NFL Nation: Mike Sherman

Offensive malaise continues for Miami

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
9:21
PM ET
video

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- There was a lot of hype and hoopla surrounding the Miami Dolphins' new-look offense this offseason.

First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who came from the Chip Kelly school of offense, was expected to bring an innovative style to Miami that was up-tempo and able to quickly put points on the board. Even Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said in training camp that he viewed 25 points per game -- or 400 points in a season -- as a successful bar for his team.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeProtecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was again an issue for Miami in Sunday's loss to the Chiefs.
But after three games, the Dolphins’ new offense is mostly firing blanks. As a result, Miami (1-2) suffered a 34-15 blowout loss at home to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs (1-2).

The Dolphins have averaged just 12.5 points per game in the past two weeks. The "new look" is showing some of the same old mistakes that were made previously under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

Many people in Miami have their jobs on the line this season, and the Dolphins can't win many games with the offense unable to consistently move the football.

Why is the offense struggling? There are myriad reasons. Here are a few worth noting:

  • Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is not making the proper strides in Year 3. Lazor is asking a lot of Tannehill, and so far he’s proving to be unable to carry the team. Tannehill currently has a career-low completion percentage of 56.5 percent in three games. His passer rating of 74.1 also is a career low. The Dolphins can only go as far as Tannehill can lead them, and so far it’s not looking promising. "It's still early in the season, so I have confidence that we can get this thing turned around," Tannehill said. "But it has to happen now. I said that last week and we didn't get it done."
  • There have been questionable play calling by Lazor and poor clock management by Philbin. On Sunday, the Dolphins called passes on second-and-1 and third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, which resulted in an incomplete deep pass to Mike Wallace and a quarterback sack. Miami had the running game going -- Lamar Miller rushed for 108 yards -- and went away from it at a curious time. The game went downhill from there.
  • The offense has been unable to sustain scoring drives. The Dolphins' longest touchdown drive was for 19 yards, which followed a Chiefs turnover. In fact, 12 of Miami's 15 points were set up by the defense and special teams. Defensive tackle Jared Odrick forced a fumble on Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith to set up a short touchdown. Miami's defense also got a safety and rookie Jarvis Landry returned a kick 75 yards to set up a field goal.
  • The Dolphins had three drops in the first quarter, which killed any momentum in the first half.
  • Pass protection, which was the offense's biggest issue last season, remains a problem. The Dolphins allowed four quarterback sacks for the second week in a row. Tannehill has been sacked nine times in three games.

There are no easy fixes. Leaks are springing up in various areas and Philbin said "everything" is on the table in terms of making improvements.

The good news is Miami will play another winless team, the Oakland Raiders. The game will be played in London, where the Dolphins hope to find their identity.

"We have to determine what we're going to do," Philbin said. "We have to go back to work. We gotta go across the Atlantic Ocean and we have to play better."

Camp preview: Miami Dolphins

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The 2014 organized team activities (OTAs) are coming to a conclusion this week for the Miami Dolphins. There will be mandatory minicamp next week. Then, the Dolphins will take more than a month off before training camp.

