DAVIE (CBSMiami/AP) — This is the time of year where optimism runs rampant throughout the NFL, and it’s no different in South Florida.
Joe Philbin was looking out toward the Miami Dolphins practice field after an offseason workout when receiver Greg Jennings came along and offered his impassive coach a pair of sunglasses.
With the season weeks away, Philbin was at his most relaxed. So he smiled slightly.
“You know, in 32 years of coaching I’ve never worn sunglasses on the field,” he said. “It’s a bad look.”
Maybe Philbin should reconsider, because the Dolphins’ future is bright. Their busy offseason won favorable reviews, and they’ll begin training camp expecting to end a seven-year playoff drought and perhaps even challenge the Patriots’ reign in the AFC East.
“We have all of the pieces that we need to have a special 2015,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.
Here are some reasons Tannehill might be right:
SET AT QB: The Dolphins might have their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino, and they’ll certainly pay Tannehill as if he is one. In May, he received a $96 million, six-year extension.
“Ryan brings so much to the table,” general manager Dennis Hickey said. “He has been a guy that we’ve seen grow, and we’re really excited about the future with Ryan as our quarterback.”
Detractors will note that Tannehill has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs, or even a winning season. But Tannehill started all 48 games since being drafted with the eighth overall pick in 2012, and he has improved each year, throwing for 27 touchdowns and 4,045 yards with only 12 interceptions last season.
NEW HELP: Despite Tannehill’s glowing statistics, the Dolphins ranked only 30th in yards per completion last season, and the offseason brought a major shake-up in the receiving group.
Gone are Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Charles Clay, four of Tannehill’s top six targets. They’ve been replaced by Jennings, Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron and top draft pick DeVante Parker.
Holdovers include Jarvis Landry, who led Miami in receiving as a rookie last season, and 1,000-yard rusher Lamar Miller.
“We added a bunch of great pieces that all contribute in different ways and really make us tough to defend,” Tannehill said. “I feel like right now our talent level at the skill positions is as high as it’s been since I’ve been here. So I’m excited about that.”
BIG ACQUISITION: The Dolphins landed the top prize in free agency, three-time first-team All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. A $114 million, six-year deal made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, and he’s expected to bolster a defense that ranked 24th against the rush and allowed 113 points in the final three games as Miami faded from the playoff race.
The addition of Suh should more than compensate for the loss of Jared Odrick and Randy Starks in free agency, giving the Dolphins a stout front four that also includes Pro Bowl end Cameron Wake.
“We look great on paper, and that doesn’t really matter at this point, because we’re not playing against anybody,” Suh said. “We want to be become an actual great team.”
The biggest question marks on offense include both guard positions and the health of left tackle Branden Albert.
POOR FINISHES: The Dolphins lost their last two games in 2013 and three of the final four in 2014, finishing 8-8 each time. Philbin and his staff have tweaked the training regimen in an attempt to ensure players stay fresher so December can be different.
“We have talked about once that time comes, put the foot on the accelerator and go,” Tannehill said.
PHILBIN’S FATE: Yes, as the Dolphins prepare for their 50th season, the future looks bright. Even the team’s 28-year-old stadium is receiving an upgrade, thanks to a two-year renovation project costing more than $400 million.
But the 2014 Dolphins were widely regarded as underachievers, and Philbin enters this season with his job on the line. He’s the first Dolphins coach since the 1960s to return after three consecutive years without a winning season. It’s unlikely team owner Stephen Ross will allow that streak to continue much longer.
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