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2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff
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By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Blogger

Offense

Quick question: When was the last time the Dolphins offense finished in the top half of the league? That would be 2008. What about the top 10? Try 1995. You know, the last year of Don Shula's coaching reign when Dan Marino was flinging passes to Irving Fryar and O.J. McDuffie and handing off the ball to Bernie Parmalee. That was a long time ago, and since then, you mostly have an organization that, especially in the past eight years, ranks as playing some of the worst offensive football in the league. But the team is trying to counter that after using its No. 8 draft pick on Ryan Tannehill and by selecting successful Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to be its new head coach.

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What can Miami expect from some new pieces on offense? After letting go of Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins don't necessarily have a No. 1 guy to take the place of the mercurial, albeit top-flight receiver -- which seems to suit Philbin fine for now. Though Philbin has helped tutor Aaron Rodgers into becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the game, he'll probably have to rely on his running game early in his Miami tenure. Though Tony Sparano's attempt to win games with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown ultimately didn't work after Miami's 11-5 season in 2008 (perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the last year Chad Pennington was the fulltime starting quarterback), Philbin could find success with a strong trio of backs in Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Steve Slaton.

The Dolphins likely won't contend for a division crown in 2012, especially with David Garrard and Matt Moore battling for the starting quarterback spot. That's not to say that Garrard and Moore aren't solid, but neither of those guys will lead the team to a 12-4 or 11-5 mark. Instead, it'll be Tannehill's chance to learn the NFL behind some decent veterans.

Defense

For the most part, last year's Dolphins squad was mostly mediocre on defense (which, to be fair, gave that unit a decided advantage over the team's offense). Although the team was 15th in the league in yards allowed, the Dolphins only surrendered 19.6 points per game, the sixth-best defensive total in the NFL. After seven losses to open the season, putting then-coach Tony Sparano's job prospects in a day-by-day status, the defense partially saved Miami's season, allowing three points to the Chiefs, nine points to the Redskins and six points to the Bills in the next three contests to start a winning streak. Sure, those teams weren't world-beaters, but that's not the point. Miami went 13 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown, and to some degree, that showed the team's potential.

Fast forward to this year, and new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is installing a 4-3 defense, which caused linebacker Karlos Dansby to say this: We've got a chance to be great ... We have enough skill set. We have enough talent. We can make this defense work for us." Aside from re-signing defensive end Cameron Wake and defensive tackle Paul Soliai, the Dolphins didn't do much on defense during free agency or during the draft. But with 2010 first-round pick Jared Odrick and 2012 third-round pick Vernon Olivier shoring up the defensive line, Miami certainly could equal a rushing defense that ranked third in the league in 2011. The secondary struggled last year, but Coyle is the longtime Bengals secondary coach and his first order of business is to improve the pass defense. Signing free agent Richard Marshall should help.

Key Changes

Roster Additions: QB David Garrard, LB Gary Guyton, G Artis Hicks, CB Richard Marshall, WR Legedu Naanee, WR Chad Ochocinco

Roster Departures: LB Ikaika Alama-Francis, CB Will Allen, S Yeremiah Bell, OT Vernon Carey, OT Marc Colombo, QB Chad Henne, DE Kendall Langford, QB JP Losman, DE Phillip Merling, LB Marvin Mitchell, LB Jason Taylor.

Staff: Head coach Tony Sparano (fired after Week 14) and interim coach Todd Bowles (now an Eagles assistant); Joe Philbin replaces them. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (now the Falcons defensive coordinator); Kevin Coyle replaces him. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (now the Chiefs offensive coordinator); Mike Sherman replaces him

After four years, the Chad Henne experiment is over. And the Dolphins continue the search to find their next Dan Marino -- or at least a somewhat-credible impersonator -- 13 years after Marino retired. Miami drafted its next quarterback of the future, Ryan Tannehill, in the first round, but he likely won't have much of an impact in the offense this season. Instead, Garrard has a chance to earn a starting job after sitting out last year with a bad back. Miami already knows what it can expect from Matt Moore, a solid quarterback who will give Garrard a good run in the starting competition.

