In OTAs (Offseason Talk & Analysis) all through June and July, the Sports on Earth NFL team will break down each team's offseason transactions, boldest moves and burning questions as they prepare for training camp. Click here for links to every entry in the series.
The Dolphins had a major problem in 2013. We all covered that problem thoroughly. They took major steps to correct that problem throughout the offseason. We covered all of those steps in detail. The Dolphins have solved that problem as well as such a major problem could be solved in one offseason, and we have noted their solution.
So enough about Jeff Ireland!
But seriously folks, we all know that the Dolphins offensive line sabotaged everything last year, including itself. That line is totally overhauled. But new general manager Dennis Hickey found a little time and money, plus a spare draft pick or two, to accomplish some other things as well. The Dolphins look slightly different as camp approaches, and it's not just because the offensive linemen now do more blocking and less texting.
Biggest Move: Rebuilding the offensive line.
Bo-ring! Do we have to rehash all of this Richie Incognito nonsense, the Brandon Albert signing and so on? No? You know all about it? Cool. Then let's do something else.
Biggest Move: Refreshing the skill positions.
The Dolphins habitually overestimated their skill-position talent during the last regime. A kind of Stockholm Syndrome grew around Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano, Reggie Bush, Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Charles Clay and Brandon Gibson. It's not that these were terrible players, but the Dolphins always seemed convinced that Hartline was Greg Jennings or Anquan Boldin, Bess was Wes Welker, Clay was Jermichel Finley, and so on. When Brandon Marshall arrived, the team rejected him the way a subsistence farmer whose digestive track has adjusted to a cup of rice per day rejects Outback Steakhouse. When they saw Mike Wallace, they mistook him for a cross between Hines Ward and Lynn Swann.
So it was encouraging to see Hickey invest in some competition at the skill positions. Knowshon Moreno (who just had knee surgery) may not be a major upgrade over Miller and Thomas, but he brings receiving chops and experience in the kind of up-tempo offense new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (more on him later) may be importing. Granted, Jim Brown could not average 4.5 yards per carry behind the 2013 offensive line, but Miller and Thomas have done nothing to remain on permanent scholarship. Jarvis Landry should develop quickly into a more talented version of Hartline, slurping up short passes in tight spots and using technique to get open deep at times. Arthur Lynch is like Clay: an H-back type who blocks hard and sneaks down the seam.
Hartline, Wallace, Gibson, Rishard Mathews, Clay and Thomas/Miller are still around, which is another new innovation of the Hickey regime: no babies were thrown out with the Knowshon bathwater. So the Dolphins will actually enjoy competition and depth at the skill positions. Instead of superimposing a new No. 1 receiver on the old depth chart, they are rebuilding the depth chart. The effect will be felt the first time Ryan Tannehill checks down. Because this year, Tannehill will have enough time to check down.
Biggest Gamble: Counting on new faces on the offensive line.
This again? Geez. Start again.
Biggest Gamble: Failing to upgrade the pass rush.
We begin with the following obligatory update from minicamp on former first-round pick Dion Jordan:
Actually, everything is not quite so awesome. Sure, Jordan reports that he is much healthier than he was last season. And teammate Randy Starks said: "I can see a big difference from him and I can pretty much guarantee that he'll have more sacks then he did last year." But Jordan had just two sacks last year, and that is not saying much. Jordan has not been lining up with the starters much in minicamp -- Cameron Wake probably does not need all that many reps -- and defenive coordinator Kevin Coyle has reportedly been tinkering with him as a defensive tackle. Jordan lists at around 250 pounds, so that sounds more like "June experiment to figure out what to do with the kid" than some sign of epic versatility.
The Dolphins pass rush is not a major point of concern on paper: The team recorded a respectable 42 sacks, Olivier Vernon is a rising star and Wake is a Pro Bowler. But 42 sacks is not that impressive a total for a team that faced Thad Lewis and Geno Smith twice each and drew several other easy sack assignments (Brandon Weeden, Joe Flacco, the Bucs). Wake is now 32 and battled knee injuries last year. While he is capable of blowing up in some games (see the Bengals game last year), he is reaching the point where he disappears.
The offensive line was a critical problem that used up much of the Dolphins' resources, so the Dolphins could not afford to grab an extra pass rusher. Tackles Jared Odrick and Starks do provide some heat up the middle. Coyle dials up stunts and blitzes well without gambling the farm. And Jordan represents a potential solution if Wake ages suddenly or quarterbacks stop dropping into the end zone and waiting for trouble to arrive. The pass rush is not a huge gamble, because it will be ordinary at worst. Unfortunately, "ordinary at worst" has been the Dolphins rallying cry for half a decade.
Biggest Question: Will the rebuilt offensive line hold up?
Biggest Question: How fast is a Lazor offense?
Bill Lazor's offense has been getting rave reviews in minicamp. Just how good are those reviews?
That gag never gets old! Lazor was a Chip Kelly assistant, but there are no indications that Lazor plans to go no-huddle all of the time. He is adding lots of new packages to the Dolphins offense, however. This report from ESPN's James Walker lists some of the changes: Wallace in the slot and other unique locations, more quick hitters in the passing game, two halfbacks in the same formation, etc.
A robust no-huddle package will almost certainly wind up in the mix. Under Mike Sherman, the Dolphins used the no-huddle only 4.8 percent of the time last year, but even that figure is misleading: It was a late-game catch-up strategy only. The Dolphins only used it for four plays in the first quarter, so it was not a part of Sherman's vanilla playbook. Kelly used the no-huddle 68 percent of the time, an all-time NFL record. If Lazor likes the no-huddle one-fourth as much as his most recent mentor, the Dolphins will be one of the NFL's fastest teams.
A little read-option may also find its way into the Dolphins playbook, though there is some already there. Ryan Tannehill kept the ball on seven option-like plays last year, gaining 10, 26 and 48 yards on three of the carries. (The Dolphins executed about 33 option-like plays last year, with the major caveat that not every play where the quarterback hands off then pretends to run to the outside is really an option). Tannehill can fly, and considering last year's high success rate, two or three option keepers per game would not represent much of a health risk compared to what he suffered through last season.
Lazor is not a Kelly clone, but he does not have to be to make the Dolphins faster, more dynamic and less predictable offensively. The Dolphins selected Sherman to speed Tannehill's development, but the former Texas A&M coach may have been holding back his college quarterback, as well as playmakers like Wallace. This year, we finally get a sense of what Tannehill can do.
Thirty-five sacks. That is the total the Dolphins will allow, which is good news. It's also the total they will record, which is not-so-good news.