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2014 Team Report: Miami Dolphins

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Backup(s): Matt Moore, Pat Devlin

Starting QB: If Ryan Tannehill is going to improve as Miami's starter, he's going to have to make better, quicker decisions. While he doubled his touchdown passes, Tannehill held the ball too long (contributing to his own sack total) and made some odd decisions when getting the ball out. He has plenty of weapons, he just needs to use him. Miami needs him to take a big step forward if they are to compete in the AFC East, but they did add a solid left tackle (Branden Albert) in free agency, and a future (perhaps even current) starting right tackle in the the first round (Tennessee' Ju'Wuan James)

Backup QB: Matt Moore is firmly entrenched as the backup to Ryan Tannehill, rarely seeing the light of day. Moore is serviceable if he's needed, but Tannehill would have to really implode (or get hurt)for him to end up under center. Pat Devlin sees even less snaps than Moore and if the job goes to him, things have gone horribly awry. Devlin is still pretty raw and would be a scary option to have under center for the Dolphin.

Running Backs

Starter: Knowshon Moreno
Backup(s): Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee, Marcus Thigpen, Damien Williams, Orleans Darkwa, Cameron Marshall
Fullback(s): Jorvorskie Lane

Starting RB: Knowshon Moreno parlayed a strong 2013 into a one year contract and a chance to prove it wasn't a fluke. Moreno had the benefit of defenses which were scared of Peyton Manning burning them through the air. Moreno won't get that with Ryan Tannehill under center. On the other hand, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas topped 1,000 yards combined and Moreno showed more than either of them last season. He'll get the first crack at carrying the lion's share. It's just a question of whether he can hold onto it.

Backup RBs: Lamar Miller played well when he was getting regular carries, but the Dolphins continually split carries between him and Daniel Thomas. Miller ran tough and showed good vision, though he is a somewhat limited back. Meanwhile Thomas continued to struggle to find room to run, compiling just a 3.7 yards per carry average and continuing to be underwhelming. Mike Gillislee still has issues with his overall vision and decision-making when following blocks. That said, we haven't seen enough of him to know what his actual ability is. Marcus Thigpen generally sticks to returning kicks, and is rarely asked upon to do more. Damien Williams is an undrafted free agent with good pass-catching skills, but who struggles with pass-protection and had some off-field issues. Orleans Darkwa is also an undrafted free agent, who was very productive at Tulane and is a thickly built runner with overall average skills. Cameron Marshall has already been cut once by the Dolphins, and will be a longshot to make the roster.

Fullback: Whereas the previous year he had taken over some short-yardage carries, this past year Jorvorskie Lane just blocked. It's unlikely he does more than that in 2014.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline
Backups: Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns, Jarvis Landry [R], Kevin Cone, Ryan Spadola, Stephen Williams, Matt Hazel [R], Rantavious Wooten [R]

Starting WRs: Mike Wallace returns after a frustratingly mediocre season. Often not where he was supposed to be and sometimes looking like he didn't care that was the case, the Dolphins were rumored to be ready to trade him off, but his contract and lack of production made that impossible. On the other hands, Wallace got open deep a lot more often than Ryan Tannehill was able to connect with him. If Tannehill can improve in deep accuracy and timing, Wallace could bounce back. While Wallace was struggling, Brian Hartline was picking up the slack. Hartline had more yards and more catches on less targets than Wallace did and looked more effective. Tannehill will look to him a ton again this year.

Backup WRs: Brandon Gibson was doing a great job moving the chains before an injury ended his season prematurely. He's on the mend, but will find a crowded receiver group when he gets to training camp. He had done a good job lowering the amount of drops and if he can keep it up, he certainly seemed to have a good rapport with Tanehill and could end up back in the slot. Rishard Matthews showed some decent speed and hands last season, but his role has always been as depth. Armon Binns lost the 2013 season to torn a ACL and MCL but the Dolphins think he can push Gibson for slot duties. To start he will battle Matthews for the No. 4 spot. Rookie Jarvis Landry could also factor in during the battle for the slot position, though he looks like a guy who may not have a big role on opening weekend. He's a tough player an could jump Binns and Gibson both. Kevin Cone came from the Atlanta Falcons where he caught all of one pass and will have to make the roster on the strength of his special teams play. Ryan Spadola was on Miami's practice squad last season, and is likely a reserve player at best. Stephen Williams hasn't caught a pass since 2010 and appears to be just a pair of hands for camp, while Matt Hazel is an average player who specializes in the slot, where there is already a logjam. He is unlikely to make the final roster, as is Rantavious Wooten, an undersized player with decent speed.

