The Miami Dolphins were one of the NFL's most aggressive teams this offseason. And we'll soon find out if it all pays off.
It's safe to say that this franchise is overdue for a terrific season. It's almost hard to believe that the club has made just one playoff appearance (2008) since 2002. Before that, the Dolphins reached the postseason the previous five years.
Last season, first-time head coach Joe Philbin led his team to a split in their final 12 games. But that was following a 1-3 start and when it was all said and done, the Dolphins have now posted four straight losing campaigns after finishing 11-5 and winning the AFC East in 2008.
But now it is onto 2013 and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Miami Dolphins:
QB Ryan Tannehill: While the former Texas A&M wide receiver/turned college quarterback didn't put up awe-inspiring numbers his rookie season. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft threw a dozen touchdown passes but committed 17 turnovers, including 13 interceptions. However, Tannehill showed a lot of confidence considering he hasn't been playing the position that long. The organization has now surrounded him with a lot of talent and he is expected to make considerable strides in 2013.
WR Mike Wallace: Perhaps the most coveted offensive player in this year's free agent market, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout looks to bounce back from a disappointing season. While Wallace totaled eight touchdown receptions for the second straight year despite catching eight passes (64) than in 2011 (72), his yards per reception dropped from 16.6 to 13.1 last season. Still, he remains one of the best deep threats in the league and will give the Dolphins' offense the ability to stretch the field in a big way.
TE Dustin Keller: Another downfield target for Tannehill and perhaps just as important, the Dolphins add a quality player and take one from a divisional rival. The former tight end of the New York Jets battled injuries throughout the 2012 season but remains a top-flight target. Miami's passing attack produced only 13 touchdowns a year ago but the leader in that department was tight end Anthony Fasano (5), now with the Kansas City Chiefs. Keller could have a career season as Tannehill's main outlet.
DE Dion Jordan: The Dolphins moved up nine spots in the April draft to grab the pass-rushing talent from the University of Oregon. Miami opened training camp over the weekend and Jordan was placed on the active/non-football injury list (shoulder). But when he returns and is healthy, he'll pair with Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake (15.0 sacks in 2012) to give an underrated Dolphins' pass rush a potent duo. Only six teams in the league gave up fewer points than Miami (317) last season.
CB Brent Grimes: The former Pro Bowl defender was lost after one game a year ago while with the Atlanta Falcons. The Dolphins picked up Grimes when the Falcons opted not to re-sign him and if healthy, he takes over for free agent defector Sean Smith (Kansas City Chiefs). A year ago, Miami allowed 248.4 yards per game through the air but only gave up 18 touchdown passes in 16 games. Still, Philbin would like to see a few more big plays from his defense. The Dolphins picked off only 10 passes last season, part of only 16 takeaways by the club.
So what can we expect from the Dolphins in 2013? Can the team finally bounce back after years of disappointment? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? Philbin's second season in South Florida could result in some big things.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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