It appears as though the Miami Dolphins have taken a significant step in closing the gap between them and the New England Patriots. The Dolphins have done this through making a splash in free agency, with the major signing of Mike Wallace, and lesser signings of Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler, Brandon Gibson & Dustin Keller. As well has having a solid draft. While the New England Patriots on the other hand, have been a victim of circumstance. Losing Wes Welker to free agency, letting Brandon Lloyd walk, a back surgery to Gronk, and most surprising losing Hernandez after being arrested and charged with murder. And in addition to all of this, Tom Brady is another year older, and his accuracy seems to be fading ever so slowly.
What the success of the Miami Dolphins will hinge on is the second year step of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. While Tannehill did not have the impressive seasons as other quarterbacks taken in last years draft, what he did show was poise in the pocket, and the ability to read defenses. Tannehill played well in his rookie season despite his small sample size of starts in college, and poor supporting cast in the NFL. While Tannehill had a rough start to his career, in Tannehills final 5 games of the season he had 5 TD’s and 1 INT. While the numbers aren’t jaw dropping, what they do show is a young quarter back starting to “figure it out”. Tannehill has the pocket poise, vision and determination to take that next step. And the Dolphins front office went out and made sure Tannehill would have the tools at his disposal this season. What he got was a deep threat in Mike Wallace. Wallace has said that Tannehill may actually have a stronger arm then Big Ben, and we all know what Ben and Wallace did together in Pittsburgh. Mike Wallace also brings an element of being able to stretch the field which is something the Dolphins have not had for many years. This field stretching ability should open up the middle of the field for the newly signed tight end, Dustin Keller. Keller is more of a pass catching tight end than a blocking tight end. And has made a career of catching seam route passes. Coming off a disappointing season with the Jets, and signing a one year “show me what you’re worth” deal, it’s safe to assume that Keller is going to be leaving it all out on the field this year so he can get paid. Brandon Gibson is the next weapon Tannehill will have, and has flown somewhat under the radar. Gibson started slowly in Dolphins camp, but has begun to gain rave reviews lining up in the slot. Gibson is another guy that is going to try to prove he can be something in this league. From pre-season reports he does not want to line up in the slot, he feels as though he can play on the outside. But the Dolphins are likely going to have him in the slot, and he is going to have to prove to the Dolphins that he is a receiver that is going to be able to play on the outside.
Another key component that will play into the success of Tannehill is the success of second year play Lamar Miller. With the departure of Reggie Bush, Miller now has a chance to step into the starting roll. He will have to hold of Daniel Thomas, but with the time Miller has put in to improving his blocking, and if he is able to build on the burst through the hole that he showed last year, he should not have too much trouble holding off Thomas. What is going to help Miller look better this year is that Miami went out and got Tannehill all of those weapons and this is what is going to be on the mind of defenses when they come to play the dolphins to start the 2013 season. Miller will fall under the radar as there is not a lot of pro tape on him having only 51 carries last season. This factor, in addition to the signing of Clabo to the offense line is going to help Miller. Tyson Clabo, the former Falcon is a very good run blocker, and this should benefit Miller.
The biggest question will be – Can they mesh it all together? There is a lot of new moving parts on this football team. And it is going to be up to second year coach Joe Philbin to get the “buy in” of these new players. Show them what it is going to take to mesh together, and become a cohesive football team. It appears as though the parts are there to build the foundation for the future of the Miami Dolphins, and this is year one. Is it asking to much in year one for the Dolphins to close the gap on the Patriots? Probably. But it’s hard to argue that the Patriots are on the decline, and the Dolphins are on the rise. And will this be the year that the Patriots see the significant drop in Brady’s play? Is this the year the dolphins see the significant increase in Tannehills play? Only time will tell, but things seem to be pointing in that direction.