Published August 25, 2014
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Dolphins had more than their share of problems in 2013.
And no, not all of them had to do with threatening texts and disputed explanations.
When it came down to actually snapping the football and advancing it down the field last season, the Dolphins simply didn't do it very well. In fact, Miami was 26th in a 32-team league in scoring, 27th in total offensive yardage and 28th in time of possession.
So when it comes down to it, maybe an 8-8 in Joe Philbin's second season wasn't all that bad.
Needless to say, the blown-up knee sustained prior to the season by tight end Dustin Keller didn't help things, nor did the subsequent knee issue endured by Brandon Gibson after seven games. But those circumstances still didn't save the job of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who was kicked to the curb in favor of a promotion for veteran NFL foot soldier Bill Lazor.
Lazor, 42, had been a quarterbacks coach for three teams over five professional seasons and was an offensive leader at two collegiate stops, but his coordinator role with the Dolphins is his first on the sport's biggest stage and - if early glimpses are indicative - it'll not be same old, same old.
"I'm trying to get them out of the huddle faster," he said . "They're going as fast as they can go, and it's my job to show them they can go faster. It's my job to take them places maybe they didn't think they could get to. Every time you do that with a player, his eyes widen and he's like, ���I can be better.' That's what we're looking for."
Lazor's arrival coincides with quarterback Ryan Tannehill's third year as a pro, the point in a career where players - particularly signal-callers - are expected to take the next step. Tannehill had a hard time progressing in year two thanks to 58 sacks, but if he's upright his offensive weapons include down-field receiver Mike Wallace, incumbent rushing leader Lamar Miller and newcomer Knowshon Moreno.
On defense, a team that was eighth in the league in scoring defense remains stout in a lot of places.
Ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon paired up to account for 18.5 sacks, Brent Grimes remains a near-lockdown commodity at one cornerback slot and linebacker Koa Misi has inherited more responsibility this season with a move to the inside, which could boost the unit as a whole.
In other words, if you're Philbin, there's a good reason to feel optimistic - and not even cautiously.
"I came here to compete for championships, and we had a chance to get in the tournament last year," he said. "We didn't. But I expect us to be in position again to do that and hopefully be a year more mature and be able to handle things better and be a year smarter and do a better job. Top to bottom on this football team, there's no place we can't improve, from coaching to playing. I think we'll do that. I expect us to be a good football team. I really do."
2013 RECORD: 8-8 (3rd, AFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2008, lost to Baltimore Ravens in AFC Wild Card Playoff
COACH (RECORD): Joe Philbin (15-17 in two seasons with Dolphins)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bill Lazor (first season with Dolphins)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kevin Coyle (third season with Dolphins)
KEY ADDITIONS: RB Knowshon Moreno (from Broncos), WR Damian Williams (from Titans), OT Branden Albert (from Chiefs), OT Jason Fox (from Lions), G Daryn Colledge (from Cardinals), NT Earl Mitchell (from Texans), CB Cortland Finnegan (from Rams), S Louis Delmas (from Lions), OT Ja'Wuan James (first round, Tennessee), WR Jarvis Landry (second round, LSU), OT Billy Turner (third round, North Dakota State)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: OT Jonathan Martin (to Niners), G Richie Incognito (released), G John Jerry (to Giants), NT Paul Soliai (to Falcons), CB Dimitri Patterson (to Jets), CB Nolan Carroll (to Eagles), S Chris Clemons (to Texans)
QB: He was a comparative novice at the position coming out of Texas A&M two years ago, but Ryan Tannehill has developed into a serviceable NFL quarterback through two seasons while not exactly having All-Pros at every supporting position. He's struggled behind porous offensive lines for two seasons - getting sacked 93 times in 32 games - but managed to boost his yardage by more than 600 (to 3,913) and his touchdowns by 12 (to 24), while his interceptions went up by a less steep spike, from 13 to 17.
Matt Moore gives the Dolphins a capable No. 2 who can provide a different look when needed. Brady Quinn is No. 3 on the depth chart, but doesn't figure to be seeing the field in teal anytime soon.
RB: Knowshon Moreno came over as a free agent and gives the Dolphins a more familiar name, if not necessarily a far superior player in the backfield. He's still buried deep on the depth chart behind penciled-in No. 1 Lamar Miller, but it's hard to fathom a guy who went over 1,000 yards and scored 10 times in 2013 will not be utilized. For his sake, Miller was a 709-yard man in his first season as a starter, and Daniel Thomas is also in the mix after gaining 406 yards on 109 carries in 2013.
