The NFL offseason is officially over. Although the Miami Dolphins don’t hit the field until July 25, training camp is already underway for some teams.
This time of year brings new hope and optimism to the fans of the league’s 32 teams, however for an organization that has lacked recent success such as the Dolphins, that optimism is cautious. Considering the injuries, suspensions, off-field distractions and lack of significant on-field improvements (with the exception of the offensive line), expectations are understandably low.
Many consider 2014 to be a “boom or bust” year for the Dolphins. They can very well earn themselves a wildcard spot and first playoff berth since 2008, or they can find themselves picking in the top 5 of the 2015 draft. Neither would come as a surprise.
Miami’s record this season will be of added importance compared to in years past, mainly due to the fact that many long term question marks surrounding the franchise will be addressed. Is Ryan Tannehill a franchise quarterback? Is Joe Philbin the right coach to lead this team? How will the new offensive line perform? Can the Dolphins defense overcome a lack of depth? All these questions and more will be answered in six months time.
Despite all the questions the Dolphins face, their season will be decided by the performance of Ryan Tannehill. He is entering his third campaign, a critical year which generally shows if a quarterback is franchise material or just another average signal caller. In 2013, several factors hindered Tannehill’s development. He was sacked a league record 58 times behind a makeshift offensive line. He was forced to play in Mike Sherman’s predictable and 27th ranked offense. These are no longer valid excuses.
Bill Lazor, the former Eagles quarterbacks coach has taken over as co-ordinator and is expected to bring an up-tempo style of play to Miami. The offense has already received rave reviews from Dolphins players throughout OTA’s, and at the very least it will be an upgrade over Sherman’s stale system. The front office spent big money to improve the offensive line, signing the likes of Branden Albert, Shelley Smith and using high picks on Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner. Naming John Benton offensive line coach was one of the Dolphins better moves of the offseason, as his past units have not only been able to keep the quarterback upright but also open up lane for the run game.
With both a quarterback and coach entering their crucial third season in the NFL, 2014 will indicate whether the Dolphins are on the right path or need to hit the reset button.