ESPN.com’s Dolphins page has attended every OTA open to the media. Here are some takeaways from the past three weeks:
  • Thomas
    The surprise player from spring practices has been second-year offensive lineman Dallas Thomas. The former third-round pick didn’t contribute anything during his rookie season. Not much was expected of Thomas, especially after the Dolphins drafted a similar player in 2014 third-round pick Billy Turner. But Thomas showed up for offseason workouts in good shape and is flashing good athleticism. He’s done enough to earn the inside track on the starting left guard position next to Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. Thomas’ next task is to hold off Turner when the pads come on in training camp and the preseason.
  • Speaking of Turner, early impressions are he still has a lot to learn. Turner played left tackle last season at North Dakota State and is still working on improving leverage. From what I’ve seen, Turner still stands a little high at times and looks like a left tackle playing guard. Turner also needs to work on his punch. These are things that should improve with experience. But Turner is running out of time if he wants to be a Week 1 starter.
  • Thigpen
    The more practices that go by, the more I think Dolphins return specialist Marcus Thigpen won’t make the 53-man roster. Thigpen has been Miami’s primary kick returner the past two seasons. But with rule changes and less emphasis on kick returns, Thigpen’s value has decreased and he doesn’t offer much in other areas. The Dolphins have moved Thigpen from running back to wide receiver this offseason, but Thigpen isn’t making plays. If Miami can find a decent alternative to return kicks this preseason, Thigpen could be on the outs. Other possibilities include receivers Damian Williams and rookie Jarvis Landry.
  • Bill Lazor’s new offense is getting rave reviews in Miami. Many of the concepts the Dolphins’ first-year offensive coordinator is implementing make sense and are an improvement over last season’s offense under Mike Sherman. But one thing I noticed that could be risky is the amount of pressure Lazor’s scheme puts on the offensive line. There are a multitude of passing plays that involves four and five options. More eligible receivers mean less protection for the quarterback. Lazor is relying on his quarterback to make quick reads and get rid of the football, which is an area Ryan Tannehill must improve.
  • Finnegan
    Cortland Finnegan is starting to establish his role on the defense. He currently has the inside track to start at cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes. But Finnegan also is getting a look inside as the nickel cornerback on obvious passing downs. Finnegan is a physical cornerback, and the Dolphins believe those traits can help get the defense off the field on third down. Other possibilities for the nickel corner include versatile defensive backs Jimmy Wilson and Michael Thomas.

The Dolphins will wrap up their offseason program with mandatory minicamp June 17-19.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins ran a stale and predictable offense last season under former coordinator Mike Sherman. Miami finished 27th in total offense and was inconsistent running and passing the football.

Hartline
Wallace
Wallace
But there is a significant amount of newfound excitement with Dolphins players under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Miami’s offense has a completely different look. There are various formations, motions and quick-hitting plays that you didn’t see last year from Sherman. Lazor learned under Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and is bringing some of those principles to Miami.

We are only in Phase 3 of the Dolphins’ offseason program, but Lazor is getting rave reviews from his players.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve never been in an offense like this, how it’s called, how it’s run, the combination routes,” Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said. “There’s a lot of things going on that I haven’t done. It’s really exciting and actually, I’m really enjoying it. You can tell it puts a smile on my face. I can’t wait to learn more, do more and then put it into action.”

One of the major criticisms last year of Sherman was the fact he didn’t move No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace around to get favorable matchups. That’s one of the first changes we’ve seen from Lazor, using Wallace on both sides and the slot depending on the formation. Wallace has looked good in organized team activities. He had three touchdown receptions in Tuesday’s practice in Lazor’s new scheme.

“Nobody can ever key on me,” Wallace explained after Tuesday’s practice. “Last year, you kind of knew where I was every single play, what you had to do because I was there every game, same spot. Moving around, it’s harder for the defense to know where you’re at, harder for them to adjust.”

Lazor is still experimenting and learning his players. For example, one interesting wrinkle the Dolphins are toying with is how to use tailbacks Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno in the same backfield.

Not everything is going to stick come September. But Dolphins players seem to appreciate the creativity. That is a good sign at this early stage.
DAVIE, Fla. -- New Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor did wonders with the Philadelphia Eagles last season. As Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach, Lazor helped develop Nick Foles from a previously unknown quarterback into a Pro Bowler in Foles' second season.

So is it also safe to assume Lazor will easily take Miami third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill's game to the next level in 2014? Not so fast, according to Lazor.

[+] EnlargeBill Lazor
AP Photo/Steve NesiusBill Lazor helped guide Nick Foles to a Pro Bowl season in 2013. Can he do the same with Ryan Tannehill?
“If it was one key, it would be easy and we could bottle it and sell it, right?” Lazor explained. “Each guy is different. I think that is important.”

Lazor is one of the Dolphins’ most important additions and aims to jump-start the offense. Miami finished No. 27 in total offense and became predictable under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. It also stunted the growth of Tannehill, who was a first-round pick in 2012.

