When it comes to the Miami Dolphins and the 2017 season, expectations are high. Coming off a 10-6 record with a playoff birth has a lot of people excited.
Miami was an improbable playoff team in 2016. After starting the season 1-4 the Dolphins bounced back with a strong finish and a six game winning streak. Adam Gase’s coaching style set in with the players and even now, #NewMiami is a phrase adopted by the players and not imposed by the team.
There is a new Miami mindset in South Florida but soon enough we will find out if that new mentality can thrust the team into the post-season for a 2nd season in a row or if the talent level simply isn’t quite there yet.
With all the positives surround the team, and there is a lot of positives, it could only take a few positions, or a singular one to derail the entire season. Here are five positions that should be watched, especially through training camp.
Center – Mike Pouncey
The Dolphins have no real back-up plan. If Pouncey goes down, and it’s becoming more of when rather than if, the Dolphins are going to be in trouble. Anthony Steen performed well enough in a crunch but can the Dolphins offense run with Steen as a starter for any real duration? Probably not. Not yet.
The Dolphins opted to not address the position in the draft or in free agency. Miami could make a play for free agent Nick Mangold who could start at guard and be the primary back-up at center when Pouncey’s hips take him out of a game or two or three or…you get the idea.
Center is obviously important because the blocking schemes are called out by the center. In 2016 Miami’s offense struggled in both pass protection and run blocking when the starters were not in the game. Pouncey missed a lot of the 2016 season and he can’t honestly be counted on to make it through 2017. Last season Pouncey played in five games. He has yet to play more than 14 games in a season since 2012. That is something that should concern the Dolphins.
QB – Ryan Tannehill
It goes without saying that the loss of a teams starting quarterback could derail an entire season. That isn’t necessarily the case for Miami. Matt Moore is a seasoned veteran who can still lead a team on the field but Matt Moore doesn’t have some of the skill sets that Tannehill has and that could prove problematic should Tannehill go down.
For starters, if Tannehill is out for any length of time, the Dolphins have to hope that Moore doesn’t follow. Tannehill is a mobile quarterback as well and that allows Adam Gase to use certain plays that he otherwise could not.
Coming off a major ACL scare (MCL grade II) the Dolphins are hoping that the decisions to not surgically repair Tannehill’s knee works out best for both he and the team. Fans and coaches alike will be watching every hit, twist, turn, and plant throughout the season. Is Tannehill one hit away from major reconstruction? Will he be limited in confidence to run on the knee?
All indications are that Tannehill will be fine but there is always that percentage of concern when dealing with any injury that begins with the word “knee”.
Guard – Take your pick
The Dolphins believe they are fine at guard. Jermon Bushrod started last year and he is back. They swapped, in reality, Branden Albert at left tackle for Ted Larsen at guard. That isn’t a fair trade. Larsen is inconsistent but is healthy. Miami is hoping that Gase’s knowledge of Larsen from his brief time in Chicago is a positive. Thus far Larsen hasn’t shown much more than quality depth.
Bushrod played well and honestly the right side of the line wasn’t horrible last year except for the play of Ja’Wuan James who has yet to come close to his first round draft status. It’s imperative that James does not make Bushrod do more work.
Anthony Steen is a player I like and watching him gives me hope that he could develop into a starter but at the very least he is a solid back-up who gives max effort every down. As for Kraig Urbik he is another depth player but Miami needs starting quality players instead of depth. When looking at the guards, Bushrod is the only true starter on the roster and to be honest, it’s not by a wide margin.
If you put the questions at guard in context with the questions at center, the offensive line could yet again be the Dolphins Achille’s heel.
Safety – Nate Allen
There was a time that Allen would be unquestionably a starter on almost any team. That was a few years ago and since then Allen has really seen a decline in his play. Both in intensity and concentration. The Dolphins are hoping that they can get Allen to return to those better years.
When Allen is on his game he is a tough safety but the issue is his inconsistency and in the AFC East there is little room for that kind of play. Safety is going to be a problem for Miami opposite Reshad Jones. The loss of Isa Abdul-Quddus to a potential career ending neck injury is tough. IAQ was playing very well for Miami in 2016 when he was injured.
For the Dolphins it’s all Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas again behind Allen. While both have strong games in either nickel packages or on special teams, neither has stepped up as a legit starter without serious flaws in their game.
The Dolphins could be hoping that Allen simply holds the position down until T.J. McDonald comes off suspension after week 8.
DT – Jordan Phillips
The Dolphins in 2016 ranked 2nd to last in run defense. In 2015 they were only marginally better. Ndamukong Suh is a human wrecking ball but Miami has yet to find someone to compliment him on the defensive line.
Jordan Phillips’ biggest knock out of college was that he doesn’t always play 100% and will at times take plays off. He is having a similar NFL career. He has all the talent in the world but his focus varies from play to play and that leads to too much inconsistency.
The 2017 draft didn’t line up for the Dolphins at tackle and they waited until the mid-rounds where value was better but none of the drafted players, two, are believed to be competition for Phillips. Miami didn’t really look at free agents either so this year, the Dolphins are relying heavily on Jordan Phillips.
Defensive tackle could be one of the weakest positions on the team with Suh, Phillips, four year vet Nick Williams, rookies Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, and finally 2nd year player Lawrence Okoye. Most of these players will need time to develop.