Miami Dolphins: Joe Philbin

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC East

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
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New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.

Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.

Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.

The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?



Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.

Mike Reiss: Is it possible for someone to go from a Coach of the Year candidate last December to the hot seat in late July? It shouldn't be, but that is the situation in which Dolphins coach Joe Philbin finds himself. I thought Philbin deserved a lot of credit for keeping things together last season, and after the Dolphins beat the Patriots in mid-December many were singing his praises. But the team sputtered the final two weeks of the season and now Philbin, entering his third season, could be viewed as having the hottest seat among AFC East coaches. Crazy business, this NFL.

Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.

James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.


Second Down

Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?



Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.

Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.

Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.

Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.


Third Down

Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?



Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.

Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.

Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.

Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.


Fourth Down

How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?



Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.

Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.

Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.

Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.

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One term you hear over and over from the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff is "position flexibility." Head coach Joe Philbin values players who can be plugged in at multiple spots, even if they're better at some positions than others, because injuries happen.

Colledge
Philbin wants as many versatile players on his roster as possible. Going by that train of thought, Monday’s signing of veteran offensive lineman Daryn Colledge to a one-year contract made sense for the Dolphins. Miami did not sign a true center to replace injury Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey, who is out for at least 3-4 months following hip surgery. The Dolphins got a dependable, durable player who provides options for Miami’s offensive line.

Colledge, 32, is a longtime starter for the Green Bay Packers, where Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was an assistant, and most recently the Arizona Cardinals. He’s started 97 consecutive games dating back to the end of the 2007 season. Colledge is a "plug-and-play" veteran who could be ready by Week 1 despite missing Miami's entire offseason program.

The bigger question is this: Where would Colledge play?

Most of Colledge’s experience is at guard, and moving a new player out of his natural place may be a bit risky. The Dolphins have plenty of in-house options, such as moving starting right guard Shelley Smith to center or playing backups Sam Brenner or Nate Garner at center. The Dolphins will have a full training camp and preseason to work through their options. Colledge provides flexibility to move players around. They can try his hand at center or he can become a valuable backup.

Either way, Miami is expected to have five new starters on its offensive line when it hosts the New England Patriots in the regular-season opener. It’s not an idea situation, especially when learning a new scheme under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. But the Colledge signing at least is a step in the right direction.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Here is the offseason issue with the Miami Dolphins' deep-ball attack involving quarterback Ryan Tannehill and receiver Mike Wallace: The media simply hasn't seen it.

After seven practices open to the media -- including a three-day mandatory minicamp -- Tannehill has yet to prove he's improved his biggest weakness from a year ago. Tannehill tried to connect deep with Wallace on a few occasions during open media sessions and misfired, which is mostly what the rest of the NFL saw last season.

Wallace
Wallace
Tannehill
Yet, Dolphins players and coaches say Tannehill has improved his deep ball in 2014. But all the big plays have been on display during the private sessions not open to the media.

Is this fact or fiction?

"(You) haven't been here. ... We hit those, about three or four of them so far,” Wallace said of deep passes against Miami’s defense. “Me and him haven't personally thrown that many. If we've thrown like six, we've hit on like four."

"They have, a number of times. ... It's been better," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin also confirmed.

This is an important part of Miami’s offense and a strong indicator of whether this team will be able to take the next step and make the playoffs this season. The Dolphins' offense missed on plenty of opportunities for big plays last year. Wallace, who is one of the league's fastest players, did his job by getting open deep. But Tannehill often missed Wallace due to poor accuracy or throwing the ball short, which allowed defensive backs to recover and force the incompletion. This was one of the many issues for Miami's offense, which was ranked 27th last season.

The 2013 season was the first time Wallace and Tannehill played together. Miami's power pair spent a lot of time together in the offseason working on their game and their timing. Outside of the deep ball, Tannehill has made other good throws to Wallace in sessions open to the media.

"I feel like we've been doing really well," Wallace said of himself and Tannehill. "Pretty much every day, we've pretty much been on the same page. Might have one here or there, but, for the most part, I think we've been doing a really good job being on the same page."

Wallace, who had 930 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season, appears determined to have a big year in 2014. His offseason participation has been excellent and Wallace put in extra time after each practice to work on catching footballs.

"I thought Mike had a really good offseason program," Philbin said. "You've seen him after practice, nobody is holding a bat to his head. This guy is out there working and doing the little things that can make the difference when the season comes around."
The bad news struck down like a hammer on Monday afternoon. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey will miss 3-4 months following major hip surgery.

