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Miami Dolphins: Clean It Up

Five games.

Five wins.

The year was 2008 last time the Miami Dolphins won five straight games. That was also the last time the Dolphins reached the playoffs.

Will they find a way to return to the postseason this year?

Not so fast. There is still a lot of work to do. So many things to clean up. Penalties, defensive breakdowns…all the little things.

While the win last Sunday in Los Angeles was great it was also frustrating. The Rams defense held our offense in check for fifty-five minutes, while our defense just barely contained Todd Hurley and rookie quarterback Jared Goff. The most frustrating play could have broken the game open much earlier.

After Kiko Alonso force and the recovered a fumble(Kiko continues to impress) the offense tried to strike quickly. Going for a deep passing touchdown after a turnover is what you always hope for. It is an aggressive move which pays great dividends when successful.

When Successful…

It was not. Ryan Tannehill launch a beautiful deep ball towards Devante Parker in the left front corner of the end zone just like it was drawn up.  All Parker needed to do was time his jump and put his 6’3 frame to work. Touchdown right? Wrong. Parker jumped a step or two early and the ball flew just out of reach to be intercepted by Rams safety Maurice Alexander.

The timing was off by just this much…

My first reaction to the play was: “Seriously!?”.  A combination of frustration and disbelief. It was born not of anger because of the turn over but of shock. I had seen this movie before. We all had.

A nearly identical play Tannehill to Parker for a missed touchdown turned interception…that is how the week two game against the New England Patriots ended. Thankfully this time the Dolphins managed to recover to claim victory from the jaws of defeat. Even so this is something that needs to be cleaned up.

A play like that can be such a weapon if they can just get it right. Timing takes time. And repetition. And more repetition.

Get it right and the offense can be explosive. You have a threat to score at any time. It makes the entire offense better. More room for Jay Ajayi to run(as if he does not create enough on his own), more opportunities for Jarvis Landry to exert his will on the defense. It can build confidence on both sides of the ball. It opens up so many possibilities.

So clean it up…and see what transpires.

 

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Miami Dolphins: Sophomore Season

As we work our way through the endless NFL offseason much of the conversation is about who was or was not signed in free agency and of course the never-ending debates about who will be picked by which team in the upcoming NFL Draft. These things do matter but it leans into this very human thought:

‘New is always better.’

It does feel that way at times. However in doing so we forget about the new toys we had this time last year. Those draft picks and undrafted free agents prepare to enter their sophomore season. They spent a year getting stronger, getting healthy and most importantly, they spent a season learning how to be pros. Now they have a chance to take that next step.

Jay Ajayi, RB: Ajayi missed the first seven games of the season but towards the end of the year he showed promise for the future. While only running for 187 yds in relief of departed running back Lamar Miller, he did have several runs of over 20 yds. A healthy season should give him the opportunity to compete for the starting job.

DeVante Parker, WR: The 2015 first round pick finished strong after missing several games with injury. When in the lineup he showed the skills that made him a coveted wide receiver just a year ago finishing the year with a 19-yd per reception average and 3 touchdowns. Like Ajayi, a full healthy season should pay dividends.

Jamil Douglas, G/C: Douglas struggled at times when thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie but a year of seasoning and a new coaching staff could allow him to grow into more than a backup.

Jordan Phillips, DT: Serving as a reserve tackle Phillips contributed just two sacks but he did manage four timely pass deflections.

Neville Hewitt/Mike Hull/Zach Vigil, LB: the trio of undrafted free agent linebackers(each was expected to be taken in the late rounds of the draft) combined for just 44 tackles last season but each has the ability to play at this level. Hewitt played some outside linebacker when Jelani Jenkins was out of the lineup. Vigil shared time in the middle early in the season. I feel of the three Mike Hull, the former Penn State star, has the best upside.

Bobby McCain/Tony Lippett, CB: Once they let him on the field Bobby McCain showed he had what it takes to at worst be a slot corner if not outright competing for a starting spot this season. Lippett on the other hand is a raw prospect. A converted wide receiver he has earned rave reviews for how quickly he has made the transition to corner. If he continues to progress his length will be a welcome addition to the secondary.

Perhaps the biggest jump in ability for any player occurs between the first and second year. These are nine players that may make a jump going into their sophomore seasons. Add to that the potential that the new coaching staff may get more out of all of the players on the roster than the previous regime did and there is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming season.

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Miami Dolphins: Preseason Postscript

Thursday night the Miami Dolphins face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last preseason game of the 2015 season. After that the games truly count.

For the majority of the players on each team there is nothing more to prove. The last game is an open tryout for other teams and practice squads. It is one last chance for the last few players on the 53 to make their mark.

For the players we will actually see during the season the work is already done.

There were questions to be answered this preseason:

How well would a nearly entirely new receiving corps work with franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill?

What effect with Ndamukong Suh have on the Dolphins defense?

Will the offensive line be good enough(especially at guard) to protect Tannehill?

Each of these questions have been answered and then some.

The first team offense has run like clockwork. Moving down the field and scoring in each of the preseason games. Tannehill is looking more like a seasoned veteran than a young player entering his fourth season. While we have not seen much out of first round draft pick Devante Parker(recovering from foot surgery) between a resurgent Rishard Matthews, second year star Jarvis Landry, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills the receiving corps looks as deep and talented as it has in years.

The offensive line has been a concern to say the least over the last few seasons. The last two season the Dolphins gave up 58 and 46 sacks respectively. That is simply too many hits on the quarterback to expect much prolonged success. During this preseason they have played without starting left tackle Brandon Albert and frankly they have not looked bad. The guards, a question for years, have held their own. Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas have competed over the two guard positions and the results are positive. Thomas and Douglas are the likely starters but nothing is set in stone. This is not to say that suddenly this is an all-pro line. Far from it. This is a competent line that should be good enough to reduce the sacks to a reasonable number.

Now we come to the man called Suh. Could he possibly live up to the massive contract he signed during the offseason? The early answer is yes. Against the Atlanta Falcons the defense, especially the front seven, abused quarterback Matt Ryan series after series to the point he looked relieved to take a seat. This line is fierce and rejuvenated. The best thing about Suh thus far is that he does not seem remotely satisfied in the success so far. That is what a leader does-he strives to be better tomorrow.

Beyond that depth is still lacking but that takes time. Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas look to be able to fill the role expected of injured Louis Delmas. UDFA rookie linebackers Zach Vigil and Mike Hull both look like diamonds in the rough, if only there is room on the roster for both players.

There are still minor questions to be answered. That will come with the final preseason game and the cut down to 53. Until then things look good.

In fact things look better than they have in years.

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