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The OTAs end this week. The rookies have survived their first crash course in the NFL. The veterans on offense are learning a new system and those on defense are trying to solve last season’s problems. All that is left is a three-day minicamp on June 17-19 before these players depart their separate ways.
Training camp still seems a long way off. So does the season. But, the truth is, time is running short. The pieces that will comprise the 2014 Miami Dolphins are, for the most part, firmly in place. Now comes the tough part: Putting it all together. Turning a group of men from all different backgrounds with all different skillsets into a well-coordinated team. That’s the mission. That’s the urgency.
So as we head into mini-camp for one final look before training camp begins, let’s try to make sense of it all. What are the biggest issues? The biggest concerns? What should we focus on in mini-camp above all else?
Here’s my own personal Top Five priority list at this exact moment in time:
1. Ryan Tannehill must get a firm grip on this new offense: Everything is different now for Tannehill. The terminology. The formations. The mindset. In many ways this is even more challenging for Tannehill than his rookie season because that offense he knew from college where Mike Sherman was his head coach before becoming offensive coordinator of the Dolphins.
But Sherman is gone now, replaced by Bill Lazor, a former college quarterback who brings with him an up-tempo approach and a solid track record of turning decent quarterbacks into good ones. Lazor has made it clear he has high expectations for his third-year quarterback. But so do we all. We expect a quantum leap from Tannehill and that’s why every practice, each day of this upcoming minicamp, is so important. Tannehill needs to learn and grow – and do so very quickly.
2. The new-look offensive line must come together in a hurry: This is essential. We don’t need to re-hash the events of last season. What’s important now is coming up with a starting five and giving them time to grow. Clearly, there is better talent and more potential. But those are merely words that must be replaced by results.
The spotlight since the day they were drafted has remained focused on No. 1 pick Ja’Wuan James and No. 3 pick Billy Turner. They are future. But for this team at this time, they need to be the present as well. James is expected to start at right tackle. Turner will get every chance to start at left guard. Both players offer legitimate reasons for hope. They clearly have a maturity about them and undeniably have the desire and mechanics to contribute right away. But now they must show it. In every meeting. In every practice. For them, mini-camp is major-camp.
3. The defense must improve against the run: Much has been made this offseason about the Koa Misi experiment, moving the veteran linebacker from the outside the inside. This is a significant change, a change that will have a ripple down effect on the other linebackers. But don’t for a minute lose sight of the reasoning behind this move: The Dolphins struggled against the run last season and Misi’s aggressive style and sure-tackling ability might just be the best hope to turn those fortunes around.
I am comfortable with the defensive line. It could be the strength of the team. While you never want to lose a player of Paul Soliai’s ability, the Dolphins did sign veteran Earl Mitchell to rotate with returning veterans Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. That should be plenty up the middle, as long as the linebackers pick up their play. In light of that, it is certainly worth following rookie linebacker Jordan Tripp, a fifth-round pick, who comes with the type of resume that could produce quick results. Another player to focus on in the three-day minicamp.
4. Dion Jordan must step up his game: He is bigger now. Stronger now. Healthy now. Much more comfortable now. This is the year that Dion Jordan must show he was worth the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. We saw signs a season ago, but now we need to see more.
Imagine the possibilities if Jordan evolves as many predict he will. The Dolphins could throw Cameron Wake at you from one side, Olivier Vernon from the other and who-knows-where Jordan could line up. In the middle. At outside linebacker. Moving locations right before the snap. He is clearly the wild card on this defense and if Jordan can blossom – really blossom – he has a chance to take this defense to another level.
So watch him closely in minicamp. See how he does when lined up against Brendon Albert. Look further to see if the OTA tutelage of former All-Pro Jason Taylor has had an impact. Is this Dion Jordan’s time? We won’t have to wait long to find out.
5. Find more depth and a few surprises: For me, this is the most intriguing part of the offseason workouts. The Dolphins have a pretty good idea, at least for the most part, of their likely starting units. But what about the rest of the roster? Every year there are surprises. In fact, it would be a surprise if there wasn’t a surprise. An undrafted rookie. Maybe a late-round pick. Or maybe one of those players who deserves to finally get noticed.
The Dolphins seem to be loaded, for instance, at receiver and cornerback. They have proven veterans, high draft picks and enough obvious talent to keep the competition at a high level. But what about the other positions? Is there another Sam Brenner out there ready to be a factor on the offensive line? Is there a linebacker – maybe someone like second-year player Jelani Jenkins – ready to make a move? Will one of these undrafted rookies become the feel good story of training camp?
Right now there are more questions than answers. But that’s the way it should be this time of year. And that, in part, is why something like a three-day minicamp in the middle of a sweltering June should never be undervalued.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.