Pouncey was probably the player the Dolphins could least afford to lose early in the season. According to his timeline, Pouncey could miss the first couple of games or even be put on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and miss the first six games, depending on his progress. Either way, it’s horrendous news for a Dolphins team trying to end a five-season playoff drought.

But now it’s time for Miami to move forward and find the best contingency plan possible. Here is a look at the Dolphins’ remaining options at center:

Brenner
1. Sam Brenner

Why it can work: When Pouncey missed time during mandatory minicamp, Brenner was the starting center and received a bulk of the reps. That's a clue to what Miami’s top in-house contingency plan is. Brenner, as an undrafted rookie, shined at guard last year. He was a four-game starter who performed well in a short period and impressed the coaching staff. The Dolphins may ask him to do the same for a month or so to start this season.

Why it can’t work: Brenner has never started at center at any level. He played guard for the Dolphins last year and guard and left tackle in college for the University of Utah. The fact that Miami worked Brenner as the No. 2 center this offseason shows its coaching staff believes he can make the transition. But you never know for sure until Brenner performs well in a real game situation. Do the Dolphins want Brenner learning on the job against the AFC East rival New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills? Both opponents have good players on the defensive line.

Garner
2. Nate Garner

Why it can work: Garner is Miami’s most versatile backup. Despite his lanky frame (6-foot-7), Garner started at center for two games last season when Pouncey had a health ailment. The Dolphins were 1-1 in those games and Garner held his own. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin may revert back to what was comfortable for him last season in game situations (Garner) versus what he’s currently doing in practice (Brenner).

Why it can’t work: Garner hasn’t played center during the entire offseason program. Those reps went to Pouncey and Brenner. For the Dolphins to completely switch the plan at this stage and go back to Garner would seem like a patch-work idea. Garner’s biggest strength is he can play every position. But the bad news is he’s average -- at best -- at every position. Average may not be good enough in the middle of Miami’s offensive line.

Smith
3. Shelley Smith

Why it can work: Smith, who signed as a free agent from the St. Louis Rams this year, also can play center. The Dolphins have looked into it a little just on an exploratory basis. But this option has to receive more consideration now that Pouncey is on the shelf. Smith is probably the best player of the aforementioned group.

Why it can’t work: Smith only has eight career starts in four seasons, including just two starts in 2013. It’s important for Miami to get Smith comfortable in his new surroundings and a new offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor. By all accounts, Smith is holding his own at right guard. Do the Dolphins want to take that momentum from Smith? I’ve never subscribed to the theory that you weaken one position (right guard) to fix the other (center). Now, you’ve weakened two positions.

The Dolphins have a full training camp and preseason to figure this out. Miami will take the field in Week 1 with a new center and without Pouncey on Sept. 7 against the Patriots.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Tuesday from around the Web:
  • Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel says Dolphins center Mike Pouncey’s hip injury that will sideline him for at least three months is sure to hurt the team.
Morning take: Pouncey is the one player the Dolphins could least afford to lose. Miami will begin 2014 with five new starters on the offensive line.
  • Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post reports injured center Mike Pouncey (hip) could miss up to six games.
Morning take: Miami will take its time with Pouncey’s rehab before determining if he will start the season on the PUP list. But you can’t rule anything out at this point.
  • Ayana Stewart of the Miami Herald reports Matthew Philbin, the son of the Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, is being investigated for causing a car accident and fleeing the scene.
Morning take: The Herald reports the crash happened in March in Austin, Texas. This is something Joe Philbin and his family must handle internally.
  • Former Dolphins quarterback Brian Griese talks to the team website about Ryan Tannehill’s development.
Morning take: This is a make-or-break year for Tannehill. But the Dolphins are doing all they can to back their starting quarterback.
The 2014 offseason program is in the books for the Miami Dolphins. With that in mind, let's see what's on the minds of Miami fans as we look ahead to training camp.

