The Miami Dolphins will spend this offseason rebuilding the franchise, but first the team’s coaches and executives must understand what went wrong in 2012, which led to a 7-9 season.
Sun-Sentinel Dolphins writers Omar Kelly and Chris Perkins take a glance at a few of the issues and give their take on what the team’s priorities should be moving forward.
Biggest Disappointments of 2012:
Kelly: The 2012 draft class didn’t meet anyone’s expectations. Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback everyone thought needed time to develop, didn’t disappoint much. But he got blown away by his contemporaries. Jonathan Martin was ranked by ProFootballFocus.com as the 76th best offensive tackle in the NFL. That means backups were better. Defensive end Olivier Vernon sparingly provided any pass rush. Tight end Michael Egnew couldn’t get on the field because of his limited toughness. Tailback Lamar Miller showed promise as a runner (4.9 yards per carry), but there are obvious holes in his game (pass blocking). And everyone else was filler.
Perkins: Cornerback Sean Smith, left tackle Jake Long (tie). Smith’s two interceptions barely bested defensive lineman Randy Starks' one interception. Smith started off well but tapered off midway through the season. Long didn’t make the Pro Bowl for the first time in five seasons and ended the year on injured reserve for the second consecutive season. You expect more from guys in the final year of their contracts.
Biggest Surprise of 2012:
Kelly: The Dolphins offense wasn’t anything Joe Philbin advertised it would be. It was slow, lumbering, methodical, lacked interchangeable parts and creativity for much of the season. The Dolphins spent all offseason and training camp selling an up tempo, fast paced offense then delivered a limp attack.
Perkins: PR/KOR Marcus Thigpen. The rookie was fifth in KOR average (27.4 yards) and fourth in punts returns (12.2). He became the first Dolphin to score a touchdown on both kickoff and punt returns. The offense badly needed his help. WR Brian Hartline (1,083 yards) deserves mention but he only had one touchdown. Every other receiver with 1,000 yards had at least four touchdowns.
Kelly: Turnovers. The Dolphins finished minus-10 in the turnover ratio. We’re all aware the Dolphins had a small margin for error, and typically lost every game where the offense turned the ball over. But the defense rarely provided an assist with interceptions (10) and forced fumbles recovered (six). Turnovers make the game easier for everyone.
Perkins: Touchdowns. Miami was 27th at 18 points per game. It’s tough to get to the playoffs scoring at that rate. Among the top 15 highest-scoring teams in the league, 12 made the playoffs. The lowest-scoring team to make the postseason was Indianapolis (tied for 18th) at 22.3 points per game.
Needs the Most Improvement:
Kelly: Quarterback play. This isn’t a cheap shot at Tannehill, who finished his rookie season with a 76.1 passer rating that has him ranked 31st in the NFL, but truth of the matter is he wasn’t a difference maker in 2012. In today’s NFL, your quarterback needs to be one to have a playoff caliber team. Getting him more dynamic weapons will help, but his accuracy (58.1%) and execution in the red zone needs to improve.
Perkins: Wide receivers. It’s a passing league and except for receiver Brandon Marshall in 2011, the Dolphins haven’t had a Pro Bowl wideout since Chris Chambers in 2005. Miami has to get Tannehill some help, preferably in the form of a deep threat.
Five positions to improve:
Kelly: Cornerback (with or without Smith the Dolphins need someone with more ball skills); receiver (do it in free agency and the draft); tight end (Charles Clay is a fullback, not a tight end); offensive guard (the Dolphins don’t have anyone to pull, and that’s not ideal for a zone blocking scheme); defensive end (move Jared Odrick inside and get someone to compete with Vernon).
Perkins: Receiver (they need a legitimate deep threat); tight end (need someone to stretch the field with the seam route, which is basically running up the hash marks); cornerback (even if Sean Smith returns they need a play-making upgrade); defensive end (someone opposite Cam Wake; they had that opposite Jason Taylor back in the day with Adewale Ogunleye and Trace Armstrong); Red zone weapon (Daniel Thomas is insufficient; they could use either a head-banging tailback, a receiver who can catch the fade pass, or a tight end who can make himself big and catch the ball).
Free agent Dolphins need to sign:
Kelly: Greg Jennings, Green Bay. Receivers are a complicated group, and you’ve got to be careful with the divas of the bunch. Considering how finicky Philbin is about the type of players he adds to the locker room it would be wise if Miami stuck to someone he was familiar and comfortable with. Philbin and Jennings had six productive years together in Green Bay.
Perkins: Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh. Miami badly needs a deep threat to open up its pedestrian offense. That’s Wallace’s specialty. He’s scored 32 touchdowns in his four seasons. But the Steelers have a knack for not letting guys leave that still have big plays in them.
Free agent Miami must re-sign:
Kelly: Free safety Chris Clemons. The Dolphins have had half a dozen different safety duos the last 10 years, and the combo of Clemons and Reshad Jones finally showed some upside. While Jones blossomed more than Clemons, who contributed 99 tackles and two interceptions, altering the partnership in the backend could retard the growth of the secondary. Unless Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd becomes unrestricted, or future Hall of Fame Ravens safety Ed Reed wants to come to Miami, why mess with a good thing.
Perkins: Receiver Brian Hartline. My initial inclination is defensive tackle Randy Starks. But Hartline should be relatively cheap, and it’s tough to give up offense. Get a No. 1 receiver and Hartline shines even brighter. But the Dolphins clearly can’t go another season with Hartline as the No. 1 passing option.