Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.
The Miami Dolphins check in at No. 27.
After another uninspiring season, owner Steve Ross initially sought to snare the biggest fish in order to create a splash in the fragmented South Florida sports market, while placating a fan base angry about his retention of unpopular general manager Jeff Ireland. He recruited free agent coach Jeff Fisher, who turned him down as Jim Harbaugh had the offseason before. He made a pitch to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, but Manning never seemed to take the Dolphins’ situation seriously. And so, instead, Ross had to settle for a ripple, with the hiring of former Green Bay offensive guru Joe Philbin to pace the sidelines, the drafting of Ryan Tannehill to someday take the snaps, and the re-signing of Paul Soliai and Cameron Wake to anchor the defense.
“What we talked about was building a foundation, building a program, building a football team that could deliver sustained success over a period of time,” Philbin says of interviewing with Ross. “I’ve coached in the National Football League for nine years and college for 19. I don’t know if you ever go into a game where you don’t feel like you have a chance to win.”
The Dolphins have a chance to win a couple more games this season, but due to the limitations of the offensive talent base, grander accomplishments will have to wait.
While he wasn’t the primary play-caller, Philbin did design the offensive gameplans for a Packers team that led the NFL in points scored en route to a 15–1 regular-season record. Now he takes over a team that finished 20th in the NFL in scoring.
Clearly there is work to do, especially after the Dolphins dumped their leading receiver, talented but troubled Brandon Marshall, for two third-round choices. Marshall’s statistics were misleading — his 1,214-yard total could have been higher if not for plenty of critical drops. Still, his departure leaves Brian Hartline, who has good hands and decent speed, and solid slot man Davone Bess as the most experienced returnees. Neither will have defenses sweating.
The Dolphins added another wide receiver in June when they signed Chad Johnson (who is no longer Chad Ochocinco after legally changing his last name, again) to a one-year deal. Johnson gets the chance to not only play for his hometown team, as he was born and raised in Miami and played at Miami Beach High School, he also will get a chance, perhaps his last one, to resurrect his NFL career. Johnson, 34, appears to be on the tail end of a productive career, as he caught only 28 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown in 12 forgettable games with New England last season.
Philbin has made it clear that he would prefer to spread the ball around rather than be reliant upon one receiver. That means opportunities for raw second-year speedster Clyde Gates, holdover tight end Anthony Fasano, promising H-back Charles Clay, rookie tight end Michael Egnew and even Reggie Bush split wide.
Bush will work plenty out of the backfield as well, after proving skeptics wrong with a strong season as a feature back. Rather than wearing down, Bush played better as the season progressed, finishing with a 5.0-yard average. Ideally, he’ll get more help this time from Daniel Thomas, the 2011 second-round pick who had trouble staying healthy as a rookie. Lamar Miller, a natural runner from Miami, also could get a look.
They will work behind an offensive line that needs a full return to health for cornerstone left tackle Jake Long and continued development from second-year center Mike Pouncey. The other three spots are somewhat in flux. Veteran Richie Incognito will get the first look at left guard, and second-round pick Jonathan Martin has a chance to step into the right tackle spot voided by long-time (but declining) fixture Vernon Carey.
So who will they protect? Matt Moore returns as the stopgap starter, after relieving the ineffective and injured Chad Henne and then outperforming expectations in 2011. The Dolphins were 6–6 under the mobile journeyman. His inaccuracy makes him a less than an ideal fit for Philbin’s style of offense, so the Dolphins will also open the competition to David Garrard, a Pro Bowler in 2009 who sat out last season with a back injury.
Eventually, Miami will turn to the rookie Tannehill, who has the skill set to become a franchise quarterback. Tannehill has an advantage in that he will be learning under his college coach, Mike Sherman, the Dolphins’ new offensive coordinator. Several factors make it possible that he plays early — his familiarity with the system, his ability to make short and intermediate throws on the move and Dolphins fans’ desperation for a savior.
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Miami’s defense deserved better in 2011, consistently keeping the score close only for the offense to squander chances. Much of the unit is back, though it will often be aligned differently, as new coordinator Kevin Coyle brings more of his 4-3 schemes from Cincinnati.
That change will affect several key players — Wake will move from linebacker to defensive end and Soliai from nose tackle to defensive tackle. In any case, it’s critical for the Dolphins to find and develop more playmakers.
Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will each enter their fourth seasons at cornerback, and while they combined for six interceptions, Miami is searching for more consistency, especially from Smith. Richard Marshall takes over in the slot for Will Allen, but the Dolphins may have some issues at safety without Yeremiah Bell, who had slowed some but was considered a team leader. Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones still have much to prove at safety.
Up front, Miami should be solid, at least in terms of its starters. Wake’s sack total slipped, but he remains one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass-rushers. Soliai is a run-stuffer. Randy Starks is a solid all-around player. And Jared Odrick, in his first full season, had moments where he lived up to his first-round selection.
The linebackers are led by Karlos Dansby, who is adept in coverage and made a lot of tackles but not as many game-turning plays as his contract suggests. Kevin Burnett played well after a slow start, and former Patriot Gary Guyton joins the group. This is a big year for Koa Misi, another Ireland draft choice who hasn’t made much impact.
For several years, this has been both a compliment of an individual and a criticism of an organization: Punter Brandon Fields, at times, has been the Dolphins’ most dangerous player. He turned in another excellent year, repeatedly flipping field position. Kicker Dan Carpenter was spottier at times, but he did connect on 13-of-16 from beyond 40 yards. Miami has several options to take back kicks, with Bess and occasionally Bush in line to return punts.
Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC East
Hopes were high when Bill Parcells arrived in 2008, bringing Ireland and Tony Sparano with him, and winning the AFC East with an 11–5 record. Miami is 20–28 since, and only Ireland remains, though he’s been hearing “Fireland” chants for quite a while. The fan base may have lost patience with him, but it is likely to give Philbin some leeway, as he tries to implement an exciting offense to go with an already-decent defense. He promises that he and his staff will teach “with enthusiasm, with clarity, with simplicity and accuracy.” The most accurate prediction for this team? That would be something around six or seven wins.
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis
Outside The Huddle
Reggie Takes Manhattan
Reggie Bush finally emerged into the feature back spotlight in 2011, rushing for 1,086 yards. During the offseason, he happily shared the spotlight, not with another runner, but with Kelly Ripa. Bush twice appeared as a guest host on LIVE! With Kelly, interviewing the likes of Tom Selleck.
Mourning A Friend
By the time Junior Seau signed with the Dolphins in 2003, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas were already established stars. Still, both admired and followed their new teammate. So it was no surprise that, in the wake of his suicide, both released statements saying they were “devastated.”
On its own, drafting a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) in the first round for the first time since 1983 (Dan Marino) would have created a buzz. Then Tannehill appeared with his wife Lauren at the press conference. Lauren, a beautiful blonde, is a former Texas A&M cheerleader and a model.
Steve Ross, like the man from whom he bought the Dolphins (H. Wayne Huizenga), has made no secret of his political preferences. During the offseason, Ross and his wife Kara hosted a $2,500 per person fundraiser for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at Ross’ Palm Beach, Fla., home.
Um, No Pressure
Ross once said at a high school event that Chad Henne “has been the greatest quarterback the University of Michigan has had, and I’m sure that I’m hoping, as is everyone else, that he goes down as the greatest quarterback in Miami Dolphins history — and you know what that will mean.” At Tannehill’s press conference, Ross said, “Let’s hope that someday we can retire this number.”
Down To One
Bill Parcells came to the Dolphins as a supposed savior. The failure of his tenure is best embodied by his first draft. After the recent offseason, which was run by Jeff Ireland (who collaborated with Parcells on that draft), eight of the nine players picked are no longer with the team. The only exception is Jake Long, taken first overall.
The Dolphins have been secretive and combative in recent years where the media is concerned. This offseason, though, chief executive officer Mike Dee, new coach Joe Philbin and Ireland made introductory stops at several local outlets. That’s what happens after your season ticket sales plunge, and two other local teams (Heat and Marlins) start stealing attention and sponsors
Don Shula coached 392 regular-season games over a 26-year period. Since he was forced out at the end of the 1995 season, six different full-time coaches have coached the last 256 games over a 16-year period. And now Miami turns to Philbin, the seventh coach.
2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:
No. 32:Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31:St. Louis Rams
No. 30:Minnesota Vikings
No. 29:Indianapolis Colts
No. 28:Cleveland Browns
No. 27:Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Fri., July 27
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Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis