Published August 31, 2012
| Sports Network
Following the end of the 2011 season, the Miami Dolphins hired a new head coach, traded away a star wide receiver and drafted a rookie quarterback with their first-round pick.
In other words, all the makings of another rebuilding year for a franchise that has made the playoffs just once in the last 10 seasons.
Not all that long ago, Tony Sparano took over the Dolphins and turned them from a 1-15 franchise into an 11-5 club that won the AFC East in his first season as head coach in 2008. However, with Miami on its way to a third straight losing season last year, Sparano didn't even make it to the end of the year and general manager Jeff Ireland handed the keys to the castle to Joe Philbin during the offseason.
Philbin, who has never previously been an NFL head coach, becomes the 10th sideline boss in Dolphins history and the fifth in the last eight seasons. His credentials are impressive on the offensive side of things, as he served the last five seasons as offensive coordinator for a dangerous Green Bay Packers team.
The Packers connection doesn't end with Philbin, as he brought in former Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman to be his offensive coordinator. The move paid double dividends when Miami selected quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick of April's draft after failing to secure the services of free agents Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith.
Tannehill comes to the Dolphins from Texas A&M, where Sherman had been serving as head coach since 2008. The 24-year-old will be thrown right into the fire after he beat out Matt Moore for the starting job during camp. New addition David Garrard had entered as the favorite, but suffered a knee injury prior to the first preseason game to fall out of the race.
While Miami is opting to take it slow, Tannehill does have an advantage in getting to work under Sherman once again.
"It's definitely an advantage, you know," the rookie noted. "I think it's completely different circumstances if I'm having to learn a completely new offense and get adjusted to the guys in the game. [It] Definitely took a big element of it out where I can focus on the little things, focus on the little guys, small details of plays instead of the whole playbook in itself."
One advantage that Tannehill won't have is Brandon Marshall as a target after the Dolphins traded the talented but sometimes-troubled wideout to the Chicago Bears for draft picks.
That loss will make Philbin and Tannehill's job of improving last season's 22nd-ranked offense a bit tougher.
Miami's defense was stingy against the run and keeping teams out of end zones a season ago, but struggled to stop the pass. The Dolphins didn't do much to change the personnel on that side of the ball, but first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will move the unit from a three-lineman scheme to a 4-3 look.
Coyle, who gets his first coordinator job after serving as the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive backs coach from 2003-11, has seen a smooth transition so far.
"Excellent, excellent," he said of the switch. "I think that they are embracing it and for some of them, it lends to their skill sets maybe a little better, but not necessarily. They played darn good defense a year ago in the 3-4, and as I told you guys [the media] in the beginning, there weren't that many true 3-4 snaps."
The biggest difference will be the switch of top pass rusher Cameron Wake to the right end spot after he excelled as a standup linebacker a season ago. Coyle still has plenty of others at the linebacker position to lead, including veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, but he must find a way to replace last year's leading tackler, safety Yeremiah Bell.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Miami Dolphins, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 6-10 (tied 3rd, AFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2008, lost to Baltimore, 27-9 in AFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Joe Philbin (first season)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Sherman (first season with Dolphins)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kevin Coyle (first season)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Reggie Bush, RB (1086 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 7 total TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Cameron Wake, OLB (42 tackles, 8.5 sacks)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 22nd overall (11th rushing, 23rd passing), 20th scoring (20.6 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 15th overall (3rd rushing, 25th passing), 6th scoring (19.6 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Legedu Naanee (from Panthers), RG Artis Hicks (from Browns), RT Jonathan Martin (2nd Round, Stanford), CB Richard Marshall (from Cardinals), QB Ryan Tannehill (1st Round, Texas A&M), QB David Garrard (free agent), RB Lamar Miller (4th Round, Miami-Florida), TE Michael Egnew (3rd Round, Missouri), DE Olivier Vernon (3rd Round, Miami-Florida), CB Richard Marshall (from Cardinals)
KEY DEPARTURES: QB Chad Henne (to Jaguars), WR Brandon Marshall (to Bears), RG Vernon Carey (retired), RT Marc Colombo (retired), DE Kendall Langford (to Rams), CB Vontae Davis (to Colts), SS Yeremiah Bell (to Jets), QB J.P. Losman (free agent), FB Lex Hilliard (to Vikings), DE Phillip Merling (to Packers), OLB Jason Taylor (retired), OLB Ikaika Alama-Francis (to 49ers), ILB Marvin Mitchell (to Vikings), CB Will Allen (to Patriots)
QB: Garrard was looking to resurrect his career with the Dolphins after getting cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars and missing all of last year due to injury, but never got a chance to play in the preseason due to a knee issue that required surgery. That left the spot to either Moore (2497 passing yards, 16 TD, 9 INT in 2011), who made 12 starts last season, or Tannehill, with the former college wide receiver winning the job. Tannehill made 19 starts at Texas A&M, showing mobility and a strong arm, and the coaching staff also likes how he handles the position mentally. He'll need to improve his accuracy in the NFL and learn to fool defenders better with his eyes, however. The pressure and expectations should still be low for Tannehill this season, and the Dolphins have little to lose by grooming their future No. 1 now. It will likely take an injury for Moore or Garrard to get on the field this season, and the team may not keep both around.
