Written by Chris Perkins of the Sun-Sentinel
After all of the Dolphins’ recent changes – new offensive coordinator, new offense, new left and right tackles, new running back, new free safety, a switch at linebacker, etc… -- their 2014 outlook is about the same as their 2013 record. The Dolphins appear to be an 8-8 team. In the most realistically optimistic circumstance they could be 10-6. In the most realistically pessimistic circumstance they should be no worse than 7-9. That’s how things look right now.
If that sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. It’s the same thing I thought about the Dolphins days before the 2013 season began.
Obviously, my 2014 projections/expectations could change during training camp and preseason games. The 8-8 projection is based largely on observations from OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and minicamp, a time when players weren’t wearing pads and therefore can’t be assessed with much reliability.
However, for the last two years I’ve thought the key to the Dolphins making the playoffs is acquiring/developing more playmakers. And that’s the case again this year.
The Dolphins have a boatload of good players, guys who are fairly reliable and deserve to be NFL starters or key reserves.
What the Dolphins (still) lack is enough difference-makers in the mold of cornerback Brent Grimes, center Mike Pouncey, defensive end Cam Wake, defensive tackle Randy Starks, left tackle Branden Albert, and yes, punter Brandon Fields.
The Dolphins need more guys who make plays that win games.
Perhaps someone emerges into a reliable playmaker from the Dolphins’ next tier of players – quarterback Ryan Tannehill, wide receivers Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace, tight end Charles Clay, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, defensive end Olivier Vernon, and strong safety Reshad Jones.
Ideally, it’s Tannehill. But it could be anyone. Maybe Hartline has a third consecutive 1,000-yard season and has, say, 10 touchdowns. Maybe Vernon repeats his 11.5-sack performance from last season. Perhaps Jones reverts to his 2012 form, when he seemed on the verge of being one of the best safeties in the NFL.
Perhaps the difference-maker comes from a completely different group of players. Maybe kicker Caleb Sturgis becomes a weapon. What about rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James forming a one-man wall? How about defensive end Dion Jordan or cornerback Cortland Finnegan filling the difference-maker role?
The Dolphins have plenty of candidates to take that proverbial “next step” and propel this team into the playoffs. The roster has good talent, and it has for years.
But until the Dolphins show they've developed or acquired more difference-makers, they appear headed for another 8-8 season.
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