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Omar Kelly: Ten things that could prevent the Dolphins from making playoffs in 2021

Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Football

The Miami Dolphins took a significant step forward last season by producing the franchise’s second winning season in a decade.

This upcoming season should be about ensuring they keep moving forward instead of taking a step back — like this organization typically does. To avoid regression, Miami has a few areas of concern that need to be addressed before the regular season, and there is no better time to start tackling these issues than the present.

Here are 10 lingering concerns about the Dolphins moving into the 2021 season.

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1. There are three things that could keep Tua Tagovailoa from becoming the quarterback he has the potential to be. His mastery of the new, but old offense. His ability to read defenses quickly enough to select the right play and make the right throw in a timely fashion. And finally, concerns about his arm strength. The first two will likely come in time, so don’t expect immediate results from this second-year starter The third one, which started to become concerning late last season when his throws longer than 15 yards began to fade, could impact his career as an NFL starter. But those arm-strength struggles could be a result of the hip injury he suffered in 2019 and might be addressed through rehabilitation to get more torque into his throws.

2. Miami must find a way to make George Godsey and Eric Studesville’s partnership as co-offensive coordinators work. They are under pressure to deliver an offense better than the one Chan Gailey oversaw last season, which was the Dolphins’ most productive scoring offense in 34 years. The Dolphins ranked 15th in scoring (25.3 points per game) and 22nd in yards gained per game (339) during the 2020 season with Gailey as coordinator. Gailey’s unit also ranked third in first-quarter scoring this past season too, which shows that the game plan was solid more often than it wasn’t. Hopefully there’s an upswing with Godsey and Studesville as the architects.

3. The Dolphins need to find a way to create a more explosive offense, which was the reasoning behind the addition of Will Fuller in free agency, and the selection of Jaylen Waddle in the first round. Each of those receivers should instill fear into opposing defensive coordinators, occupying the attention of safeties. Now Miami’s offensive playcallers need to find a way to capitalize on that, getting maximum output from the other playmakers on the field.

4. One way or another, Miami needs to address the fact that linebacker Jerome Baker and tight end Mike Gesicki, two of the team’s bright young stars, are playing on the final year of their rookie deals and want contract extensions before the start of the regular season. Signing both players won’t come cheap. Baker has led the Dolphins in tackles for the past two seasons, and Gesicki is viewed as one of the better young tight ends in the NFL. Miami can use the franchise tag to ensure one of them returns next year, but that would leave the team exposed on the other unless a deal gets done in the next seven months.

 

5. Miami must find a way to speed up Jevon Holland’s development, because the plan is to have the former Oregon standout the Dolphins selected in the second round serve as the team’s starting free safety. In order to be the linchpin of the secondary, Holland must prove he’s capable of handling all the calls and adjustments needed to prevent breakdowns in the backend of Miami’s defense. On-the-job training will be critical for Holland, but that means Miami must be willing to experience some growing pains. Growing pains at that position usually results in breakdowns that lead to big plays by the opposing offense.

6. Xavien Howard plans to attend mandatory minicamp next week, but that doesn’t mean everything is fine with the Dolphins’ star cornerback. Howard feels like his contract needs to be addressed, considering Byron Jones, his counterpart at cornerback, will earn $16 million more than him over the course of this season and last year. The Dolphins need to avoid creating a rift between Howard and themselves they cannot mend by finding a way to alter his contract to keep him happy and productive. If that can’t be done, Howard and his camp could request a trade.

7. New leaders must step forward because of this offseason’s purge of all but two — Jesse Davis and Elandon Roberts — of last year’s captains. Tagovailoa is forced to become a more vocal leader because of the nature of his position, and the same could be said about Eric Rowe, who will likely be called on to make signal calls until Holland proves he’s ready to handle the responsibility. Other youngsters such as Gaskin, DeVante Parker, Gesicki, Baker, Christian Wilkins and Howard can no longer push that responsibility onto the shoulders of others, because the team needs them to become more vocal and buy into the culture.

8. The Dolphins need to find or develop a new starting center. Whether that’s Matt Skura, Michael Deiter, Cameron Tom or someone else, it would be ideal if someone steps forward and become the engine that drives this offensive line, helping this young line — which features two rookies and three second-year players — take the next step as a unit. Skura has the experience as a starter but needs to prove the shanks that cost him his starting job in Baltimore are in his past. And Deiter, a 2018 third-round pick who started all season at left guard as a rookie, should be given the chance to prove he’s ready to handle a starting role again.

9. Dolphins need to be sure they have adequate pass-rushing pressure, without heavy blitzing, which was the strategy last season. That is why Miami’s front office is flirting with the idea of signing Melvin Ingram, a 10-year veteran who has produced 49 sacks against this team. Ingram, who remains unsigned while he rehabs a knee injury that limited him last season, would complement defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelen Phillips, a first-round pick whom the Dolphins plan to use as a linebacker. Ingram’s signing would provide Miami some insurance, but he likely won’t come cheap.

10. The Dolphins must find a way to juice up the running game, getting it to the point where the yards-per-carry average (3.9 last season) is more on par with the NFL’s average from last season (4.3 yards per carry). If that happens, the Dolphins’ offense will be more balanced. Gaskin, who averaged 97.2 scrimmage yards per game last season, which ranked him 10th in the NFL, should be viewed as Miami’s lead back. The Dolphins needs to ensure he remains healthy for the regular season, so finding a complementary back during training camp to avoid wearing Gaskin down is critical.

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