The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 7-9. Missed the playoffs.
Which player is under the most pressure?
The Dolphins made a couple of splash moves in free agency, but none more noteworthy than Mike Wallace. Wallace topped the Dolphins wish list from the very first day of free agency and they weren’t shy about it. They recruited him hard and dished out $60 million over five years to sign him.
But here’s the thing. Wallace’s numbers as a true deep threat have been diminishing over the past three seasons and it is hard to imagine them getting better in his first year without Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback. Wallace went from averaging better than 20 yards per catch in 2010 to 16.6 in 2011 and then a low of just 13.1 in 2012. Roethlisberger has a big accurate arm that allows him to throw one of the best deep balls in the game, while Ryan Tannehill was highly erratic last season by completing just 58 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
Wallace can only be as good as the guy throwing him the ball and he went from playing with a top-5 quarterback to one that is still trying to prove himself. And without a ton of other threatening offensive players, defenses will be keying on Wallace, making those game-breaking catches even more difficult to come by.
What is the position battle to watch?
The Dolphins used a 2011 second-round draft pick and a fourth-round selection in 2012 to beef up their running back position. In doing so, they deemed Reggie Bush expendable and sent him packing for Detroit. Now it will be up to Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to slug it out to win the defined starting role in the backfield.
The pair combine for just three career starts but have each gotten a decent amount of carries in secondary roles to Bush. Thomas finished 2012 with 75 more rushing yards than Miller, but Miller’s 4.9 yards per carry was a full 1.3 yard per carry more than Thomas. Additionally, Thomas has had somewhat of a fumbling problem as he has lost three in just 256 career carries.
As it stands now, Miller is slated as the starter but it will still feel like a running back by committee as Thomas will see significant work in short-yardage situations and near the goal line.
What is the team’s biggest obstacle?
Jake Long probably had the worst year of his career last season but he is still a premiere left tackle in the league and they are hard to replace. To do so, they will kick second-year tackle, Jonathan Martin from the right side to the left side.
Martin started all 16 games as a rookie but he wasn’t without he share of criticism and now he will be playing the even more critical position as Tannehill’s blink side protector.
Additionally, the Dolphins signed longtime Falcons tackle Tyson Clabo to play on the right side. Even with Long, this unit gave up 37 sacks last season and that number is sure to rise unless the Dolphins subscribe to rolling the pocket and getting Tannehill outside the hashes and protecting him that way.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
With 15 sacks, Cameron Wake finished the season with the fourth most in the NFL. Additionally, he finished the year second only to J.J. Watt with the most quarterback knockdowns. The Dolphins used the third overall pick on Dion Jordan, a raw but talented pass rusher from Oregon that may draw some attention away from Wake. Combined, the two could become of the better pass rush tandems in the NFL and that is exactly what they need to do to disrupt Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
When you look at all the Dolphins’ offseason moves, most of them were at positions in which they already had a very good player. For example, they bring in Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe but released Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett to do so. They bring in Brent Grimes, but release Sean Smith.
Other than Wallace, who we already discussed, the biggest upgrade was going to be Dustin Keller at tight end. Anthony Fasano hauled in 41 receptions last season but was hardly an intimidating threat up the hashes to draw the safeties inside and open up things along the sidelines.
Keller was going to provide more of a balanced approach as he could get vertical in this offense and force the linebackers into a deeper drop and the safeties to honor the middle of the field. His potentially career ending knee injury will truly hinder this offense and the potential they had to create more big plays.