As OTA’s commence and with training camp on the horizon, there are some questions that need to be answered to ensure the Miami Dolphins success in 2017.
The Miami Dolphins will undoubtedly enter the 2017 NFL season as playoff contenders. As OTA’s march on this week and we draw closer to training camp, fans have sky high expectations of a better finish than last years wild card playoff exit.
Talent is abundant, for sure. But in order for Miami to reach their first Super Bowl since 1985, there are a few burning questions that need to be answered.
#1. Can Ryan Tannehill become an elite quarterback?
It all starts under center. Ryan Tannehill is now entering year two with head coach Adam Gase, a recognized quarterback guru. Tannehill should be far more comfortable in offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen’s system this year. The Dolphins also have surrounded the former Texas A&M alum with the talent needed to succeed.
On top of the always reliable Jarvis Landry, Miami re-signed Kenny Stills this offseason, whom Tannehill has developed a good rapport with. DeVante Parker is finally healthy, and the Dolphins brought aboard tight end Julius Thomas from Jacksonville to replace the drop-prone Jordan Cameron.
Jay Ajayi is working on his pass catching skills, while Laremy Tunsil is impressing early on as he moves on to the more familiar left tackle role he’s accustomed to. Along with a defense that figures to improve drastically over last season, Tannehill has all the tools at his disposal to have a career year.
If Tannehill can continue to develop and raise his game, the sky is the limit for Miami in 2017. But he has to overcome his inconsistency with the deep ball and late game miscues. This might be the last chance for the controversial gun-slinger to show that he is worth the high draft pick and rich contract. Dolphins fans are already on the fence about him, and if he struggles, that vocal fan base might be loud enough to force the hand of owner Stephen Ross to find a new signal caller.
#2. Will the additions in the offseason and draft help Miami’s defense be a contender?
Defense wins championships. That’s a proven adage, particularly once the playoffs begin. Miami can’t just rely on their very talented offensive roster to get them to Super Bowl LII in Minnesota.
The Dolphins most prudent task this season will be whether or not they can stop the run. Miami ranked an abysmal 30th against the run last season. On top of that, the defense only sacked the opposing quarterback 33 times. The secondary played very well, but the true test will be whether newly signed linebacker Lawrence Timmons can have a big enough impact to help the defense get off the field.
Miami also brought in former Rams defensive end William Hayes, and is banking on first round pick Charles Harris to help solidify the line. The Dolphins have to do a better job of helping out the offense and containing the explosive firepower that teams such as New England, Pittsburgh and Oakland possess.
#3. Can the Dolphins stay healthy enough to meet preseason expectations?
Miami will surely be preseason favorites to make the playoffs in 2017, with playmakers at both sides of the football. But fans have to wonder what would have happened if Ryan Tannehill had been the starting quarterback for Miami during last year’s first round playoff matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jay Ajayi and DeVante Parker also weren’t at full speed.
Talent doesn’t mean a thing if your best players aren’t on the field when it matters most. Matt Moore actually played great football in Tannehill’s absence last season. But if Ajayi had been healthier and if Tannehill had been able to avoid the injury bug, it might have been a more competitive contest against the Steelers.
If Tannehill goes down again, can Moore lead the Dolphins to the Super Bowl? Is there a legitimate backup to Ajayi? How deep is Miami at linebacker? And Minnesota fans can testify to the importance of depth at the offensive line position after last years Vikings team failed to make the playoffs or keep Sam Bradford upright.
#4. Will Jay Ajayi repeat his 2017 success?
The Dolphins transformed into a team playing for a high draft pick to a playoff bound club once Jay Ajayi assumed full control of the backfield. Arian Foster could not stay healthy, and once Ajayi shook off the early season disappointment of not starting against Seattle in Week 1, he blossomed into one of the league’s best backs.
Ajayi posted over 1,200 total rushing yards and 8 scores. He dazzled with three 200-yard games during the regular season and proved to be the workhorse the Dolphins sorely needed. As important as the defense and Ryan Tannehill are, Ajayi is the key component in the Dolphins overall scheme.
A successful rushing campaign by Ajayi will force defenses to stack the box, opening up better one on one opportunities for the wide receivers. The pressure will be alleviated on Tannehill, and help control the tempo of the game, as well as time of possession. That eases pressure on the defense and wears down the opposition. It’s how Miami finished 10-6 last year after a 1-4 start. And it’s why Miami beat Pittsburgh 30-15 in Week 6 when Ajayi rushed for 204 yards, but lost in the Wild Card 30-12 when Ajayi mustered just 33 yards on the ground.
#5. Do the Dolphins finally have what it takes to beat the Patriots?
There are no questions marks regarding the Dolphins biggest competition this season. The New York Jets aren’t even sure who will be starting at quarterback, and Buffalo has a new head coach and question marks on both sides of the ball.
It’s not just that New England is the reigning Super Bowl champion, or that it was their second time hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in three years. The Patriots have had Miami’s number since Tom Brady became their quarterback in 2001, winning 20 of 29 contests against the Dolphins and being crowned AFC East champions 14 of the last 16 years.
New England will be right there. They’re favorites to repeat after adding players like former New Orleans wideout Brandin Cooks. If Rob Gronkowski can remain healthy, you can bet Bill Belichick’s club will once again be right in the thick of the Super Bowl race. This is the monkey the Dolphins need to get off their back. Regular season or playoffs, Miami has to be competitive when they matchup against their arch-rival. Brady is (hopefully) nearing retirement and this might be their last chance to knock him off that pedestal.