|Taking Justin Blackmon at No. 8 is no stretch if the receiver is available. (AP)|
The Miami Dolphins have four of the first 73 draft picks, and here's a suggestion -- spend them wisely. There's no margin for error -- not in Miami, there's not.
This is the team that went into the offseason desperate for a starting quarterback, then whiffed on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn and wound up with David Garrard. That's not how you put people in the seats or close the gap with New England, and consider those two reasons Miami is a popular pre-draft landing spot for Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins need to do something, anything, to make themselves relevant again, and hiring Joe Philbin is a start. He was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, and he's the guy who pledges to return the Dolphins to success. But first he must find a quarterback ... and a productive receiver ... and a decent offensive line ... and a pass-rusher opposite Cameron Wake ...
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I think you get the idea. The Dolphins need help, a lot of it. This is their chance to find it.
QB: Matt Moore says he just wants "a fair shot" at starting, and he'll get it. In fact, with Garrard the competition, he'll not only get a "fair shot," he should win the job. Moore stepped in last season after starter Chad Henne bowed out and did a credible job, compiling a 6-6 record for a struggling club. That makes him 13-12 as a career starter in Carolina and Miami, and it makes him the favorite here. Once upon a time, the Dolphins wanted Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn for this position, but Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn didn't want them. Now they have Moore, and, in an odd way, they might be better off. They know they need someone to groom as a future franchise quarterback, and that someone may be in this year's draft -- high in this year's draft. Is Tannehill the answer, and will he be there at No. 8?
RB: Reggie Bush was a pleasant surprise, producing career highs in several categories, including rushing attempts, rushing yards and longest run from scrimmage (76). More important, he stayed healthy, proving that he can be a featured back in the right offense. Charles Clay is a decent pass receiver, averaging 14.6 yards per catch, while CFL-arrival Jerome Messam was the league's Most Outstanding Canadian Player after rushing for 1,057 yards with Edmonton. Daniel Thomas flashed at times, though his play was inconsistent. The Dolphins could use another back, particularly a lead blocker or short-yardage option, but it's not a high priority.
WR: With the departure of Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess becomes the principal receiver -- and that's an issue. He's not a No. 1, and his numbers last year were the worst of his four-year career. I guess that's another way of saying the Dolphins need someone dynamic at this position, and they'll have their choice. Justin Blackmon could be on the board, while Stephen Hill and Michael Floyd definitely will be there. Without them, we're looking at people like Brian Hartline, Clyde Gates, Julius Pruitt and Marlon Moore -- which means we're looking at a substantial draft need. Philbin has made it clear he wants to "spread the wealth" on offense, which is another way of saying he wants to make use of all his weapons with multiple formations and sets -- much as he did in Green Bay. That's a nice idea, but it helps to have Green Bay's talent.
TE: Anthony Fasano is the starter here, and while he struggled early last season, he wound up with 32 catches and five touchdowns. Jeron Mastrod, Will Yeatman and Les Brown are young, raw and inexperienced -- which is another way of saying there's not much beyond Fasano.
OL: Miami allowed 52 sacks, one short of the franchise record, so it's clear help is needed here, too. Starters Jake Long, Mike Pouncey, Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo each were taken in the first round, so you'd think they'd be OK. They weren't, with Colombo the worst of the four. He struggled all season, making right tackle a position of need and Iowa's Riley Reiff -- who can play the right side -- a potential target. Dating back to 2008, the Dolphins made 51 moves involving offensive linemen -- including the draft -- and they have three starters to show for it: Long, Pouncey and guard Richie Incognito. They're rebuilding the right side, with Lydon Murtha a possibility at right tackle and John Jerry and Nate Garner the lead contestants at guard. Philbin is a former offensive line coach who wants this unit to be more athletic, capable of running zone-blocking schemes. The feeling is that he should be able to straighten these guys out -- but that's what we said about another former offensive line coach, Tony Sparano.
DL: One of the team's first offseason moves was to re-sign defensive tackle Paul Soliai, and that was smart. He's the linchpin to a defensive line that ranked third vs. the run, and the Dolphins not only kept him off the free-agent market, they got him at a hometown discount. With the loss of Kendall Langford to St. Louis, Soliai should be teamed with Randy Starks and Jared Odrick, who had six sacks last season as part of a six-man rotation. Look for Odrick, Phillip Merling and Tony McDaniel to compete for time and jobs with the new coaching staff and defense. Still, someone must emerge as an outside pass rusher, either here or at linebacker.
LB: Cameron Wake is not only the best pass-rusher on this team; he's one of the best in the NFL. Finding someone to complement him is that task now that Jason Taylor, who was second on the club in sacks last season, is retired. Maybe newcomer Jamaal Westerman is that guy; maybe not. More likely it's Koa Misi, who was a disappointment last season. Wake didn't produce big numbers, but he was more effective vs. the run while regularly facing double teams. He is invaluable, but he's also unhappy. He wants a new contract, and so far the Dolphins aren't biting. Inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were effective, period, with each producing over 100 tackles, and Miami just added Gary Guyton. He could play inside or outside. The Dolphins haven't made it clear what kind of scheme they will run, so it's uncertain whether it's a pass-rushing linebacker or defensive end that's needed. What is certain is that they could use someone other than Cameron Wake off the edge.
DB: Miami cut Yeremiah Bell, which means Tyrell Johnson and Reshad Jones look like the starters at safety -- for now, at least. Jones came on last season, but the Dolphins could use an upgrade here. One problem: The draft is thin at the position after Alabama's Mark Barron. Newcomer Richard Marshall and Vontae Davis are the featured cornerbacks, with Sean Smith off the bench, and that's a decent combination. Smith can start, but he regressed last season and was a frequent target of opposing quarterbacks. Combined with developing cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson, the Dolphins look set at the position.