James Walker: This is a time of optimism, Zach, as every team is undefeated. I don't want to get into the whole "playoffs or bust" talk in June. But that's the reality of the situation. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin has had three years to implement his program. He's yet to have a winning season or playoff appearance. There are no more excuses in Year 3. The Dolphins have spent a lot of money and resources to build their roster the past two years. No team is perfect, but Miami has potential with the right coaching. Another non-winning season will most likely lead to major changes. Walker: I wouldn't say "mastering," TB. That's too strong from what I've seen. It appears Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a good grasp of Bill Lazor's offense and what Lazor is trying to do. Yet, I have yet to see it all come together on the practice field. Tannehill will have a good practice followed by a bad practice and vice versa. There are some growing pains. The key will be for Tannehill to have Lazor's offense mastered by Sept. 7 when the Dolphins host the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots. Now is the time to learn and make mistakes. Walker: Landry is a rookie a lot of Dolphins fans are excited about. He's a second-round pick who has displayed strong hands and good route running. Landry did well in this week's scrimmage. But right now, as a rookie, he's behind Rishard Matthews and Brandon Gibson. Landry has a lot of ground to make up in training camp. Where I see Landry definitely contributing right away is special teams. Walker: It's interesting you ask that question, Benny. I was just playing around this week projecting Miami's 53-man roster and I noticed there were some interesting decisions to be made. Of course, a lot will play out in training camp and the preseason. Some veterans I think who are on the bubble include former Jeff Ireland draft picks who didn't live up to their potential. Running back Daniel Thomas and tight end Michael Egnew come to mind. The Dolphins are no longer waiting on their potential. Both former highly-touted picks must bring it this summer or they could lose their roster spot. 
Earlier this week we posed an interesting question to Miami Dolphins fans: Who is currently the face of the franchise?

The Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and are seeking an identity. Part of that is having an identifiable franchise player to count on week in and week out.

According to more than 50 percent of Dolphins fans, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the face of Miami’s franchise. Tannehill is entering his third season and is just 15-17 as a starter. This could be a make-or-break year for Tannehill to make the playoffs in Miami. Rarely do quarterbacks get four years to prove they are a franchise quarterback. Still, Dolphins fans remain confident in Tannehill’s potential.

In second place was Miami Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, who received more than 30 percent of the vote. Wake has been a defensive leader for the past several years and the Dolphins’ most consistent player.

No other person received much consideration. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and center Mike Pouncey received less than 10 percent of the vote combined. Thanks to all who participated in our SportsNation poll.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins shook things up on the final day of mandatory minicamp. Instead of a typical practice, head coach Joe Philbin staged a full-scale scrimmage between the aqua team led by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the white team led by No. 2 quarterback Matt Moore.

In the end Moore's white team won, 16-13, in a game that came down to the final play. Players were happy to get a taste of their first "game" situations of the 2014 season.

"It's exciting to be in this type of atmosphere," Dolphins rookie receiver Jarvis Landry said after the scrimmage. "We've been talking a lot about bringing that intensity to the field, and I think the guys came with it today in practice. Hopefully, it carries on when we return."

The Dolphins will take about a month off before returning to the field for training camp.

Here are some additional notes from Thursday's scrimmage:

  • [+] EnlargeOlivier Vernon and Ryan Tannehill
    AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeOlivier Vernon was one of the stars of Friday's scrimmage, notching 2.5 sacks.
    The most lopsided battle was Miami's defensive line against its offensive line. The Dolphins' defensive line on both teams put on a dominant performance, which unofficially included eight total sacks. Olivier Vernon led the Dolphins with 2.5 sacks, including a pair against Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. "He's real, real good," Albert said after the scrimmage. "I didn't even know who he was until I got here. He's a good football player. He made some good plays. That's part of the game. He got better since I got here."
  • Dolphins rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James also struggled against Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake. The veteran defensive end showed an array of moves. Wake got a half sack against James and nearly got another sack that caused James to get a holding penalty. "His experienced level, his technical stuff, his hands, everything is good," James said of Wake. "You can't make many mistakes and I have to learn from it."
  • Tannehill had a decent outing for the aqua team. He threw his team's only touchdown pass with a beautiful 19-yard strike to receiver Armon Binns. Tannehill also made several connections to Landry and tight end Charles Clay that moved the chains. The primary reason his white team stalled was due to poor pass protection, which was a common theme from last season. The Dolphins allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks last season.
  • Speaking of Landry, he looked more impressive in a game situation Thursday. Landry isn't the biggest or fastest receiver. But he has strong hands and runs good routes. Landry got open on several occasions and made some nice catches over the middle for first downs. He could be a "gamer" type of player -- one who doesn't wow you in practice but knows how to play well in real games.
  • Veteran players who sat out of Thursday's scrimmage included defensive lineman Jared Odrick, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Koa Misi and running back Knowshon Moreno.
  • Former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor continues to assist the team's coaching staff and work with Miami's young defensive linemen. According to Philbin, Taylor is always welcome to help but the Dolphins haven't finalized anything in terms of a full-time position. From the sound of it, Taylor could have a choice to join the team in some capacity as long as he's willing to put in the long hours.
  • Now that the offseason program is over, Philbin was asked to list several players who stood out. Philbin cited guard Dallas Thomas, receiver Rishard Matthews and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.
The Miami Dolphins have had several issues during their five-year playoff drought. But one of the biggest had been lack of leadership from top to bottom.

