The choice may be much to the dismay of many fans, but nevertheless, the Dolphins have found their offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll. With that, all major coaching positions are virtually set in stone for the 2011 season. That means it’s finally time to move on from what has mostly been two weeks of sheer speculation and drama, and turn our attention to the Dolphins’ roster. Before we begin prepping for free agency and the draft, though, determining what the Dolphins’ biggest needs are heading into the offseason is the next line of action.
1. Quarterback: There’s no question that the inconsistent, sometimes erratic play of Chad Henne separated the Dolphins from being a playoff caliber football team in 2010. Having said that, though, there’s a big difference between identifying that a need at the quarterback position exist and actually finding a franchise quarterback. After all, it’s not like franchise QB’s will be just floating around on the free agency market and no sure thing at the game’s most important position is going to still be around when the Dolphins are on the clock with the 15th overall selection in the draft. I’m not saying that the Dolphins won’t find their quarterback of the future this offseason, but I am saying that it’s going to be considerably easier said than done.
Fans have to realize that there is no guarantee that Chad Henne won’t be given another opportunity to start next season. At the very least, he’s likely going to be involved in an open competition to start training camp with a rookie or run of the mill veteran. But the front office has to at least bring in competition for Henne, because they would be foolish to keep investing in him like he’s the quarterback of the future. I’m not willing to say that Henne can’t keep the seat warm temporarily until a rookie develops or until the Dolphins find their franchise quarterback in the 2012 offseason, but if this football team is going to emerge as a perennial Super Bowl contender anytime soon, Henne likely won’t be the guy under center.
2. Center/Left Guard: I list both positions here because this area of need all depends on what the Dolphins’ plans are for Richie Incognito. Incognito was off and on the one bright spot on what was a putrid interior offensive line. He manned left guard for most of the season, but was given the opportunity to play center against the Bears in Week 11 and against the Lions in Week 16. He proved to be an upgrade over Joe Berger as the Dolphins’ interior O-line produced considerably more push for the running game. But will that be enough to give Incognito the keys to the starting center spot in 2011? Personally, I think Incognito has the potential to flourish at center given a whole offseason and training camp of preparation time, but if the Dolphins decide to bring him back as a left guard, center instantly would become this football team’s second biggest area of need.
3. Running Back: It’s no secret that both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown's contracts are up and that all indications are pointing to both being in another uniform next season. Before Ricky’s recent tantrum to a Miami radio station, in which he bashed Tony Sparano, I would have been in favor of the Dolphins bringing him back for one more season simply because it’s going to be difficult to find two starting caliber backs in one offseason. But Ricky burned all bridges on his way out of Miami and Ronnie Brown just hasn’t earned the right to be paid like a Pro Bowl caliber back when he’s only got one 1,000 yard season under his belt and is one of the most injury prone players in football. That means the Dolphins will likely be forced to pursue two running backs this offseason, either via free agency or the draft. Unless of course, the Dolphins plan on utilizing more of a featured back system in 2011 or look for in house options like Lex Hilliard or Kory Sheets to step up into essentially a co-starting role.
4. Receiving Tight End: Anthony Fasano is fresh off a career year that prompted the Dolphins to extend his contract. Although Fasano topped the 500 yard receiving mark this season, he excels more as a blocker and the Dolphins were void a more athletic number two tight end that could consistently rack up receptions down the seam of the field. Word is Dolphins’ new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll likes to utilize more three and four wide receiver sets than Henning used in his time in Miami, so maybe this need isn’t quite as pressing as originally thought. But with all the struggles the Dolphins had on offense and in particular the red zone, a reliable receiving tight end would be a welcomed luxury for whoever the signal caller is next season.
5. Right Guard: As you can see, the Dolphins’ interior offensive line had to be fairly dismal this season when all three positions are an area of need heading into the offseason. When the Dolphins’ running game died, any outside shot of competing in the division didn’t last long. And for this team to return to the run-first mentality that Tony Sparano likes to employ, a complete makeover needs to take place. However, the Dolphins may have some in house options capable of filling the void next season. Rookie John Jerry put together a mediocre rookie campaign, but he will surely take huge strides in his second season. Pat McQuistan meanwhile was a bit more consistent that Jerry, but probably doesn’t have what it takes to ever emerge as anything but a decent player. Also, don’t forget about Nate Garner, who had an early lead on the starting job before breaking his foot in training camp. Garner is without a doubt the most versatile lineman the Dolphins have, but he could find a home as the starting right guard if he can stay healthy in 2011.
6. Speed Receiver: With the Dolphins possessing one of the league’s few alpha receivers in Brandon Marshall, an elite slot receiver in Davone Bess, and an emerging solid number two in Brian Hartline, they aren’t far from fielding a complete receiving core. They did seem to be missing a true vertical threat, though, that could generate a much needed spark here and there by producing chunk yardage. Defenses didn’t need to fear the homerun in the running game or the passing game because overall the Dolphins have a very slow offense. This lead to a very methodical offensive approach out of necessity. Well, the Dolphins could use a speedster that has the capability to stretch the field on the deep ball or break off huge gains with electrifying yards after catch ability.
7. Pass Rushing Specialist: The Dolphins obviously already have their premier pass rusher in Cameron Wake, but when defenses are sending double teams his way in every passing situation, the guy could use a little help. Koa Misi had a solid rookie season, and it appears that he should be a reliable early down player for years to come, but the Dolphins’ nickel and dime packages would be substantially upgraded by a pass rushing specialist. There was a reason that the front office put in a waiver claim for Shawne Merriman in early November, after all.
8. Right Tackle: Being the eighth most pressing need on my list, right tackle isn’t a position that the front office must address this offseason. They may, however, contemplate replacing Vernon Carey, whose $15 million dollar salary may prove too pricey for only a solid veteran who’s had a difficult time staying healthy recently. One in house option to keep an eye on is John Jerry. The Dolphins experimented with Jerry at right tackle in practice a few times this season, but haven’t committed to changing his position.