Saints Are Marching In

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After sitting out all of 2012 for the bounty scandal, Sean Payton has the Saints up and running again in 2013. Bringing in Rob Ryan to take over the defense has proven to be a smart move for the offensive minded guru.

While offense has never been a issue for the Saints, the defense has been in need of a overhaul for quite sometime. Even under the tutelage of Gregg Williams and his aggressive philosophy, the Saints lacked discipline and consistency on defense, so Rob Ryan was brought in to turn it around.

Ryan has never enjoyed great success as a defensive coordinator, probably enjoying one of his best seasons while with the Raiders, but Ryan does bring a aggressive scheme that has the potential to work with the right players. In Oakland and Dallas, Ryan never had all of the necessary pieces.

Not to say New Orleans has the perfect group on defense, but Ryan’s switch to a 3-4, the addition of rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, and veteran corner Keenan Lewis has helped tremendously in the secondary. When you factor in the improved pressure from the aggressive 3-4 schemes Rob Ryan prefers, making average to improving secondary look that much better with quarterbacks facing increased pressure.

The resurgence on defense can also be credited to the leap Cameron Jordan has made in 2013. Through three games, Jordan has racked up 12 tackles, 3 sacks and a forced fumble, putting him on pace for over 60 tackles and 15 sacks this season. If he can maintain his level of play throughout the season, Jordan will guarantee himself a Pro Bowl spot.

Junior Gallette is another difference maker in the front seven. Recently transitioned from defensive end to 3-4 linebacker, Gallete has two sacks through three games, with many more on the horizon. His emergence alongside Cameron Jordan are the keys to the success of the pass rush.

As long as Payton maintains his high octane approach on offense, opponents will be forced to play from behind, meaning more pressure on quarterbacks and the hopes of more turnovers to follow. If the Saints are able to find consistency on defense, the Super Bowl will be in reach as long as Payton and Brees command the offense.

Jets Made the Right Move

Jets Made the Right Move

While there was never a debate as to whether or not the New York Jets needed to move on from Mark “butt fumble” Sanchez, the recent 2-1 start is reason for hope among Gang Green. Sanchez was given every opportunity to succeed, though I will be the first to admit that brining in Tebow in 2012, served as a distraction for the maligned QB, the team and the fans. While the decision to brining in Tebow was seen as a sign that Sanchez did not fit into the organizations future, Sanchez did little redeem himself as his play seem to decline game to game.

Rookie quarterback, Geno Smith has given fans and the organization some hope looking into the future. Led by Rex Ryan’s stingy, aggressive defense, Marty Morhinweg was brought in this season to turn things around on offense. After coaching the likes of Donovan McNabb, Steve Young, Brett Farve, Jeff Garcia, Nick Foles and Joey Harrington, Morhinweg has enjoyed much success and his down moments with his quarterbacks. Installing the West Coast offense, Morhinweg was charged with the task of getting Geno Smith prepared to start the season after Sanchez went down with a shoulder injury as a result of Rex Ryan’s questionable decision to play the former USC Trojan in the 4th quarter of a preseason game.

Three games into the season, Smith has produced a QB rating of 65 while only completing 53% of his passes. While those kind of numbers fail to indicate Smith’s ability as a franchise quarterback, but after breaking down Smith’s numbers game by game, Smith has shown potential when you factor out the dismal performance against New England, where Smith went 15-35 with 3 interceptions and no touchdowns. Against Buffalo and Tampa Smith completed 59.7 % of his passes for a QB rating of 85, three touchdowns, three interceptions, while rushing for 61 yards and a touchdown. Modest numbers to say the least, but when comparing them to what Sanchez offers as a veteran, Smith is the smarter choice to lead the offense in 2013.

The only issues plaguing the offense is a lack of consistency at receiver and tight end.  Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Clyde Gates, Ryan Spadola, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow need to overcome a bad case of the drops to keep the passing game moving forward.

If the offense can get the running game going, which will be receiving a added boost with the impending return of Mike Goodson from suspension, along with playing Rex Ryan defense, Smith only has to take care of the football while and manage the game in order for the Jets to compete for a playoff spot in 2013.  Offering more mobility, arm strength, and earning the respect of teammates, Smith has the potential to finish better than Sanchez going forward.

