It started with Hard Knocks. It continues on Sunday. The Miami Dolphins in 2012 are putting on an impressive showing in their first year under head coach Joe Philbin.
It started with the firing of Steve Spagnuolo on Jan. 2. It continues on Sunday. The Rams are putting on an impressive showing in their first year under head coach Jeff Fisher.
Football needs more storylines.
How would you describe the offense thus far? What are the early returns on Ryan Tannehill?
The Dolphins offense is developing nicely. The team is transitioning to a west coast offense, and it seems to be working. The run game is clearly the strength of the offense right now, with Reggie Bush leading the way. But, the team is the definition of a balanced offense, with 169 passing plays so far in 2012, to go with 169 running plays. Look for that to continue this week.
Tannehill is developing nicely, and is exceeding most expectations this early in his career. All we heard leading up to the draft was how he was not ready to be an NFL quarterback. After the draft, the Dolphins were ridiculed for selecting him with the eighth pick, knowing he would not be ready to start this year. Through preseason workouts, David Garrard was clearly the starter, with Tannehill way behind in his transition to the NFL game. Then, preseason hit, and everything changed. Garrard was injured and Matt Moore was given the reins, but he could not hold on to them. Whether it was against the second team defenses during preseason games, or if he was given a shot with the starters, Tannehill looked more in control of the offense and simply outplayed Moore. Once he was named the starting quarterback, Tannehill has not looked back. Sure, he makes rookie mistakes at times, but he is poised in the pocket, responds well when things go wrong, and simply looks like an NFL quarterback. Even the fans that hated the pick back in April are starting to come around to the potential Tannehill has.
Brian Hartline is perhaps the surprise of the year thus far. He's one of only three receivers who account for more of their team's receiving yards than Danny Amendola, along with Brandon Marshall and Reggie Wayne. What is he doing differently this year? Do you expect the target rate to stay this high throughout the season?
I don't think Hartline is actually doing anything differently this year. I think it's more the lack of Brandon Marshall. Chad Henne (and Matt Moore and Tyler Thigpen and Chad Pennington) focused on trying to get the ball to Marshall when the Dolphins weren't sticking to the ground and get pounded offense that Tony Sparano was running. Now, with Marshall out of Miami, Hartline is the top threat in the receiving corps (or second if you consider Davone Bess the number one), and he is flourishing in the role. Tannehill is not afraid to throw the ball deep, and he makes throws that Henne never tried. Hartline has speed people don't realize he has, and he is able to use it better with Tannehill than he could last year. Will he continue to lead the league in receiving yards? Probably not. But he is going to be a weapon in the Dolphins offense throughout the season, and in the future.
On the defensive side, how does Miami look with the 4-3 switch? Have Philbin and Coyle made manageable players out of guys who, in my opinion, were built for the 3-4 like Jared Odrick and Koa Misi? Where are the soft spots the Rams need to attack?
The Dolphins have shifted into the 4-3 nicely, but the don't stick with just a 4-3. Last week, they played a good number of defensive snaps in a 3-4, or even a 3-3 or 3-2 as they added defensive backs over the offensive linemen and linebackers. Odrick has been good opposite Cameron Wake, but needs to continue to develop. Misi has been playing really well as a 4-3 outside linebacker. The role of run stopper and tight end coverage seems to fit him better than a pass rusher.
The weak spot on the defense is the secondary. You can't run on the Dolphins defense - it just doesn't work. But, you can throw on them. Sean Smith has stepped up his game this year, and has done a great job of shadowing and limiting the opposing top receivers (like Larry Fitzgerald two weeks ago and A.J. Green last week), but the rest of the secondary has to step up some more. Safety Reshad Jones has put together some really good games lately, and is actually ranked as the number one safety by Pro Football Focus right now, while safety Chris Clemons continues to be solid if not spectacular. It's looking like cornerback Richard Marshall will miss this week's game, after sitting out last week's game with a back injury, so the Miami cornerbacks will have to shift around again, with Nolan Carroll likely starting and Jimmy Wilson playing the nickel position. They weren't bad against the Bengals last week, so we will have to see if they can keep up that level of play this week.
Who are some under the radar players that Rams fans might not know about that are having a big impact? Any sleepers due for a breakout game?
Defensive tackle Randy Starks is having a great season in 2012, and could be an early Pro Bowl candidate. He went back in 2010, but he's not someone most people know. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney should play for the first time this season, so he could be someone interesting to watch, given he has only been with the team for about two weeks.
Watch rookie defensive end Olivier Vernon this week. He has been seeing his playing time start to go up over the past few weeks, and he has been playing well when he is in there. If he can get going in the pass rush, he could have a big impact, especially as teams focus on Cameron Wake.
And I'll close out my questions the way you opened yours. How do Dolphins fans feel about Joe Philbin? Your recent troubles haven't been nearly as bad as the Rams. Did the grass really look that much greener while Tony Sparano was running the show? Any concerns with the current staff as a whole?
Philbin looks like he could be the real deal. Even fans that were weary of him seem to be warming up to his style. He doesn't sugar coat things, he takes responsibility, and he makes players take responsibility. I am really happy with Philbin, and I think most Dolphins fans seem to be as well. I know fans were really clamoring to land Jeff Fisher this offseason, specifically because he was the recognizable name, but I think it all worked out in the end, with Fisher going to the Rams, where he really wanted to be, and the Dolphins got the right coach for them as well.
Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to answer these.