But if Garrard takes over in 2012, what can we expect? Probably not enough to make anybody forget that Tannehill is on the roster. But you might have not remembered that Garrard actually had a decent season in 2010, going 8-6 with Jacksonville while completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,734 yards, 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He's probably not Miami's savior, but will the Dolphins have a chance to be, I don't know, 8-8 with Garrard under center (only once in the past six seasons has Miami equaled or bettered that mark)? Yeah, I think so.

X-Factor: Jake Long

It wasn't long ago that Long was known as one of the best left tackles in the league. In 2009 and 2010, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the second-best tackle, but last year, dealing with a variety of injuries (his back, his shoulder and his knee), he stumbled to No. 21. He missed only two games last season -- the only two games, in fact, he's missed in his entire four-year career -- but he simply wasn't the same guy Dolphins fans were used to watching. Long is entering the final year of his contract, and unless he's healthy and back to playing as one of the best in the NFL (and considering he'll make $11.2 million, he certainly should be expected to do exactly that), he's in danger of not returning after 2012. And without him playing his best, the Dolphins quarterback will be in danger any time he takes a drop.

But the Dolphins might already be looking to a future without Long in the lineup. They took Jonathan Martin from Stanford in the second round of the draft, and though he's scheduled to play right tackle for now, it's not a stretch to believe that Martin could replace Long at a moment's notice. Listen, Long -- who, for the record, says he feels completely healthy -- has never not made a Pro Bowl, and last year could have been an aberration because of his injuries. But a future without Long also isn't as hazy as it was after the 2010 season. He'll need to have a monster year to stay in the team's plans -- and to keep whoever's running Miami's offense upright in the pocket.

Will the receivers be any better?

That seems unlikely, considering the team's top receiver of the past two years, Brandon Marshall, was traded to the Bears in the offseason. Meanwhile, the team signed Chad Ochocinco to a minimum free-agent deal and inked Legedu Naanee to a backup role as well. The two receivers at the top of the depth chart -- for now -- are Davone Bess and Brian Hartline. So, how will this unit fare? Hard to say. Bess put up good numbers in 2009 and 2010, and there's a chance Ochocinco could return to form. But overall, Miami still has plenty of work to do to remake this unit.

Living up to expectations

Do you remember last August when Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis said he and Sean Smith were the top cornerback duo in the league? Do you remember laughing and laughing about that? Well, if you weren't, you should have been. Davis and Smith were fined in 2010 after they were tardy to a team meeting for the third time that season, and last year, Davis reportedly showed up to work hung-over. In the meantime, Smith lost his starting job to Jason Allen in 2010, he'll have to work to beat Richard Marshall for the right to start this season.

Can Packers rub off on Dolphins?

That's what Miami owner Stephen Ross hopes will happen. After all, he hired a guy who led the Packers offense to a top-10 finish in all five of his seasons as the offensive coordinator, and don't forget that Sherman won at least 10 games in four of his six seasons as Green Bay's head coach. It'll take time to turn the Dolphins around -- especially in this division -- but Sherman and Philbin know how to win. They showed they can in Green Bay.

Insider's Take

"I think [Miami general manager] Jeff Ireland is like the walking dead. He's made too many mistakes. If they don't do well this year, he'll be gone. Joe Philbin is hot right now with his high-octane offense from Green Bay, but let's not forget that he had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. They don't have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Miami. Mike Sherman is the offensive coordinator, but he just got fired at Texas A&M. There are so many questions, especially at the quarterback position. Bringing in Chad Ochocinco is looking in the rearview mirror, not the future. It's a little bit of desperation. When you have an organization that's shaky at the top with a coach that wasn't the first choice and a first-time defensive coordinator, there are too many questions. They're at least two years away from being competitive."

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

The Miami offense is going to be a west coast package, featuring a zone run scheme and a lot of short passing. How expansive the passing game is depends on which quarterback wins the starting job. If David Garrard is under center then there will be more deep balls and audibles at the line of scrimmage. If Matt Moore, who led the Dolphins to a 6-3 record in the final nine games, is the starter the offense will be a bit more conservative. Rookie Ryan Tannehill played for OC Mike Sherman and is the most athletic of the quarterbacks -- he would feature more bootlegs and edge passing plays. Defenses will have to have multiple plans ready to go for Miami.