Three Games In, Still Undefeated

Three Games In, Still Undefeated

Facing the New Orleans Saints September 30th, the Miami Dolphins have surprised their fans and the NFL after starting the season 3-0.  Are the Dolphins finally on the right track? If Jeff Ireland really a visionary, who given the time to work on his vision, is now the architect of a playoff contender? So many questions abound but for the first time in years, fans have reason to rejoice and critics have reason to reconsider their previous positions.

Ryan Tannehill has received a majority of the attention as a result of the Dolphins fast start. Completing over 66% of his passes for a 94.3 QB rating, Tannehill is proving offensive coordinator (and former college head coach) Mike Sherman right for proclaiming that #17 would be much improved in 2013.  Tannehill’s new group of receivers, led by free agent additions Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, have given the young quarterback a more versatile group capable of making the big play or gaining the infamous, YAC ( yards after contact). 2012 holdovers, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay are other factors in the passing game. Hartline continues to be Tannehill’s favorite target while Clay has admirably filled in for the injured Dustin Keller.  After outplaying Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, and coming from behind to beat the Falcons at home, Tannehill is proving to his team and the league that he is more than capable of leading a franchise to victory.

While Tannehill’s progression is definitely noteworthy, the Miami Dolphins new look defense deserves its fair share of attention. All of the free agent additions seems to be noticeable upgrades over their predecessors. Brent Grimes has been playing at his shutdown level after missing all of 2012 with a torn achilles. His consistency and veteran leadership has been a huge upgrade over the play of Sean Smith.  At linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler have showcased the athleticism that Ireland and Philbin desired at the position. Wheeler was the one responsible for the game ending sack on Andrew Luck while Ellerbe has been all over the field,  leading the team in solo tackles. Rookie pass rusher, Dion Jordan has displayed immense potential and speed at the position, redeeming Ireland for trading up to the 3rd spot to land him,  despite the needs along the offensive line.

When you see former Phins like Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, Jake Long, and Davone Bess playing for their new teams, the decision to upgrade is justified by the play of their replacements. Long was recently benched in last week’s Cowboys vs. Rams game, with Demarcus Ware and backup Kyle Wilber turning the former Pro Bowler into a turnstile. Seeing Dansby whiff or fail to secure a tackle makes Ellerbe a pleasant surprise.  After witnessing three comeback victories to start the season, the new look defense has overcome deficits and broken plays only to lock down on opposing offenses when the game  was on the line.

If Miami is able to overcome a recent run of injuries on defense, losing Cameron Wake for 2-3 weeks, Soliai being questionable, Patterson’s nagging groin injury, and rookie corners Jamar Taylor and Will Davis failing to play their first game, then look for the Dolphins to solidify themselves as a top 10 team in 2013.  Faced with the Saints and 2012 Super Bowl Champion, Baltimore Ravens, the Dolphins would need to at least split the series in order to keep the momentum moving forward, especially with two divisional rivals coming up afte the bye week.

Exploring the Options: Offensive Line

With all 32 NFL teams cutting down their rosters to the league mandated 53 man roster, suddenly the Dolphins find themselves with a plethora of roster options. By restocking the current roster’s depth and exploring the addition of first/second year players that could be developed or placed on the practice squad, the Fins might be able to find a player or two that can immediately contribute in 2013. Currently the Dolphins have questions concerning the offensive line. Lacking quality depth, in the event of injury, increases the likelihood that Jeff Ireland adds a player or two in the coming weeks.

At right guard, former third round pick, John Jerry is the apparent starter, but has yet to show coaches enough to firmly secure the job. Going into his fourth season, Jerry has started 29 games in that span and will be looked on to continue with his progression from 2012.  Facing struggles with his weight and needed improvement in run blocking technique, #74 does his best work in pass protection, which became increasingly evident when he went down for injury.  The only real competition on the current roster is Nate Garner, with coaches keeping the option open should Jerry struggle to regain form.

Recently released, Fernando Velasco is one option the Dolphins should consider at right guard.  Velasco played center for the Tennessee Titans, starting all 16 games in 2012. At 6-4 312, he possesses the size,athleticism and NFL experience needed to play in the Dolphins zone blocking scheme.  Signing with the Titans in 2008 as a undrafted rookie out of Georgia, Velasco has played in 49 games, starting in 19 during that span.

Former Philadelphia Eagle, Danny Watkins has failed to live up his 1st round draft status. Selected by the Eagles in 2011, Watkins struggled as a starter, finding himself serving as a reserve midway through 2012.  Possessing the skill set and size to thrive at guard  (6-3,310), it is possible that a change of scenery could help him revitalize his career and compete with John Jerry for the starting role at right guard.  Watkins might even shares the same college as general manager Jeff Ireland, both of whom attended Baylor.

