Future Of Current Dolphins Looks Bright

Posted Apr 2, 2014

Head Coach Joe Philbin reflected on strong seasons of young guns.

There was plenty of attention paid to the new additions on the roster for the Miami Dolphins last week at the NFL’s annual owners meetings, but there were some returning players that earned complimentary praise from Head Coach Joe Philbin.

Since Philbin and his staff are intent on building a solid foundation for the future, the younger players previously not in the spotlight stood out a little more after last year. Tight end Charles Clay and defensive end Olivier Vernon were the two that put together the biggest breakout seasons and will be counted on again to help the Dolphins get closer to their goal of reaching the playoffs, with Clay filling an important void on the offense.

“You love to see guys like him have success because the guy works his butt off,” said Philbin on Tuesday morning. “He’s a real humble guy and he comes into work and just wants to contribute and help the team win games. I think he made significant progress last year and made a real valuable contribution.”

Clay is coming off of one of the most productive seasons ever by a Miami tight end, as he caught 69 passes for 759 yards and six touchdowns. He also scored his first career rushing touchdown and emerged as an effective blocking tight end both in the run and pass game. He was counted on more after veteran tight end Dustin Keller suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and delivered.

Philbin chose not to single out any of Clay’s obvious big games from a numbers standpoint, like his five-catch, 109-yard outing at Indianapolis in Week 2 or his two highlight-reel touchdown receptions against San Diego and at Pittsburgh. Instead, he pointed to a game near the end of the season that summed up what he can bring to the team in 2014.

“We thought one of the better games he played was that New England game where he had one 6-yard catch,” Philbin said of Miami’s 24-20 upset of the Patriots in Week 15 at Sun Life Stadium. “He really played hard, he blocked well and he did everything that was asked of him. They committed a lot of resources to taking him away and he opened things up for other guys, so I think he’s a real team player so I’m excited about having him on the club and I’m looking forward to him having a big year.”

Much like with Clay, who had shown flashes of what he was capable of in his first two seasons, Philbin had an idea of Vernon’s potential coming off of his rookie year in 2011. After Miami traded up to select Dion Jordan with the third overall pick of last year’s NFL Draft, it wasn’t clear if Vernon was going to have enough chances to deliver on that potential.

As it turned out, the combination of a very strong training camp and Jordan being limited early on while he recovered from shoulder surgery led to Vernon earning the starting spot opposite Pro Bowler Cam Wake. All he did with that opportunity was lead the team with 11.5 sacks, with two streaks of four games with at least one sack. He earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after registering three sacks in a 23-3 win at the New York Jets in Week 13.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised,” Philbin said. “Again, he’s a guy that goes out on the practice field everyday and really works hard at it. He doesn’t say an awful lot but he plays the game the right away, so given what we had seen him do in practice against our own guys it wasn’t a shock to see him have success on the field on Sundays.”

Finally, Vernon’s college teammate the University of Miami, running back Lamar Miller, finds himself in a tough spot entering his third season. He finished as Miami’s leading rusher with 709 yards and two touchdowns on 177 carries for a 4.0 average and caught 26 passes for 170 yards.

He and Daniel Thomas handled the bulk of the running duties for the Dolphins, with rookie Mike Gillislee seeing limited action late in the season, but Miami just signed veteran running back Knowshon Moreno as a free agent. Philbin and General Manager Dennis Hickey believe in fostering competition at all positions and Moreno is coming off his best season with the Denver Broncos, appearing in his first Super Bowl. Miller did do enough to give Philbin confidence that he still has some untapped talent.

“There was definitely development,” Philbin said. “As we look to year three, we want to see him make a couple more explosive runs here or there. I thought his pass protection improved but there’s still room for development there as well. I think he can do all three things you want a running back to do. He’s got good running skills, he can pass protect and he can catch the football.

Just how these returning players mesh with the new additions will be something to pay close attention to when training camp opens.
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