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Miami Dolphins: Key Storylines To Watch For In OTAs

Dolphins Aaron Whitaker Via Flickr


Miami Dolphins: Key Storylines

As we continue through the doldrums of the 2017 offseason, OTAs have finally made their way here. The Miami Dolphins ended the 2016 season with a sour taste in their mouth, getting blown out in their last two games. A 10-6 playoff run in Adam Gase’s first season as head coach was a good start. These are some of the Dolphins key storylines to watch for during the offseason.

Ryan Tannehill

Sounds a little redundant, doesn’t it? This might seem like an obvious choice, but Tannehill holds the keys to Miami’s playoff hopes. Year after year, we expect Tannehill to have a breakout year, and it’s getting old. However, In 2015 Miami had a completely different team than they do today. Still, Tannehill looked good tossing for 4,200 yards and 24 touchdowns. A stagnant offense and overall mediocre team play limited his passer rating to 88.7.

But when Adam Gase arrived, Tannehill took the next step.

Before his injury last year, Tannehill was looking to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Tannehill posted a 93.5 passer rating and looked like a different player. After the injury, the offense plummeted against superior competition, as did the defense. Only a few OTA sessions are open to the media and, according to FanRag Sports, Tannehill is looking healthy — minus the huge brace on his knee. Coaches, players, and media members all seem to think their quarterback is ready to go. Ryan Tannehill needs to get back into his groove, and just rebuild that chemistry with his offense. If he does indeed take that next step, watch out for the Miami offense.

Who is Going to Stop the Run?

Other than quarterback, this is the biggest Dolphins key storyline to follow. Very few NFL teams who finish in the bottom three of the league in rushing defense make the playoffs. Somehow, Miami gave up explosive rush plays left and right last season and made the playoffs. In free agency, Miami addressed the defense, as well as in the NFL draft. The Dolphins have infused a mixture of youth and veterans in the secondary, linebackers, and the defensive line.

Run-stuffing ends William Hayes and first round pick Charles Harris both bring different tools to the table. In addition, Harris is a pass rushing specialist. Andre Branch re-signed with Miami and feels much more comfortable this year. “I’m my biggest critic. I’m working just like I’m a rookie. I don’t want to let any of my teammates down.” said Branch. Look for him and Cameron Wake to lead a hopefully improved pass rush. The Miami offensive line so far through OTAs looks a little suspect. As a result, this may skew how we judge the defensive line and linebackers.

The linebackers have a few new playmakers this season. Longtime Steeler Lawrence Timmons and rookie Raekwon McMillan are tackling machines. Also, both are versatile and can play either inside or outside. Kiko Alonso rounds it out and just signed to a three-year extension. Reshad Jones is back to normal and “feels great” after going down in October last season. Look for this defense to overall be a little better against the run, and some new concepts thrown in this spring. Miami desperately needs someone other than Ndamukong Suh to step up in the run game.

Offensive Line Concerns

Three 200-yard rushing games and a top-ten rushing offense would usually indicate a potent offensive line. Despite throwing up gaudy numbers against lesser competition, the offensive line wasn’t great last year.

Mike Pouncey was out most the season, and Brandon Albert could never stay healthy. Albert has headed off to Jacksonville, and Laremy Tunsil has moved out to left tackle. Ja’Wuan James mans the right tackle, but Pouncey may not be fully healthy until the preseason. The two guard spots are up for grabs with Jermon Bushrod and Kraig Urbik returning. Veteran guard Ted Larsen was brought in, as was rookie Matt Asiata, an aggressive guard from Utah.

Not many options at backup tackle is a huge concern. The starting five look to be overmatched in OTAs yet again, and that is never a good sign. Of course, there are no pads, but you would expect more from this experienced group. Miami needs someone to step up big time or the interior line could be a weak link yet again.

Pass blocking isn’t exactly a strong suit of this position either. Miami gave up 30 sacks last year, good for 23rd in the NFL. Matt Moore was only sacked once, ironically. With Tunsil playing his true left tackle position, the Dolphins have three first round picks at the three most important positions. Tunsil, James, and Pouncey need to stay healthy and pass blocking should take care of itself. Find a capable guard or two on the depth chart, and the windows for Ryan Tannehill might get a little longer.

2017 Will Be a Step Forward

Overall, the Dolphins key storylines heading into OTAs are relatively easy to identify. Ryan Tannehill obviously needs to have a productive season, leading the offense. The rush defense will be forced to play at a higher level, but depth looks like less of an issue than it did four months ago. The offensive line seems to be a never-ending paradox for the Miami Dolphins. As for any team in the NFL, Miami needs some of these new players to make immediate impacts.

With that being said, Miami is going to have a productive 2017 season. The Dolphins look like one of the teams on the rise in the NFL. Playing in a weak division, plus having a very strong offseason should lead to success come September.  The offense has one of the best receiving cores in the NFL, a top-ten running back, and have Pro Bowlers at every level of the defense. Ironically, good quarterback and offensive line play will catapult this team near the contender conversation.