Miami Dolphinshttp://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/w ... 012/1.html
What the Dolphins do best: Stuff the run.
It got lost in the shuffle last season, when the Dolphins started 0-7 and eventually got head coach Tony Sparano fired, but no one ran on Miami in 2011. The Dolphins defense finished third against the rush with just 95.6 yards allowed per game, third in terms of average rush (3.7), and surrendered the third-fewest rushing touchdowns (8). Much of the credit for that strength goes to nose tackle Paul Soliai, who often drew double-team blocks and still effectively clogged the running lanes. Alongside Soliai was defensive tackle Randy Starks, another underrated lineman whose ability to get off blocks and make plays should now fully be utilized with Miami going to a 4-3 defensive formation under new coordinator Kevin Coyle.
Ends Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick both have strong pass rush skills, but they're not liabilities against the run by any means. In combination with Miami's middle linebacker Karlos Dansby, who flows to the ballcarrier with solid instincts and athleticism, teams trying to run against the Dolphins will be in for some frustrating afternoons.
What the Dolphins need to improve: Their receiving depth chart.
There may not be a more anonymous group of skill-position players in the league than Miami's receiving core. With Brandon Marshall traded to Chicago and Chad Johnson currently unemployed, the Dolphins will have rookie starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill looking for the likes of Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee, Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Marlon Moore and Julius Pruitt on game days. See what I mean?
Unheralded doesn't even begin to describe this group. Try finding a go-to guy in that bunch. One will certainly emerge, but for now, Bess and Naanee are as good as it gets. Maybe Miami goes receiver shopping around cutdown time and adds a name or two to the depth chart. Until then, some young players like Wallace, Moore and Pruitt might get great opportunities to contribute. Just don't look for Miami's pass catchers to go high in anybody's fantasy draft.
Which Dolphin needs to step up: Jonathan Martin, offensive right tackle.
The team's second-round pick out of Stanford has been the starter at right tackle since he arrived in Miami's training camp this summer, but his preseason has been shaky at times. Last week against Carolina he allowed two sacks and took penalties for holding and a false start.
A three-year starter at left tackle for the Cardinal, Martin was moved to the right side in deference to veteran Jake Long, one of the NFL's finest at his pivotal left tackle position. With Long, Martin and second-year veteran Mike Pouncey at center, the Dolphins offensive line has a chance to be one of the team's strengths for years to come. But at the moment, Martin is over-thinking things at times and getting caught up in the mental battle that rookies must slog through. Once he learns to play more instinctively and let his athleticism take over, he'll cut down on the mistakes.
Predicted record: 5-11.
Miami is certain to have some growing pains this year with a rookie at quarterback in Tannehill and a first-time NFL head coach in Joe Philbin, the former Green Bay offensive coordinator. It'll help accelerate Tannehill's development that his former collegiate coach, Mike Sherman, is on hand as the team's offensive coordinator and play-caller, but it would aid the rookie even more if Miami had given him a few more NFL-proven receivers to target. The Dolphins defense is pretty solid and will keep the team in games, but there aren't enough playmaking weapons on the roster to score with the likes of the Patriots and Bills. Building a better offensive arsenal is one of Miami's long-range objectives, but it leaves the Fish significantly outgunned this season.