The first day of spring in Davie is Monday and that can serve as a reminder that we’re a bit closer to the NFL Draft, a bit closer to training camp and a bit closer to the start of the 2017 NFL season.
OK, so it’s still too far away.
But there are reasons for optimism at Miami Dolphins training camp. After all, the Dolphins exceeded expectations in Adam Gase’s first season, made the playoffs, initiated a culture change and won 10 games.
Of course, Monday is also the first day of spring in Foxborough, Massachusetts (Patriots), Orchard Park, New York (Bills) and yes, even Florham Park, New Jersey (Jets).
Hope does spring eternal. So let’s take a look at seven reasons for Miami Dolphins hope (counter-balanced with a dose of reality).
“So, what do you think?” a Dolphins fan asked me at a bar/restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day. “Are they any better?”
Well, an argument can easily be made on both sides of most Miami debates.
Hopeful: The Miami Dolphins are blessed to have Ryan Tannehill.
Not so much: Ryan Tannehill is so overpaid.
Reality: Tannehill is still improving, which is not a bad thing. And yes, he is underrated. And yes, if healthy, he can be a Top 10 quarterback, which is plenty good enough.
Hopeful: The Dolphins offensive line will be improved.
Not so much: Wait, really?
Reality: Yes, but only if Mike Pouncey stays healthy (a big if), Ted Larsen provides average play at guard and Jermon Bushrod (or some rookie) provides near-average or average play at guard. Laremy Tunsil should outperform the 2016 version of Branden Albert.
Hopeful: Signing Kenny Stills and Andre Branch was the right thing to do.
Not so much: Yeah, but they’re overpaid.
Reality: The Dolphins may have paid a slight premium to retain two key performers from 2016. Stills may be Miami’s third receiver and Branch may never make a Pro Bowl, but their contracts are not outrageous and a league source indicated the club was willing to slightly overextend in order to make a loud statement about keeping their own guys.
Hopeful: Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano is better than Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims.
Not so much: Yeah, but… injury and age.
Reality: The upside of Thomas (if healthy and in peak condition) outweighs the upside of Sims, and at a similar salary. And, Fasano may be an even better blocker than Sims.
Hopeful: We’re better prepared to stop the run!
Not so much: Wait, are we?
Reality: The acquisition of defensive end William Hayes from the Rams could prove to be a key under-the-radar move, because he’s sturdy against the run. If middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons is 80 percent of the player he’s been throughout his career, the unit should improve slightly overall against the run.
Hopeful: Miami’s cornerback depth is a strength.
Not so much: Miami needs a shutdown corner like Richard Sherman.
Reality: Though I would agree Miami has concerns about Byron Maxwell’s legitimacy as a number one corner and Xavien Howard’s injury-laden rookie season and Bobby McCain’s consistency in the slot, I don’t agree that cornerback should be a priority need in free agency or the draft.
Hopeful: Adam Gase is the next Don Shula.
Not so much: Yeah, but… the Dolphins aren’t sneaking up in 2017 and that schedule!
Reality: The Dolphins won close games and overcame the 11th-most difficult NFL schedule last season. This year, the NFL handed Miami the 6th-most difficult schedule. It’s possible Miami could continue to make positive strides as a franchise under wunderkind Gase, yet with a slight step back, to say, nine wins.
But it’s spring. And there are still players to be drafted. And perhaps even a trade or a sneaky-impact Wave 2 or Wave 3 free-agency signing.
Oh, and as for the Gase-Shula comparison?
Of course, it’s way, way too early to dive into that one.
But Dolphins fans can hope.
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