You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. It’s too early in the process to know if a team has improved or regressed. The season hasn’t started and the first game of the 2014 league year is still four days away. For the Dolphins it’s seven days away. Enjoy your last day away from Sunday football today for at least four and a half months. We won’t know how much better this team is until the season is over, well at least underway. Regardless here is a look unit to unit where on paper the 2014 Miami Dolphins have indeed improved.
Nothing really changed here. Matt Moore is still the back-up and Ryan Tannehill is the starter. A lot of this seasons success will hinge on whether or not Tannehill stays healthy and off his back. The position should improve this season but not as a result of Tannehill or Martin but the surrounding elements that are in place to make them better.
Running Back: Improved
Knowshon Moreno is an improvement over everyone on the Dolphins running back roster over last year. He has to stay healthy however. Lamar Miller has looked sharp in pre-season and the push from Moreno is making him better as well. The Dolphins RB’s last season were none to inspiring. Daniel Thomas is gone and should have been gone last year, Mike Gillislee has potential but we haven’t seen it consistently and now he is on the IR but this year an un-drafted rookie may make an considerable impact on the roster. Damien Williams has looked good and could be part of the game day roster returning kicks. Moreno is the key though. His ability to catch out of the back-field will help the Dolphins and should improve the play of Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins didn’t make a move at the top of the position where Charles Clay is the starter and it didm’t make a move to replace Dion Sims as the number two but they did eliminate dead weight that has been keeping the tight ends from progressing. Dion Sims has been splitting reps and time with Michael Egnew but Egnew was released and Sims will play a much larger role this year. In addition un-drafted tight end Gator Hoskins has made the initial 53 and could have a red-zone impact early.
Last season the Dolphins carried four WR’s into the season and then lost Brandon Gibson for the year. The injury gave Rishard Matthews more playing time but the unit still lacked power. Not this year. On paper the Dolphins boast one of the richest wide-receiver groups in the NFL. Mike Wallace has a different attitude and expectations over his initial season with the Dolphins in 2013, Brian Hartline is healthy, Brandon Gibson is healthy, Rishard Matthews made a big showing in pre-season, and the addition of Jarvis Landry to the roster improves the teams future potential.
Offensive line: Improved.
Really? I shouldn’t even need to explain the difference between this year and last. Daryn College has improved the left guard position over Richie Incognito last year while Branden Albert would be considered an improvement over Jake Long from two seasons ago. Should he stay healthy all season. Jonathan Martin has been gone for awhile now and rookie Ja’Wuan James looks to improve the roster on the right side where Tyson Clabo had an up and down season. The team didn’t really improve at center but the addition of Samson Satele should hold up until Mike Pouncey returns. Dallas Thomas has stepped up as well taking control of the right guard position.
Defensive line: Push
I know this should be an improvement as well but a lot is going to rest on the shoulders of new DT Earl Mitchell. With Paul Soliai gone Mitchell is tasked with replacing him. Is he an improvement? That’s hard to say just yet but while Soliai was very good he wasn’t deemed irreplaceable. The front line should be an improvement but I’m a little hesitant to say yes 100% just yet. Randy Starks and Jared Odrick are both back and the Dolphins have better depth with some younger guys.
Danelle Ellerbe is on the outside and Koa Misi is on the inside. Does that make the team better at linebacker? Hard to say entering the season. Phillip Wheeler is still on the roster as well after a very poor 2013 season but the Dolphins have improved in their depth. Jason Trusnik has had his best camp since joining the Dolphins and there is a lot of buzz surrounding rookies Jordan Tripp and Chris McCain. This is a unit that is primed to improve but a lot of that is because they were not very good last season.
Defensive End: Push
Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan? They are all back (Jordan after his suspension) as is Derrick Shelby. The new face is a 7th rounder from a small college called Marist, Terrence Fede. Does he improve the position? Not likely, not yet. The Dolphins are pretty much the same team they were last year at the DE position so that is the only reason it is a push.
Jamar Taylor is healthy, Will Davis is more aggressive and coming on strong and those are the back-ups. Brent Grimes will anchor one side of the field and new addition Cortland Finnegan appears to be close to his play of three seasons ago than his lackluster play of the last two seasons.
The safety position is a question mark. Reshad Jones is suspended for four weeks and the Dolphins have players who have not really had to step up before. Louis Delmas is the more seasoned veteran but he has had injury issues in the past so safety should be a concern entering the season. Don Jones was rumored to be on the roster bubble but a lot is going to ride of the shoulders of Michael Thomas and Jimmy Wilson.
Special Teams: Push
Brandon Fields is one of the best in the league and is returning. Caleb Sturgis is up and down and was more a goat last year than a hero. Marcus Thigpen is gone and will be replaced by a platoon of Jarvis Landry and Damien Williams.
Head Coach: Push
The Dolphins roster has improved but it will only go as far as their head coach can take them. Philbin enters his third season as the teams head man and needs to take the team to the next level. If this team can’t get to the playoffs then that onus falls squarely on the shoulders of Joe Philbin.
Bill Lazor has already shown more creativity than his predecessor Mike Sherman. Is that enough to elevate this roster to the playoffs? We will see but the team is talented and it’s been said over the years that coaching has been the biggest detractor from the teams success. You can bet that some are going to be pointing the fingers at Lazor if the teams offense fails.
Kevin Coyle returns and he has pretty much the same roster as he did last year sans a couple key players as noted above. He too is at a critical time in his career with the Dolphins.