There's a lot of hype flying around the Miami Dolphins this season, as the organization immediately made a huge wave when they signed All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the largest contract ever signed by a defensive player in the NFL. From then on, the team went all out and started finding pieces that fit what the Miami Dolphins were trying to become.
Under the leadership of Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and General Manager Dennis Hickey, the team found a way to effectively remove players who were either not producing the way they were expected to, or were not buying into the team-based philosophy the Dolphins wanted to portray.
During this time, players who did buy in were brought in and the team has immediately begun showing a brand new attitude that exemplifies the Dolphins motto of "Stronger Together".
But can this new team win when push comes to shove? With a brand new wide receiver corps and an offensive line that still has serious question marks all over it, will being stronger together be enough to win and give the Dolphins their first playoff berth since 2008? Well, if they really want to make it there, they'll have to score a lot of points, and thus, here are my top three individuals who I feel need to step up on offense for the team to succeed.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill
Let's just get this part of the story out of the way right now shall we? Obviously, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to have to continue to do what he's steadily done all three years of his career so far: improve. He's managed to make enough of a good impression that the front office gave him a big contract that has all but cemented him as the franchise quarterback. But there's a proviso.
The way the contract is structured is making it so that Tannehill is essentially gambling on himself. The contract is similar to that of San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, in the sense that if the organization ever decided that Tannehill was not the answer after all, they can safely jettison him after two seasons and basically start over with no horrible ramifications to the salary cap.
As the quarterback, Tannehill will have his hands on the ball on offense more than any other player on the team, and despite the constant message I preach regarding football being a team game - which I still maintain by the way - the offense will live or die depending on how well Tannehill does. Regardless of whether the fault is his or not, if Tannehill doesn't continue to grow, the offense's effectiveness will be limited.
Guard Billy Turner
I could have put Dallas Thomas in this slot...but then again, it's Dallas Thomas. As far as I'm concerned, he's going nowhere and either veteran Jeff Linkenbach or rookie Jamil Douglas will take the spot from him as training camp wears on. Since we don't know who will be the left guard for the Dolphins, I move over to the right side where the candidate for the job is all but confirmed with Billy Turner.
Turner has a reputation as a mauler who can use his strength and physicality to push people around in the run game, while having his weakness in the technique and footwork of the position. People have been concerned that Turner is not panning out the way the Dolphins were hoping as veteran Jeff Linkenbach was taking first-team snaps from him.
But what needs to be remembered is this: Training camp hasn't started yet. OTAs and Mini-Camp are meant to practice hand technique and footwork, hitting is not allowed. As a result, Turner fell behind the veteran and speculation began flying around. Now that training camp is coming, Turner will get to use his greatest asset and show off his physicality, which I am confident will cement him as the starting right guard.
If the Dolphins are going to succeed in 2015, Billy Turner needs to lock down that spot and be good enough to keep Ryan Tannehill on his feet and off his back. Tannehill has been sacked 139 times in three seasons, that's unacceptable. Only one QB has been sacked more in his first three years as a starter, and that's David Carr...he was sacked 140 times. Only one more.
The offensive line must be solidified for the Dolphins to click the way we want it to, and Billy Turner will need to step up and prove that he can be who we all want him to be for that to happen. There's already a guaranteed question mark at left guard, there can't be one at right guard.
Tight End Dion Sims
This might seem a bit out of left field but I'm getting the feeling that Sims will need to continue his development and take that next step for the Dolphins offense to really reach its full potential. Although Sims was originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft to be the team's blocking tight end - leaving former Dolphins TE Michael Egnew to be the receiving specialist - the young player out of Michigan State has proven his worth to the team with his ability to do both.
Sims became a well-used target by Ryan Tannehill near the tail-end of the 2014 season, and for the most part, Sims succeeded and earned the snaps he received. But despite his jump in ability from his rookie year to his second year, Sims will have to become better at everything he does, and not just because the offense likes to use two tight ends from time to time.
There's no question that Pro Bowl TE Jordan Cameron is the top man in Miami right out of the starting gate, and not even Sims will be taking that spot from him anytime soon...provided the former Cleveland Brown manages to stay healthy and avoids getting another concussion.
Should something happen to Cameron, Sims will become the top tight end on the team, and he will have to pick up the slack and become the big redzone target that Cameron has already proven to be in OTAs and Mini-Camp. At 6'4", Sims has the size to pull it off, and even with Cameron healthy, don't be surprised if he'll be expected to step up and make plays more than once this next season.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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