Has anybody checked out what people are saying about the Dolphins this season? Well, to give you a quick overview, it isn’t good. ESPN’s annual preseason power rankings have the Dolphins ranked as the 24th best team (or the 8th worst) in football. Yahoo! Sports has them ranked 26th. So umm, the outlook isn’t bright.
But my question is, why? I see a lot of, “well they still have Chad Henne as their quarterback and they lost their two top rushers from a season ago.” Okay, I will address Henne in a second. That second reason is a load of horse s**t. Let’s see. You lose a 30-something runner who has been in and out of the league and is most certainly on the decline and an oft-injuried runner who seems to have lost a step, and you replace them with a (granted oft-injuried) runner with a ridiculous amount of speed, versatility and open-field elusiveness, and a rookie runner who has the build to be a guy that can carry the load for you in future years. How exactly is that a downgrade? At WORST, the move leaves the backfield at the same level it was. In my opinion, adding Reggie Bush was the best thing this offense could do, adding speed to an offense that desperately needed it.
I’ll relax for a minute. Let’s talk about this defense, because if the Dolphins are going to be a playoff team, it will be the defense leading the way, not the offense. This defense has the potential to be the best unit in the NFL, hands-down. They were the sixth-ranked defense in 2010 and will be even better in 2011. According to Vontae Davis, him and Sean Smith make up the best cornerback duo in the league. Is that true? Well I’m not sure, but they are certainly up there. Davis may not have the stats to back it up, but that’s only because nobody throws his direction. If Smith catches half the interception chances he had in 2010, we aren’t even having this conversation. I expect he has worked on that a bit. I am extremely excited for seventh-rounder Jimmy Wilson. Looks like he made the team and should settle in nicely as the nickel corner as the season progresses. Safety is the biggest concern on this defense. Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones look to be battling, and I’m not too excited about either of them. I think the Phins should go hard after Brandon Meriweather. I don’t care what people say, he is a hard hitter and has a nose for the football. He is a two-time Pro Bowler and comes from the Patriots, which means you know he plays hard.
The Dolphins got rid of Channing “the mouth” Crowder, who promptly retired, and brought in Kevin Burnett to take his place. I love that acquisition. Burnett plays tough, and knows how to fill the holes. They still have Cameron Wake, and Koa Misi who is ready to step up. They also reacquired Jason Taylor, who looks rejuvenated and I’m sure will contribute in a situational role. And of course, Karlos Dansby is still around. In short, this is a strong unit. Nothing more to say.
The defensive line may be the deepest of any team in football. Led by Paul Soliai at the nose, you will see rotations of Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel, Ryan Baker, Frank Kearse and possibly Phillip Merling throughout the season. I’m excited to see what Odrick can do when healthy. We had high expectations for the first rounder last year and I think he will live up to them in 2011.
In short, this is an unbelievably strong unit. I see very few holes, and in their second full year together, they are starting to gel. I could easily see them as the top defense in the NFL in 2011. Can a defense lead a team to the playoffs? Absolutely. Check out the 2000 Ravens for a prime example. Hell, it led them all the way to the Super Bowl.
Now for the offense. What was the one thing this offense needed last season, according to everyone? Speed. Well they went out and got it. They added Bush and Clyde Gates, who ran a 4.37 at the combine. Yet, to most people, this offense is still mediocre at best. Why? Well, Chad Henne. Nobody has any faith in the guy. I can certainly understand why.
I have been doing my best to support Henne. It’s been difficult. But I have said it in previous posts, I am ready to give the guy one more chance. Last year was supposed to be his year. But Henne’s game is throwing deep passes and keeping defenses on their toes. With Dan Henning calling the shots, he wasn’t able to do that. Henning took Henne out to employ the wildcat, killing momentum. He didn’t let Henne throw the ball deep and didn’t have receivers who could stretch the field to do so.
That will not be the case in 2011. I have already seen flashes of Brian Daboll’s offense in the preseason, and I’ve seen Henne make some excellent deep throws that have me excited to see more. The offense has been opened up. The playbook has been opened up. And Henne looks more confident so far than I have seen him at any point in his career. I believe there is reason for hope.
Last year, the Dolphins averaged an absolutely pathetic 3.9 YPC. Once Jake Long returns, with the addition of rookie Mike Pouncey, the offensive line should improve. Couple that in with Reggie Bush, who can make people miss (neither Ricky nor Ronnie could) and the running game will bounce back. That will open up the passing game for Henne. If (and this is a big if) Henne and Brandon Marshall can get on the same page and start developing chemistry, the passing game will be difficult to stop. Davone Bess is still one of the most underrated possession receivers in the game (a la Wes Welker before he was a Patriot), and we finally have a true deep threat in Clyde Gates. The offense in general right now is being overlooked, all because of Henne. Like I said, I understand the concerns but Dolphans, you have to look at this unit with some optimism.
I just don’t understand why people are so down on this team. Week one will be the biggest test for them. On a national stage, if the Dolphins can come out fired up and stick it to the Patriots, everyone will be singing a very different tune come week two. The Dolphins need to take at least one from the Pats this year, and they have to sweep the Bills, which they haven’t done in the last two seasons. With a powerhouse defense and a serviceable offense, it’s possible this could be a playoff team, maybe even on their way to winning the AFC. Have some hope!