RB: The Dolphins are hoping for more big things out of running back Reggie Bush (1086 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 7 total TD) in his second season with the club. Miami acquired the second overall pick of the 2006 draft from the Saints last July, and he managed to start a career-high 15 games and carry the ball 216 times. Philbin will look to utilize Bush in a variety of ways, though defenses will key in on the playmaker due to a rookie quarterback being under center. Daniel Thomas (581 rushing yards) was expected to compliment Bush in the backfield last year, but was slowed at times by hamstring and knee ailments. He hopes to have some more power and speed this season and stay healthy. Former Houston Texans starter Steve Slaton saw minimal action last year and could be a roster casualty with rookie Lamar Miller (4th Round, Miami-Florida) also challenging for a reserve spot. Miami has a tough fullback leading the way in first-year man Jorvorskie Lane, a former player in the Indoor Football League who has slimmed down in his effort to make the jump to the NFL.
WR: Miami traded away its top receiver in Marshall, who led the club with 81 catches, 1,214 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions last year. Without the vet, Davone Bess (51 receptions, 3 TD) and free-agent acquisition Legedu Naanee are the only receivers on the roster with more than five years of experience. Bess was second on the club in catches last year and third in receiving yards, behind Marshall and returnee Brian Hartline (35 receptions, 1 TD). Naanee will look to get his career going in Miami after grabbing 44 passes for 467 yards in 15 games with the Carolina Panthers last season with the Carolina Panthers. Tannehill's top red zone option could be 6-foot-4 rookie Jeff Fuller, his former teammate at Texas A&M who may be more a candidate for the practice squad, while special-teamer Marlon Moore is looking to bounce back after missing all but six games a season ago because of injury.
TE: Anthony Fasano enters his seventh season in the NFL and fifth with the Dolphins. He managed 32 receptions and 451 yards in 15 games a season ago, while his five touchdown grabs were the second-highest total of his career. He should help Tannehill on the field and also give time for rookie Michael Egnew to develop. Selected with a draft pick that was part of the Marshall trade, Egnew was the second of Miami's third-round choices and spent four years at the University of Missouri, including two as a starter. He has speed and solid hands and will see more of his time in the receiving game as opposed to blocking. Charles Clay (16 receptions, 3 TD) enters his second season out of Tulsa and has the versatility to line up as a fullback as well.
OL: The Dolphins' offensive line will see some turnover on the right side, but the left is anchored by tackle Jake Long, the top pick of the 2008 draft who has made the Pro Bowl in all four of his NFL seasons. Miami signed veteran guard Eric Steinbach in July, but he retired less than a month later due to a back issue. That will leave returning starter Richie Incognito at left guard and newcomer Artis Hicks (from Cleveland) battling Nate Garner and John Jerry for the starting right guard job. Rookie Jonathan Martin (Stanford) is looking to shake off a bad combine showing that dropped him into the second round of the draft and win the right tackle position over Lydon Murtha, but the Dolphins may hesitate going with a rookie on the line in an effort to protect Tannehill. Martin is still a likely Week 1 starter, while returning center Mike Pouncey -- twin brother of Pittsburgh Steeler Maurkice Pouncey -- did start all 16 games last year as a rookie.
