Andy Cohen: A State Of The Team Update

Posted Jun 17, 2013

An analysis of where the Dolphins stand with mini camp over and training camp rapidly approaching.

Mini camp ended Thursday under the bubble with an impressive two-minute drill, ending with a nifty touchdown catch by Brian Hartline. There are no more OTAs. No more scheduled workouts. No more tape sessions. The next time this group gets together again, the stakes will be raised and the clock will be ticking.

A training camp as important as any this franchise has seen in a long time will begin just under six weeks from now. Sure, every training camp is important. No denying that. But this one will have special significance because of what the Dolphins have accomplished over the past four months.

See, it was one thing putting this group together; it’s a completely different challenge making it all mesh.

And that’s why there is a high level of urgency heading into this training camp. The Dolphins are improved on paper, very much so, with the playoffs as their goal. Now, it’s time to transform that to the football field. This is the challenge facing this football team and this is why the next six weeks of inactivity doesn’t mean the staff’s brainwaves won’t be on overdrive.

The Dolphins, plain and simple, have to get good in a hurry.

Making this challenge all the more palatable is the fact that many of the pieces appear to be in place. Name an area on this football team that wasn’t addressed in some fashion during the offseason. OK, punter and long snapper. That’s what I can come up with.

Jeff Ireland and his staff were relentless in their pursuit of players, first making headlines in free agency and then with some bold, swift moves in the draft. The culmination of all of this is a football team that is much improved from a year ago. The team is still a work in progress, with the seeds of that improvement planted this offseason and hopefully sprouting in training camp.

How will Mike Wallace, the human speedometer, fit into this offense? And tight end Dustin Keller? And slot receiver Brandon Gibson? How long will it take Ryan Tannehill to reach a real comfort zone with that pass catching trio? Who will step up as the top running back? How long will it take the coaching staff to settle on a starting offensive line?

And that’s just on offense.

On defense, there are two new veteran linebackers that need to fit in, there is a No. 1 draft pick who needs valuable practice time, there are spots to fill at both starting cornerback spots and some intriguing candidates to fill them.

This is what I mean when I say: “Making it all mesh.”

The challenge Joe Philbin and his staff face is to take all these variables and piece together a cohesive, confident football team. And they’ve got about six weeks of training camp to do it. It is an imposing challenge, but it is not an impossible one. Teams have been built this quickly before and you get the feeling that Philbin has his plan firmly in place.

It’s just going to mean a busy summer, an important summer, a summer filled with questions that needs answers.

But at least now the solutions appear to be on the roster.

I’ve watched the OTAs. I’ve attended the press conferences. I was there for all three days of mini camp. And while it is impossible to truly gauge the impact of football players who are wearing shorts in mid-June, it isn’t too early to notice that the talent level has improved.

I see so much to feel good about. Here’s five positives to ponder:

• As I have previously written, Ryan Tannehill appears primed to make the leap many predict from a second-year quarterback. It is hard to be specific, other than it seems as if a light has gone on and Tannehill suddenly gets so many things he might have been unsure of a season ago.

• Mike Wallace is going to be a lot of fun. I’m not sure I’ve seen him go all out just yet, but what I’ve seen is impressive enough to know that he’s going to make a difference in so many ways. This is the fastest player the Dolphins have fielded since Mark Duper. Defenses will have to be aware of his every move. How much do you think Hartline likes having Wallace on the other side?

• The tight end position has a chance to be a strength. Dustin Keller is a top-tier receiving tight end and I really like what I’ve seen so far of rookie Dion Sims. That’s not even considering improvement from some of the returning players.

• There will be a huge upgrade at cornerback. Brent Grimes, even coming off an Achilles injury, was as impressive as any corner I saw in the offseason workouts. He is a playmaker. Enough said. And the pair of rookies, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, could both play significant roles this season. The talent level is up at one of the most important positions on the field.

• The Philbin Phactor: We talk so much about Tannehill’s anticipated improvement, don’t forget that Joe Philbin is entering his second season as well. Philbin has told me on several occasions he expects to be a better coach this year in many ways. I look at Philbin and I see confidence, I see organization, I see an extremely bright man and I see someone who tries to be prepared for every situation. Don’t discount The Philbin Phactor.

My major concerns at this exact juncture: Figuring out a hierarchy at running back, getting No. 1 pick Dion Jordan acclimated quickly enough to be an early September factor and finding a comfort zone on the offensive line. The fact that I can limit my concerns to three tells you how far this team has progressed in one season.

So enjoy the next six weeks. Go ahead and take a deep breath. Before you know it, the fun will really begin.

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