State of the Franchise: Miami Dolphins

Last Season: 7-9 (3rd place AFC East, missed playoffs)

The Dolphins have serious holes that need filling heading into the 2011 NFL seeason (if there is one). Many of the team’s problems began on the offensive side of the ball, starting with the quarterback position.

Despite a strong offensive line unit anchored by former number-one overall pick Jake Long, quarterback Chad Henne seemed uncomfortable each time he dropped back to pass. Henne finished the year completing 61.4% of his passes while throwing for 3,301 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, the 19 interceptions he threw crippled what the Dolphins could achieve offensively, and had arguably one of his worst games of his young career Week 17 against the Patriots, completing just six of 16 passes for 71 yards.

Owning the 15th overall selection in the upcoming NFL Draft in April, it is widely believed that both top quarterbacks, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, would have been selected earlier. However, the likes of Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet should remain available if the Dolphins wanted to go in that direction, but Mallet’s lack of speed may not fit into what the team likes to do offensively.

The team may prefer to draft a quarterback in one of the first two rounds because their receiving core is experienced enough to account for a talented player learning the system. Led by Brandon Marshall, who led the team with 86 receptions and 1,014 yards despite missing two games due to a hamstring injury, and slot receiver Davone Bess, who had a team-high five touchdowns along with 820 yards receiving, the team will have options to throw to. The problem last year was completing passes to guys in the same color jersey, not guys on the team failing to catch the ball.

Furthermore, the only running back the Dolphins currently have under contract right now is fullback Lousaka Polite. The team’s top two rushers from the previous year, Ronnie Brown (734 yards, five touchdowns) and Ricky Williams (673 yards, two touchdowns), are unrestricted free agents. Many around the league expect the team to bring back one of the two veterans, but not both, mostly due to the wear and tear the aging running backs have experienced in the Wildcat offense. Brown, at 29, had one of his worst seasons as a full-time start, failing to eclipse 90 yards in any game last season. Mostly due to injury, Brown has only one 1,000 yard season to his credit (1,008 yards in 2006). But, when the team chose to run the Wildcat, Brown would routinely line up in the shotgun quarterback slot, which proves to be a valuable asset to the offensive attack.

However, Ricky Williams at this point in his career is nothing more than a change of pace running back. At 33, Williams carried the ball only 159 times last season, but produced a higher yards-per-carry average than Brown (4.2 to 3.7, respectively). When Brown was lost to an injury in 2009, Williams surprised many when he rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns. By all accounts, the Dolphins will have to add another dynamic threat at running back to offset the loss of either Brown or Williams, if not both.

Defensively, the unit as a whole as strong, which is expected when playing for a defensive-minded coach such as Tony Sporano. The signature signing from the Dolphins 2010 offseason, linebacker Karlos Dansby, helped anchor a defense that finished in the top half of the league. Dansby’s 95 tackles and three sacks trailed only Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell’s 101 tackles for the team lead. As far as pass rush goes, the team got an unexpected jolt from former Canadian Football League two-time Defensive Player of the Year, edge rusher Cameron Wake. Wake’s 14 sacks were good enough to place him third in the league and earned him a spot on this year’s Pro Bowl roster.

Also, young cornerback Vontae Davis continued to grow into one of the elite pass defending corners in the NFL. Though he only has one pick to show for his efforts, he forced teams to plan ahead and use the other side of the field opposite from the one Davis lined up on.

Because of that, the team will desperately look to improve their other cornerback position in this year’s offseason. Though Jason Allen led the team in interceptions with three, there were multiple occasions during the season in which a misplay or mental lapse from Allen led to a big score. And while second-year pro Sean Smith out of Utah showed flashes of promise, the team would love to find an upgrade and lock down the position opposite of Davis. Between Bell and strong safety Chris Clemons, the team is one cornerback shy of having one of the best top-to-bottom secondaries in the NFL.

In summary, the number one priority for the Dolphins this off-season is to draft a young quarterback or trade for one to compete with Chad Henne. The team will not be able to move forward unless they address their quarterback problems.

Second, the team needs to come to a conclusion about their running back tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The team’s rushing attack was surprisingly poor, only averaging 102 yards per game, 21st in the NFL. Both Brown and Williams have years on their legs, and are unrestricted free agents. The team will likely re-sign one of the two, then look to acquire a young speedster to fill the other end of the Wildcat offense.

Lastly, in order to solidify their strong defensive unit, the Dolphins need to bring in another cornerback opposite Vontae Davis. The team was very good last year, but if they want to take the next step towards dominance on that end of the ball, a second elite corner is an absolute must.

The Dolphins had a surprisingly poor 2010, winning only seven games. I wouldn’t expect them to play that poorly for two consecutive years. This team is only a couple years removed from surprising a lot of people and winning the AFC East. However, if they do stumble this time around, the whispers of this off-season surrounding Sporano’s job won’t be whispers anymore.

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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