MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins opened training camp on Thursday as players reported for the first time to the teams practice facility in Davie.
The Dolphins have expectations for a successful season after ending the 2013 campaign with consecutive losses when one win would’ve put them in the playoffs.
When last season ended there were several areas in need of improvement and new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey has done a good job of addressing those issues through free agency and the NFL Draft.
The players will be hitting the field for the first time on Friday so let’s preview some of the pressing issues that will be focal points throughout training camp.
The area of the team that will be under the microscope the most during training camp will be the offensive line. After surrendering a franchise-record 58 sacks a season ago several moves were made to strengthen this area of extreme weakness. Left tackle Brandon Albert was arguably the best offensive lineman available in free agency and the Dolphins made it a point to reel him in, signing him to a five-year deal worth $47 million.
Miami also signed free agents Shelley Smith, Jason Fox and Daryn Colledge to compete with returning linemen Sam Brenner, Dallas Thomas and Nate Garner. The Dolphins also used two of their first three draft picks on linemen, selecting Ja’Wuan James in the first round and Billy Turner in the third. The only returning starter from last season is Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey who is expected to miss up to seven games while recovering from hip surgery.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is entering his third season in the NFL and many are considering it a make-or-break year for the former eighth overall pick. His first two years in the league were spent working under former Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman who was also Tannehill’s coach in college at Texas A&M. The offense under Sherman was bland and lacked any kind of flash or excitement that you see from so many other teams around the league.
The Dolphins replaced Sherman with Bill Lazor who comes to Miami after being courted by several teams following a very successful season as the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia. Lazor has brought an up-tempo offense to Miami that highlights playmakers and finds multiple ways to create mismatches for Tannehill to take advantage of.
Through organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp the Dolphins players have given Lazor’s offense rave reviews and while there have been some hiccups as the players continue learning this new offensive scheme, the true tests will begin when the players hit the field.
Miami also made some new additions on the defensive side of the ball that should help shore up an already solid unit. The Dolphins added hard-hitting safety Louis Delmas to replace Chris Clemons and as long as Delmas can stay healthy this move should be a nice upgrade. Miami’s secondary looks to be much deeper in 2014 after injuries became an issue during the second half of last season.
Former Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan is aiming to bounce back after a couple injuries limited his production a season ago. The same can be said about 2013 rookies Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, taken in the second and third rounds, respectively. Both players came into training camp a year ago with high expectations but a season full of injury issues kept them off the field for the majority of the year.
The area of the defense that needs to show the most improvement is the linebackers. Former general manager Jeff Ireland spent a lot of money last offseason brining in free agents Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler but both players underachieved defending both the passing and running game. Miami is hoping that the solution to this problem lies within. Ellerbe played middle linebacker last season despite having a lot of success as an outside linebacker in Baltimore so the decision was made to slide him back to the outside.
That means Koa Misi is going to move from the outside to middle linebacker, a position he’s never played during him time with the Dolphins or while playing in college for the University of Utah. Misi’s intelligence and athleticism have given coaches confidence that he’ll be able to handle the added responsibilities of a middle linebacker. Also, moving Ellerbe back his natural position and giving him more freedom to read and react on the outside should benefit not only himself but the linebacking corps as a whole.