Tight Ends

Starters: Charles Clay,
Backups: Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller, Emmanuel Ogbuehi, Gator Hoskins [R], Arthur Lynch [R] , Dustin Keller, Charles Clay (FB) (inj), Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller Dion Sims TE Michigan State, rookie

When Dustin Keller was lost for the season, Charles Clay stepped in and played very well. He takes the lead at the position and should see a great deal of targets again, though he may not reach 100 this year. Dion Sims should see a slight bump up in targets for his second season with the team but fills more of a blocking roll right now, especially on run plays. The Miami Herald has said Michael Egnew is on the roster bubble due to struggles blocking for the run and the change in front office management. Emmanuel Ogbuehi spent last season on the practice squad and could get lost in a glut of tight ends, especially with rookies Gator Hoskins and Arthur Lynch fighting for a roster spot. Hoskins was a huge red zone threat in college and could be an H-back type like Charles Clay. He's much more of a receiver than a blocker.The reverse is true for Lynch, who is a better blocker than receiver. At 24, he naturally has a shorter shelf life than most other rookies.

Place Kicker

Caleb Sturgis, John Potter: Last year the Dolphins drafted Caleb Sturgis, who went on to have a few misses as a rookie (hit 26 of 34, 76.5%, on field goals). He will again be working with long snapper John Denney and punter/holder Brandon Fields. After ranking in the top ten in attempted kicking points for two years, the Dolphins dropped to 24th in 2012, but then climbed back to 14th in 2013.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jarvis Landry, Damien Williams

Jarvis Landry finished 5th in the league after taking over for Marcus Thigpen on kickoff returns in 2014. With the Dolphins adding additional receivers in free agency and through the draft, Landry will likely continue to contribute as the primary returner on special teams. Damien Williams and LaMichael James both have return experience and could back up Landry.

Punt Returners: Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews, LaMichael James

Jarvis Landry's college resume was lacking when it came to the return game, but gave the team reason to name him as a returner with explosive returns during training camp last season. During the season he was kept more bottled up, with a return average that placed him around the middle of the league. Other players may get a look, but Miami seems to prefer using one player on returns so Landry should see the majority of opportunities. Rishard Matthews has served as his backup in the past, as has LaMichael James who formerly handled returns for the 49ers.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Branden Albert, LG Billy Turner [R], C Mike Pouncey, RG Shelley Smith, RT Ja’Wuan James [R]
Key Backups: T Jason Fox, G/C Nate Garner, G/T Dallas Thomas, T Will Yeatman, C David Arkin, G Danny Watkins

The Dolphins are a solid mid-tier unit in our rankings, which is a huge improvement from where they ended last year. Their lineup was crushed by the fallout of the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito debacle and the team has embarked upon a complete rebuilding effort for 2014. At left tackle, the Dolphins signed Pro Bowler Branden Albert to big money. Albert is an outstanding player who should be rock solid protecting Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. At center, Mike Pouncey is the only returning starter from last year’s team, and was a starter on last year’s Pro Bowl squad. Pouncey is among the best centers in the league and the Dolphins should not be worried about this position. At right tackle, the Dolphins selected Ja’Wuan James in the first round, with the intent of starting this player week one. James started forty-nine consecutive games at Tennessee, essentially starting since the day he arrived on campus. James will compete with free agent addition Jason Fox, but should win this competition. Projecting these three positions is relatively straight forward. However the guard positions are a mystery at this point. Shelly Smith has starting experience and is a decent bet to win one of the starting jobs. Smith is a "hold the fort" player without much upside. Third round pick Billy Turner out of North Dakota State could be a favorite to win the left guard spot, in between the Dolphins’ two best linemen. Turner is an interesting prospect that shows power at the point of attack. Other candidates for starting guard include Nate Garner, Dallas Thomas and Danny Watkins. Thomas and Will Yeatman should compete for the swing tackle spot, first off the bench. Overall, this line should be much better than last season. The collection of talent they have assembled is impressive but it’s not entirely clear who will start at the guard spots at this point. Should these positions resolve themselves, this line could develop into one of the league's better units.

