The Miami Dolphins play their final preseason game tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Bucs, but for all intents and purposes, the preseason is over for the team. As most people who follow the sport know, the starters play a minimal amount, if at all, in the final game. As I reflect back upon this preseason and look ahead towards the season to come, I find myself in a relatively unfamiliar position.
Being a fan, you're always hopeful for your team’s chances going into a new season. But being the fan of a poor team, you are usually lying to yourself. Trying to convince yourself that you're seeing things that you're not, trying to deceive yourself into believing that the flaws you're seeing aren't really there at all. This is going to be THE year, right? Right?
I honestly believe that's not the case coming into the 2015 regular season. For really the first time since Dan Marino retired, I feel genuinely hopeful going into the regular season. I fully admit that there are still some significant flaws on this Dolphins team but for the first time in more than a decade I truly like our chances at success. The way I've seen this team perform thus far has done nothing but grow my excitement.
Starting with the Gun Slinger
The most promising thing that I've observed this preseason is the maturation of Ryan Tannehill. As I've stated in previous posts, he's made impressive and noticeable strides in becoming a franchise quarterback every year since being drafted in 2012. Building even more on that steady improvement, this year it looks to me like he's taken a gigantic leap forward.
This preseason he has completed just over 80% of his passes with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He looks far more confident in his decision making, and he's no longer costing us big plays. He's making quick decisions, goes through his route progressions, and is learning to quickly get out of the pocket if nothing is there. This is a far cry from what he has shown in his previous three seasons.
My biggest criticism of Tannehill has always been that he's never seemed to have a true command of the pocket, and if what I've seen in three preseason games holds up, it looks like I'll no longer be able to make that criticism.
Some Seriously Heavy D
As a franchise, the Miami Dolphins have always been known for their defense. From the No-names, to the Killer B's, to the days of Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, dominating defenses are nothing new in South Florida. The Dolphins came into the off-season with a solid defense, but the addition of Ndamukong Suh appears to have turned what would have been a solid defensive unit into an absolutely dominant one.
In the last preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Suh and the rest of the defensive line was unrelenting in their pressure. It seemed like every single pass play one of the four guys was making a big play, and it was rarely Suh himself.
The addition of Suh, to no one's surprise, has really made each and every player on that defensive line better, and this was a talented group to begin with. Suh commands so much attention from the opponent's offensive line that it will free up Olivier Vernon, Earl Mitchell, and Cam Wake to have huge seasons. I expect big things from this unit, and from what I saw against Atlanta, Mitchell just might have the biggest year of them all.
Will the Big Dawgs Hold Up?
The biggest question mark coming into this season was the offensive line. Ryan Tannehill has never been afforded the luxury of playing behind a good offensive line. In fact, you could make the argument that he's been handicapped by playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football the last three years.
There's still reason to be hesitant about this group of linemen, but from all I've seen and read so far, I'm a whole lot less worried than I was coming into the season. The much-maligned Dallas Thomas has played really well filling in for the injured Branden Albert at left tackle. Once Albert comes back, Thomas should be able to shift inside to the guard position, tightening up one side of the line.
On the other side of the line, in what might be the surprise of camp, rookie offensive lineman Jamil Douglas has unseated incumbent Billy Turner to play the other guard position. The rookie still has a long way to go to become great, but coming in and battling for the starting job as a rookie, let alone winning that battle, is a great start.
With Jason Fox coming back from a concussion to man the right tackle position, and perennial Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey back at center, this looks to be the best group Tannehill has seen yet. With his recent maturation taking some of the pressure off the guys up front, all signs point to this not being the catastrophe most of us fans anticipated.
So What's the Early Hope?
All of this being said, it's not all sunshine and rainbows for the Miami Dolphins. Despite all we have to look forward to and all the progress that I've seen, there are still some glaring weaknesses on this team. This preseason has exposed a couple of big reasons for Dolphins fans to worry, namely at the linebacker position and a severe lack of depth.
For all the good that the starters have done while they've been in games, almost all of it has been undone when the second and third teams have seen action. There is a startling lack of depth on this team that could pose a real threat to any chances the Dolphins have of being a playoff team, especially if injuries rear their ugly head.
If there are numerous injuries, this preseason has shown that we do not have guys who can step up and fill the void. Not yet, at least. There's always the possibility that some good players will be cut as teams reduce their rosters to the 53-man limit and we may be able to pick up some great players for cheap, but as of right now, this is the biggest question mark on the team by far.
To go along with the depth questions, there are also significant questions at the linebacker position, even amongst the starters. Nothing that I've seen so far gives me any confidence in any of the guys we've chosen as starters, let alone their backups.
Jelani Jenkins is the most talented of the bunch, but even he hasn't seemed to put it together yet to make a competent linebacker. This corps should get a lot of help from the guys up front, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough to carry the rest of this defense. For the first time in a long time in the Miami Dolphins franchise, the linebackers appear to be the weakest spot on the team.
It remains to be seen what this group can do together, especially with some key additions in DeVante Parker and Branden Albert coming back for the regular season, but for the first time in a decade or more, it looks like there are legitimate reasons for optimism.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.