Believe it or not, the Miami Dolphins have not qualified for the playoffs since 2008. The same Dolphins franchise that consistently made the postseason under former legendary head coach Don Shula in the 1970s through the mid-90s.
If the Dolphins are going to return to their glory years under first-year head coach Adam Gase, there are a few questions the team needs to address as they begin training camp. Here are the storylines to keep an eye on Miami begins preparing for the 2016 season at Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla.
1. Will year five be any different for Ryan Tannehill?
Ever since Ryan Tannehill was drafted in 2012, there have been questions about whether he can become an elite quarterback in the NFL. Heading into his fifth year in the league, the 28-year-old still has plenty who doubt his ability to be the guy that can return the Dolphins back to AFC contenders.
After improving each of his first three seasons in the league, Tannehill’s play regressed in 2015. The touchdown passes dropped from 27 to 24 and his completion percentage declined from 66.4 percent in 2014 to 61.9 last season while throwing the same number of interceptions (12).
Tannehill did improve his deep ball accuracy, but his pocket awareness remains a work in progress, as he has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long. The good news is Tannehill will be in an offense that quarterbacks have traditionally been successful, just ask Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler.
Gase has a lot of confidence in Tannehill succeeding in his offense.
“I have no concerns,” Gase said. “He has picked it up as well as I’ve expected and I’m sure he has been working hard the last five weeks to make sure that there is nothing he doesn’t know.”
2. Laremy Tunsil or Dallas Thomas at guard?
The last time Tunsil (above, right) was on the practice field in June, he had a rough transition to playing left guard. The No. 13 overall pick in this year’s draft played left tackle at Ole Miss, but the Dolphins want to slide him over to guard since Pro Bowler Branden Albert is still playing at a high level.
If Tunsil continues to struggle at guard, the Dolphins might be forced to start Thomas beside Albert on the offensive line. During minicamps in May and June, Thomas received a lot of snaps with the first team line while Tunsil mainly got reps at guard and tackle with the second team.
If Thomas can emerge as the starter at left guard, that will give the team even more depth on the offensive line, something the Dolphins have lacked for years.
3. What will Arian Foster’s role be?
From 2010-12 one could have made the case that Foster was the best running back in football. In those three seasons, Foster rushed for 4,264 yards and 41 touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they’re not getting that Foster.
The player Miami is getting is a running back that hasn’t played 16 games in a season since 2012. Foster also will turn 30 next month and is coming off of a torn Achilles.
No one is expecting Foster to rush for 1,500 yards, but he can help the Dolphins in plenty of other ways. He is an incredible pass catcher for a running back thanks to his precise route-running and soft hands. He potentially could be great in third-down situations as Foster has recorded 60 receptions in the last two seasons.
Foster also will be a great mentor to second-year running back Jay Ajayi, whose role will increase in 2016 after the departure of last season’s leading rusher Lamar Miller.
4. How good will the Dolphins’ defensive line be?
In 2015, there was a lot of excitement over the addition of free agent Ndamukong Suh up front. After coaching staff changes, injuries and a slow start, the high expectations never materialized as the Dolphins finished 27th in rushing defense and 25th in sacks.
Despite losing Olivier Vernon in free agency to the New York Giants, the Dolphins’ defensive line could potentially be better this season than the group was in 2015. Miami added veterans Mario Williams, Andre Branch and Jason Jones, who will all provide depth. Long-time Dolphins great Cameron Wake will also be returning from a torn Achilles that prematurely ended his 2015 campaign.
During minicamp, the defensive line was menacing and aggressive. New Coordinator’s Vance Joseph’s wide-nine scheme should help improve the run defense while also improving Miami’s pass rush.
Miami needs to have a relentless pass rush this because there are huge questions regarding the secondary.
5. Other than Reshad Jones, who will step up in the secondary?
Miami released Brent Grimes, who was selected to three Pro Bowls while playing for the Dolphins (2013-15). The team traded for Byron Maxwell, who had a disappointing 2015 season with the Philadelphia Eagles after signing a lucrative free agent deal. Maxwell will certainly start at one of the cornerback spots, but who will earn the starting spot opposite of him?
Xavien Howard, the team’s second round pick this year, was considered a candidate, but had a knee scope following the conclusion of minicamp in June. His status for the regular season opener against the Seattle is unknown.
Tony Lippett, who spent his rookie season transitioning from playing wide receiver at Michigan State to playing cornerback in the NFL, is likely to get the starting nod after he received a lot of first-team snaps earlier this summer.
Miami is looking to improve its passing defense after finishing 22nd in that department last season.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Photos courtesy of Miami Dolphins team site, www.miamidolphins.com)