Ex-Florida Gator Mike Gillislee and rookie free agent Damien Williams are also on hand for the time being.
WR: Mike Wallace returns for a second year in Miami after signing a big deal to leave Pittsburgh prior to last season. He caught 73 balls for 930 yards last season, while holdover No. 2 man Brian Hartline had 76 catches for 1,016 yards, eclipsing the 1,000-mark for the second straight year. Brandon Gibson only played seven games and caught 30 passes after arriving from St. Louis, and he'll get a push from second-round pick Jarvis Landry for playing time.
TE: Charles Clay enters his contract season after catching 69 passes for 759 yards and six scores. The fourth-year man has improved in every season thus far, and is the No. 1 at the position ahead of backup commodity Dion Sims.
OL: The black hole of the Dolphins' 2013 season has a chance to be a lot better in 2014. Miami lured Branden Albert from Kansas City with a five-year, $46 million deal to play left tackle, while Ja'Wuan James was plucked at No. 19 in the first round from Tennessee to play the right side. Meanwhile 2014 third-rounder Billy Turner will compete for playing time at right guard with 2013 third-rounder Dallas Thomas. Daryn Colledge came from Arizona and occupies the No. 1 position at left guard ahead of Shelley Smith, who's in from St. Louis.
Plans went astray in late-June when the projected best player on the unit, center Mike Pouncey, underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum with a expected recovery time of three months. Veteran |Samson Satele was brought in an emergency replacement for Pouncey but that is a significant downgrade.
Nate Garner, Sam Brenner and Jason Fox are also in the rotation mix as depth options.
DL: Miami thrives on generating pressure from the outside of the front line, thanks to the presence of Cameron Wake, who had 15 sacks two seasons ago before injuries curtailed him to just 8.5 in 2013; and Olivier Vernon, who established himself with 11.5 sacks in his second year in the league. Dion Jordan was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, but made little impact and will miss the first four games this season with a suspension. On the inside, Randy Starks is back for his 11th NFL year at one tackle spot, and Earl Mitchell comes over from Houston ready to participate in a 4-3 scheme for the first time.
Others available are Jared Odrick, Derrick Shelby, Anthony Johnson and A.J. Francis.
LB: Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler were big-ticket signees prior to 2013 and are both back at linebacker spots this season, where they'll start alongside fifth-year pro Koa Misi. No impact players were available at the position by the time the Dolphins drafted early, but fifth-rounder Jordan Tripp has a chance to play, as do Jonathan Freeny, Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins.
DB: One starting cornerback slot remains locked down thanks to the presence of Brent Grimes, who shone in Miami after leaving Atlanta. Cortland Finnegan plays the newcomer on the other side this season after arriving from St. Louis with a two-year, $11 million contract. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis were both drafted in 2013 and could give Finnegan a battle.
At one safety position, Jimmy Wilson and Louis Delmas are battling to replace free-agent departee Chris Clemons, while Reshad Jones has the other slot but will miss the first four games of the 2014 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Don Jones is first off the bench and will fill in for Jones.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Caleb Sturgis broke record after record in his college days at Florida, then arrived in Miami and was 26-of-34 on field goals, with three makes of 50 yards or more. He's been dealing with a pesky groin injury, however, and that's something to watch moving forward.
Brandon Fields is an above-average punter, and showed it last season by placing fourth in the NFL in punts inside the 20-yard line and second in net yardage average.
The top spot for returns on both kicks and punts is held by Marcus Thigpen, a third-year man from Indiana.
COACHING: Joe Philbin went from 7-9 to 8-8 in his second year at the Miami helm, and few would have expected much more, particularly in the wake of the bullying fiasco that clouded the 2013 season. The expectation are probably a nudge higher in year three, thanks to a maturing quarterback, an improved line and the import of a recognized and successful running back.
A division title probably isn't a realistic option, but Philbin has no reason to believe that expectation of a second-place finish in the AFC East and competition for a playoff spot is too much to ask.
THE SKINNY: The bye comes after just four weeks in Miami this season, with two tough games at home and two winnable road trips that could yield a 3-1 start. Green Bay, San Diego, Baltimore and Minnesota are no picnic as opponents, but they're all home games. Meanwhile, the Bills and Jets also visit, and the Dolphins should feel good about chances in trips to Chicago and Jacksonville, too.
After seven wins the first year and eight the second, another one-game jump to 9-7 looks about right.