With expectations at levels unseen in Miami for years, the spotlight has been firmly on Ryan Tannehill and the expensive free agent signings so far in preseason. While they're the people that will make or break the Dolphins 2013 season, several players aren't receiving the attention they deserve as the Dolphins prepare for their final preseason game.
Jonathan Martin, LT
If you sat through the NFL Network's draft coverage in April you will have noticed Mike Mayock's unbearable insistence on bringing up the Dolphins' left tackle situation. As soon as Lane Johnson was rightly passed on, it suddenly all became about Branden Albert, someone who would cost a second round pick. The reality is that the drop off from Jake Long to Jonathan Martin wasn't that big last year, I barely noticed any difference. Jake Long had an awful final two years in South Florida, any decision to re-sign him would have been dependent on a return of the Jake Long from his early years in the NFL.
Sadly most fans and media don't know the meaning of patience. Most would have drafted Lane Johnson or traded for Branden Albert, but Jonathan Martin's play in the past few preseason games is exactly why those people aren't general managers.
After a poor start in the Hall of Fame game, Martin rebounded with solid displays in the games against Jacksonville, Houston and Tampa Bay. It's evidently clear that the left tackle position is the least of the Dolphins' worries right now. He may never reach the all-pro heights that Jake Long did, but good not great play will be enough for Ryan Tannehill to thrive. Keep in mind that the Stanford product played solely on the left side in college, and the transition from one side of the line to the other is a tough one. We're beginning to see the Jonathan Martin that earned himself a 1st-2nd round grade as he entered the draft.
Chris Clemons, S
The Dolphins have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. Reshad Jones deservedly gets most of the publicity, but Chris Clemons is one of the most underrated players on the team. Allowing just a 52.4 passer rating in 2012, his incredible speed gives him an advantage in the open field, and enhances his coverage abilities as well. The Dolphins defense was poor enough as it is when it came to defending against quick quarterbacks last year, but the damage would have been even greater had Clemons not been on the field, he often made up for the lack of speed at the linebacker position. In 2013 this won't be necessary as much with the additions of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler.
98 combined tackles, a fumble recovery and 2 interceptions would be a great statline for most safeties, and there's every chance that Clemons will be even better this season. After only signing a one year deal in the offseason, a great season will earn him a nice payday when March 2014 comes around.
Brandon Gibson, WR
The signing of Brandon Gibson during the offseason didn't get much publicity, but there's a good chance that the former Rams receiver will have the best season of any of the Dolphins' pass catchers. With Dustin Keller suffering a horrific injury in the game against the Texans, Ryan Tannehill's main security blanket was out for the year. The next man in line was Brandon Gibson, an unflashy, do-it-all receiver. Gibson has a presence in the redzone, something Brian Hartline has struggled with since becoming a starter. His ability to make plays on intermediate and short routes makes him tough to cover.
Several key drops in the game against Tampa Bay will scare some people, but he's already proven to be a generally reliable target in the absence of Dustin Keller, especially in parts of the field where you would have expected to see Keller has he not been injured.
Even though he'll be the Dolphins' #3 receiver, I expect Gibson to outperform Brian Hartline in 2013. While Hartline and Tannehill developed chemistry in 2012, Gibson can line up anywhere and get production, whereas Tannehill's favorite target last year is limited to the outside.