After his work with Foles last season, Lazor is starting to develop a reputation of a quarterback guru. That reputation will only increase if Lazor is able to also get Tannehill over the hump. Miami’s starting quarterback is just 15-17 as a starter entering a crucial third season.

The early impression is that Lazor is a demanding coach. He is detailed and already has a clear expectation of the offense and starting quarterback.

“I want to see the ball coming out on time, letting his football tell him when it’s time to throw it, and I want to see that he trusted us that this is how it all fits together,” Lazor said of Tannehill. "The quarterback has got to play at game speed every day in practice. The receivers will catch up to him."

Miami cannot afford to have inconsistent quarterback play this season. This is a big year for many in the organization. The Dolphins have not been to the playoffs since 2008, and the easiest way to end that drought is for Tannehill to develop into a franchise quarterback.

This week’s start to organized team activities proved there is still work to be done. Miami's offense made various mistakes and looked well behind the defense, which has played in the same scheme for the past three seasons.

“There’s still a learning curve. It’s not going to come overnight,” Tannehill said this week. “It’s going to take some time, not just for me but for all of our guys.”

The question Dolphins observers in South Florida want to know is how long it will take Miami’s new offense to click. Will it be in training camp? During the preseason? Or will the Dolphins take a steep learning curve into the regular season where the offensive can potentially cost them games that matter?

“How long it takes is a work in progress. It’s day-to-day,” Lazor said. “What we did today isn’t going to be good enough tomorrow. We made that clear to the players afterward. They’ve got to get better, and there is no ending point.”

The Dolphins are hoping Lazor and Tannehill can be a power pair this season. Much of Miami's success this year is riding on it.
Ted ThompsonAP Photo/Mike RoemerUnder the direction of general manager Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers have maintained stability in the front office.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A month ago, Ted Thompson looked –- and sounded –- worn out.

In his annual pre-draft session with reporters, his speech was slower and more deliberate than usual, prompting whispers about his health and questions about how much longer he might continue as the Green Bay Packers' general manager.

Even Bob Harlan, the former Packers president and the man who hired Thompson in 2005, noticed a difference.

"I did see him on TV a couple of times where he seemed down, and I don't know if it was just exhaustion from the preparation for [the draft] and all the travel that he goes through because he just grinds all the time," Harlan said. "He's either in that room looking at video, or he's on the road."

At age 61, could Thompson have been showing signs that he was nearing the end of a successful run as general manager that has included one Super Bowl title?

Those close to him did not think so at the time, even when Thompson was forced to miss the NFL annual meetings in March because of an undisclosed personal matter. And they do not think so now, especially after he appeared energized following the draft.

So when Thompson joked a week after the draft that he’s "just getting started," the Packers should hope there is more than just a shred of truth to his typically dry humor.

In many ways, Thompson is the key to keeping the Packers' successful leadership team intact.

Consider what happened when Thompson's mentor, Ron Wolf, retired in 2001: The Packers had a coach in Mike Sherman they wanted to keep. Harlan feared that if he went outside for a general manager, he might lose Sherman, so he added the GM role to Sherman's responsibilities. Four years later, it had become apparent it was too much for him, prompting Harlan to bring back Thompson, who had followed Mike Holmgren to Seattle and was the Seahawks' director of player personnel. Thompson and Sherman worked together for one season before Thompson fired him and hired coach Mike McCarthy.

All the while, some of quarterback Brett Favre's prime years passed without even reaching another NFC Championship Game during Sherman's tenure (2000-05).

It's not unreasonable to think the same problems could befall McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers if Thompson were to walk away anytime soon.

"That poses a problem; there's no doubt about it," Harlan said. "I guess because I saw it happen twice –- when Ron came in and Lindy [Infante] was here [as the coach] and with Ted, who tried very hard to make it work with Mike Sherman –- I know it can go downhill in a hurry. It is very difficult if the general manager cannot select his own coach."

No doubt, that's why current Packers president Mark Murphy indicated earlier this month that before any contract extension will be done for McCarthy, Thompson’s situation will be taken care of first.

Like McCarthy, Thompson has two more years left on a contract he signed after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. Thompson would not say how much longer he intends to work but added that he "wouldn't anticipate doing anything different."

