I thought Robert Quinn was the steal of the offseason; he’s still a legit pass rusher. I liked Raekwon McMillan coming out of Ohio State; thought he was an instinctive middle linebacker, but I would be concerned what he’s shown in preseason.

Minkah Fitzpatrick can be a Pro Bowl caliber player, and I like Xavien Howard, to the point where you now expect him to play well as long as they allow him to press. Bobby McCain should be a third corner, not your other boundary guy. Their ceiling is contending for a wild card. On the low side, they’re [well] under .500.”

Here’s my Friday post on how T.J. McDonald held onto his starting job after the Dolphins used their first-round pick on a safety, and the upside of a Reshad Jones/McDonald/Fitzpatrick troika in nickel situations.

Here’s my Friday post with Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter’s thoughts on the Dolphins as he prepares to make his game analyst debut on Fox’s telecast of Dolphins-Titans Sunday.

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