- WR Hartline cut after 6 seasons WR Gibson was also released
- Mike Tannenbaum hired... ...as Dolphins' executive VP of football operations
- Philbin retained Coach Philbin was given a contract extension
- Fins season ends on low note Jets down the Fins to end their season 8-8
2011: reasons to hope?
Well guys, here it is: the 2011 NFL regular season. After the most unusual offseason in the history of the sport, football is back baby!
Masochist Dolfans (redundant, I know) brace themselves for another season of possible disappointment. Sure, there are a few fans who have not had their optimism ground to dust by years of coming up short. The optimists list more than a few valid reasons for hope:
Addition by subtraction – Part 1: gone is dinosaur/albatross OC Dan Henning. I had doubts former Cleveland OC Brian Daboll would be an upgrade, but the fact is I liked the play calling in the preseason. Sparano admits that during the offseason he realized that Miami needed to pass more (you think?) and Daboll looks like he’s delivering on that so far.
“Jesus in Cleats”: Reggie Bush has explosive ability and showed his rookie year that he can be a force. Playing on Miami’s natural turf with a chip onhis shoulder, Bush plans to prove he can be a great every down back. You need playmakers to succeed, and Bush adds firepower to an offense that aside from LT Jake Long and WR Brandon Marshall is filled at best with solid but not spectacular players.
<strong>Addition by subtraction – Part 2: gone is passing defense liability ILB Channing Crowder, replaced by former Charger ILB Kevin Burnett who is supposed to be better in coverage.
Good defense: Miami’s defense last year was pretty good and returns everyone they wanted. Misi is more experienced, #99 is there to provide some rush opposite Wake, and sooner or later the DBs will start holding on to those possible INTs, right?
No horrible losses: we didn’t lose any major contributors, and by all appearances added a few upgrades to last year’s 7-9 squad. A better record should be the result.
Valid arguments. You might even go a step further and consider the state of our division rivals:
Patriots: On offense everyone knows what they’re getting with Brady. Sooner or later Branch is going to lose a step as a deep threat, and Ocho Cinco is no spring chicken. Welker is already dinged – playing Special Teams during the preseason of all things. So their WR corps could be a weakness. On defense there are big question marks about the LBs and secondary. The Patriots D hasn’t been great for years now and there’s little reason to think they’ll suddenly be great now. Haynesworth could be scary, but by all accounts is out of shape.
Jets: Sanchez can make as many bad throws as good. The offense should be about the same, maybe a little better. Defense has been good – but where is the pass rush going to come from and who is going to stop the run? Vulnerable if you ask me, and Miami has had success against them under Sparano winning 4 of the past 6 games.
Bills: could be improved, but won’t be great. Fitzgerald played better than expected, their WR corps is underrated, and they added dangerous utility man Brad Smith. But their defense still has question marks and the offense is far from a sure thing. Again, Sparano’s Dolphins have won 4 of the past 6 outings.
All this points to reasons for hope, right?
Not so fast there, Skippy. Lift up your aqua & coral glasses for a minute and take a look at the negatives.
First and foremost, management jerked this team around to start the offseason (failed pursuit of Harbaugh) and again at training camp (failed pursuit of Orton). Both moves scream lack of faith in our current leaders, Sparano and Henne. Last time I checked this is a team sport, and I don’t see management giving the team a lot of reasons to believe in their leaders. Supposedly players love playing for Sparano, but if this team struggles early it isn’t difficult to imagine the players quickly giving up on Sparano if they think he’s a “dead man walking”. This is an easy conclusion to come to given how this team responded last season to close out the season with three losses. Now, compare the overall vibe of this team to Sparano’s first season when they were a unified commando unit bound and determined to “out tough” everyone. Whatever happened to the toughness motto? I don’t know if it’s simply due to the coverage by the media, but the general sense I get doesn’t exude confidence or determination. I think they’ll work hard and try, but I think players will quickly accept defeat if things don’t bounce their way – primarily due to the tone management set in how they treated Sparano and Henne. By all accounts, Ross and Ireland have treated this season as a throw away due to the lockout shortened offseason, expecting to make major changes this offseason unless Sparano and Henne impress them. Given the lack of support, it isn’t hard to imagine the impending struggles / failure.
Second, a LOT rides on Henne’s performance. I like Henne and truly hope Daboll helps Henne elevate his game. Henne doesn’t have anything to lose and certainly played well enough in the preseason. But is anyone honestly confident that Henne can put this team on his shoulders and lead them to victory? Anyone? Bueller?
Third, while Pouncey looks like he is a good addition to the OL, well… you know… to say the OL has issues is an understatement. And that’s assuming super star LT Jake Long is healthy enough to hold down the left side of the line. God help them if the OL has any injuries. Hopefully Henne and Bush don’t get killed.
Fourth, Bush is an explosive weapon, but that’s meaningless if he’s injured. Even with the Saints limiting his touches he hasn’t been able to play a full season for several years. Worse, Miami plans to run him between the tackles where he’ll be exposed to more punishment. The question isn’t if he’ll get injured but when it will happen (the optimist in me says no later than game 8). Meanwhile rookie RB Daniel Thomas has been merely ok, coupled with a hamstring injury announced yesterday. The other RBs are so underwhelming that Miami re-signed washed up Larry Johnson today after cutting him less than a week ago. Questionable OL and RBs do not project for a lot of run support for Henne and the passing game. On a side note, why does Jeff Ireland’s keep bringing in free agents with injury histories and expecting them to suddenly stay healthy in Miami?
Fifth, Fasano isn’t the greatest TE, but you better hope he stays healthy. Some waiver wire additions might offer hope (Dante Rosario and Jaron Mastrud), but forgive me if I don’t get excited about other teams cast offs.
Sixth, on defense there’s hope that they’ll improve upon their good performance last year. But Miami needs to prove they can cover TEs (same scheme + same safeties + Kevin Burnett (right) = maybe, maybe not). CB Vontae Davis’s bravado aside, he and Smith need to come up with more INTs for this defense to truly take the next step to greatness. Lastly, Miami better be able to apply some consistent pressure outside of OLB Cameron Wake. I need to see both issues improve to believe it, so color me a skeptic at this point.
Seventh, Miami’s return teams weren’t anything to get excited about last year, and unless Miami is going to play their workhorse star RB at PRs, they didn’t do a whole lot to make them any better.
When I stack everything up, the negatives just seem to outweigh the positives – predominantly due to the way management handled the offseason. Ross and Ireland have little faith in and are less commitment to Sparano and Henne (who is scheduled to be a free agent after the season). Management seems like they are locked in a one year limbo with Sparano and Henne. Most of the newly acquired free agents like Bush signed 2 year deals. Even though Miami only had one QB on the roster, one who they thought so little of they almost acquired Kyle Orton, they ultimately didn’t bring in a legitimate franchise QB contender through the draft or free agency.
Look at Miami’s schedule:
Patriots, Texans, @Browns, and @Chargers to open the season.
1-3 is a very realistic possibility, and 0-4 isn’t unfathomable.
Miami once again draws an early bye (week 5), then returns @ Jets.
The schedule lets up after that and actually doesn’t look all that difficult, but what do you think happens to team morale if they have to try to dig out of a 1 and 4 hole? The playoffs will really look out of reach given our division, the competitive AFC, and the slow start. Even if Miami scrapes out a few wins or more those first few weeks, can they keep it up if Bush or the OL have injuries?
Management didn’t go all in to win this year, which sends exactly the same message to the players. Dolfans, you know the drill: here comes another non-playoff season. Too bad Miami should be good enough that they won’t be in the running for Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
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