Friday, April 20, 2012
Dolphins are no quick or easy fix
By James Walker
With David Garrard and Matt Moore battling to be the starter, Miami's most glaring need is at QB.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Miami Dolphins fans. But it's probably going to be awhile before your team is a legitimate playoff contender again.
A disastrous offseason has gutted this once-promising team. Now, Miami is in full rebuild mode under rookie head coach Joe Philbin.
Miami is not a quick or easy fix. Here are five reasons why the Dolphins are a long way away from being a contender and probable for another top-10 draft pick in 2013:
Reason No. 1: Dolphins don't have a quarterback
Times are changing in the NFL. It's quickly coming to the point where if you don't have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance.
Miami is going into the season with a quarterback competition between career backup Matt Moore and againg veteran David Garrard, who hasn't played football since 2010. Moore is the favorite coming off a career year in 2011 and was 6-6 as a starter. Garrard, 34, is a wild card after being out of football last season.
Neither player is a great fit for Miami's new West Coast offense. It's a scheme based on precision passing and throwing the ball about 60 percent of the time. Philbin was a former offensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers. If Philbin expects Moore or Garrard to step in and fill the role of Aaron Rodgers next season, the coach is terribly mistaken.
It's hard for Miami to be a viable contender until it figures out its quarterback position. That won't happen next season with Garrard and Moore. Neither is the long-term solution.
Reason No. 2: No offense
Not only does Miami not have a franchise quarterback, it also lacks a supporting cast to put together a successful offense. The Dolphins could have one of the worst offenses on paper.
With a lack of big-play receivers in Miami, opponents will likely target RB Reggie Bush in 2012.
The Dolphins certainly have one of the worst receiver groups. The team traded away Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for a pair of third-round picks, leaving Brian Hartline (35 receptions for 549 yards in 2011) as the No. 1 option. Slot receiver Davone Bess (51 receptions, 537 yards) is projected as the No. 2 receiver, while Legedu Naanee and Clyde Gates compete for playing time. None of these receivers strike fear in the defense to keep opponents from stacking the line against tailback Reggie Bush and the running game.
The right side of Miami's offense line also is a problem. The Dolphins lost their starting right guard (Vernon Carey) and starting right tackle (Marc Colombo) in free agency. With uncertainty at quarterback, below-average receivers and major holes on the right side of the offensive line, Miami's offense is not set up for early success. The draft will help, but Miami can't fill all these needs with rookie players.
Reason No. 3: Shaky ownership, front office
Is it more perception or reality with Miami's leadership? Both have hurt the team.
The perception is the Dolphins have a shaky operation at the top. Owner Stephen Ross has deep pockets but hasn't shown the ability to build a stable, winning franchise. And Ross' trust in embattled general manager Jeff Ireland wasn't a popular decision.
The reality is Ross has the resources and wants to win. But Ross isn't a "football guy," and his unwavering trust in Ireland has caused a ripple effect.
Ireland's track record as a talent evaluator is decent. But he doesn't appear to be well-liked in NFL circles. Several players and former players have bashed Ireland publicly. Even Peyton Manning -- although very politely -- informed the Dolphins he wasn't comfortable with the team's leadership when Miami pursued the quarterback in free agency. Head coach Jeff Fisher also chose the St. Louis Rams over the Dolphins this offseason, in part, because he felt the stability at the top was better in St. Louis.
Winning will help this perception. That will convince top free agents to eventually come to Miami. But that wasn't the case for Ross and Ireland this offseason.
Reason No. 4: Defense is overrated
I like Miami's defense. But for all the hype this group is getting, the Dolphins' defense is fairly overrated.
Miami was ranked No. 15 in total defense in 2011. You would think this was a top-five defense based on the good press it is getting. In reality, it was middle of the pack. More importantly, the Dolphins were ranked 25th against the pass.
Miami still has holes in its secondary. Miami cut its best safety and leading tackler -- Yeremiah Bell -- this offseason. The Dolphins will go with a patchwork group of Reshad Jones, Tyrell Johnson or converted corner Richard Marshall at safety. That means bombs away for opposing quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Matt Schaub and others on Miami's schedule this season. It's going to be tough to win games if you can't pass or stop the pass in today's NFL.
The Dolphins also don't have enough pass-rushers. Outside linebacker Cameron Wake is the biggest threat. Perhaps Miami could find another pass-rusher to go with Wake in this draft. But if the Dolphins can't get to the quarterback and struggle at safety, the defense could be middle of the pack again.
Miami’s defense has its strengths. It is stout against the run, for example, and rarely allows a 100-yard rusher. But contrary to popular belief, the Dolphins aren't dominant enough defensively to win games on just one side of the ball. A sputtering offense will hurt this group.
Reason No. 5: Division rivals are simply better
Miami was 6-10 last season and finished third in the AFC East via the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Buffalo Bills (6-10). But a case can be made that the Dolphins are the only team in the division that took a few steps back this offseason.
As we mentioned, the Dolphins traded their best receiver, cut their leading tackler and failed to find a viable starting quarterback. Add in the fact that the team has an entirely new coaching staff and has to learn a new offense and defense, and you're sure to have growing pains. I doubt this team can better last year's record and finish with seven or more wins.
The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots have the NFL's easiest schedule and are much better than Miami. That's a no-brainer. But the Buffalo Bills, my sleeper pick in 2012, also are much improved, and the New York Jets still have a talented roster. The Dolphins appear headed for fourth place in the division. At best, Miami can finish third if something bad happens this year in New York or Buffalo.
Add up these five reasons, and it's clear Miami is much closer to the bottom of the league than the top. Look for the Dolphins to secure another top-10 draft pick and continue their lengthy rebuilding process into 2013.