When Harlan hired Thompson, he received no assurances of how long Thompson would stay on in the role, but Harlan considered Thompson -- who has never been married and does not have children – to be all football, all the time.

"I had watched him for all of those years when he was working for Ron in Green Bay, and his life was just football then as I'm sure it was in Seattle, too," Harlan said. "Ron was 53 when I hired him [in 1991], and I was shocked when he wanted to leave so early, but I understood. Frankly, what I was trying to do was make the move on Ted before it was time for me to go so that I could be sure football was good hands."

And Harlan's last major act as president did just that. Of the 53 players on the Packers’ roster for Super Bowl XLV, 49 of them were acquired by Thompson, whose draft-and-develop philosophy has kept the Packers competitive on an annual basis.

If Murphy has a succession plan in mind for the GM job, he has not shared it. Perhaps he could try to lure former Packers scouts-turned-general managers John Schneider or John Dorsey back to town, but it might be tough to get Schneider out of Seattle or Dorsey out of Kansas City, where both have strong support from their owners.

It's possible he could maintain continuity by promoting vice president of player finance Russ Ball or one of Thompson's chief scouts –- Brian Gutekunst, Alonzo Highsmith or Eliot Wolf.

Some believe Murphy might hire a search firm -– as he has done with several other key front-office positions -– to identify candidates.

Or maybe, if the Packers are fortunate, Thompson will keep going strong.

One person close to him said recently that he does not see Thompson leaving anytime soon, unless the Packers win another Super Bowl, and that all the recent talk about him retiring "got him going."

When told of that, Harlan said, "I would think he'd at least go to 65, and then I think probably what he's going to do is become an area scout. He told me a long time ago that someday he might just go back to Texas and just be an area scout.

"Maybe he'd do it for the Packers. I would be surprised if he didn't work until at least 65. His health is good, and this is everything for him."
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins' new offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor was all over the place during the team’s start of organized team activities Tuesday.

There were a few dropped passes, poor timing and some badly thrown balls by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Dolphins veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan took advantage on one play to pick off Tannehill towards the end of practice to cap off a shaky day for the offense.

The practice essentially looked like a defense that has been in the same system for three seasons facing an offense still learning the playbook for the first time.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDolphins QB Ryan Tannehill is learning a new scheme as he enters a pivotal season in his development.
“Just walking off the field -- I haven’t had a chance to see a lot of the video yet -- but I think some of the basic things that need to get corrected,” a candid Lazor said. “Number one would be communication offensively. If we are not all on the same page, we’ve got a very low chance of being successful. Some of the times you saw some mistakes where we saw mistakes, we weren’t together.”

Similar to the offense, it also was a shaky start to OTAs for Tannehill. He enters a huge season -- the third-year quarterback must prove he is the long-term solution. Tannehill, a former first-round pick, is 15-17 in two non-playoff seasons.

But here is the wildcard: Tannehill is learning a new offense for the first time in his NFL career. Will it be a smooth transition or will Tannehill have a steep learning curve? No one knows for sure.

Tannehill had run the same offensive system under former Dolphins offensive coordinator and Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman since college. Sherman recruited Tannehill out of the high school and tailored the offense at the college and pro levels around Tannehill's abilities. That helped Tannehill become a starter right away during his rookie year in Miami. He has gone on to make 32 consecutive starts for the Dolphins.

But Lazor was hired to take Tannehill's game to the next level. Lazor comes to Miami with his own ideas of how to run an offense. Some early and noticeable differences are the multiple formations, up-tempo style and many quick-hitting plays.

Lazor coached with the Philadelphia Eagles last season under Chip Kelly and is bringing many of those principles to Miami. It will be up to Tannehill to make a quick adjustment for Miami’s offense to take flight.

“There’s still a learning curve. It’s not going to come overnight,” Tannehill said. “It’s going to take some time, not just for me but for all of our guys. The receivers are running routes that they haven’t run before doing adjustments that we haven’t done before, so there’s going to be a learning curve, but that’s what this time is for.”

