Dolphins should be more exciting in 2013

Another training camp practice had just ended, and Miami

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill walked toward a lectern to

field the latest round of media queries.

”Is this going to be good?” someone asked as Tannehill

approached a cluster of microphones.

”It’s going to be great,” Tannehill answered with a smile,

emphasizing the last word. ”Real exciting.”

Instead, the interview session was predictably humdrum.

Tannehill and the Dolphins are saving any excitement for the

season.

After four consecutive losing years, the franchise’s longest

such skid since the 1960s, the Dolphins should be more fun to watch

in 2013. They upgraded their unimposing corps of receivers by

acquiring Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, and an already

formidable defensive front seven became faster and younger with the

additions of linebackers Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe and Dion

Jordan, the No. 3 overall draft pick. But an unsettled offensive

line raises questions about the Dolphins’ ability to run and

protect Tannehill, which means they may again have trouble moving

the ball.

Last year Miami lost five games by a touchdown or less, scoring

21 points or less in all of them, en route to a 7-9 finish. A

succession of low-scoring games is again likely in 2013.

Here are five things to watch as the Dolphins try to win the

close ones:

TANNEHILL’S TARGETS: The quarterback threw for 3,294 yards last

year – more than fellow rookies Robert Griffin III or Russell

Wilson – but totaled just 12 touchdown passes, including only three

to wideouts. So Miami upgraded the pass-catching corps by acquiring

Wallace and Gibson to join holdover Brian Hartline. Wallace ranks

among the NFL’s fastest players and totaled 32 touchdown catches in

four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he gives Tannehill the

deep threat he lacked last year when the Dolphins ranked 27th in

total yards. New TE Dustin Keller’s season-ending knee injury

eliminates one important potential pass target, and Miami is now

expected to use a lot of three-wide formations.

TACKLE TO TACKLE IMPROVEMENT? Blocking has been inconsistent the

past several seasons and remains the biggest question mark for

second-year head coach Joe Philbin, who coached the offensive line

as an NFL assistant. Second-year pro Jonathan Martin has moved from

right tackle to left tackle and must prove he’s a worthy

replacement for the departed Jake Long. There’s little depth behind

Martin, and the starting job at right guard went unclaimed during

training camp. Running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas both

started slowly this summer in their competition to replace Reggie

Bush, and Miami might not muster the kind of ground game that would

take pressure off Tannehill.

TAKEAWAYS WANTED: Miami tied for fourth-worst in the NFL in

takeaways last year, and improving that ranking is Philbin’s No. 1

priority. His staff hung footballs from the walls of defensive

meeting rooms so players would become more accustomed to swiping at

them. Three speedy newcomers – Philip Ellerbe, Dannell Wheeler and

top draft pick Dion Jordan – are expected to make the defense more

disruptive. New cornerback Brent Grimes has 13 career interceptions

and won raves in camp for his ball-hawking skills.

DOMINATE DEFENSE UP FRONT: The front seven has the potential to

control the line of scrimmage, with the charge being led by

340-pound nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Cameron Wake,

who has 43 sacks in four NFL seasons. The group is so stout Jordan

will likely see only spot duty in passing situations even when he’s

fully recovered from shoulder surgery last winter.

IS STABILITY A GOOD THING? For the first time in the past three

offseasons, the Dolphins conducted no head-coaching search. The

quarterback situation is also settled for a change, with Tannehill

returning after he became the first Dolphins rookie QB to start all

16 games. And much-maligned Jeff Ireland is back for a sixth season

as general manager. Owner Stephen Ross endorsed all three and said

the emphasis is on long-term success for a franchise that hasn’t

won a postseason game since 2000. ”We certainly want to make the

playoffs,” Ross said. ”But I want to see growth in the team in

building the foundation for this season and future seasons. I don’t

want to be a one-shot wonder.”

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