Others names to consider are Tony Bergstrom, recently released by the Oakland Raiders after playing in nine games as a rookie in 2012, starting only one. Bergstrom was previously scouted by the Dolphins and could be a potential addition ,given his ability to play guard and tackle, in addition to his experience in the zone blocking scheme. The other name,  Philip Blake is another former Baylor Bear after his release from the Denver Broncos. Blake possesses excellent athleticism and versatility to play anywhere along the interior. Blake was one of the cornerstones of a offensive line that helped RG3 and and Terrance Ganaway thrive in college.  Needing to improve the depth at guard, both players have the potential to contribute.

After the departure of Jake Long, Miami decided to look in house for the solution at left tackle. Struggling as a rookie, Martin primarily played right tackle, shifting over to his more natural position on the left side once Jake Long went down with injuries. Martin was a liability as Tannehill’s blindside protector, struggling against the league’s premier pass rushers like Aldon Smith and Chandler Jones.  Despite his progress during the preseason, Martin remains to be more than a question mark until he can prove himself in year two. Taking over for Martin at right tackle, former Atlanta Falcon Tyson Clabo should be a suitable stopgap until the organization can find a long term solution. Rookie third rounder, Dallas Thomas teams up with Will Yeatman and Nate Garner to serve as the backups. Thomas and Garner may be more suited to play guard, with both players needed to fine tune their game at tackle. Yeatman, a converted tight end, was kept on the active roster in 2012, seeing action in only four games. Seeing how the experiment panned out with stars like Jason Peters and Joe Staley, Yeatman lacked the speed to thrive as a NFL tight end, primarily serving as a blocking specialist. In year two of the experiment, the former lacrosse player will need to show tremendous growth if he wishes to keep his spot on the 53. Should Jonathan Martin come down with a injury, Yeatman may not be ready to handle a significant increase in playing time.

During the draft process earlier this year, the Miami Dolphins scouted former Ohio State Buckeye, Reid Fragel, who played both tight end and right tackle in college. Fragel is a bit raw in his technique, having only one year under his belt. Fragel possesses excellent size (6-8 308) and speed (5.14) for the position and with Clabo the assumed starter in 2013, the former tight end would have the ability to learn from a solid NFL veteran and develop his skill set.  The other available option is Michael Bamiro, another option scouted by the Dolphins ,who remained in the competition for his services until the Eagles inked him to a three year, $1.486,000  dollar contract during the offseason. Bamiro was recently signed to the practice squad by is available should Ireland decide to poach him.

Unless the Dolphins stubbornly decide to go forward with the current group at offensive line, there remains plenty of viable, remaining options at guard and tackle. With so many question marks in the starting group and reserves, a addition or two could only benefit the team, while possibly unraveling a hidden gem needing a change of scenery.

Breakout Alert: Offensive Edition, 10 Players On the Rise

Each season brings  some unexpected surprises. Sometimes it comes in the form of injury, failure to live up to expectations or sometimes it comes in the form of a breakout performance,  where a player exceeds expectations or a unknown putting the league on notice. In Breakout Alert: Offensive Edition, 10 players are selected from the pool of rookies, second, third and even fourth year players, because you can’t discriminate against those late bloomers.

1.  Brandon Weeden-QB- Cleveland Browns: The arrival of offensive guru, Rob Chudzinski and his longtime pal, Norv Turner marks the turnaround of the second year quarterback.  Possessing all the physical tools of a franchise QB, Weeden failed to match the performances of his fellow first rounders, Luck, Wilson and RGIII.  As a rookie Weeden completed 57% of his passes for 3,385 yards, 14  touchdowns, along with 17 interceptions, too high for a franchise quarterback.  Chudzinski has worked with the likes of Phillip Rivers, Derek Anderson, and Cam Newton during his tenure as a NFL assistant. During the preseason, Weeden is completing 72% of his passes for 229 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. If his exhibition success is a indicator of his growth in year two, the Browns could challenge for a wildcard spot in the playoffs. The Browns improved the supporting cast by adding the sure handed Davone Bess to man the slot.  Jordan Cameron looks poised for a breakout in 2013, his development would give Weeden a big, athletic target down the seam and red zone, not to mention Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin.  Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, franchise runner, and solid offensive line, look for Weeden to pass for close if not more than 4,000 yards, 20 plus touchdowns, while drastically reducing his interception totals in 2013.