In the past, it was Dan Marino or Jason Taylor or Zach Thomas. Regardless of the era, there were certain players who developed leadership roles within the locker room and fans could readily identify with.

SportsNation

Who is the current face of the Dolphins' franchise?

  •  
    58%
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    3%
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    34%
  •  
    1%
  •  
    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,465)

That brings me to our latest poll question: Who is the current face of the Dolphins' franchise?

There are several candidates to choose from, starting at quarterback with Ryan Tannehill. He has a 15-17 record as a starter and enters a crucial year to prove he's the long-term solution. Only recently has he become more of a vocal leader.

Head coach Joe Philbin is another candidate. Like Tannehill, he also is 15-17 and enters the year on the hot seat after a pair of non-winning seasons. Is Philbin the current face of Miami's franchise, despite his status?

What about Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake? He has been the Dolphins' best player for a few years and takes care of business on the field. Wake is not a huge vocal leader in the locker room.

Finally, you have Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. He's one of the top centers in the NFL but had his share of off-the-field questions last year. Pouncey says his leadership isn't questioned among his teammates.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the current face of the Dolphins franchise. You can share your thoughts in the comment section below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Ryan Tannehill was tested during his first two years with the Miami Dolphins. In 2012, he was a rookie starter surrounded by veterans. Last year, Tannehill gained some comfort but still wasn’t a vocal leader the Dolphins desperately needed it.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeMiami QB Ryan Tannehill doesn't hold back when criticizing a teammate during Tuesday's minicamp.
However, times appear to be changing for Tannehill in Year 3. In what is essentially a make-or-break year for Tannehill, who is 15-17 as a starter, he is already showing the kind of fiery leadership the Dolphins lacked from past quarterbacks.

Tannehill got into the face of two receivers and yelled at them for missed assignments Tuesday during the opening of mandatory minicamp. It was uncharacteristic to see the mild-mannered Tannehill chewing out teammates in public. But it could be another step in the right direction for Tannehill's overall development.

“I think now I’m more apt to step up and say something, make a statement,” Tannehill explained after practice. “That’s part of playing the QB position. Now I feel more comfortable. I have the respect of my teammates around me and I can do that.”

Tannehill’s increased vocal leadership didn’t go unnoticed with Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.

“It’s just one of those things in a competitive situation, and Ryan is a competitive guy,” Philbin said. “He wants to make sure everyone is on the same page. I think he’s done a really good job.”

Both of Tannehill’s run-ins were due to receiver mistakes. First, slot receiver Rishard Matthews cut off his route early and appeared to give up on a broken play. That caused a would-be quarterback sack on Tannehill. After the play, Tannehill ran up to Matthews and screamed at the receiver to play through the whistle.

The second example came late in practice when Tannehill and the offense already had a frustrating day. Rookie receiver Gerald Ford didn’t know his assignment, which upset Tannehill and caused a verbal tongue-lashing.

“I’m a rookie, so I kind of expected it,” Ford said of getting yelled at by Tannehill for the mistake.

So what did the rookie receiver say to his starting quarterback afterwards?

“I’m sorry leader,” Ford said, sparking laughter from the media. “It won’t happen again.”

Whether Tannehill’s increased leadership translates well on the field remains to be seen. The Dolphins' offense as a whole struggled Tuesday. There were three interceptions (one by Tannehill and two by Matt Moore), four would-be sacks allowed, a few drops and overall sloppy play.

Miami is implementing a new offense under first-year assistant coach Bill Lazor and continues to experience growing pains. Right now, Miami’s defense remains well ahead of its offense.

“Today wasn’t our best day,” Tannehill admitted Tuesday. “We’ve had much better days as an offense all around -- getting line up, playing fast, throwing the ball, protecting. We just didn’t have our best day today. That’s what this time is for.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins took the field for the first of three practices during mandatory minicamp. It was a high-energy first session in what serves as a preview to training camp.

