May 22, 2012; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) during organized team activities at the Dolphins training facility. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
The Dolphins started the 2011 season miserably only to finish the season on a high note. Did they do enough this offseason to make a run in the AFC East?
The Miami Dolphins have had a weird offseason coming off a weird 2011 season. Miami lost its first seven games last season only to win six of its final nine en route to a 6-10 season. Then it pursued Peyton Manning in the offseason, only to be rebuffed. Miami turned its sights to Matt Flynn, who ended up in Seattle instead.
The Dolphins found their future quarterback in the draft with Ryan Tannehill, locked up one of the league's best pass rushers in Cameron Wake to a multi-year contract and look to next season hoping Reggie Bush can put in another career year.
The Dolphins were in the news a lot this offseason. Did they do enough to make their first playoff appearance since 2008?
The Dolphins 2011 season has to be broken up in two parts to properly describe it. Starting the season with seven consecutive losses, the Dolphins appeared out for the count. They scored more than 17 points just once in that stretch and looked like a team en route to a repeat of their 1-15 season just four years earlier.
And then something happened. The Dolphins started winning. First it was a dominating 31-3 performance against the Chiefs. Then they gave up eight and then nine points in their next two games, both wins. The Dolphins ended up picking up six wins in their last nine games, an impressive run for a team that started 0-7.
Matt Moore came into his own as the season went on. Reggie Bush had a career year and eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career, a breakout season.
Best Free Agent Pickup
Perhaps the best move of the Dolphins' offseason was bringing back Paul Soliai, the nose tackle. He was a free agent and had several suitors, but Miami locked him up to a two-year deal after free agency started. Retaining your own players isn't always the sexiest move, but in this particular case it's a big move that will help the Dolphins remain near the top in rushing defense.
Also notable is a contract extension given to Cameron Wake, one of the best pass rushers in the game, and picking up David Garrard, who likely becomes a backup. Chad Ochocinco, 34, was signed to a free agent contract as well and could be a solid pick-up if he has anything left.
2012 NFL Draft
Ryan Tannehill is the story here. As many predicted before the draft, the Dolphins selected Tannehill with the eighth overall pick. He is the future in Miami with the only question being when, not if, he gets his opportunity to start. He's the first quarterback taken in the first round by the Dolphins since Dan Marino. No pressure, kid.
Related: Ryan Tannehill Scouting Report
Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin dropped to the 2nd round, which was big for the Dolphins. He will anchor the right side of the line while Jake Long holds down the left, which creates what could be one of the better offensive tackle tandems in the league.
Michael Egnew, 3rd round tight end out of Missouri, is athletic and can be a safety blanket for the quarterback, competing with Anthony Fasano. Lamar Miller, selected in the 4th round, could be a key player in the Dolphins offense as early as the 2012 season, with SB Nation's The Phinsider saying he could have the highest ceiling of any running back drafted.
More: Dolphins NFL Draft Grade
The Dolphins are in an interesting place right now. Are they the best in the division? No, that still goes to the New England Patriots, but they should be able to compete with all three AFC East rivals. Last year, the Dolphins swept the Bills, split with the Jets, and were swept by the Patriots. The worst of the three losses came in Week 6 at the Jets, with an 18-point defeat. Against the Patriots, the Dolphins lost by 14 and by 3 -- and that 14-point loss was the 517-yard performance by Tom Brady (99 on one play to Welker), where Chad Henne still threw for 416 yards.
This year, the Dolphins should, theoretically be better, but not the best. The defense should come out faster than it did last year, especially if third-round draft pick Olivier Vernon can add any pressure on the opposite side of Cameron Wake. The offense, while on paper is hurting without Brandon Marshall this year, should be exciting and explosive, especially with the new up-tempo West Coast offense, Reggie Bush, rookie Lamar Miller, and the new signing of Chad Ochocinco.
Miami is not going to win the AFC East this year, but should compete, scare some teams, and build for 2013 (especially if Ryan Tannehill develops like we hope he will). And hey, as bad as they were in 2011, the Dolphins didn't finish the year in the AFC East cellar (sorry Bills fans -- I had to take the shot).
They Make The Playoffs If...
The offense plays like it did in the second half of the season. In the first seven games last year, the Dolphins scored over 17 points just once. In the final nine games, they eclipsed that mark eight times. Pretty easy to see where the problem was last year.
The Dolphins will also need a 16-game starter at quarterback next season, whether that be Matt Moore, David Garrard or Ryan Tannehill. Moore seems the most likely to start Week 1 and if the Dolphins are expecting playoffs next season, they'll need a season from Moore that was even better than his 16:9 touchdown to interception ratio last season.
At the end of the day, the question is whether they can beat out the Patriots or Jets for the division title or a Wild Card spot.