NFL Team Previews: Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins begin a new era this season, as former Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator Joe Philbin takes over as the head coach. Since the Dolphins won a surprise AFC East title in 2008, they’ve only produced 20 wins over the last three regular seasons and it got Tony Sparano the pink slip. TheSportsNotebook previews the Dolphins’ chances, as they start a fresh era with a new coach and rookie quarterback.

OFFENSE: Miami made a questionable decision to draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the ninth pick in the draft, something I see as a classic case of overreaching just because somebody plays quarterback. And even if you love Tannehill, there is absolutely no receiving talent on this team worth talking about. Basically, Reggie Bush has to carry the load at the skill position spots. He’ll have to carry the running game and be the team’s best receiver. Bush’s multi-purpose talent is unquestioned and he was a 1,000-yard back last year, but that’s an excessive burden for any running back to carry.

At the very least, Tannehill’s blind side is in good hands. Jake Long is one of the best in the business at left tackle, and the team made a sound draft choice at right tackle in Stanford’s Jonathan Martin. Mike Pouncey is a talented young center, so there are good lineman across the trenches, even is guard is a weak point.

DEFENSE: This is a very good front seven and while they’re officially listed as a 4-3 front, the Dolphins can play it with either three men down or four men down, depending on what they want to do with Cameron Wake at defensive end/outside linebacker. Wake had a decent season in 2011, but he was even better in 2010, and needs get back to that high level of rushing the passer. His fellow Penn State alum Jared Odrick is on the other side, and the interior is very good, with tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. Running the ball on Miami is going to be tough and opposing quarterbacks can’t get too comfortable in the pocket.

It doesn’t get any easier for offenses when they get to the second level. Karlos Dansby is a very good football player at middle linebacker, Kevin Burnett is solid on one flank, and 25-year-old Koa Misi can be expected to continue the upward trajectory of his career.

When all is said and done, the Miami front seven better get after the quarterback, because they aren’t getting any help from the secondary. For as good as the front seven is, the back four is just as bad. While Sean Smith is a nice player at one corner he’s not someone who carries a unit and the other three spots are all big problems.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN PROJECTION: 7—This is a high number. It basically expects the Dolphins to at least maintain their level of the last three years in spite of all the changes. And if you want to cash an Over, they have to improve on that and go 8-8. Hence, the Under pick is very easy here. When you have a team that can’t move the ball and can’t defend the pass, plays with a rookie quarterback and is learning a new system, anything better than 6-10 would be reason to celebrate. And in fact, I think they’ll be worse.