Thursday, July 17, 2014
Camp preview: Miami Dolphins
By James Walker
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NFL Nation's James Walker examines the three biggest issues facing the Miami Dolphins heading into training camp.
Bill Lazor's offense: There is a new sheriff in town responsible for adding life into Miami's struggling offense. The Dolphins hired Lazor, a former quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, to take over for Mike Sherman after Miami's offense became stale and predictable last season. Lazor may be the biggest key to getting the Dolphins over the hump. Miami's 27th-ranked offense held the team back during its 8-8 season. Lazor is bringing an up-tempo style and many of the principles he learned from Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Early indications are that Lazor is a demanding coach who expects a lot of his players. Lazor threw a lot at this group in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp and had mixed results. There were mixed protections, dropped balls and overall sloppy play at times, which is expected at this stage. Still, Lazor's scheme is getting rave reviews from Dolphins players on both sides of the football. The key will be for the offensive players to pick up the scheme well enough to have early success. According to Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the entire offensive playbook was installed before training camp. The Dolphins cannot afford to be sloppy and unorganized on offense early in the regular season. They will play a pair of division games in Week 1 and Week 2 against the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, respectively.
Ryan Tannehill: A case can be made that quarterback play is the key to every season in the NFL. But never has the spotlight been brighter on Tannehill. The kid gloves are off and this a crucial third year for the former first-round pick. Is Tannehill a franchise building block or just another average quarterback? He's shown reasons to make a case for both sides. But the Dolphins are standing behind Tannehill for at least one more season to see if he can improve on his 15-17 career record. This year Tannehill must prove he can lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. The wild card is Tannehill is learning a new offense for the first time in his career. He played for Sherman at Texas A&M and the Dolphins, which used the same offense that was built around his skills. It's unknown how Tannehill will respond to playing in a different offense. Tannehill made plays in OTAs and minicamp, but he certainly didn't look dominant. His accuracy was off at times and he didn't make many deep-ball connections, which has been a weakness of his for two years. Tannehill must build on his offseason performances and strive for more consistency in training camp and the preseason.
Linebacker issues: The Dolphins enter training camp without a natural middle linebacker in the starting lineup. Miami addressed a lot of holes this offseason, but the team is going into the season with the same group of linebackers that struggled stopping the run and couldn't defend slot receivers or tight ends with any consistency. The Dolphins believe they've found the answer by moving Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker and swapping Koa Misi to middle linebacker. Miami's coaching staff believes Ellerbe will be free to make more plays outside, while Misi's athleticism will translate better in the middle. Misi has never played middle linebacker in his NFL career or at the University of Utah. This is a risky experiment by the Dolphins at an important position. The middle linebacker is often the quarterback of the defense. Misi will be responsible for making the play calls, lining up players and patrolling the middle of the field. The good news is there is still plenty of time for this group to get in sync during training camp and the preseason. The Dolphins invested a lot of money in their linebackers, so they are sticking with them for at least one more year.