Here are seven observations from Tuesday's practice:
  • It was a strong day for the Dolphins' defense. Miami's defense was disruptive all practice and, by my count, recorded three interceptions and at least four would-be sacks. (The defense is not allowed to hit quarterbacks in practice.) The Dolphins' defense has been together for three seasons and has been well ahead of the offense on days practice was open to the media. “There's going to be days where one side of the ball has the upper hand,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “It looked like the back end and the linebackers, we were doing some good things from a coverage standpoint.”
  • Miami receiver Brandon Gibson continues to make progress from last year's season-ending patella tendon tear. Gibson participated in team drills for the first time this offseason. He still doesn't look 100 percent but is moving around relatively well. At this point Gibson looks well on pace to be ready by Week 1.
  • Dolphins cornerback Jamar Taylor had arguably his best practice of the offseason. Taylor, who got reps on the first team, recorded a sideline interception off Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Taylor also showed some athleticism by blowing up a running play. Taylor was injured must of last year but is making strong strides this offseason.
  • The Dolphins' coaching staff is putting several veterans on the maintenance program during minicamp. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and cornerback Cortland Finnegan sat out team drills Tuesday. It is unknown if that will change during the week.
  • After a plan to renovate Sun Life Stadium was passed by the Miami-Dade County Commission in a 7-4 vote, Philbin credited owner Stephen Ross. “Most important to me is it shows the commitment our owner, Stephen Ross, has to making this a world-class organization,” Philbin said.
  • Miami rookie defensive end Terrence Fede had the play of the day. Fede, who is 6-foot-4 and 277 pounds, dropped in coverage and made a leaping interception off Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore. Fede then advanced the ball about 10 yards as his defensive teammates celebrated.
  • Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan continues to flash in practice. He had another would-be sack on Tannehill coming off the corner. Jordan put on about 17 pounds of muscle since last year and looks ready to make a second-year jump after an ineffective rookie year.

Miami will continue its three-day minicamp on Wednesday morning.
One of the headaches for the Miami Dolphins the past two seasons under head coach Joe Philbin has been the team’s inability to win within the AFC East. Philbin is a dreadful 4-8 against division teams since taking over the Dolphins in 2013. It’s one of the primary reasons Philbin is a below .500 coach (15-17) in Miami and is on the hot seat entering his third season.

Can the Dolphins turn things around against the AFC East this year? Winning within the division is the quickest way for Miami to end its playoff drought of six years.

Here is a preview of Miami’s AFC East matchups:

New England Patriots

Games: Week 1 and Week 15

Analysis: The Patriots have been the beasts of the AFC East for more than a decade. The Dolphins were able to forge a split against New England last season with a big win against the Patriots in Week 15 at Sun Life Stadium. The win set Miami up for a push to the playoffs, but the Dolphins collapsed down the stretch against a pair of division foes. Last season was a down year for the Patriots because of injuries, but they still cruised to 12 wins and won the division by a landslide. The Dolphins must at least split with New England to have a chance to win the division. The Patriots are legit Super Bowl contenders assuming all of their healthy players return. Miami’s best chance to beat New England is in Week 1 at Sun Life Stadium.

Difficulty level (On scale of 1-to-10): 9

Buffalo Bills

Games: Week 2 and Week 11

Analysis: The Dolphins were embarrassingly swept by the lowly Bills last season. Buffalo won six games, but two came against Miami. The Bills also played backup quarterback Thad Lewis in both games. This is the matchup the Dolphins can’t seem to shake. Buffalo is a team built to beat Miami. The Bills are a strong running team, which wore out Miami’s shaky run defense. The Bills also had a stout defensive line and players who can rush the passer. Miami’s offensive line was atrocious last season. Beating Buffalo isn’t difficult for most teams, but it is for Miami. However, if the Dolphins want to take the next step and get to the playoffs, they might have to sweep the Bills, which is a tall task.

Difficulty level: 8

New York Jets

Games: Week 13 and 17

Analysis: The Dolphins won’t face the Jets until later in the season. But that doesn’t make this divisional rivalry any less important. These games could have major playoff implications for both teams. The Dolphins and Jets both believe this is their year to make the postseason. The Patriots are the favorites to win the AFC East, and there might be one wild card in the division. The Dolphins and Jets have had a strong rivalry for many years. Recently, this matchup has taken an odd turn, as each team has been able to win on the road the past two seasons. A split seems to be the norm in this series. But if either team could sweep, that could increase its chances to make the playoffs.

