While the Miami Dolphins‘ off-season roster makeover has many fans dreaming of a fast-paced, down field attack, head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman are hoping to identify players who will step up their game inside the 20.
An offensive scheme predicated on precision and timing should see a boost in performance this season, thanks to free agent acquisitions Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, and Dustin Keller. Combined with returning wide out Brian Hartline and the highly anticipated emergence of Lamar Miller in the backfield, Miami’s offense is poised to pick up big yards in a hurry. The nimble, speedy stable of skill players should have no issue carving up defenses in open space, but what happens when they are forced to play small ball in the opponent’s red zone?
Reduced real estate to work with means size and strength become increasingly important. Take a look across the Dolphins’ anticipated week one starters and you’ll quickly realize they lack the superior physical attributes needed to impose their will in close quarters.
Wallace (6’0″, 195), Gibson (6’0″, 207), and Hartline (6′ 2″, 199) are freakishly similar in their dimensions. Both Gibson and Wallace found pay dirt from within the 20 last season, but neither are going to be counted on to out-muscle cornerbacks in a jump ball situation. Look for larger specimens Armon Binns (6’3″, 211) and Jeff Fuller (6’4″, 223) to get added goal line reps this training camp.
At tight end, the 6’2″, 255 pound Keller has certainly made a habit of finding the end zone from close range. In fact, just three of his 17 career touchdown receptions have come from more than 19 yards out. Below him on the depth chart, Philbin and Co. hope they can find added production from the likes of Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller, and rookie Dion Sims. Egnew (6’5″, 262) remains largely a project after a disappointing rookie campaign in 2012 and will be battling the identically sized Miller (6’5″, 262) in camp for the pass-catching role behind Keller. Sims (6’4″, 265), a highly regarded run blocker out of Michigan State, is likely to find his niche in goal-to-go situations and may flourish in coming off of the play-action.
The running game may be best equipped currently, with the luxury of a terrific downhill blocking line at its disposal. But in the area of the field where brute strength is called upon most, Miami may struggle to designate a short-yardage bruiser. Daniel Thomas showed promise last season, powering his 6’1″, 235 pound frame to four red zone touchdowns. Miller may get a shot between the tackles, but his blazing speed will translate into more plays of the stretch and toss variety. Should the combination of Miller and Thomas fall short, coaches will turn to untested ball carriers Mike Gillislee and Jonas Gray.
Dolphins fans and sports media alike are anxious to see quarterback Ryan Tannehill take the field this season with his newly retooled offense. Both can expect exciting football churning out chunk plays with regularity. But as the goalposts get nearer and nearer, neither can be sure just what, or who, to expect.