It’s too early to be concerned about one questionable practice from Tannehill. There certainly will be some growing pains, especially in the spring. But Tannehill must start to show more consistency in Miami’s new offense.

The Dolphins cannot afford a slow start offensively in what is a very important year for many in the organization. Miami will have three tough tests right off the bat against the New England Patriots (Week 1), Buffalo Bills (Week 2) and Kansas City Chiefs (Week 3). The Patriots and Chiefs are playoff teams from last season, and Buffalo swept Miami last season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can't accuse Ted Thompson of failing to give his quarterback enough weapons.

When he selected Fresno State receiver Davante Adams in Friday's second round at No. 53 overall, it was the sixth time in his career the Green Bay Packers general manager has drafted a receiver in the third round or higher.

No wonder quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted the following moments after Thompson made the pick:

 
Thompson, in his 10th year running the Packers' draft room, has a history of drafting -- and drafting well -- receivers in the second and third rounds. He found Randall Cobb (2011), Jordy Nelson (2008) and Greg Jennings (2006) in the second round. He also took Terrence Murphy in Round 2 in 2005, but Murphy's career was cut short months into his rookie year due to a neck injury. And he found James Jones, the receiver Adams perhaps best resembles, in the third round in 2007.

When asked about his success with receivers in the second round, Thompson knocked on the wood podium where he stood to address reporters Friday.

"Athletically, they're similar in some respects and different in others," Thompson said. "Again, if you get back to it, their ball skills are all remarkable. Jordy and Randall and, like you said, Greg and those guys. And that's the first and foremost thing we look for. If I was going to get stuck on one thing it would be that. And they're good people. All those guys that you mentioned are good people and good teammates, and that’s what this kid's supposed to be too."

In the 12 years before Thompson was hired as general manager, the Packers' previous two general managers (Ron Wolf and Mike Sherman) drafted only five receivers in the third round or higher. One of them, however, was first-round pick Javon Walker (2002).

One of Wolf's greatest regrets was not drafting more help for Brett Favre.

Thompson, who learned his craft under Wolf, has not simply relied on his standout quarterback to make his receivers better.

Adams caught 131 passes -- the most in the FBS last season -- as a redshirt sophomore and had 24 receiving touchdowns with fellow second-round pick Derek Carr as his quarterback. Adams ranked second in the country in yards after the catch with 888.

Adams was the ninth receiver taken in a year when a record 12 went in the first two rounds. Thompson took him instead of Indiana's Cody Latimer, among others. Latimer went three picks later to the Denver Broncos.

"I guess they say it's one of the deepest classes since the draft has been in existence," Adams said. "It's great to be a part of it. There's definitely guys who have gone that are great players and there are guys that are continuing to go now that are great players. So we'll see as everything unfolds how everything ends up. But it's definitely a very deep class with a lot of talent."
MIAMI -- It's never a good sign when a coach has to fire key members of his staff. That is the situation Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is facing after firing embattled offensive coordinator Mike Sherman on Monday.

This much is clear: This was a move Philbin did not want to make. Sherman is a very good friend and mentor of Philbin's. Just last week, Philbin went to bat for Sherman during his season-ending news conference.

"I have a lot of confidence in our staff, our offensive staff with Mike Sherman," Philbin said. "He's an excellent football coach, and that’s what I think."

But the NFL is a production business and Sherman did not produce. Miami's offense in 2013 was ranked 27th in the NFL and 26th in scoring at 19.8 points per game. Sherman often was too predictable and not balanced. The Dolphins abandoned the run quickly, and scoring seven total points in the final two games didn't help his case.

There was no way Philbin could defend Sherman to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who visited the facility last week and demanded answers. Someone had to take the fall for Miami's fifth straight non-winning season. Sherman was that person, although it probably was very tough for Philbin to carry out the owner's demands.

This also is a strong warning shot that 2014 could be a make-or-break year for Philbin. He is 15-17 in two seasons in Miami with zero playoff appearances. He's also an offensive coach with a bad offense. This must be fixed if Philbin is to last beyond next season.

