As the Miami Dolphins get ready for training camp, Head Coach Joe Philbin‘s primary focus will be improving on a 7-9 record from last season and try to make the jump into the playoffs. The aggressive approach this offseason, adding playmakers on both sides of the football, should help answer some of the deficiencies from 2012.
Here are some of the areas that I will be focusing on throughout the preseason for the Dolphins to make the jump and challenge for the AFC East title.
1) Ryan Tannehill’s Progression – I’m a believer in Ryan Tannehill’s ability to make strides that will result in wins this season. He possesses the skill set that quarterbacks need in today’s NFL to have success. His athletic ability was on display last season, escaping from the pocket to keep possessions alive, and he is very accurate throwing on the move.
Where he has the chance to improve the most is inside the pocket, delivering on time with accuracy to a more polished receiving corps. This offseason was dedicated to improving the little things in Tannehill’s game such as footwork, ball position and overall timing in the pass offense. Tannehill’s ability to grasp the offense in year one was a benefit, and his handle on the playbook will only get better in year two. The Dolphins’ offense has a chance to be explosive in 2013, and Tannehill’s steady improvement is paramount!
2) Scoring Offense and Converting on 3rd Down- This was a concern last season and something that was addressed in the OTA’s and mini-camp. The team spent the majority of practice concentrating on the red zone (inside the plus 20-yard line) and on sustaining drives on third-down situations. I believe that the personnel upgrades on offense will not only help move the chains, but also create more explosive opportunities down the field.
This will balance out the attack and hopefully lead to more touchdowns instead of field goal attempts. I’ll be watching for this unit to take more chances down the field and spread it out by formation in the preseason. This will allow whomever is pulling the trigger at quarterback in the preseason more freedom to get everyone involved, and hopefully lead to more points on the scoreboard.
3) Creating Turnovers And Pressure Packages- Just as scoring more points and getting a better conversion rate on third down is the focus on offense, creating turnovers has been the theme on the defensive side of the football. Nothing will please defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle more than the ability to find players who can attack the football on a regular basis.
Players have been acquired in the offseason who have a reputation for getting their hands on the football, such as cornerback Brent Grimes as well as players who can disrupt the opposing quarterback such as Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Rookie Dion Jordan was a playmaker in college and I see him used in multiple positions along the defensive front this season. Between Jordan, Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby, look for Coyle to define their best skill and use it to strengthen the position opposite Cam Wake!
We will be watching closely to notice how Coyle experiments with the new toys on defense and how flexible and diverse this defense will be in 2013.
4) Competition at Multiple Positions- Although many positions have clarity compared to this point last year, there are still plenty of starting assignments that will be won during the preseason. On offense, running back is the first position to keep your eyes on, but the scales are leaning towards Lamar Miller getting the bulk of the workload. Daniel Thomas will also factor in to share some of the specialty work, but rookie Mike Gillislee, Jonas Gray and Marcus Thigpen will get their opportunities.
John Jerry will start at right guard, but rookie Dallas Thomas and veteran Lance Louis will push Jerry throughout the preseason. Also watch for Nate Garner to factor in at the position.
The fourth and fifth wide receiver position and tight end will also have plenty of rotation because of the talent and depth the Dolphins have assembled. On defense, players like Nolan Carroll, Dimitri Patterson and rookie Jamar Taylor will battle Richard Marshall for one cornerback spot the entire preseason and defensive end opposite Cam Wake should have a consistent rotation.
5) Improving The Secondary- Takeaways and defensive scoring will only occur if the pressure up front disrupts the timing in the opponents’ pass offense and the Dolphins can take advantage of the loose footballs that they will force. Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons are as solid as they come down the middle, but Grimes could be the piece of the puzzle that has been missing in the secondary. His aggressive style of play IS what this unit has been missing over the last couple of seasons.
Grimes has the ability to “lock down” a dominant wide receiver and that should allow the scheme to be more aggressive and hopefully make opposing quarterbacks to throw into coverage or take unnecessary risks with the football.
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