With LeBron James abdicating his throne, the Miami Dolphins have a chance to reclaim their spot as the team to watch in South Florida this fall.
To do that, though, they will likely have to get back to winning more games than they lose, something they haven’t managed to do the past five years.
There are certainly enough questions regarding this team to keep even the most confident of fans on edge, and there are also plenty of unknowns with a new general manager and a new offensive coordinator.
As the team heads into training camp Thursday, let’s take a deeper look at the Dolphins …
OL Ja’Wuan James (first round, Tennessee): The team’s first-round pick this May spent OTAs and minicamp working as the starting right tackle and shouldn’t face too much competition for that spot during training camp. Some people said the Dolphins reached a little taking James with the 19th overall pick, but if he emerges as a key factor in an effective restructured offensive line, then no one will complain.
WR Jarvis Landry (second, LSU): Landry impressed several of his teammates during the early offseason program, and he will have to continue to thrive in training camp if he’s to move up the depth chart. He has plenty of competition with the likes of Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and perhaps Damian Williams and Armon Binns competing with Landry for playing time. The Bill Lazor offense could suit him to a tee, but only time will tell.
OL Billy Turner (third, North Dakota State): Turner was a monster at the FCS level while playing for perennial powerhouse North Dakota State. Of course, the NFL is a different animal, but Turner will get a great chance to compete for a spot on the offensive line, as only Branden Albert really has a concrete spot sewn up at this point.
CB Walt Aikens (fourth, Liberty): Coming out of Liberty University, Aikens might be considered a small-school kid, but he began his college career at Illinois and has plenty of athletic ability, speed and size. Unfortunately for Aikens, the Dolphins are pretty stacked at CB with the likes of Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, so he’ll have to show plenty in training camp if he wants to see much of the field this season.
TE Arthur Lynch (fifth, Georgia): Lynch was drafted for his blocking abilities, so don’t expect him to steal any snaps from incumbent starter Charles Clay. In fact, Lynch has some work to do in training camp to even make the squad with Michael Egnew, Dion Sims and Kyle Miller all capable of filling the No. 2 role.
LB Jordan Tripp (fifth, Montana): Though the Dolphins aren’t exactly deep with elite talent at linebacker, Tripp might have to earn his roster spot via his work on special teams. He has the sideline-to-sideline speed and instincts to be a viable starting option in the NFL, but his ability to deal effectively with blocks from the size of the linemen he’ll see in the NFL could be a problem.
WR Matt Hazel (sixth, Coastal Carolina): Hazel had a nice four-year career at Coastal Carolina. Problem is, he finds himself way down the depth chart to begin training camp and might need an injury or two to have much chance of making the opening 53-man roster. Stranger things have happened though, so don’t count him out just yet.
DE Terrence Fede (seventh round, Marist): Fede is another rookie at a stacked position and could be more of a project than anything. He has plenty of size and speed (4.76 in the 40), and it will be intriguing to see him work against seasoned veterans once camp begins. The practice squad appears to be the likely landing spot for Fede this season.
GM Dennis Hickey: He wasn’t the team’s first choice, as several candidates turned down the job before Hickey was brought in after 18 years with the Buccaneers. He has some work to do with a franchise that has been to the playoffs only once in the past 12 seasons.
OC Bill Lazor: Unlike with Hickey, the Dolphins got their man with Lazor, who was also being looked at by the Lions. Lazor’s motion-heavy offense could suit many of the Dolphins’ impact players.
KEY FREE-AGENT SIGNEES
OL Branden Albert: The team’s biggest free-agent acquisition, Albert will bring his Pro Bowl talents to Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. With center Mike Pouncey (hip) sidelined, Albert will be flanked by four other new offensive lineman to begin the season, so the pressure is undoubtedly on for him to show the way with his veteran leadership.
DB Louis Delmas: Delmas, who went to high school in North Miami Beach and was signed to a one-year deal, hasn’t managed to stay healthy during his five-year NFL career. If he does keep off the trainer’s table, however, Delmas should find himself starting in Week 1 alongside Reshad Jones.
DB Cortland Finnegan: Finnegan comes to Miami off one of the worst seasons of his career. He played just eight games for the Rams thanks to hamstring and eye injuries, and when he was on the field he wasn’t particularly effective. Finnegan, who signed two-year deal, will have to show something of his former self in training camp in order to keep Taylor or Davis out of the starting lineup.
RB Knowshon Moreno: Moreno was supposed to battle Lamar Miller for the starting job heading into this season, but he showed up to OTAs noticeably out of shape. Then he underwent knee surgery that will result in him likely missing the start of camp. To say Moreno has work to do in order to unseat Miller is an understatement.
OL Shelley Smith: Smith is a solid run blocker who needs some work on his pass blocking skills. The fact he wasn’t a full-time starter in Houston or St. Louis is a little concerning, but Smith can play center and guard, so that helps soften the blow.
GM Jeff Ireland (Seattle Seahawks), DB Chris Clemons (Houston Texans), OL Richie Incognito (unsigned), OL Jonathan Martin (San Francisco 49ers), DT Paul Soliai (Atlanta Falcons)
Bill Lazor takes over as the new offensive coordinator
Lazor has been tasked with getting the most out of a Miami offense that was putrid at times last season. In games when they scored 23 points, the Dolphins were 6-1. Sure, it sounds too simple to say a team will have a better record if it scores more points, but the Dolphins’ defense is good enough for that to be true. Lazor surely learned a lot from watching Chip Kelly’s offense work nicely in Philadelphia last season, and expect his fast-paced, dizzying motion system to have a positive impact on this squad.
The new offensive line can’t be worse than the old one, can it?
The player most excited to see five new big bodies in front of him this season is clearly Tannehill, who was sacked a franchise-record 58 times in 2013. Lazor’s quick-release offense should help that, along with the addition of Albert. However, the other four spots are technically still up for grabs until Pouncey gets back, a fact that won’t exactly instill confidence in the fan base, especially when you consider that two rookies could fill half those spots.
Ryan Tannehill’s progression entering his third season
Tannehill made solid progress from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign, and more will be expected from the 25-year-old entering 2014. Even though he’s learning a new offense, Tannehill won’t be given much leeway because of where he was drafted and how important the quarterback is in today’s NFL. This new system appears to be set up nicely for a guy with Tannehill’s athleticism, but his deep balls need to improve. Hopefully the new line will give him the time and confidence to take the next step.
Koa Misi makes the move inside
Linebacker play was a weak link for the Dolphins last season, and the solution management has come up with is to move starting outside linebacker Koa Misi to the inside spot. Misi has great fundamentals, but does he have the nose for the ball and the leadership skills to thrive as the quarterback of the defense? And will this move weaken the OLB spot, or will Dannell Ellerbe improve with less pressure on him?
A tough start to schedule with so many questions
The opening two divisional games at home against New England and on the road at Buffalo (which beat Miami twice last season) will tell us a ton about what we can expect from this Dolphins team in 2014. Even if the many questions surrounding this squad aren’t all answered by the time Week 3 rolls around, we will surely have a good general idea of how this campaign is going to go.