As much as they disagree with even the mention of it, the Miami Dolphins are rebuilding. Okay, maybe not full blown rebuild-mode, but at least on offense, they’re starting almost from scratch. And I know, they’ve been rebuilding since Marino left. TRUST me, I know and I feel your pain. We’ve watched the Dolphins plan play out this offseason. The Dolphins have tried retooling the defense, adding a veteran piece here or there and even adding a piece or two via the draft. The offense, on the other hand, is being rebuilt before our very eyes. The selections the Dolphins made in the 3 days of the draft fit the Dolphins new philosophies and that is why they were selected.
Let’s start with the defense, which should be as good, if not better than the unit that ranked 6th in the NFL in points against in 2011. The Dolphins resigned Paul Soliai to anchor the 3-4 and play inside in the 4-3. They also signed Richard Marshall to be their 2nd/3rd cornerback. His signed went under the radar, but could work out well, giving the Dolphins 3 solid CBs. The Dolphins also signed OLB Westerman and S Tyrell Johnson for depth at both positions and to create competition. Then, in the draft, the Dolphins selected DE Olivier Vernon. Vernon impressed the Dolphins during personal workouts and the Dolphins see him as a situational pass rusher who can compliment Cameron Wake. The Dolphins also selected Josh Kaddu, a linebacker who will add depth and will likely contribute on special teams. Kheeston Randal, the Dolphins 7th round pick is a 6’5″, 307 lbs defense tackle who could be used in the D-line rotation if he makes the team. If not, he could be stashed on the practice squad for development.
The rebuilding we’ve been talking about has taken place on offense. Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman are building the Dolphins offense up from the rubble that was the Sparano/Henning/Daboll field goal-option offense. First, they traded away Brandon Marshall for two 3rd round picks (still have one of those in 2013). This, obviously, left the Dolphins thin at wide receiver. However, according to Joe Philbin, the Dolphins don’t necessarily need an alpha receiver in his offense. The offense if predicated on receivers playing multiple positions ‘X’, ‘Y’, etc. The offense relies on the QB to make the proper reads to find the best matchups on the field.
Although many of us (me included) thought the Dolphins would spend an early pick on a wide receiver, they did not. Instead, the fortified other areas. First, they selected QB Ryan Tannehill in the first round. Tannehill will need time to adjust to the pro game and will probably see very limited (if any) action during the 2012 season. Tannehill fits the new offense, since he ran a very similar offense in college under Mike Sherman. He’s a smart QB, athletic, good arm and accuracy, and throws well on the move (think rollouts, bootlegs, etc). Tannehill has all of the tools to be a franchise QB. Next up, the Dolphins took Jonathan Martin, the big offensive tackle from Stanford. Martin played left tackle at Stanford and is thought to be more of a finesse blocker than a mauler. He’s athletic too and all of that goes along with what Philbin was looking for in his next right tackle. In Philbin’s offense, the lineman need to be agile and able to move. Martin was projected by some to be a first round pick, so the Dolphins got value, getting him in the second round.
With their second 3rd round pick, the Dolphins selected TE Michael Egnew of Mizzou. Egnew is a pass catching tight end who can create mismatches with linebackers. He’s not Rob Gronkowski, but he’s a pass catching tight end in the same mold. Egnew struggled with blocking, but if he’s lined up out wide or off the line, it won’t matter much. Teaming Egnew with Anthony Fasano and/or Charles Clay would help create mismatches against opposing defenders. We say Fasano and/or Clay because there is a chance that Anthony Fasano and his $4 mil cap hit this year could be a cap casualty to clear up space to resign Jake Long or Cameron Wake. It’s not definite, but it’s a possibility.
In the 4th round the Dolphins might have gotten the steal of the draft, RB Lamar Miller. Miller, from the University of Miami, ran the fastest time of all running backs at the combine, a blazing 4.40 40 yard dash. Miller has elusiveness and can provide the explosive plays the Dolphins need. Adding Miller to Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas will make for a very good running back stable. I can see Reggie Bush lined up quite a bit as a wide receiver this year. Also remember that Bush will be a free agent after the 2012 season. So Thomas and Miller could be the Dolphins RB combo for the next few years.
In rounds 6 and 7, the Dolphins finally addressed the receiver position. In the 6th round they drafted BJ Cunningham, Michigan State’s all time leading receiver. He’s 6’2, 215 lbs and ran a slower than expected 40 at the combine, which caused him to slide. He improved his 40 at his pro day and should be able to make the Dolphins team out of camp. He’s a good route runner, something that is essential in Philbin’s offense. In the 7th round, the Dolphins selected WR Rishard Matthews of Nevada. Matthews is 6’0″, 217 lbs and has huge hands. He is also a candidate to make the team, but keeping him would mean giving up on one of the Dolphins other receivers (Melvin Moore, Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt, Legedu Naanee). If I had to guess, today, the Dolphins will enter the 2012 season with the following receivers: Bess, Hartline, Gates, Wallace, Naanee, and Cunningham. I could see Rishard Matthews going to the practice squad, if he clears waivers. One thing is certain, there will be plenty of competition for the wide receiver jobs in training camp!
Are the Dolphins better today than they were at the end of 2011? I think so. Obviously every other team in the NFL feels the same way, especially after the draft. Now it’s up to the new coaching staff to install their playbooks and coach up the players as best they can to get them ready for training camp. The rookies that pick up the offense/defense the quickest have the best shot of sticking around in 2012. On a side note, Armando Salguero has already noticed that the pace of Joe Philbin’s practices are much more upbeat than Tony Sparano’s. Hopefully that translates to the play on the field, especially on offense!