(Sports Network) - Is it because the Miami Dolphins are that good, or because
the rest of the AFC East -- outside of Massachusetts, of course -- is so
Either way, there's a lot of chatter out of Southwest Florida these days, with
some breathless elements even surmising that the 1972 Dolphins will not be the
only version of the teal and orange to get a White House date before the
current administration exits the nation's capital.
The undefeated team of Don Shula and Bob Griese finally got its overdue D.C.
trip this summer, and, at least when compared to division-mates New York and
Buffalo, the 2013 Dolphins appear a lot closer to the front of the modern-day
NFL line than the back.
Miami was 7-9 in coach Joe Philbin's first year on the job, which corresponded
with the arrival of quarterback Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M after just a
handful of college starts. The predictable growing pains were apparent,
especially early, but Tannehill's ability to hang in and improve through the
entire 16-game schedule has created an expectation that he'll "make the leap"
in year two.
In fact, NFL.com labeled him exactly that during the offseason, putting
Tannehill at the top of a 40-player list expected to have a career-defining
upward curve in 2013.
"I like it," Tannehill said. "I put high expectations on myself, so regardless
of what the outside is putting on me I put higher expectations on myself. I
know I can improve tremendously over last year. Now it's just a matter of
doing the things necessary to make sure it happens."
The chances for that happening seemed to rise in the offseason, when general
manager Jeff Ireland acquired a pair of receivers -- Mike Wallace from
Pittsburgh and Brandon Gibson from St. Louis -- to broaden his QB's horizons
beyond 2012 targets Davone Bess and Brian Hartline.
Hartline is still in Miami, but seems better suited to a complementary role
alongside the new pair.
On defense, the Dolphins leapt from No. 12 to No. 3 in the draft to select
pass-rushing end Dion Jordan, who could pair with fellow end Cameron Wake --
who had 15 sacks last year -- to create headaches for opposition passers while
the hometown kid is thriving.
Put it all together and there seems ample reason for Philbin -- known league-
wide as a tight-lipped opposite to the free-flowing Rex Ryans of the world --
to display his reserved brand of bravado.
"I was very confident going into last year," he said. "The thing that gives me
the most confidence is I believe we have an excellent staff, and I believe in
the character of the guys we have on the football team."
2012 RECORD: 7-9 (2nd, AFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2008, lost to Baltimore Ravens in AFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Joe Philbin (7-9 in one season with Dolphins)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Sherman (second season with Dolphins)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kevin Coyle (second season with Dolphins)
KEY ADDITIONS: OT Tyson Clabo (from Falcons), CB Will Davis (third round, Utah
State), ILB Dannell Ellerbe (from Ravens), WR Brandon Gibson (from Rams), RB
Mike Gillislee (fifth round, Florida), OLB Jelani Jenkins (fourth round,
Florida), DE/OLB Dion Jordan (first round, Oregon), TE Dustin Keller (from
Jets), G Lance Louis (from Bears), DT Vaughn Martin (from Chargers), TE Dion
Sims (fourth round, Michigan State), K Caleb Sturgis (fifth round, Florida),
CB Jamar Taylor (second round, Boise State), G/OT Dallas Thomas (third round,
Tennessee), WR Mike Wallace (from Steelers), OLB Philip Wheeler (from Raiders)
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: S Jonathan Amaya (free agent), RB Reggie Bush (to Lions), WR
Davone Bess (to Browns), OLB Kevin Burnett (to Raiders), ILB Karlos Dansby (to
Cardinals), TE Anthony Fasano (to Chiefs), K Nate Kaeding (retired), OT Jake
Long (to Rams), DT Tony McDaniel (to Seahawks), WR Marlon Moore (to Niners),
CB Sean Smith (to Chiefs)
QB: Had anyone based their long-term opinion on Tannehill's first game -- a
loss to Houston in which J.J. Watt seemingly batted away every pass the
youngster threw -- it would have been easy to call Tannehill's draft selection
at No. 8 overall a reach. The former Texas A&M player picked it up as he went
along, though, and finished the season as the unquestioned No. 1 man in teal
after completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns in 16 starts.
Backup remains in the hands of Oregon State alum Matt Moore, who's proven a
quality spot starter while winning 13 of 25 career assignments with the
Dolphins and Carolina since 2007.
RB: Reggie Bush took his talents to industrial Michigan in the offseason,
leaving feature running back duties to unproven Lamar Miller, who had 51
carries for 250 yards and a touchdown last season -- averaging just shy of
five yards per rush.
Also available for carries are University of Florida draftee Mike Gillislee
and holdover Daniel Thomas, whose workload (165 carries to 91) and production
(581 yards to 325) ticked down noticeably from 2011 to 2012.
Evan Rodriguez, a 6-foot-1, 242-pounder, is the only depth chart game in town
when it comes to fullback. He didn't get a carry, but had four catches for 21
yards in 12 games with Chicago last season before legal issues chased him out
of the Second City.
