It’s never a great sign in any given season when your team makes more noise off the field than it does on the field. That’s what happened in Miami last year when Jonathan Martin left the team amid bullying accusations against Richie Incognito.
Amidst all the noise, Miami went on to post a .500 season in Joe Philbin’s second year as the Dolphins coach. But the noise also may have covered up a number of other issues. It certainly created a couple – the offensive line wasn’t great when it was full strength. Minus Martin and Incognito the team could not create running holes or protect second-year QB Ryan Tannehill.
Yet there the Dolphins were, with two games remaining in the season, fighting for a spot in the postseason. So how far away are the Dolphins from making a playoff run? It could still be awhile if you ask Brian Miller, the lead writer and editor at Phin Phanatic.
Zoneblitz: The Dolphins went through a wild and crazy season with the Martin/Incognito situation, finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the fifth straight season. But they also kept fighting after the controversy. How would you assess the season?
Miller: The only way to assess the season was as a failure. The Dolphins could not, despite the off-field issues, stay focused down the stretch. It cost the team a playoff berth and Jeff Ireland his job. The Dolphins looked like a team who had no business being in the hunt for the playoffs after their final two games, which were atrocious. Making matters worse, both end of season losses came to division rivals. As for the controversy, I do hold Joe Philbin accountable. A head coach should always know what is going on his locker room. He did not.
Zoneblitz: Were you surprised Joe Philbin survived the controversy? Was keeping him the right decision?
Miller: Steven Ross is loyal to a fault and Joe Philbin was his coaching hire, the first of his ownership. Philbin and Dawn Aponte joined to force Ross’ hand in the removal of Jeff Ireland. I would have fired them both. The reality is that Joe Philbin didn’t do a very good coaching job last season both on the field and curtailing the off-field issues as well.
Zoneblitz: Any thoughts on moving on from Jeff Ireland and hiring Dennis Hickey?
Miller: I actually am one of the few who liked Jeff Ireland but admit that keeping him another season would not have been a good idea and would have cast more clouds over the team than what already lingered. I really can’t speak of Dennis Hickey considering he is sort of an enigma. No one really knows what his line of thinking is and while there is nothing wrong with not having that knowledge outside of the club there still are question whether or not he was right for the team. Considering the number of GM candidates that turned the club down, Hickey may have been the only one who was not insisting on hiring his own head coach. Or he could very well have legitimately blown them away with his interview.
Zoneblitz: What’s your assessment of Ryan Tannehill’s development at this point?
Miller: Ryan Tannehill needs to step up. It’s hard to put an assessment on his performance/development because we don’t know if he was handcuffed by former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who has been the only coach he has known in both college and the NFL. I am very interested to see what new OC Bill Lazor who worked wonders with Nick Foles last season can do with a very talented but likely misused QB.
Zoneblitz: The offensive line lost Martin and Incognito and then gave up 58 sacks to lead the league. Has that been fixed in free agency or are there more moves to make?
Miller: The line has not been fixed. It is better on the left side with the addition of Branden Albert but then what? Shelley Smith could be a valuable addition but he doesn’t project to be an outright starter. The right side of the line is still in shambles and additions such as Jason Fox will not fix that. The Dolphins will give up close to the same sack number if they don’t find a solution for the right side. Good news for them, there are plenty of players out there who can play well enough to improve the line. That being said, the loss of Jonathan Martin and John Jerry were not huge losses for the team.
Zoneblitz: Knowshon Moreno and Branden Albert should help the offense – what do you think of those signings and how do you like the Dolphins other free agency moves so far?
Miller: I like the Albert signing. It fixed a gaping hole. I would like the Moreno signing better if I felt confident he had blockers in front of him who could open holes. It really won’t matter who runs the ball if the line can’t open lanes of attack. The Dolphins will still face eight in the box until they prove they can successfully move the ball through the air and not give up sacks. The lack of running game makes Miami a one dimensional predictable offense.
Zoneblitz: Dion Jordan was the first round pick last year but there already have been talks of possibly trading him – what is your sense of the Jordan pick and of the drafting overall in recent years?
Miller: My biggest concern with Miami’s drafts is not the picks themselves. It’s with coaching. The Dolphins have drafted some very good talent entering the NFL but it seems once they get in Miami they do nothing or max out their potential at “average at best”. That has to change. Dion Jordan is a prime example. He looked good most of the time he was in the game yet he rode the sideline bench almost 90% of his rookie season. Granted Olivier Vernon was having a very solid season but that is no reason to leave your rookie pass rusher on the sidelines. Good coaches find a way to use playmakers.
Zoneblitz: The Dolphins’ defense was eighth in points allowed, but bottom third of the league in yardage allowed. What are the team’s needs on defense?
Miller: The Dolphins have a solid front five but they gave up a lot of ground yards last season. Most of that was due to poor support from the interior LB corps. Danelle Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler came nowhere close to the value of their contracts. The Dolphins need to find a big time playmaking middle LB. The defense should be fine as the team was able to keep Brent Grimes and Randy Starks while adding some potential starters in free agency.
Zoneblitz: The Dolphins haven’t been in the playoffs or over .500 since 2008. In the same division as the Patriots, how far is this team from making the jump to playoffs and championship contender?
Miller: Fans won’t like this but I won’t sugarcoat anything. This team is not close to making a solid contending deep playoff team. There are too many questions and frankly most of those rest on the coaching staff. This team right now is not on par with the Patriots or the Broncos and you could argue the Chiefs either. There simply is no continuity with this franchise right now and I’m not sold yet that Joe Philbin has the wherewithal to fire up and motivate this team. Talent wise is completely different. I think the Dolphins have more than enough talent to be serious contenders but not the way they are being motivated right now.
Zoneblitz: What else would you like to see Miami do in free agency and then in the draft?
Miller: If I were Dennis Hickey the first thing I would do is sign a veteran RT and pencil them into start. Having the right side of the line fixed, even if temporary gives the team an opportunity to draft BPA instead of for need. Teams tend to overreach when they draft for need. I would still have a heavy focus on lineman in the draft but in rounds one and two my back is not pressed against the proverbial wall that I must draft a lineman.