The search for a new offensive coordinator officially is underway in Miami. This will be one of the most important decisions Philbin makes for his long-term security.

There are no more excuses offensively with Sherman out of the picture. Miami must score more points in 2014 and further develop quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If Philbin and Miami's next offensive coordinator cannot get those two things done, Philbin's job will be in jeopardy.

Miami Dolphins season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
2:00
PM ET

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 18
Preseason Power Ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: Tight end Charles Clay was not expected to be a starter when training camp began. The Dolphins signed proven tight end Dustin Keller in free agency and had big plans for the former New York Jets veteran. In contrast, Clay started in a backup/hybrid role at tight end and fullback. But Keller's season-ending knee injury in the preseason opened the door for Clay to take over the starting job at tight end. He immediately flourished and became one of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill's most reliable weapons. Clay set new career highs this season with 69 receptions for 759 yards and seven total touchdowns. Clay will enter next season as the unquestioned full-time starter.

Biggest disappointment: This category is two-fold, because you can't separate one linebacker from the other. Miami spent a combined $61 million on free agents Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. The goal was to get younger and faster at linebacker and, as a result, the Dolphins cut older veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. But Wheeler and Ellerbe didn't provide the immediate upgrade the Dolphins expected. Both struggled in coverage and against the run this season while learning a new defense. Still, both players recorded more than 100 tackles and should be better in their second year together in Miami's system.

Biggest need: Without a doubt, expect a huge makeover on Miami's offensive line in 2014. The Dolphins set a new franchise record with 58 quarterback sacks allowed and were 26th in rushing. Lackluster offensive-line play was the main culprit in both instances. Miami has four pending free agents with starting experience. Tackles Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie, as well as guards John Jerry and the suspended Richie Incognito are all unrestricted free agents in March. Most, if not all, are not expected to return. In the wake of the bullying scandal, Jonathan Martin could become the fifth starter who won't return. This provides a perfect opportunity for the Dolphins to have a major overhaul on the offensive line by using resources in the draft and free agency.

Team MVP: The Dolphins took somewhat of a flier on cornerback Brent Grimes this past offseason. Grimes was coming off a season-ending Achilles injury with the Atlanta Falcons in 2012. Miami signed him to a one-year contract in order to see how he would bounce back and if he could play a full season. Not only did Grimes play all 16 games, he was Miami's best and most consistent defensive player. Grimes tied for the team lead with four interceptions and made his second Pro Bowl. Grimes said he believes he played the best football of his career this season. Grimes, a pending free agent, will be a huge priority in the offseason.

Ryan Tannehill AP Photo/Alan DiazRyan Tannehill and the Dolphins ended the season with two straight losses and out of the playoffs.
MIAMI -- More than 70,000 fans at Sun Life Stadium expected a football celebration Sunday. The Miami Dolphins were a win away from their first playoff bid since 2008, and all that stood in their way were the inconsistent New York Jets.

Instead, the festive mood eventually changed to heartbreak for Dolphins fans. Miami lost a must-win game, 20-7, to New York to end the Dolphins’ playoff hopes. It was the second straight loss and hapless effort to end Miami's season with an 8-8 record.

“I look at this as a losing season,” disappointed Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “We did too much, we wake up too early [and] work too hard to be 8-8. We have too much talent to be 8-8.”

The Dolphins’ sudden collapse raises many questions about where they go from here and what changes need to be made in the offseason.

Do the Dolphins get rid of general manager in Jeff Ireland? He put this team together last offseason with more than $100 million in guaranteed contracts.

Is Joe Philbin the right head coach? Philbin is 15-17 in two seasons in Miami.

Do the Dolphins have the right assistants? Particularly offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who led Miami to only seven points in the final eight quarters of the season?

“It’s not my job. That’s the coach’s job,” Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said of evaluating the team’s future. “I have to show up every day and work harder, and we all do.

"Something’s got to change where we got to get over this hump. Someway, somehow we have to make it work.”

Changes could -- and should -- be coming in Miami. The only question is how many?

