Dave Choate: Jeff Ireland went swimming in a river of money. Are you happy with the additions to the team? How have they changed the face of the franchise in 2013?
Kevin Nogle: Absolutely happy with the additions. We've seen these mad spending sprees in offseasons past, most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, but I think there was a big difference between those sprees and what Miami did this year. The Dolphins clearly started preparing for this offseason two years ago. General manager Jeff Ireland worked to clear up the salary cap space, then, when Joe Philbin was hired as the new head coach in 2012, the two of them developed a solid plan for what they wanted to address, and that's what they targeted.
In the 2012 preseason, all we heard was how bad the Miami receiving corps was, which turned out to be an exaggeration, but it was not a great group either. So, the Dolphins went out and added Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson. The team needed a dynamic, seam threat tight end, so they targeted Dustin Keller (who unfortunately is out for the season with torn ACL, MCL, and PCL ligaments in his knee). Philbin wanted to get younger and faster on defense, so they grabbed Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler at linebacker, releasing Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby. They wanted players on defense who can make turnovers, so out with cornerback Sean Smith, who could cover but never catch, and in with Brent Grimes (thanks, by the way).
This wasn't a mad spending spress that, because they had the cash they wanted to spend it. Every move seems to have been carefully considered, and the results seem to be coming out on the field now. The Dolphins are not a ground-and-pound Bill Parcells/Tony Sparano team anymore. They have speed, they have playmakers, and they have attacking, turnover making defenders. This is clearly not the same team as 2011, or even last year.
DC: We're a little nervous about that pass rush. Tell us how the Dolphins will attack Matt Ryan and the offensive line, if you don't mind.
KN: In every way imaginable? This defensive line is amazing, and the team loves to bring pressure. I think, as Dolphins fans, we all knew this line was going to be good, but until we actually saw it on the field, even we weren't prepared for just how fast and tenacious this group was.
We've seen 3-4 alignments. We've seen 4-3s. We've seen the team lineup with Cameron Wake and Koa Misi with their hands in the dirt on the ends, and Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan, and Randy Starks or Jared Odrick standing up along the line of scrimmage. There are so many options available to defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, it's difficult to figure out who will drop into coverage and who will rush the passer on any given play.
With that said, expect the blitz. Coyle loves to bring extra rushers, and those can be linebackers, cornerbacks, or safeties. The Dolphins have nine sacks on the year, with defensive ends Cameron Wake (2.5), Derrick Shelby (2.0), Dion Jordan (1.0), and Olivier Vernon (0.5) each on the tally sheet, along with defensive tackle Randy Starks (1.5), linebacker Philip Wheeler (1.0), and safety Reshad Jones (0.5).
I really love what the Dolphins did in upgrading the offensive weapons, but this pass rush is probably the aspect of the team that excites me the most.
DC: What should we expect from Ryan Tannehill? Has he made huge strides this season, or is his supporting cast just better?
KN: I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. There's no denying that the Dolphins have more playmakers on offense, which helps Tannehill feel more comfortable. But, I don't think those guys (Wallace, Gibson, Keller) want to come to Miami if they did not believe in Tannehill. And, the young QB has responded.
He's the forgotten 2012 quarterback right now, with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson all getting more notice, and rightfully so, for winning and getting to the playoffs last year. But, Tannehill did not have a bad rookie year, and he really does look ready to become one of top QBs from that class. So far this year, his mechanics and footwork has looked better, his timing is coming around, and he is putting the ball exactly where he wants it. He's not locking in on one receiver, which we saw from him as a rookie, and is making great decisions with which receiver should get the ball.
That said, he still has moments where he holds the ball too long, and we have not seen him try to run very much this year, using the athleticism that allowed him to be a wide receiver at Texas A&M as he worked his way up the quarterback depth chart.
Tannehill is going to have a really good year this year, and, hopefully, his hot start continues this week against the Falcons.
DC: Lamar Miller seems like a real weapon. Can we expect him to see passes thrown his way in this game, or is he strictly a threat on the ground?
KN: Miller is a hard guy to pin down right now. We did not see a lot of him this preseason, and the team is actually using Daniel Thomas as much as they are Miller. He is absolutely a weapon, and the team will likely start to use him more and more, but for now, it's hard to say what you will see out of Miller this week.
Miller has only caught three passes for 13 yards so far this year, while Thomas has two for 15 yards. Players out of the backfield are not the primary targets, and don't seem to be major threats in the passing game. That being said, Mike Wallace did not seem a major threat in the passing game in Week 1 either.
Game plan wise, I would expect around 15 carries for Miller this week, with Thomas adding about 10 of his own. How effective those carries will be is another story. As long as the offensive line can open up a hole, Miller has a chance to break a big run, but that's a big task for the offensive line some times.
DC: What's a reasonable expectation for this team in 2013? How about this game?
KN: Before the season, I said this team should be 9-7 and in playoff contention. The first five games would hold the key for Miami. The first two weeks on the road, then host the Falcons, at New Orleans, and finally host the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Rough way to start the year.
But, they have come out hot and seem ready to power through this stretch. The Falcons will be a good test for the Dolphins, and we will probably have a better idea of what the team will be after this week's game. I think this week's game is close, with the Dolphins looking to Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline to lead the way, while the Flacons can probably find a lot of success with Tony Gonzalez.
If you forced me to pick a specific score, I would probably say 27-21 Dolphins, with the injuries the Falcons have suffered playing a big part in that score line. I think Miami wins, but would not be surprised if Atlanta left Miami with the W.
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