The Miami Dolphins have a new head coach and a renewed hope in the 2016 season and beyond, but is it a realistic hope?
The Phinsider broke down the 2016 season, take a look at what they had to say.
Adam Gase earned his first head-coaching job largely on the strength of rejuvenating Jay Cutler’s career in Chicago. Will he be the one to truly unlock Ryan Tannehill’s potential? Or have we reached the point with Tannehill where what you see is what you get?
I think Ryan Tannehill has a lot of potential that can still come through, but the last coaching staff stunted his growth. It absolutely will be up to Adam Gase to figure out how to bring back the positive growth we all saw from Tannehill at the beginning of his career. Joe Philbin and Bill Lazor did odd things with Tannehill, like deciding after two seasons that the team should draft Derek Carr then holding it against Tannehill when Carr was not picked as well as never allowing Tannehill to audible out of bad plays, even when everyone could see the original call would not work. Gase seems to be doing the right things like adding the right weapons around Tannehill and giving his quarterback the confidence from his coach that Philbin never gave Tannehill. It was a really odd situation in Miami with Philbin, and hopefully Gase can shake all of that off and get the team headed in the right direction.
Can Jay Ajayi be a true lead back, or did his window close when the Dolphins signed Arian Foster this summer?
I don’t know that Ajayi was ever seen as a “feature” back getting 300 carries a year, but I do think the team still sees him as the starter over Foster. That said, Foster has looked really good in training camp and could force the coaches to turn to him as the starter. The good thing there is, if Foster again gets hurt, the team is not relying solely on him. The team held Foster out of the first preseason game this year in an effort to protect his Achilles tendon a little longer, but as the summer progresses and we turn into the regular season, Foster should have at least a major role in the offense if not serving as the top running back on the depth chart.
The Dolphins were the talk of the draft after Laremy Tunsil fell into their laps at the No. 13 overall spot. With Branden Albert still entrenched at the LT spot, how does Miami plan on integrating Tunsil into the offensive line?
The ultimate goal is for him to take the starting left guard position for this year, while serving as the second-string left tackle and the heir apparent for Albert somewhere down the line. The coaches are putting a lot of effort and time into slowly bringing Tunsil along in his move to guard, which is compounded with the jump from college to the pros while facing players like Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, and Ndamukong Suh every day in practice. He has split time with Dallas Thomas with the first-team during the offseason and training camp workouts, but everything seems to point to him being the opening day starter between Albert and center Mike Pouncey.
What are the expectations for DeVante Parker in his second year?
Parker is absolutely expected to be a major part of the offense and flourish into a “number one” receiver. The team has Jarvis Landry, and he is going to see a ton of receptions again this year, but there is an expectation that Parker becomes the top receiver for the club. He was slowed at the start of training camp after a hamstring injury, but he is still expected to be something special for Miami this year.
The Dolphins aggressively remade their defense in the offseason but they’ve invested in “big name” players before, with disappointing returns. Will the moves this year be enough to turn around a stagnant defense?
It is a great question, but it is one we may not be able to answer until the season is underway. Last offseason, the talk was about how dominant Miami’s defense would be, and then they came out and could not stop anyone. This year, things again appear to be set up for a dominant defense - especially along the defensive line - but it could all collapse again. The team is betting on a return to form for some talented players who had down years last year, including defensive end Mario Williams, linebacker Kiko Alonso, and cornerback Byron Maxwell. It is a risky move, but one that could pay big dividends if it all comes together. If they can get solid performances out of most of these moves, with some above-average moments, they should see a better defense this year than last.
Now 34 years old and coming off an Achilles tear, does Cameron Wake have anything left in the tank?
I think Wake really will be a Comeback Player of the Year candidate, and I am trying to keep that from being a “homer” pick. The coaches are being very deliberate in how they use Wake this summer, but when he has been allowed to go at full speed, he has looked just as explosive as ever. Wake is a player who relies on his incredible first step to beat tackles off the snap and get after the quarterback, and from what we have seen thus far, he still has that. The team is probably going to try to turn him into more of a pass-rush specialist than an every-down defensive end, which could make him even more effective this year. With players like Mario Williams and Kiko Alonso, I hope they will be able to put injuries and poor performances behind them to help the Dolphins. When it comes to Wake, I almost expect it. He recorded 7.0 sacks in seven games last year, just half-a-sack off the 7.5 total that saw Olivier Vernon earn huge money from the New York Giants. Wake is going to be motivated to prove something this year, and I think he really could put himself in that Comeback Player of the Year conversation.
Who's the fan favorite player, the cult hero [think how John Kuhn used to be in Green Bay] and why?
That’s a great question, and one that may not be that straightforward right now. There has been so much turnover on the roster over the last couple of years, so it is harder to pick one player than it has been in the past. Players like Reshad Jones and Jarvis Landry are high on the list, but are now starting to get the notoriety from around the league, so they probably do not fit the question. Safety Michael Thomas could be the right choice. He is a do-everything type of guy, who clinched his place in Dolphins history when he defended a pass then intercepted a pass against Tom Brady in 2013 in his first career game, just days after Miami signed him off the San Francisco 49ers practice squad, securing the win for the Dolphins. Now, he is being asked to be a second-string safety while also working as a nickel cornerback, and he seems to be doing fairly well in this role.
The other option is long snapper John Denney, who joined the team somewhere around the team’s second Super Bowl championship in 1973. Hyperbole aside, Denney has been with Miami since 2005, earning two Pro Bowl berths in his career, and is loved by many Dolphins fans. That is not a thing you normally hear about a team’s long snapper, but Denney does have a kind of cult following. He seems to always be among the first people down the field on punt coverage, he forces fumbles and makes tackles, and just is that guy that always seems to be in on the play.
How does the first month of the season go for the Dolphins? The last month of the season? What's the final record going to be?
The first month could be a tough tne for the Dolphins, with three road trips in the first four weeks, and those games at the Seattle Seahawks (Week 1), at the New England Patriots (Week 2), and at the Cincinnati Bengals (Week 4 - Thursday night). The Week 3 game will feature the Cleveland Browns coming down to Miami. If Miami can take advantage of Tom Brady’s suspension, they could steal that game in Foxboro, and potentially they could surprise the Seahawks or Bengals with the new coaching staff not having film yet, but 2-2 is probably the best, with 1-3 a very good possibility. Hoping for better, but that is probably being realistic.
The end of the season is probably not any easier for Miami. They host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14, then have back-to-back AFC East road games at the New York Jets and at the Buffalo Bills before Week 17’s season finale against the Patriots. The end-of-year gauntlet could be another ugly month for the Dolphins.
Overall, Miami will hopefully be in playoff contention late in the season, but they are more likely to be around .500 this year, making improvement and establishing the team in the image of Adam Gase. If Ryan Tannehill is showing progress, the defense is responding and playing up their potential, and the offensive line has figure out how to block, the team will be in good standing heading into the 2017 season.