[+] EnlargeJoe Philbin
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyJoe Philbin, who is 15-17 in two seasons with Miami, is confident he can reverse the team's fortunes.
Someone will take the fall following the Dolphins’ fifth consecutive non-winning season. There certainly will be player changes in the offseason. The Dolphins can start by making upgrades to their offensive line, for example.

Sherman and Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner also cannot feel secure about their coaching futures. Miami’s offense underperformed all year, and Sherman’s play-calling and Turner’s position group are the primary reasons.

Philbin and Ireland will be tougher decisions that will go to the top with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Many Dolphins fans will want at least one gone, but Ross has gone against the popular decision before.

Expect Ross to look at the entire body of work and not just the final two games.

Miami’s 2013 season included many highs and lows. The two lowest points were this two-game losing streak to close out the year and the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal.

“It wasn’t dull, I can tell you that,” Miami Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake said of the season. “But 8-8, that’s average. I don’t look around this locker room and see average. I see above-average talent. I see exceptional talent.”

The most puzzling part of the Dolphins’ performances the past two weeks against the Jets and Buffalo Bills was the way they lost. Miami was embarrassed in back-to-back weeks against AFC East rivals and was outscored 39-7. The Dolphins looked flat, were ill-prepared and showed little intensity in both meetings.

The Jets and Bills had nothing to play for. But it appeared the roles were reversed in the final two games.

“I really can’t explain it. We played two bad games in a row,” Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said. “That’s all you can say about it. ... It’s just disappointing. We had a chance to go to the playoffs and we messed up. We blew two games and we've got to live with that.”

The Dolphins didn't play well in any phase of the game. The offense scored one second-quarter touchdown, and the defense allowed 374 yards, which included 154 yards on the ground.

The Dolphins had a reputation for being a tough and resilient team. But that toughness faded in the past two weeks.

“You've got to take this feeling and let it really brand you here and leave a mark on you inside,” Odrick said. “It’s got to brand you hard enough to where you don’t let it happen again.”

Former Dolphins coach and Hall of Famer Don Shula offered a strong endorsement for Philbin before the game. Despite a roller-coaster season and a highly publicized bullying scandal, the Dolphins were in position to make their first playoff appearance since 2008. Philbin received much of the credit.

“I think that he’s the right man for the job,” Shula said.

Shula’s endorsement should carry weight with Ross when he meets with his inner circle to determine the future direction of the Dolphins. However, Philbin wasn’t in the mood to discuss the big picture Sunday evening.

“There will be a time and a place to assess the entire season, at the appropriate time,” Philbin said.

The time to assess the Dolphins begins Monday. Miami’s 2013 season is in the books, and it showed there are some pieces in place, but clearly not enough to be a playoff team.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
4:02
PM ET

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 20-7 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday.

What it means: This can be classified only as a choke job for Miami. The Dolphins controlled their own playoff destiny two weeks ago. But ugly back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and Jets on Sunday knocked Miami out of playoff contention and led to an 8-8 finish. The Dolphins' roller-coaster season ends with some highs and plenty of lows. But losing two straight to miss the playoffs is definitely a disappointing finish for this group.

Stock watch: In terms of stock down, Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman put together another poor game plan that failed to put points on the board. The Dolphins have scored just seven points in the past eight quarters. Miami cornerback Nolan Carroll also struggled. New York rookie quarterback Geno Smith went after Carroll on several plays. Carroll allowed a pair of big catches to David Nelson for 31 and 24 yards in the first half alone that led to points.

There weren't many Dolphins candidates for stock up. Miami running back Lamar Miller had some decent runs and finished with 73 yards on 17 carries.

Hartline injured: The Dolphins suffered a key injury in the first quarter. Leading receiver Brian Hartline reinjured his knee in the first quarter and didn't return to the game. Hartline had two receptions for 38 yards and became the fifth receiver in Dolphins history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

What's next: It's time for the offseason in Miami. There will be plenty of questions with personnel, assistants on the coaching staff and perhaps the front office after a poor finish and another nonwinning season. The Dolphins also will await Ted Wells and the NFL's investigation on the bullying scandal involving Dolphins teammates Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.

