Originally written on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 9/3/12

2011 in a Nutshell: 6-10

It was a tale of two seasons for the Dolphins in 2011, an 0-7 start had the fans experiencing bad memories of 2007 where they went 1-15. Post Halloween saw a major change in fortunes for the Dolphins as they went 6-3 and gave their fans something to celebrate. Head coach Tony Sparano was fired after a week 14 loss to Philadelphia and according to many, not a moment too soon. Two major positives to come out of the season were running back Reggie Bush finally looked like he knew what he was doing carrying the ball as he topped 1000 yards for the first time in his career in his first season as a lead back. Despite starting the year on the bench, Matt Moore came in when Chad Henne took his annual trip to the team physio and looked very good in his 12 starts. While Moore wasn’t a game-breaking type of player throwing for 300+ yards like Brady and Brees, he didn’t screw up a whole lot which is all he was asked to do. Their final two performances were impressive as they gave the Patriots a scare in week 16 before knocking the Jets out of the playoffs in week 17 by defeating them.

2012 Season Motto: One sentence summary of what to expect

Personnel Performance

Over the course of the offseason, there were a series of decisions made by the front office that, on their own made sense but as a whole, had some questioning if the heat and humidity had gone to their heads. First of all they traded away their best wide receiver Brandon Marshall for two third round picks. On the surface that made great sense as Marshall, while remarkably talented, was continuing to act like a giant pain in the ass off the field with a bevy of off field arrests and charges, the most recent one being an accusation (which later came to nothing) of him punching a woman in a nightclub. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their efforts to replace Marshall failed miserably when they picked up Chad Johnson-Ochocinco-Johnson who was already in the twilight of his career. Johnson lasted all of two months with the Dolphins before he was eventually released after an arrest in mid-August. The Dolphins ownership decided that the franchise needed more star power on the field however they were not able to attract any big names to the team in free agency.

Holding the number eight pick in the draft the Dolphins went all in on getting their franchise quarterback despite the solid showing by Matt Moore and the acquisition of David Garrard in free agency. After failing to trade up for a shot at Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, the Dolphins were left to draft at their assigned slot where they picked up Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M. On the bright side for fans, Miami is a place with very warm weather and Tannehill has a very attractive wife but other than that bonus, it’s a move that is hard to endorse. Back before the draft I said he has the potential to be a very good quarterback but he was in no way ready to take the starting job from opening day in his rookie season and the Dolphins would be pressured into doing so, which would be something they would regret, but more on that later. The rest of the Dolphins draft was much like their free agency class, plenty of players who should be decent but no real star power among the group. One potential breakout player is fourth round running back Lamar Miller out of Miami who could find himself in games if Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas miss time. All in all things look to be very tough for new head coach Joe Philbin in his first season but unless he has a Cam Cameron-esque season, he will get the time to mould this team into a contender.

Key Player for 2012: Cameron Wake – LB

As the Dolphins transform back to a 4-3 team, their best pass rusher Cameron Wake will be making the transition to a defensive end from his outside linebacker position. Wake’s story is an amazing read as a standalone piece but it’s not the time or place so here are the cliffs notes. After spending two years dominating the CFL, Wake signed with the Dolphins in 2009 and had a coming out parting in 2010 where he sacked the quarterback 14 times and made a good name for himself with his tenacious nature. At 6’3” and 250lbs he will be a bit undersized as an end and could find himself getting run on but his high-motor will means he won’t get bullied around. When it comes to pressuring the quarterback, he may be the best in the division at doing so thanks to his range of moves that are very tough to stop.

Season Expectations

Joining Cameron Wake along the defensive line is a group of good players but they seem to be lacking a little bit of depth. Last year’s top pick Jared Odrick is listed as the left end and he will be a tough player to run on while in the middle there is Paulo Soliai and Randy Starks, a challenging duo for any offensive line to handle. Those guys unfortunately won’t be able to play every down at their size and that is where the Dolphins could get found out with the replacements not being that good. It is a similar story for the linebackers with Koa Misi, Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby forming a solid trio inside but beyond that there is not much on offer. Veteran Gary Guyton was signed to provide depth and competition but he ultimately found himself a victim of final roster cuts leaving a series of young players as the backups. In the secondary it makes for slightly better reading as they got rid of Vontae Davis who was relegated to nickel duty before his trade to the Colts leaving them with Richard Marshall, Sean Smith and Nolan Carroll as their primary corners as well as a solid safety group in Chris Clemons, Troy Nolan and Reshad Jones. This unit should make things tough for opponents but they will need a lot of luck and to stay out of the training room.

It would have made sense for Miami to stick with the stable if unspectacular guy at quarterback for the near future and let Tannehill learn on the bench while Matt Moore tried to pull a Drew Brees. But in a desperate ploy to try and sell tickets, the Dolphins are starting their rookie in a move that looks more likely to backfire than benefit the team. Of course neither quarterback will really have a reliable receiver to throw to with their one proven option now in Chicago. Legedu Naanee and Anthony Armstrong project as the starters having come from San Diego and Washington respectively. Armstrong won’t be an early contributor however as he only just arrived after being cut by the Redskins. Their best receiver is their slot guy Davone Bess who is a great option but will be facing more and more scrutiny this year as he can’t fly under the radar now that teams are aware of what he is capable of. Tight end Anthony Fasano will operate as a nice safety valve for the quarterbacks to use as well but he is not one of the league’s best. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas form a solid 1-2 punch out of the backfield but Bush has had issues staying healthy and Thomas was known for fumbling problems in college so both have their limits.

Miami gets a very tough start on the schedule opening up at Houston in a game that could give them confidence if they can play it close. From there things actually look half decent for them as they face a run of teams that are definitely beatable if they play well before a week seven bye. Their feature game of the season will come in week 11 against the Bills where, if all goes well, they could still be over .500 at that point. From that point on things get much tougher as they face New England twice, San Francisco and Buffalo during a nightmare December to close out the season.

Final: Will they be better or worse off than last year?

I’ll be totally honest here, I haven’t loved a lot of what the Dolphins have done this offseason but they closed out strongly playing for interim coach Todd Bowles last season and it could be one of those years where the team plays better as a unit than what their Madden ratings may suggest. Seven wins is doable but they will need to perform well outside of their division to get there as they aren’t quite at the same level as the Patriots and the Bills.

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