2. Leonard Hankerson-WR- Washington Redskins: Headed into his third NFL season, the former Miami Hurricane is expected to contend for the Redskins leading receiver in 2013.  Between 2011-12, Hankerson nearly tripled his production, hauling in 38 receptions for 543 yards and three touchdowns. If Pierre Garcon continues to battle injuries like in 2012, Hankerson’s competition would include a aging, but productive Santana Moss and Josh Morgan whose is better suited in a possession, slot type role, and Hankerson possess the size and speed (6-2 209, 4.4 ) to create separation and connect with RGIII for the big play. If Hankerson continues his to progress from 2012, look for the receiver to breakout with 60 plus receptions, 800-900 yards and 5+ touchdowns in 2013.

3. Ryan Tannehill- QB- Miami DolphinsAs a rookie, the former Aggies QB/WR has drawn mixed reviews based on his rookie production.  Even with better numbers than his Browns counterpart, Brandon Weeden, Tannehill’s 58 % completion, 3,294 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, with a even higher 13 interceptions was no match to the numbers and success enjoyed by Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson. As a runner Tannehill showcased his athleticism, rushing 49 times for 211 yards and two touchdowns. As the season progressed, coaches allowed #17 to use his legs and even rush on a direct snap. In 2013, the Dolphins did everything to help their young quarterback, adding WRs; Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, in addition to tight ends, Dustin Keller and rookie Dion Sims. Despite the recent injury to Keller, Miami still features a solid group of receivers. Look for Tannehill to build on the chemistry shared with Brian Hartline, while enjoying big play success with the addition of Wallace. As long as the running game improves on its 2012 campaign and the offensive line corrects its issues in pass protection, likely aided by the return of John Jerry at right guard and progression of Jonathan Martin at left tackle, the passing game will enjoy more success  in 2013.  In his second season, its safe to assume Tannehill completes over 60% of his passes for over 3,700 yards, 20 plus touchdowns while throwing for no more than 10-11 interceptions, keeping his team in contention for a wildcard spot in 2013.

4. Travis Kelce- TE- Kansas City Chiefs: Even when taking into consideration the jump from Big East competition to the NFL, rookie tight end, Travis Kelce will enjoy a breakout campaign in his first season. With the reason departure of first round bust, receiver Jonathan Baldwin, Kansas lacks depth at receiver outside of the inconsistent, yet productive, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, and Dexter McCluster. Alex Smith is known to lean on his tight ends in the passing game, relying heavily on Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker in San Fran.  With Anthony Fasano lacking the athleticism to stretch the seam, Kelce brings versatility with his blocking and receiving ability. Comparing favorably to former Andy Reid protege, Brent Celek, Kelce’s brother Jason plays center for his head coach’s former team.  Standing at 6-5, 260 with 4.6 speed, this rookie has the skill set to contend as one of the Chiefs’ primary targets in the passing game. In 2013, look for the former Cincinnati Bearcat is capable of producing 50 receptions, 650 plus yards and over five touchdowns as a rookie.

5.  Jordan Cameron- TE- Cleveland BrownsGoing into his third NFL season, the former USC Trojan is expected to play a big role in Chudzinski’s offense.  As a offensive coordinator, Chud utilized the tight end as one of the preferred targets in the passing game, especially the red zone,  players like Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow, and Greg Olsen have all enjoyed productive careers, with Cameron poised to be the next name on the list of past success stories. At 6-5 , 245, the former basketball player has the size, speed (4.59 40yd) , hands, and 37″ inch vertical to make plays inline, or as a receiver. Working hard to improve his blocking technique, Cameron is poised for a breakout season in 2013.  During the preseason Cameron has four receptions for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with two games to go, Cameron is looking better each and every week. In 2013, look for #84 to haul in 50 plus receptions for over 650 yards and five plus touchdowns in year three.

6.) Mark Ingram- RB- New Orleans Saints:  The former Heisman trophy winner has failed to live up to expectation in his first two NFL seasons. As a rookie, injuries plagued his season, carrying over into the first half of 2012. During the second half of the season, Ingram enjoyed better production, improving with a increased workload. During the first 8 weeks, Ingram rushed for 178 yards on 53 carries for 3.3 yards per carry average and a touchdown. Once recovered from his lingering injuries, Ingram carried the ball 102 times for 424 yards and four touchdowns for a 4.2 y.p.c average. With head coach, Sean Payton looking to utilize more of the running game,  Chris Ivory traded to the Jets, Pierre Thomas is still in the running, but has failed to hold onto the job, and Darren Sproles is a utility back serves a third down specialist and receiver, earning a share of the carries, but lacking the size to handle full time duties. If healthy in 2013, Ingram should become the Saints lead back, being the first option in goal line situations. In his third season, look for the former Crimson Tide star to get over 200 carries,  rushing for 1,000 yards and notching  10 touchdowns. Ingram’s breakout would take some of the pressure off Drew Brees while allowing the offense to generate those time consuming drives.