Difficulty level: 7
The offseason program is heating up for the Miami Dolphins. ESPN.com’s Dolphins page has been to practices open to the media.

Miami fans have plenty of questions. So let’s see what’s in the Dolphins’ Twitter mailbag.

Training camp is less than two months away. In the meantime, we'll examine key questions with the team heading into another important season.

Next, we take a look at the Dolphins' starting linebackers, who were inconsistent last year.

Biggest reason for concern: No middle linebacker

The Dolphins lack a natural middle linebacker with starting experience. This was a major reason this group could not find any consistency last year. The Dolphins were ranked 24th against the run, struggled to defend tight ends and slot receivers and often worn down in the fourth quarters. Miami invested sizable contract extensions to starting linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Koa Misi. So far those decisions appear to be mistakes. Miami searched for an alternative solution in free agency when they hosted D'Qwell Jackson, who later signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins also didn’t draft a linebacker until Jordan Tripp in the fifth round. Miami appears to be sticking with its struggling trio this season by default.

Biggest reason for hope: Position switch

The Dolphins are trying to shake things up with what they have. The starters are the same. But Miami’s coaching staff is hoping a significant experiment at middle linebacker pays off this season. The Dolphins are moving Misi from outside linebacker to middle linebacker. Ellerbe will take Misi’s spot at outside linebacker. This is a more natural spot for Ellerbe, which should enable him to make more big plays this season. Meanwhile, Misi has increased responsibility and must now take over lining up the defense and calling plays. So far Misi has impressed Miami’s coach staff. “We think he has great leadership qualities,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said of Misi. “We think his play has certainly exemplified that over the course of period of time that I’ve been here. He plays football the right way, so we are going to see how we adjust to that position and how he relates to the other players at his position and the defense in general. So far he’s done a nice job.” This is also the second year together for Ellerbe, Wheeler and Misi. That could help in the chemistry department.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Michael Thomas was one of the few feel-good stories during the Miami Dolphins' tumultuous 2013 season.

In Week 15, Thomas was claimed off waivers on a Tuesday and made a game-saving interception off future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady five days later in a 24-20 victory over the rival New England Patriots. The interception garnered national headlines in what turned out to be the final victory for the Dolphins last season.

[+] EnlargeMichael Thomas
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesMichael Thomas made a big early impression with the Dolphins by picking off Tom Brady to preserve a victory over the Patriots last December.
According to Thomas, the attention from that memorable play hasn't ceased.

"I'm really starting to realize how much it meant to everybody in Dolphin Nation," Thomas said after Monday's practice. "I hear it almost daily. I love it, but I want to build from it."

Seven months later, Thomas is out to prove that his late-season heroics were not a fluke. Thomas is aiming to make a lasting impression with the Dolphins during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp.

Thomas arrived in mid-December last year while the Dolphins attempted to make a playoff push. He spent only two-and-a-half weeks with the team and there wasn’t much time to teach Thomas the nuances of Miami's defense that other teammates learned in training camp.

This is Thomas' first offseason with the Dolphins, which has helped him play faster and make more plays in practice.

“Finally, I'm getting a chance to understand the scheme a little better," Thomas explained. "I understand what the coaches want me to do instead of freelancing. Now, I'm playing off technique."

Thomas will enter training camp on the roster bubble, but he likes his chances to make the 53-man roster. Miami’s coaching staff strongly values positional flexibility, which is one of Thomas' strengths. He is competing for roles at safety, nickel cornerback and various spots on special teams.

“He’s having a solid camp so far,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “Again, the more versatility that some of these guys have and can bring to the football team, the better they’re going to be (and) we’re going to be as a football team. Michael is doing a good job in special teams. He’s doing a good job in defense. I’m happy with his development so far.”

Thomas hopes to finds a permanent home with the Dolphins. The second-year player spent his rookie season on the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad before being claimed by Miami last December.

The Dolphins hope they've found a versatile gem in Thomas, who has the potential to help in several areas.

“It’s about the more you can do,” Thomas said. “You think about a guy like Jimmy Wilson, he does everything for the team. That’s why he’s a baller right now. So I’m really trying to tailor my game after him and every other player who is doing a lot of things.”

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