By George Kurtz
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
As if finishing the 2010 season at 7-9 wasn't bad enough, new team owner Stephen Ross made a mockery of his search for a new head coach by leaving Tony Sparano spinning in the wind. Ross was trying to lure Jim Harbaugh to South Florida, but never fired Sparano, leaving the team's coaching staff wondering if they would have jobs for the 2011 campaign. When Ross failed in his attempt to sign Harbaugh, he informed Sparano that he would be kept on for another season, not exactly the way to show your players who is in charge.
Miami may be been one of the teams most impacted on the field by the NFL lockout, which wiped out most of the offseason. The Dolphins know that they need another quarterback, as Chad Henne is not the answer, but they were unable to bring in any signal-callers to see if they were a match for the team's offense. No offseason meant no mini-camps and no quarterback camps, which meant the Dolphins didn't feel like they would have enough time to bring in a new QB and have him learn the offense and acclimate himself to the team's personnel. Moreover, the Bengals refusal to deal Carson Palmer and Kyle Orton's contract demands didn't help Miami trade their way out of their quarterback problem either.
The Dolphins do have some interesting weapons on offense. Brandon Marshall is still a dangerous receiver who would benefit greatly from a true deep threat opposite him, someone who could take away some of the attention heaped on him by opposing defenses. Letting running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams hit free agency forced the team to rebuild the running attack, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The selection of Daniel Thomas in the second round of the draft and the trade for Reggie Bush gives the team a new - and hopefully improved - 1-2 punch on the ground. Thomas will likely work as the lead back, with Bush slated to get 10-12 touches per game. With Henne having the nickname of "Captain Checkdown," Bush could also see quite a few dump-off passes in the flat.
Defense may be where the Dolphins are most impressive. Cameron Wake proved last season that he can attack the quarterback with the best of them, sophomore Koa Misi could be ready to take that next step and Jared Odrick, who lost most of last season with a broken leg, should only improve. The defense could end up ranking as high as the top five in the NFL, but the problem is that the offense could be in the bottom 10.
The Patriots and Jets look to be the clear favorites in the AFC East and Miami seems to have a long way to go before being considered in the same breath with either of those teams. The NFL is a quarterback driven league, and the Dolphins still haven't found their franchise signal-caller. As a result, they have 8-8 written all over them.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (15) Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
Slated to be the starting center.
2. (62) Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State
Projects to be the lead running back, including goal-line carries.
4. (111) Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
Dolphins are hopeful he can become the deep threat they so desperately need.
6. (174) Charles Clay, TE, Tulsa.
TE/FB combo who could threaten the job of Anthony Fasano in time.
7. (231) Frank Kearse, DT, Alabama A&M.
Gives the Dolphins another big body to rotate along the defensive line.
7. (235) Jimmy Wilson, CB, Montana
Has already impressed the team with his ball-hawking skills.
1. Reggie Bush, RB, (Saints)
Gives the Dolphins a big play threat out of the backfield, but will no longer play the majority of his games on turf.
2. Marc Colombo, G, (Cowboys)
May have slipped last year in Dallas, but had his best season when Sparano was his offensive line coach..
3. Matt Moore, QB, (Panthers)
Could push Henne for the starting job if he can impress in camp.
1. Ronnie Brown, RB, (Eagles)
Dolphins wanted to get younger and healthier at running back.
2. Ricky Williams, RB (Ravens)
Harsh criticism of his coaches after last season didn't help his chances of being asked back.
3. Chad Pennington, QB, (FA)
Scary as it sounds, he may have been their best option at quarterback this season if healthy.
CAN Chad Henne REMAIN THE STARTING QB?
It's no secret that Miami preferred to add a reliable veteran quarterback to at least challenge Henne for the job. Unfortunately, the Dolphins weren't able to land an upgrade, first due to the lockout and then their subsequent inability to work out a trade once it was over. Henne and top receiver Brandon Marshall never seemed to be in sync last season and even now at the beginning of training camp, Henne doesn't seem inclined to look Marshall's way. Henne seems to go through his progressions quickly, often deciding to dump the ball off to slot receiver Davone Bess or one of his running backs rather than throw the ball into the secondary, leading to an undesirable nickname, "Captain Checkdown". Henne has already been booed at practice in training camp and if he were to get off to a slow start, ex-Panther Matt Moore may get a shot behind center.
CAN Reggie Bush HELP SPARK THE RUNNING GAME?
We all know Bush's name because of what he did for USC at the collegiate level, but he has yet to really take off in the pros. Bush is certainly a threat to take the ball to the house whenever he gets his hands on it, but his durability has always been a big question, forcing teams to limit the amount of times he handles the ball. With the Dolphins, he is slated to touch the ball 10-12 times a game with rookie Daniel Thomas likely getting the lion's share of the carries. Bush can still be a valuable weapon if opposing defenses have to back off the line of scrimmage to respect the deep pass, but Miami doesn't have a true vertical threat and in any case, Chad Henne rarely holds onto the ball long enough to allow one of his deep receivers to get free.
HOW GOOD IS THE MIAMI DEFENSE?
It better be very good if the Dolphins are going to be in for a winning season. The Dolphins offense isn't pathetic, but it's not going to blow out the lights out on the scoreboard either. Cameron Wake came out of nowhere last season to be one of the league leaders in sacks with 14. Life might get easier for Wake this season as Jared Odrick, who missed most of last season with a broken leg, is fully recovered, big things are expected from Koa Misi in his second season, and the Dolphins brought back linebacker Jason Taylor for a third stint with the team to add extra pressure in passing situations. The secondary is solid if not spectacular with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith at cornerback and IDP favorite Yeremiah Bell at safety. The Dolphins have the talent to be a top five defense this season, but the offense will have to help some or the unit will wear down by season's end.
Rising: Linebacker Koa Misi could be a solid IDP this season. Misi had 4.5 sacks last season and no one should be surprised if he racks up 7-8 this season along with 75+ tackles.
Declining: Chad Henne may already have been out of a job if not for the lockout. He is certainly on a short leash, as the coaching staff knows their jobs are on the line and if Henne gets off to a slow start they won't hesitate to try someone else.
Sleeper: Clyde Gates could be the deep threat the Dolphins need, but would have to have an incredible training camp to start over Brian Hartline.
Super Sleeper: Versatile FB/TE Charles Clay probably has too much to learn to be a threat to Anthony Fasano, but the incumbent TE has been a huge disappointment and the Dolphins definitely believe they can do better.
Karlos Dansby, LB
First season in Miami was kind of a disappointment; look for a rebound in 2011.
Yeremiah Bell, S
Still one of the top safeties in IDP leagues, but a lack of big plays keeps him from the top.
Cameron Wake, LB
Knows how to get to the quarterback and with better talent around him should be able to do so again.
RotoWire Rank: 16