Dolphins' Rivals: AFC East

2012 Preview • Schedule
Bills @ Dolphins: 12/23 (1 p.m. ET)
Dolphins @ Bills: 11/15 (8:20 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Patriots @ Dolphins: 12/2 (1 p.m. ET)
Dolphins @ Patriots: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Jets @ Dolphins: 9/23 (1 p.m. ET)
Dolphins @ Jets: 10/28 (1 p.m. ET)

Expect the Dolphins to be a 21 personnel team (two RBs, one TE, two WRs) on early downs with Charles Clay at fullback and either Reggie Bush or Daniel Thomas at running back. Defenses will look for the differences when it is Bush or Thomas. I expect more inside zone with Thomas and more stretch runs and pass with Bush. Look for the run game to go left more than right to set up the bootleg pass to the right and take some pressure off rookie RT Jonathan Martin.

Last year the Dolphins' offensive line gave up a sack once in every 10 pass plays and in their six division games they gave up 17 sacks. The veteran quarterbacks probably would like five-man protections and control the pressure with an extra receiver. Ryan Tannehill will need six- and seven-man protections to buy time. Matt Moore told me he read rolled coverage to Brandon Marshall about 50 percent of the plays last year. With Marshall gone and no true No. 1 receiver on the roster defenses will have a lot more flexibility to change coverages -- making it tough for a rookie QB to function.

The Miami defense is converting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 -- usually a tough thing to do, but DC Kevin Coyle will probably install more of a hybrid defense in his first year with the "Joker" being Cameron Wake. Quarterbacks looking over the Dolphins' front will see Wake down as an end keying a 4-3 or see him up and off the ball changing the blocking scheme to a 3-4. No matter what front Miami is in they should be decent against the run, as it was last season, with a solid pass rush.

They struggled in coverage -- giving up 250 yards a game. Tom Brady alone threw for 797 yards in two games. Coyle will want to use more man coverage schemes than the last regime but he may find out his corners aren't suited for it. Veteran Richard Marshall was brought in to be the nickel corner and he should be adequate. Coyle worked under Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati and he will use pressure calls if the front four is struggling.

Nine of the 41 sacks the Dolphins had last year were from returning linebackers and defensive backs. Miami has issues at safety and could be exposed by teams with athletic vertical tight ends. The Patriots' tight ends caught 28 balls for 435 yards and five touchdowns in two games against Miami. Yeremiah Bell is no longer with the team and his absence makes the safeties weaker.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

First-round pick quarterback Ryan Tannehill currently lacks the anticipation to consistently throw before his receivers are open -- a skill that must be developed if he is to have any success in the NFL. Tannehill also tends to deliver passes through a three-quarter release, which leads to a disproportionate number of his passes getting knocked down at the line of scrimmage.

Dolphins Draft Analysis

However, he possesses an ideal combination of size, arm strength, accuracy, mobility and toughness for the quarterback position. In other words, all of the physical traits are there for him to develop into a Pro Bowl quarterback, and his familiarity with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's scheme from Texas A&M is a definite plus.

Miami appears to be banking on Missouri tight end Michael Egnew, a third-round pick, to help bolster a passing game that lacks dynamic outside threats. The 6-5, 252-pound Egnew was clocked at 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine and his speed translates well onto the field. Egnew lacked the hype of some of the rest of this year's tight ends, but he's as reliable a receiving specialist at the position as there was in this year's draft.

The rest of the Dolphins' picks:

1st Round - No. 8 overall - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
2nd Round - No. 42 overall - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
3rd Round - No. 72 overall - Olivier Vernon, DE, Miami
3rd Round - No. 78 overall - Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
4th Round - No. 97 overall - Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
5th Round - No. 155 overall - Josh Kaddu, OLB, Oregon
6th Round - No. 183 overall - B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
7th Round - No. 215 overall - Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
7th Round - No. 227 overall - Rishard Matthews, WR, Nevada

 
 
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