New Coach, Exciting Draft Give Dolphins Hope in 2016

The Miami Dolphins are best known for having the only perfect season in NFL history, but have struggled to find success recently. Miami hasn’t made the playoffs in seven seasons, the longest playoff drought in franchise history. Since 2008, the Dolphins have not finished better than 8–8 (which they did in 2013 and 2014). Things didn’t get any better last season, as the Fins finished with a 6–10 record, their worst since 2011.

There are, however, many positive signs that point to a better future for the Dolphins, starting with their new head coach. The Dolphins hired Adam Gase, and even though he’s only 38 years old, he comes to South Beach with plenty of experience. Peyton Manning, for one, has said nice things about his former offensive coordinator in Denver. Gase also received kudos from Alabama head coach Nick Saban, under whom he coached at Michigan State and LSU.

Gase was the offensive coordinator for the Bears in 2015, where he helped quarterback Jay Cutler have one of his best seasons. Cutler threw fewer interceptions than he’s ever thrown and posted his second-highest completion percentage. Mike Tannenbaum, Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Dolphins, says that Gase has already improved QB Ryan Tannehill.

“I think a lot of it has been intangibles,” Tannenbaum said. “You know, I think Ryan has shown more consistency, and he’s also been much more of a leader than he has been in the past, and I think that’s because he has more confidence. Adam has done a terrific job working with Ryan.”

Tannehill is entering his prime years, and he’ll look to build off of what he was able to accomplish last season when he threw for 4,208 yards and 24 touchdowns, while throwing a career-low 12 interceptions. The Dolphins had the eighth worst sack rate last year, but Miami improved their offensive line in the NFL Draft.

Laremy Tunsil, who many considered to be a top-three talent, saw his stock drop significantly after a controversial video surfaced online the night of the draft. Miami wasn’t concerned about the video, as they took Tunsil with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Tannenbaum believes that sometimes you have to take advantage of opportunities that are presented to you.

“We were very surprised, but I think when you study other successful organizations whether it be other sports teams or businesses, you have to take advantage of unexpected opportunities,” Tannenbaum said. “And we felt like when Laremy Tunsil was available, it was an unexpected opportunity.”

Pundits thought Miami had a great draft, but many probably weren’t looking too hard at a late-round sleeper that the Dolphins picked. Miami selected wide receiver Jakeem Grant in the sixth round, and Tannenbaum says that Grant has been the most impressive rookie that they selected in the later rounds.

“He’s undersized, he’s maybe not as tall as other receivers, but he has a big heart, he works really hard, and he’s quick,” Tannenbaum said. “He’s not only will he be a good punt returner, but I think over time he’s going to turn into a really good receiver.”  

Grant has the chance to get some playing time at receiver, but there’s a dynamic duo ahead of him on the depth chart. Jarvis Landry has blossomed into a star, while DeVante Parker showed flashes of brilliance last year. Landry caught 110 passes for 1,157 yards and four touchdowns last season, which earned him Pro Bowl honors. Parker was limited by injury, but managed at least 60 yards receiving in five of the last six games during the regular season. While everyone expects the offense to be productive, questions remain regarding the defense.

Miami’s defense faced high expectations coming into last year, but their performance was underwhelming. Still, there are reasons for hope. Cameron Wake is returning from an Achilles injury. And Miami still boasts Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams, two former Pro Bowlers. The secondary features safety Reshad Jones, and they also acquired Byron Maxwell, a cornerback who was part of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense.

For the first time in a long time, Miami enters the season with little expected from them, which might be a good change. With talent on all sides of the ball, Miami has the chance to surprise and be dark horse playoff contenders.

While a Super Bowl seems out of reach right now, Tannenbaum definitely expects the team to be legitimate contenders by the time the Big Game comes to Miami in 2020.

“Steve Ross, our owner, and myself, we all share the same vision that we want to give ourselves a chance to win each year, and we’re working hard to do that,” Tannenbaum said. “We’re just going to keep worrying about what we can control, which is working hard, and let the results speak for themselves.

(Photo credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

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