Growth of Tannehill focus in Dolphins camp
The big thing the Dolphins need to do immediately is establish a relationship between quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his receiving corps that primarily includes wide receivers Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson as well as tight end Dustin Keller.
Tannehill, who threw 12 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions last season as a rookie, got some new toys during the offseason, but he's got to prove he's good enough to make use of Wallace's speed and the skills of the others, and that he has improved his decision-making.
The secondary has to mesh, too. Strong safety Reshad Jones and free safety Chris Clemons are back as starters, but at the cornerback positions Brent Grimes (Achilles) and Richard Marshall (back) are coming off injury-shortened seasons. They have to show they're healthy, which both appeared to be during OTAs and minicamp.
The secondary has to come together quickly. In Weeks 2-5, the Dolphins face Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.
The offensive line has issues, too. Left tackle Jonathan Martin, who moves over from the right side, has to prove he's good enough to handle some of the league's best pass rushers on a regular basis. Right guard John Jerry, who appeared to have gained weight between the OTAs and minicamp, has to show he can hold the starting job. Center Mike Pouncey, left guard Richie Incognito and newly-acquired right tackle Tyson Clabo should be solid. But overall this offensive line has to show it can protect Tannehill well enough to give the re-worked passing game a chance as well as blow open holes for speedy running back Lamar Miller, a first-year starter.
If the Dolphins can take care of these matters during training camp they have a good chance to be in the AFC playoff race in the final weeks of the season.
On the hot seat: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He's just a second-year starter, so no one expects miracles. But the Dolphins have constructed this team with playoffs in mind, and Tannehill, the NFL's 27th-rated passer last season (76.1) is the key. He's got to avoid the fourth-quarter mistakes that dogged him as a rookie. He also has to have the wisdom to improvise when necessary. Most likely the offense, with all of its new pieces, will take a while to come together. The receivers, offensive line and running backs all have new elements. Tannehill is the constant.
Cause for concern: The running game wasn't great with Reggie Bush the last two seasons, but at least it was fairly reliable. It could take a step down this year with Lamar Miller, the second-year player from the University of Miami, and rookie Mike Gillislee, the fifth-round pick from Florida.
Fullback, a position held largely by rookie Jorvorskie Lane last season, is a concern, too. Philbin has no idea what to make of his running game right now.
"It's hard to get a tremendous feel for where you are in the running game on either side of the ball," he said. "So I think that is something that we need to pay close attention to when it gets closer to camp."
Breakthrough star: The Dolphins hope it's quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Or maybe wide receiver Mike Wallace. Both showed good things during the offseason. So did cornerback Grimes.
But the guy they hope will fill this role is defensive end Dion Jordan, the No. 3 pick of the draft. The Dolphins could use someone to apply pass-rushing pressure from the side opposite Wake. It would give the Dolphins a lethal pass rush, which should help in another major area of need - producing takeaways.
Pressure from Jordan would mean improvement for the defensive line and secondary. And if he could also play effectively against the run, that would be icing on the cake.
Position battles: Most of the major positions are settled. Running back could be something to watch between Miller and Gillislee. There's still question who will serve as the fifth (nickel) and sixth (dime) defensive backs. Nolan Carroll, Dimitri Patterson, and safety Jimmy Wilson are in the mix.