Dolphins' offense hitting its stride

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
11:00
AM ET
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins' offense finally had the performance fans have been waiting for all season. The biggest irony is it came Sunday on the road, in snowy conditions, against a proud Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

The Dolphins' 34-28 victory at Heinz Field -- the most points they have scored this season -- essentially eliminated Pittsburgh (5-8) from playoff contention while simultaneously putting them in firm standing for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

The Dolphins (7-6) reached the 30-point plateau for the first time this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Miami’s red zone offense, which has been an issue, had a season-high four touchdowns in six trips (67 percent) Sunday.

Miami’s offense got its biggest boosts against Pittsburgh from a pair of unlikely sources -- running back Daniel Thomas and tight end Charles Clay, who combined for three touchdowns. Both were backups entering training camp.

Thomas filled in admirably for the injured Lamar Miller, who suffered a concussion in the third quarter. Thomas rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. His 55-yard run in the fourth quarter set up Clay’s game-winning touchdown. Clay led the game with seven receptions for 97 yards and two scores.


“They made plays,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “They were basic plays that we’ve run a bunch. The outside zone play that Daniel hit [for 55 yards], we’ve had that play in for two years.”

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was particularly complimentary of Clay, who is second on the team with 60 receptions.

“As long as he continues to have an attitude to get better and listen to his coach -- [tight ends coach] Dan Campbell does a phenomenal job with him -- he’ll keep getting better,” Sherman said. “He’ll have a chance to be real special, I believe.”

Miami’s offense started to get going in Week 13 against the New York Jets. The Dolphins took the momentum of that 23-3 victory and carried it into Pittsburgh for their best offensive performance of the season.

The Dolphins will host the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (10-3) on Sunday.

“We have a do-or-die mentality,” Thomas said. “We need to keep doing that next week.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins have been reluctant to provide a heavy workload to starting running back Lamar Miller. There have been reasons (excuses?) such as durability concerns and sharing with Daniel Thomas that severely limited Miller's carries. But Thomas' significant ankle injury forced a shift last week in Miami's thinking.

[+] EnlargeLamar Miller
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Lamar Miller reaches for the pylon in mid-air during the first quarter of the Dolphins-New York Jets game at MetLife Stadium.
The Dolphins' coaching staff gave Miller a career-high 22 carries in Sunday's 23-3 victory over the New York Jets. Miller held his own against the NFL's No. 1 run defense with 72 yards, which included his longest run of 17 yards. He also helped grind out the clock in the fourth quarter to preserve the win for Miami (6-6), which remains in postseason contention.

Miller's yards per carry (3.3) were not impressive. But Miller showed he could be a workhorse against one of the most physical defenses in the league.

"I'm delighted," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said during his Monday news conference. "I thought [offensive coordinator] Mike [Sherman] did a great job sticking with the run. ...I thought [Miller] did a nice job. I thought his reads were good and he stayed on course pretty well. The thing we're looking for with all our backs is the ability to break more tackles and have more explosive runs."

The Dolphins were as close to a one-tailback system than they've been all year against New York. Miller received more carries Sunday against the Jets (22) than he received the previous three games combined (21). Miami rookie Mike Gillislee was second on the team with six carries.

Sunday's game was perhaps a peek into where Miami is heading offensively the rest of the year. Thomas is expected to miss a few more games and possibly the rest of the season. That leaves a bulk of the responsibility on Miller to carry the load during Miami's important playoff push. He leads the team with 547 rushing yards this season.

"With Daniel being out, he was told by me and his coach, Jeff Nixon, that he would carry the bulk of the load and, therefore, he was able to do that," Sherman said. "Most backs will tell you the more carries, the more effective, and I would tend to agree. They get a better feel for the game, a better feel for the cuts."

Midseason Report: Miami Dolphins

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
9:00
AM ET

The Miami Dolphins (4-4) enter the midpoint of their season as a .500 team. There have been plenty of ups and downs in the first eight games.

Here is a look back at Miami’s first-half grades:

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Roster Advisor

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 12/18
Saturday, 12/20
Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22
WEEKLY LEADERS