LOOKING AHEAD TO 2016
Another offseason over and another year of massive changes for the Miami Dolphins. The team changedthe Head Coach and coaching staff and saw many of their top name players leave via free agency. They also added some free agents, and perhaps the most coveted offensive lineman in the draft. So there will be many new players who will play under new coaches and new systems. What does this all mean for 2016? Well probably not much in the way of good news. It is unreasonable to believe that an organization can go through this much transition and have it start to click the first year. What you do hope for is to see growth and the beginning of what will be the core talent and new style of playing that will lead to bringing the Dolphins to being a playoff contending team. Here are the key things we are looking at going into the 2016 season:
1. THE DEVELOPMENT OF RYAN TANNEHILL: Nothing will be more important to winning in 2016 than the growth of 4th year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Make no mistake about it, this is his make or break year. For three years he has been right on the cusp of breaking out. But he is inconsistent and his inability to make big plays down the field and his inability to take over games and lead this team to wins when they need him to carry the load has kept him in the middle of the pack of the league. Serviceable but not going to lead you to the promise land. New Head Coach Adam Gase is a renowned QB whisperer and the team loaded up on the offensive side of the ball. So Tannehell has weapons, he has an QB mentor, and now he has enough experience. Getting the picture? It is on Ryan now. He is either the man, or he isn't. We will find out this year.
2. PASS RUSH: The team lost Pro Bowler Defensive End Olivier Vernon which really hurts. But he was paid just a ridiculous amount of money. They were right to let him go. They replaced him with one time first overall pick Mario Williams who departed Buffalo. Williams fell off last year, and has been inconsistent in his history. He never quite tapped into the potential and hype that went with his draft status, but when he is on he is dominant. The Fins hope they can revive his career and get equal production as Vernon but at a reasonable price. And finally there is Cameron Wake. Wake went down with an ugly Achilles heel tear. Reports are that the rehab has gone well and he is expected back. But still...at the age of 34 you have to wonder if he will lose that infamous burst of speed which is what made him elite. He is too small to be effective against the run, so he needs that speed.
3. WHO IS GOING TO RUN THE ROCK? Probably the biggest lost in Free Agency was the loss of Lamar Miller. Miller seemed to be peaking and was really running well. This is one I think the Dolphins should have stepped up and paid and kept on the team. They elected not to so it leaves the duties to last year's draft pick Jay Ajayi and this year's pick Kenyan Drake from Alabama. Ajayi showed some flashes last year and has some great physical ability. Some questions linger about the health of his knee, but there is definitely some talent. He could surprise and be the same back he was at Boise State where he ran with great success. Drake is also an interesting prospect. He was stuck on the depth chart behind Derrick Henry, but when he was called upon he delivered. But it is not hard to deliver when you are running behind an Alabama line that is better than many in the NFL. So what this ultimately means is I expect the Dolphins to add a veteran running back this offseason. Someone who can mentor the young guys and who can give them some respectable production.
4. WILL IT BE SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA? Not if the trade with the Miami pans out for the Dolphins. Miami traded down in the draft and got two starters on defense from the Philadelphia Eagles, LB Kiko Alonso and DB Byron Maxwell. Both players came to Philly after impressive seasons with other teams and both players were busts last year. In fairness to Alonso, he has been bitten by the injury bug, but he just has not been the same guy who registered over 100 tackles in Buffalo during the 2013 season. Maxwell was a star in Seattle but perhaps he benefitted from have Sherman on the other side of the field. Whatever the reasons are for their sub par production the Eagles were all too happy to get him out of town. The Dolphins lost yet another Pro Bowler in Brent Grimes in free agency, so the defense this year could live or die by this trade.
5. IS GASE THE RIGHT MAN? Many, including me, were not real pleased when Adam Gase was hired as head coach. His claim to fame was coaching Peyton Manning, which is like saying you caddy for Tiger Woods. He is revered by many as a brilliant mind and was in high demand. So we hope for the best. He will have his hands full and the question out there is can he be a leader of men and get this team to buy into what he is putting together. The players were willing to run through a wall for Dan Campbell and Gase is more Philbin like. With this many changes and a massive operation to manage and put together, it just seems like a lot to put on the shoulders of a rookie Head Coach.
6. WHO IS THAT MASKED MAN? That man would be Laremey Tunsil and that mask would be the gas mask featured in the now famous pot smoking video. Tunsil was the best offensive lineman in the draft. No one debates that. At one time he was listed as the potential number one overall pick. Yeah he is that good. Then in a bizarre twist of fate, the now famous video appears just before the draft and Tunsil drops to Miami at pick number 13. There is always a risk when this kind of thing is out there, but by all accounts Tunsil is a good kid who just had a little fun in college like pretty much every college kid does. He just got it used against him in a horribly vindictive way. So the Miami Dolphins ended up with the best lineman in the draft. Cool. Because it is one of the areas they have the most need. If Tunsil is the player he was in college this offensive line will be better than it has been in four or five year, instantly.
With all of this said I look for the Miami Dolphins to take a step back. For them to break .500 they are going to have to hit on just about every move and Tannehill will have to break out. Reality is they will hit on some of those moves and not others. The official prediction of this author and fan? 6-10. Oh well maybe next year.