Team Defense

Bookends Cameron Wake and Oliver Vernon provide plenty of pressure on the edge and the team's tackles have been adequate at plugging the middle. Wake draws a lot of attention from the defense and Vernon does a good job of taking advantage of that. The linebackers on this team strive to be average, and that's about the best thing you can say about them. The only thing that might be more concerning for the Dolphins is their secondary. Outside of Brent Grimes the team is counting on a hodgepodge group of veterans to play more consistently than they have in the past. There's no glaring holes in the unit but no great players either. Wake and Vernon will be the key to this defense being successful because this secondary is not designed to cover for a long time.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Cameron Wake, DT Randy Starks, DT Jared Odrick, DE Olivier Vernon
Backups: DE Dion Jordan, DT Earl Mitchell

Starting DL: Last year was a strange year for Wake as he finished with an underwhelming 8.5 sacks (which came in just 5 games), but still earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. Although it wasn’t always reflected in the stats, Wake did generate pressure despite getting a ton of attention from opposing offenses. Seems pretty likely that his sack total will get back to it’s normal level in 2014. Randy Starks has been a consistent and stabilizing presence in the middle of the Dolphins line for years, and he was re-signed to a 2-year deal. Jared Odrick is another solid starter in the interior of the Dolphins defense who has averaged 5 sacks over the past three seasons along with a steady increase in playing time and tackle numbers. Olivier Vernon was a 3rd round pick out of Miami in 2012 who broke out with 11.5 sacks last year. With Wake drawing double teams, he should continue to see plenty of favorable matchups but he could also be pushed by last year’s top pick Dion Jordan.

Backup DL: The Dolphins traded up to the #3 spot in last year’s draft to select Dion Jordan, who was widely considered to be the best pure pass rusher in the class. He struggled to get on the field as a rookie, however, and only finished the year with 2 sacks. As an undersized player, he can be neutralized by bigger linemen and the Dolphins need to find ways to take advantage of his speed and quickness. Earl Mitchell was signed from the Texans in free agency and will provide more of a run-stopping presence inside as part of the team’s 3-man DT rotation.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Philip Wheeler, MLB Dannell Ellerbe, SLB Koa Misi
Backups: OLB Jelani Jenkins, OLB Jonathan Freeny, LB Jason Trusnik

Starting LBs: The Dolphins rebuilt their linebacking group in free agency last year with Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Wheeler was the more productive player of the two as he broke 80 solo tackles but many of those came downfield and he made very few impact plays overall (although he did generate consistent pressure as a blitzer). Ellerbe came over from the Ravens after winning a Super Bowl, but he wound up being a downgrade from Karlos Dansby. Ellerbe’s strength is in coverage, but he struggled defending the run. Both players need to play better if the Dolphins defense hopes to improve. Koa Misi is a solid 2-down linebacker whose weakness in coverage is minimized by sitting him in passing situations. There has been speculation that the team would like to bring in a new MLB, shift Ellerbe to WLB and then let Wheeler and Misi compete for the SLB job.

Backup LBs: Jelani Jenkins is a fast but undersized player who can help out in coverage, but also tends to be a liability against the run. Jonathan Freeny and Jason Trusnik are good special teams players who provide depth on defense but probably aren’t ready for a bigger role.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Brent Grimes, SS Reshad Jones, FS Louis Delmas, CB Cortland Finnegan
Backups: FS Jimmy Wilson, CB Jamar Taylor, CB Will Davis

Starting DBs: Brent Grimes was coming off an Achilles injury but was a great pickup for the Dolphins and helped solidify at least one of their starting CB jobs. He’s small but plays big and signed a deal to stay in Miami for awhile. The safety spot will undergo a transition this year as Chris Clemons left for Houston and will be replaced by Louis Delmas. Reshad Jones had a productive year on the stat sheet in 2013 but he struggled in coverage and needs to play better. Delmas has been injury prone during his time with the Lions, but he’s a playmaker who has yet to reach his full potential in the NFL. Although Delmas is often listed as the free safety, he seems to be most effective playing up near the line of scrimmage so that might force Jones into more of a coverage role. Cortland Finnegan was a complete bust with the Rams last year as injuries and poor play led to his release, but he has been an effective shutdown corner in the past so the Dolphins are hoping he can bounce back.

Backup DBs: Jimmy Wilson is a versatile 3rd safety who can step in at either spot if called upon, but he has also served as the team’s nickel back recently. Jamar Taylor was a 2nd round pick last year who saw limited playing time due to injuries, but the coaches have high hopes for him and he could push for a starting job if Finnegan struggles. Will Davis is another young but inexperienced corner who should compete for snaps in subpackages this year.

Last modified: 2015-05-10 16:59:20