The Miami Dolphins may not be ready to overtake the New England Patriots, but they are getting closer.
After making the AFC Playoffs last season, only to exit in the first round, will this be the season the team under the guide of Adam Gase, makes a run deep in the post season?
The components are there. The offense, led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is gaining steam. The running game, with Jay Ajayi, is better than many thought it would be. The Miami Dolphins are the team that could surprise many this coming season. Personally, I would not be shocked.
Miami does have some deficiencies it must deal with. The defense needs to be stronger, as does the offensive line. But if Gase and his crew continue to build on last season, this could be another solid season for the Miami Dolphins.
Here are three questions this team must answer as the team moves toward training camp.
Does Ryan Tannehill Take The Next Step?
I know my colleague Rick O’Donnell hopes so.
While Dan Marino is the “man” and the greatest quarterback in team history, Tannehill’s stats in his career aren’t far off from No. 13. Less than 1,000 yards separate the two through their first five seasons in the NFL.
While Marino had Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, Tannehill has some impressive weapons of his own. Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills aren’t chopped liver and can stretch the field. DeVante Parker is finally healthy, and the Dolphins brought aboard tight end Julius Thomas from Jacksonville to replace the drop-prone Jordan Cameron. Look for them to thrive while Tannehill is in control of the Miami Dolphins offense.
The one thing that makes Tannehill a better quarterback in this offense is his mobility in the pocket. Even for his size, he is able to run and advance the football.
How Good Will This Defense Be?
That might be the biggest question this training camp. Miami ranked an abysmal 30th against the run last season. On top of that, the defense only sacked the opposing quarterback 33 times. The secondary played very well, but the true test will be whether newly signed linebacker Lawrence Timmons can have a big enough impact to help the defense get off the field.
Will the additions in the draft, with Charles Harris being added as a pass rusher to eventually replace Cam Wake and bringing in former Rams defensive end William Hayes enough?
The secondary will have to play as well, if not better this season if the team is to move past the first round of the playoffs.
Is Jay Ajayi Ready To Become An Elite Runner?
Ajayi had almost 1,200 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He showed his elusiveness and his ability to become a bell cow running back with three 200-yard games. The Dolphins haven’t had that kind of runner since Ricky Williams was in orange and aqua.
Ajayi must prove he is not a one-hit wonder. The Dolphins offensive line was improved last season, but it still has some question marks. Will Gase be able to count on Ajayi not only to move the chains, but to help the running game? Now that teams know about him, they will put more defenders in the box. This will create more chances for Tannehill to see one-on-one matchups with his wide receivers.
I like the idea of Ajayi becoming more of a threat in this offense. While so much emphasis is placed on the passing game in the NFL, there is yet another reason why this team will be even more balanced in 2017?