DL: Wake looks to continue his reign as one of the top pass rushers in the league, but shifts from a linebacker spot to an end position in the 4-3 look. The 30-year-old has logged 28 sacks in his three NFL seasons, including a team-best 8 1/2 last year to go along with 42 tackles. Jared Odrick (22 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 INT) will be responsible for bringing consistent pressure from the left side in order to prevent teams from stacking up to stop Wake, whose move will shift Randy Starks (34 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT) to a tackle position alongside big-bodied nose man Paul Soliai (27 tackles). Miami will also look to shuffle some rookies into its line rotation, starting with third- round pick Olivier Vernon. The Miami-Florida product raised his stock with a good combine after missing time in college for receiving illegal benefits. He'll also rush the quarterback from a linebacking position and try to develop his raw pass rushing ability. Seventh-round selection Kheeston Randall (Texas) could also see some time at tackle along with veteran Tony McDaniel, while undrafted rookie Derrick Shelby is pushing for a role as a backup end.
LB: Going to three linebackers will help ease the loss of the retired Jason Taylor as well as reserve Marvin Mitchell, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent. Dansby (103 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and Burnett (106 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) return after making 16 starts each last season, with the duo combining for a downhill presence that resulted in over 200 tackles between the two of them. Dansby will man the middle, with Koa Misi (34 tackles, 1 sack) penciled in to start the other outside spot. Austin Spitler (11 tackles) and Jason Trusnik (18 tackles) return as key reserves, while Miami drafted Oregon product Josh Kaddu in the fifth round to add more depth.
DB: Miami's secondary sees a bit of a change with two new starters in cornerback Richard Marshall and safety Chris Clemons. Free-agent pickup Marshall (78 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INT with Cardinals) will start opposite Sean Smith (62 tackles, 2 INT) after spending last season with the Arizona Cardinals and playing some at safety. He performed well enough to not only win a starting job, but his play allowed Miami to trade corner Vontae Davis to the Indianapolis Colts for a pair of draft picks, including a 2013 second-rounder. Davis led the Dolphins with four interceptions last year. The club also enters this season without leading tackler Bell, who had 107 stops last year and signed with the New York Jets this offseason. Clemons (13 tackles) steps in for Bell after appearing in 14 games last year without a start, while Reshad Jones (67 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) also returns to the safety position. Miami lost some depth when veteran cornerback Will Allen signed with the Patriots and enters 2012 with Nolan Carroll (32 tackles, 1 INT) and Quinten Lawrence as key reserves. Safeties Jimmy Wilson (16 tackles) and Tyrone Culver (36 tackles, 1 sack) also return.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Dan Carpenter put together a solid season in 2011, hitting 29-of-34 field goal attempts with a long of 58 yards while also converting all 26 of his extra point tries. Carpenter has plenty of leg and has also hit from 60 yards out in a game during his career. Punter Brandon Fields could be an important part of the team if the offense struggles to move the ball. He'll need to pin opponents deep and struck a career-best 32 of his 78 punts last year inside the 20-yard line. His net average of 41.1 yards per punt was also a career high. With Bush expected to be a key part of the offense, Bess will likely handle all the punt return duties, while reserve running back Marcus Thigpen could make the roster as a kick returner. If not, Miller or Slaton could fill the role. John Denney returns for his eighth season as the long snapper.
PROGNOSIS: Just as expected, another poor finish for Miami in 2011 led to an overhaul at the coaching and quarterback position. Had the Dolphins managed to land a veteran such as Manning or even Alex Smith, they could have been expected to make some noise this year thanks to a solid defense and what figures to be a solid run attack. However, it would be unfair for Miami to expect a whole lot out of Tannehill, especially without a game-changer of Marshall's caliber to throw at, and his rookie baptism should also lead to some issues for a run game that won't catch many defenses off guard. The Dolphins are solid on the other side of the ball and with no real aging veterans to worry about, that unit can also benefit from a year of molding together in a new scheme. The playoffs shouldn't be a goal of the 2012 Dolphins, who instead will use this season as a stepping stone for future success.