WR: The most significant addition on the offensive side comes in the form of
deep-threat Wallace, who signed a huge contract in the offseason after hauling
in 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns in his final season with
Also new to the fold is ex-Ram Gibson, who caught 51 balls for five touchdowns
and a 13.5-yard average in 2012.
Their arrivals could create additional workspace for holdover veteran
Hartline, who surpassed 1,000 yards on 74 receptions and scored once last
TE: The Dolphins' prospects at tight end were dealt a severe blow when
newcomer Dustin Keller's knee was wrecked in the offseason, rendering him
unavailable for 2013.
That leaves the No. 1 duties at that position to University of Tulsa alum
Charles Clay, a 255-pounder who has 18 catches for 212 yards and a pair of
scores last season in 14 games.
Michael Egnew is listed No. 2 on the depth chart, though he appeared in only
two games and had no tangible stats after being drafted in the third round out
OL: The free-agency exit of former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long means a shift
to left tackle for 2012 second-rounder Jonathan Martin, who played 16 games
last season at right tackle. Taking over Martin's past gig will be offseason
acquisition Tyson Clabo, a 6-foot-6, 315-pounder in from Atlanta.
In the interior, the Dolphins have certainty with former Gator Mike Pouncey
at center and veteran Richie Incognito at left guard. Mississippi alum John
Jerry started 16 games at right guard last season and appears to be the No. 1
man there again, though there's been some push from third-round draft pick
DL: The Dolphins jumped from No. 12 to No. 3 in April's first round to snatch
Jordan, a 6-foot-6, 260-pounder out of Oregon. And, while the ex-Duck has been
hampered with shoulder concerns through the summer, the latest indications are
that he'll be on the field for the season opener with Cleveland. If not, ex
Miami Hurricane Olivier Vernon -- a third-rounder last season -- impressed
some with 3.5 sacks as a rookie.
The right end spot is the domain of Cameron Wake, whose 15 sacks last season
were tops on the team.
In the interior, Randy Starks proved quite capable while making 27 tackles and
registering 4.5 sacks at left tackle last season, while right-side man Paul
Soliai played 16 games, had 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Penn State alum Jared Odrick, a 6-foot-5, 302-pounder, is the top depth player
on the inside.
LB: The linebacking corps underwent a fair amount of change in the offseason
with the departures of Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, which leaves their
middle and outside positions in the hands of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip
Ellerbe started seven games and played in 13 with the Baltimore Ravens in
2012, while Wheeler started 16 games and had three sacks with Oakland.
Returning to the other outside slot is Koa Misi, who enters his
fourth year after starting 14 games and recording 3.5 sacks last season.
DB: Though he was limited to a single game last season by an Achilles injury,
Brent Grimes arrives from Atlanta as the No. 1 cornerback, replacing Sean
Smith, who signed with Kansas City.
He presumably lines up opposite Dimitri Patterson, a journeyman who arrived in
Miami last season -- making it his fifth NFL city since 2005.
Jamar Taylor, a second-round selection from Boise State, was hindered in the
summer by a sports hernia and could be slowed at the season's outset.
The safeties appear set with free safety Chris Clemons and strong safety
Rashad Jones. They combined for 194 tackles, six interceptions and four fumble
recoveries last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A new placekicker arrived in April's draft in the form of
University of Florida product Caleb Sturgis, which hastened the exit of
veteran Dan Carpenter in the summer. Sturgis made 84.6 percent of his kicks as
a junior and upped that level to 85.7 as a senior, including a combined six of
eight from 50 yards or more.
The embedded punter is Brandon Fields, who averaged 50.2 yards per kick and
dropped 29 of 74 inside the opposition's 20- yard line.
On returns, Marcus Thigpen was a commodity, scoring a TD apiece on both a punt
and a kick runback.
COACHING: Joe Philbin didn't exactly turn the Dolphins into his former
employers -- the Green Bay Packers -- in his initial season as a head coach,
but were it not for two overtime losses in the season's first four weeks,
Miami could have been a lot larger factor in late-year discussions.
Philbin is the direct beneficiary of a wallet-opening by the front office in
the offseason, and he could be smiling at the end of the year if his latest QB
charge -- Tannehill -- takes the leap that many are forecasting.
THE SKINNY: The quarterback should be better with experience. The new wide
receivers should give him more toys to play with. And the defense should be at
least as good, if not significantly better, thanks to an impact draft pick and
some solid free-agent bodies.
Combine that with the atrociousness of the portion of the AFC East that
emanates from New York and Buffalo, and you have the recipe for a strong
second-place in the division.
The initial eight weeks of the schedule are brutal, so Miami will need to stay
level at the halfway mark to make a push in the back half against the likes of
San Diego, Carolina, the Jets (twice) and Buffalo. If they do so, a 9-7 finish
is a fair bet -- with some chance of either 8-8 or 10-6.
The Sports Network