With camp near, Dolphins have plenty to watch
DAVIE, Fla. — Training camp begins Friday for the Miami Dolphins, a team that started 0-7 last season and finished 6-10, its third consecutive losing season.
Because of that multi-year performance, Miami is now under the guidance of first-year coach Joe Philbin, the former Green Bay offensive coordinator. He brought in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
And they’re bringing new schemes. Miami is switching to an up-tempo, West Coast-style offense, and a 4-3 defense. Now it’s time to put the changes in motion.
Here are five things to watch during the early days of the Dolphins’ training camp, which will be held at the team’s training facility:
5. LT Jake Long and the work-in-progress OL
Long, a four-time Pro Bowl selection during his four-year career, remains among the NFL’s best brick-wall left tackles, no doubt. But he’s coming off an injury-slowed season. A torn biceps ended the year prematurely, but he also battled knee and back problems.
Center Mike Pouncey had a good rookie year, and left guard Richie Incognito returns, too. On the other hand, they formed the basis of a line that allowed 52 sacks, tying a franchise record.
Second-round pick Jonathan Martin, a left tackle at Stanford, will start at right tackle; right guard remains unsettled. If these guys don’t improve quickly, the revamped offense won’t have a chance.
4. Chad (Don’t Call Me Ochocinco) Johnson and the lightly regarded WRs
Chad Johnson, the Miami native, is back, in more ways than one. Johnson, who had a mere 15 receptions for 276 yards and one TD for New England last year, had his name changed on Monday. No more Ochocinco; he brought back Johnson.
Unfortunately, he can’t bring back Clayton and Duper. Miami needs big-time playmaking from its wide receivers.
And among Brian Hartline (35 receptions, 549 yards, 1 touchdown), Davone Bess (51 receptions, 537 yards, 3 TDs), Legedu Naanee (44 receptions, 467 yards, 1 TD), Clyde Gates (two receptions, 19 yards, 0 TDs) and the rest of the crew, there’s no one that you’d expect to fill the role. This is a dire problem.
3. Reggie Bush
Keep an eye on his role in the new West Coast-type offense. Bush was one of the success stories of the disappointing season because he rushed for 1,000 yards for the first time in his career (1,086 yards to be exact) and stayed healthy enough to play in 15 games.
Some think Philbin might prefer to rotate running backs, both because his offense calls for that and to keep Bush healthy.
Watch Bush’s number of plays, his yards per carry (he had a career-best 5.0 last season), and how he’s used (he had 43 receptions for 296 yards last season).
Miami needs Bush to be a baller, but just as importantly, it needs him to be healthy.
2. LB Cam Wake
Wake got his contract extension, now he has to lead by example. Miami’s 4-3 defense needs to generate a pass rush, and Wake is the man who has to provide it.
He had a respectable 8.5 sacks last year after a career-best 14 in 2010. Still, the Dolphins didn’t get enough from Wake last year, and they’ll need even more this year.
They lost a pair of hardened veterans in linebacker Jason Taylor (retirement) and strong safety Yeremiah Bell (free agent/NY Jets). Other veterans return.
There’s defensive tackle Paul Soliai, linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett and cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. But Wake has to assume the top dog role.
1. QB Ryan Tannehill
There’s a good chance Tannehill, the No. 8 pick in the draft, won’t win the starting job. Conventional wisdom says let the kid sit and learn while veteran quarterbacks Matt Moore and David Garrard handle the bulk of the playing time.
However, from what we saw during offseason workouts, the strong-armed Tannehill could push for the starting job. Garrard, who appears capable, missed last season after having neck surgery. Moore might be a bit more formidable. He was voted the team’s MVP after going 6-6 as a starter.
But don’t count out Tannehill. The offensive coordinator, Sherman, was Tannehill’s college coach at Texas A&M, and Miami’s offense is similar to the Aggies’ offense. Early in camp Tannehill will be scrutinized more heavily than Bush, Johnson, or any other player on the roster.
Tannehill is the future. Training camp will determine whether the future arrives this year or next.