MIAMI (AP) — Another training camp practice had just ended, and Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill walked toward a lectern to field the latest round of media queries.
“Is this going to be good?” someone asked as Tannehill approached a cluster of microphones.
“It’s going to be great,” Tannehill answered with a smile, emphasizing the last word. “Real exciting.”
Instead, the interview session was predictably humdrum. Tannehill and the Dolphins are saving any excitement for the season.
After four consecutive losing years, the franchise’s longest such skid since the 1960s, the Dolphins should be more fun to watch in 2013. They upgraded their unimposing corps of receivers by acquiring Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, and an already formidable defensive front seven became faster and younger with the additions of linebackers Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe and Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall draft pick. But an unsettled offensive line raises questions about the Dolphins’ ability to run and protect Tannehill, which means they may again have trouble moving the ball.
Last year Miami lost five games by a touchdown or less, scoring 21 points or less in all of them, en route to a 7-9 finish. A succession of low-scoring games is again likely in 2013.
Here are five things to watch as the Dolphins try to win the close ones:
TANNEHILL’S TARGETS: The quarterback threw for 3,294 yards last year — more than fellow rookies Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson — but totaled just 12 touchdown passes, including only three to wideouts. So Miami upgraded the pass-catching corps by acquiring Wallace and Gibson to join holdover Brian Hartline. Wallace ranks among the NFL’s fastest players and totaled 32 touchdown catches in four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he gives Tannehill the deep threat he lacked last year when the Dolphins ranked 27th in total yards. New TE Dustin Keller’s season-ending knee injury eliminates one important potential pass target, and Miami is now expected to use a lot of three-wide formations.
TACKLE TO TACKLE IMPROVEMENT? Blocking has been inconsistent the past several seasons and remains the biggest question mark for second-year head coach Joe Philbin, who coached the offensive line as an NFL assistant. Second-year pro Jonathan Martin has moved from right tackle to left tackle and must prove he’s a worthy replacement for the departed Jake Long. There’s little depth behind Martin, and the starting job at right guard went unclaimed during training camp. Running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas both started slowly this summer in their competition to replace Reggie Bush, and Miami might not muster the kind of ground game that would take pressure off Tannehill.
TAKEAWAYS WANTED: Miami tied for fourth-worst in the NFL in takeaways last year, and improving that ranking is Philbin’s No. 1 priority. His staff hung footballs from the walls of defensive meeting rooms so players would become more accustomed to swiping at them. Three speedy newcomers — Philip Ellerbe, Dannell Wheeler and top draft pick Dion Jordan — are expected to make the defense more disruptive. New cornerback Brent Grimes has 13 career interceptions and won raves in camp for his ball-hawking skills.
DOMINATE DEFENSE UP FRONT: The front seven has the potential to control the line of scrimmage, with the charge being led by 340-pound nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Cameron Wake, who has 43 sacks in four NFL seasons. The group is so stout Jordan will likely see only spot duty in passing situations even when he’s fully recovered from shoulder surgery last winter.
IS STABILITY A GOOD THING? For the first time in the past three offseasons, the Dolphins conducted no head-coaching search. The quarterback situation is also settled for a change, with Tannehill returning after he became the first Dolphins rookie QB to start all 16 games. And much-maligned Jeff Ireland is back for a sixth season as general manager. Owner Stephen Ross endorsed all three and said the emphasis is on long-term success for a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason game since 2000. “We certainly want to make the playoffs,” Ross said. “But I want to see growth in the team in building the foundation for this season and future seasons. I don’t want to be a one-shot wonder.”