Reporting Tim Kephart
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DAVIE (CBSMiami) – After a year in which the Dolphins ranked near the bottom of the league in passing, the team spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading the receivers quarterback Ryan Tannehill has at his disposal.
On paper, it’s an impressive array of speed (Mike Wallace) consistency (Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson) and potential mismatches (Dustin Keller). But there have been countless NFL teams that looked great on paper, but never could translate the talent onto the field.
For the Fins, the key will be forming a bond between the new players, like Wallace and Gibson, and Tannehill.
“I like what I see,” Tannehill said. “We have a lot of talent on the field, a lot of guys who can get open, catch the ball and do something with it when they get the ball in their hands. I’m excited that we have playmakers on the field. Now it’s just a matter of putting the puzzle together and me doing a good job giving them the ball.”
Longtime Dolphins observers say the new pass-catching group might be the team’s best since 1994, when Dan Marino had his final 30-touchdown season.
“This group of receivers is really talented,” said O.J. McDuffie, who was part of the ’94 group. “Our top three guys are going to be tough. And you can put Dustin Keller in there as a wide receiver, because he gives guys fits. If you put a safety on him, he can handle that. We’ve got a lot of good things happening on offense with those guys out wide that can give teams a lot of problems.”
Tannehill threw a touchdown pass to Keller against the Jaguars after the tight end lost his coverage man. The Tannehill pass was behind Keller in a place only he could catch it and the tight end came through for his quarterback.
Wallace, Keller and Gibson combined for 58 touchdown catches over the past five years, and none is older than 28. While Wallace and Keller are expected to stretch the field, Gibson will be a possession receiver playing the slot for the first time in his career.
“Brandon has been a good addition for us,” Tannehill said. “He brings athleticism to the slot. He’s a guy who can win for us in the seam, understands crossing patterns and understands man-zone reads, when to sit and when to settle down into a zone. He’s a good asset.”
The Fins also have some options behind Keller at tight end that can help. Charles Clay is a bit undersized for tight end and not quite a fullback, but has good hands coming out of the backfield and could factor in to the equation.
The team has also been pleased with the development of tight end Michael Egnew and pleasantly surprised with the good hands of rookie Dion Sims who many believed was drafted for his solid blocking ability.
More passing by Miami is likely this season, and the ball was flying in practice Wednesday when the Dolphins lined up five wide with an empty backfield for a seven-on-seven drill.
“Our tight ends are like hybrid tight ends, so any time we have two of those guy in the game, it’s like we’re going five wide,” Wallace said. “And Lamar is talking about taking our spot at wide receiver, so he’s feeling good about his routes and what he brings to the table when he splits out. So it’s very dangerous, and it’s fun. Ryan can see the field a lot better when all of us are spread out for him. He can just take his pick.”
Of course, as good as the wide receiving corps may be on paper, Tannehill has to stay upright long enough to get the ball to his improved pass catchers. That means more focus will be put on the offensive line this year and so far, the results have been mixed.
The line has dealt with injuries at the right guard position and only got last year’s starter John Jerry back on the field Wednesday.
While the line struggles to find cohesion, the new receivers are still meshing with Tannehill. Through two exhibition games he has yet to complete a pass to Wallace. Fits and starts during training camp are to be expected with Miami’s promising passing game, Keller said.
“The sky’s the limit. You have a lot of great guys who can make plays out there,” he said. “But you’ve got to put the work in. You could have the best receivers in the NFL, but if they don’t jell, it’s the worst group of receivers in the NFL.”
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