This season for the Miami Dolphins will be a fresh new start.
That start will go very well, or it may be a work in progress.
There is a new head coach on the sidelines for the Dolphins. Mike McDaniel has brought off-season hype that the franchise hasn’t felt in possibly two decades.
McDaniel is a young (39) upstart and an innovative offensive mind taking on his first head-coaching job after a year as the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator. His loose, fun players’ coach style pivots from ex-coach Brian Flores’ demeanor as a disciplinarian and disciple of Bill Belichick.
Speaking of Flores, a class-action lawsuit by him against the NFL and multiple teams — the Dolphins included — claiming racist hiring and retention practices against Black coaches is ongoing.
Back to the fresh start.
The offense starts with Tua Tagovailoa. It is still unclear if Tagovailoa is the quarterback for the long hall for the Dolphins, so they went out and made everyone around him better to get an answer.
The Dolphins’ blockbuster trade for speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill shows Miami is putting their chips on the table to win now with Tua as QB1. Hill, clocked in-game as the NFL’s fastest player, presents a tremendous offensive weapon. Hill is the support that Tagovailoa needs.
Hill came at a high cost, the package of five draft picks, including first- and second-rounders in the 2022 draft, that Miami offered to Kansas City to acquire the former Chiefs speedster with six Pro Bowls in six NFL seasons.
Jaylen Waddle will complement Hill as a severe threat, and he has nothing to prove other than remaining consistent. He enters his second NFL season looking to take the next step after setting an NFL rookie record with 104 receptions in 2021, collecting 1,015 yards from those catches. Miami will demonstrate yards after catch heading into the fall.
The running game will include Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmonds, and Myles Gaskin. Mostert, McDaniel’s former running back in San Francisco, has a blazing speedster but, at 30, is coming off a knee injury that ended his 2021 campaign two carries in. Edmonds comes over as a dynamic, versatile weapon out of the backfield, while Gaskin remains in the mix for touches.
The offensive line was addressed again. Terron Armstead, the prized free agent from the Saints, was signed by Miami to man the left tackle spot. Armstead is a downhill mauler as a run blocker. Former Cowboys guard Connor Williams will slide in somewhere, along with Robert Hunt, the Dolphins’ top returning blocker last year at right guard.
The center position remains puzzling, where converted guard Michael Deiter returns after an up-and-down 2021 and right tackle. The blind-side blocking for the left-handed Tagovailoa may come down to a competition between Austin Jackson, a 2020 first-round pick who was kicked inside from left tackle to guard last season, and Liam Eichenberg.
Defensively the Dolphins have key players returning on their roster. Cornerback Xavien Howard, the Dolphins’ lone Pro Bowler last season was given a lucrative extension. He has a league-leading 27 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2016. Having Howard in man coverage opposite cornerback Byron Jones and nickel Nik Needham allows the Dolphins to blitz as often as they do, which should continue under defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.
The fireworks are on the defensive line. Retaining defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who has led the team in sacks each of the past two seasons. When Ogbah doesn’t get the sack, he’s still often getting a QB hit, like he did 24 times last season, or batting a pass at the line of scrimmage. His 12 pass deflections in 2021 were the most by a defensive lineman since 2016.
Ogbah on one side and second-year edge defender Jaelan Phillips opposite him should form a dynamic pass-rush duo to complement the Dolphins’ strong secondary.
Jevon Holland, at free safety, can also play the ball-hawk role, covering ground in center field in a single-high look. Inside linebacker Jerome Baker has become a leader on a defense that uses multiple fronts but primarily lines up with three down linemen.
On special teams, after a first-team All-Pro season in 2020, kicker Jason Sanders had a down 2021, converting just 23-of-31 field-goal attempts. But he is reliable.
The Dolphins addressed their most troubling needs — adding offensive weapons, revamping the offensive line, and putting together what could be a diverse run game — while maintaining their greatest strength, the defense. The Dolphins can finish second in the AFC East with a fair 10-8 record.