Scouting the Schedule: Dolphins


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We’ll wrap up our 13-part series on the Patriots this afternoon with the team that New England closes the season against: the Miami Dolphins. Miami, of course, is the only team other than New England to win the AFC East over the last seven years, having done so in 2008.

Can Miami pull the trick again and overtake the defending champion Patriots and hyped-to-the-hilt Jets? To get some answers, we’re turning to our buddy Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald (Check his Fins/NFL coverage out here and here) …

Where they’re good:
For all the hype surrounding the arrival of Brandon Marshall, it’s important to remember that Miami also returns a backfield that – when healthy – ranks at the top of the league. Marshall should help Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams become even more
valuable, since no longer will teams be able to stack the box with defensive backs and linebackers.

If Chad Henne can continue his own development and the Dolphins can find some ability at the guard position during training camp, Miami’s offense won’t be the reason this team loses games this year.
 
Big camp questions: The offseason losses of Jason Taylor and Joey Porter leave some potentially major voids at the outside linebacker spot. If the Dolphins are going to get ample pressure on the quarterback, Cameron Wake, Quentin Moses and Charlie Anderson will need to step up.


It also wouldn’t hurt if rookies Koa Misi (a solid coverage backer) and Jared Odrick (an elite athlete on the end) both make fast adjustments to the league. But those aren’t the only big questions heading into camp.

The Dolphins also need to see some major progress from second-year safety Chris Clemons, who is slated to start opposite Yeremiah Bell. Nose tackle Randy Starks’ transition from defensive end to the inside is also a huge move. So if the Dolphins’ defense is going to live up to the offense’s potential, it’s going to require some very fast adjustments by several players – all under a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan.
 
Needs to happen to win big: Even with Marshall available to open up the passing game, the Dolphins need to have Ronnie Brown healthy for a full season. In 2007, he had 602 yards after seven games – but blew out his knee. In 2009, he had 648 yards after nine games – but suffered a lisfranc fracture.

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Although Ricky Williams continues to defy his age as a backup, it’s not going to be favorable if the Dolphins need to rely on him as the primary running threat at this point in his career. But the combination of a healthy Brown and a steady Williams could be the one-two punch that puts this team in contention for the AFC East title toward the season’s end.
 
Where they stack up: In a division with such talent, it’d be difficult to hoist the Dolphins ahead of the Jets or the Patriots – but it would also be foolish to count them out. Miami’s ability to gain an immediate connection between Chad Henne and Marshall could go a long way, but either way, this should be a long, enduring battle for all three contenders in the division.

SCOUTING THE SCHEDULE SERIES
July 14: Bengals
July
15:
Jets
July
16:
Bills
July
17:
Ravens
July
18:
Chargers

July
19:

Vikings

July 20: Browns
July
21:

Steelers

July 22: Colts
July
23
:
Lions

July
24:

Bears

July 26: Packers
Today: Dolphins