Blogging The Boys: Give us your take on Ryan Tannehill. Is he the QB of the future, or is he a stop-gap until someone else comes along?
The Phinsider: This year will be the big test for Tannehill; he's entering the critical third year for a quarterback, he is running a non-Mike Sherman offense for the first time since high school, and he has been surrounded by a lot of offensive talent. The Dolphins are deep at wide receiver and tight end right now, with some talented players having to be cut at some point this preseason. I do think Tannehill will be able to put it all together and show that he can take this Dolphins team back to being a winning franchise.
BTB: How has the re-building of the offensive line been going so far?
TP: This may be the key to Tannehill's success this year. After the first two preseason games, the Miami offensive line is still a question mark. Branden Albert is playing like you would expect a Pro Bowl left tackle to play thus far, and rookie first-round pick Ja'Wuan James has locked down the right tackle position, to the tune of not having allowed a pressure yet this preseason.
The question mark is currently hanging over the interior of the line. Gerald McCoy, in last week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, demonstrated to everyone exactly how big of a question mark it is. McCoy is obviously a special talent, but he was simply running through the interior line like it was not even there on some plays. Second year guard Dallas Thomas struggled with him all game. On the opposite side of Thomas, left guard Daryn Colledge has played decently, though the team has not ruled out trying to upgrade that position either. The team is probably going to start Shelley Smith at right guard, in place of Thomas this week, with Colledge still starting on the left, but I would not be surprised if they rotated Thomas and rookie Billy Turner into the game with the starters.
At center, Samson Satele is currently holding down the starting position, completing an offensive line that is looking like it will have five new opening day starters this year as compared to last. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who had his surgery after the veteran minicamp, is trying to be ready to play come Week 1, and is hoping to avoid being placed on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list, shelving him for the first six weeks. The offensive line will likely see a jump in ability when Pouncey is back, but Satele should be able to hold down the position until that happens.
The Dolphins are looking better on the pass protection so far this preseason, but have not been able to open up the running game what-so-ever. Hopefully they are able to start figuring out that piece of the offense soon.
BTB: Has there been any additional fall out from the Richie Incognito incident. Has it affected the team in any way going into 2014?
TP: It has been a positive for the team, from the outside looking in. The Dolphins players seem to be making sure they act as a family and one unit, rather than a bunch of cliques coming together to form a team. It has been interesting to watch. I think the locker room turmoil from last year was way more overblown in the national media than anything that was actually felt inside the franchise - at least in terms of there being "no leadership" and the locker room being completely out of control. This year, the players seem to realize that, yes, some of the things got out of hand and went over the top, so they are going to make sure that does not happen again, and they are going to make sure they are all out to take care of each other, whether you players number one on the roster, or number 90.
We have not seen the crazy haircuts of past years, and the pranks seem to be down this year as well. The players created t-shirts for themselves and the coaches, laying down their ideas for how they should act. They used the Army's Soldier's Creed as a basis to come up with the Miami Dolphins Credo, and they have been working out in the shirts. The team really seems to be bonding as a unit, and that has to be a positive outcome of the whole mess from last year.
BTB: Give us the general overview of the defense.
TP: The defensive line is stacked, with potentially more talent than the team can keep. The suspension of Dion Jordan to start the year will hurt, but with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon still the two starting ends, they should be able to cover up that loss. Reserves Derrick Shelby and seventh-round pick from Marist Terrence Fede have both shown potential, with Shelby more refined as he enters his third year. Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, and Earl Mitchell should man the interior, and they should be good at it.
The secondary should be really good, if they can stay healthy. Brent Grimes when to the Pro Bowl last year, and does not appear to be stepping back from that level of play. Second year players Will Davis and Jamar Taylor appear ready to step up after both of them essentially had medical-redshirt seasons as rookies. The suspension to free safety Reshad Jones, a four-game PED suspension like Jordan, will move nickel cornerback Jimmy Wilson, who has always been the top reserve safety, back into that position.
The key will come down to cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Louis Delmas. Both of them signed as free agents with Miami this year, after injury plagued years with the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, respectively. If they can stay healthy and play at their pre-injury levels, the secondary should be stout.
Which leaves the linebackers, and that's where Miami may struggle. Dannell Ellerbe has moved from middle linebacker to the strong side, Koa Misi from weak side to middle, and Philip Wheeler from strong side to weak side. The production out of those three has to step up if the Dolphins are going to find success. Young players like Jelani Jenkins and Chris McCain should have impacts on the defense, and will likely see playing time with the starters this weekend.
The Dolphins' hybrid 4-3/3-4defense should be able to get after the quarterback this season, and should have some success in breaking up or picking off passes. It really is going to come down to can they stop the run, and will the linebackers adjust to their new positions.
BTB: What's your confidence level for the season? What kind of season are you predicting?
TP: On paper, this Dolphins team is better than it was last year, and I think we will see that when the season starts. I think 9-7 is a realistic goal. All over the place, people have the Dolphins ranked at the bottom of the league in Power Rankings and projections, and most of the comments for that includes something about the Richie Incognito / Jonathan Martin mess. That was 2013, and should not impact the 2014 team. There are plenty of question marks, and if they do not get answered correctly, Miami could struggle. Things do not look that bleak however, especially if Tannehill can master Bill Lazor's offensive system.
Thanks for the info, Kevin.