7.) David Wilson- RB- New York Giants:  Despite the presence of Andre Brown, the New York Giants will lean primarily on David Wilson to jumpstart the ground game. Entering the draft, Wilson was a highly productive running back out of Connecticut, seen as a big play threat that could factor into the running, passing or return game. Possessing 4.4 speed and 41″ inch vertical,  he has the ability to outrun defenders, line up in the slot, even run between the tackles. But, with a 5-9 205 pound frame, Wilson lacks the size to bulldoze opponents like Brown, his versatility as a runner and receiver, not to mention game breaking speed still give the 2012 1st rounder the edge to start. As a rookie Wilson gained 358 yards on 71 carries while scoring four touchdowns. In training camp, he has received positive reviews from his coaches, including his improvement a blocker. Despite the likelihood that he splits carries with Brown, Wilson should still rush for over a 1,000 this season while being utilized more in the passing game. While Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz nurse injuries, the Giants are likely  to lean  more on the ground game in 2013, attempting to balance out their offensive approach.

8.) Rob Housler-TE- Arizona CardinalsEntering his third NFL season, tight end, Rob Housler stands ready to breakout in 2013.  Last year Housler’s role in the offense increased, with the running game virtually nonexistent and the offensive line having protection issues, the former FAU Owl become a safety valve for the swinging door at quarterback. Now that Carson Palmer is aboard, a quarterback who favors his tight end, especially with his limited mobility in the pocket. Head coach, Bruce Arians is a offensive guru, in addition to using a offensive approach that heavily uses the tight end. Look for Housler to reel in 60 plus receptions for upwards of 800 yards,including  5-7 touchdowns, putting the league on breakout alert in 2013.

9.)  Mohamed Sanu- WR- Cincinnati BengalsIn desperate need of a number two receiver opposite of AJ Green, Mohamed Sanu looks like the frontrunner to win the job. After a 16 reception, 154 yard, 4 touchdown rookie campaign, Sanu could have factored more but a foot injury kept the former Rutgers receiver on the sidelines. Despite lacking the big play speed of his competition, Marvin Jones, Sanu’s 6-2 210 frame, along with strong hands and ability in both the slot and red zone. The former Scarlet Knight is more than capable of making the tough grab or catching the endzone fade, like in the Bengals most recent matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Now in his second season, look for Sanu to bring relief to teammate AJ Green while holding onto the job of #2. In 2013, Sanu should be able to record over 50 receptions and 7 touchdowns, offering the most value as a possession receiver who excels in the red zone.  The Bengals offensive attack should feature plenty of three wide sets, where Green and Jones lineup outside and Sanu in the slot, where his ability to get open and play the middle will have Andy Dalton looking often in his direction.

10.)  Lamar Miller- RB- Miami DolphinsReports during the offseason and training camp have been more than positive for running back, Lamar Miller. In his second season, the former 4th rounder out of UM is ready to takeover for the departed Reggie Bush. Playing a limited role in 2012, Miller nearly five yards a carry, carrying the ball 51 times for 250 yards and a touchdown. Seen as the frontrunner to start, dating back to OTAs, Miller worked hard to improve his pass protection and skill set, spending the summer training with 49er and former Cane, Frank Gore. Now listed at 5-10, 216lbs, Miller is reminiscent of Clinton Portis, possessing big play ability (4.3 speed), the added muscle and offseason work will more than payoff in 2013. Look for Miller to rush for over 1,000 yards, yielding mostly goal line duties to Daniel Thomas, but managing to score at least 5 touchdowns. In the passing game, Miller’s ability as a receiver could see him playing a Reggie Bush like role in the passing game, possibly lining up in the slot on some passing downs, while being able to take backfield passes  the distance on any given play.

Exploring The Phins’ Options at Tight End

Having three prospects from the last three drafts, the Miami Dolphins may look outside the organization to fill the void left by Dustin Keller’s devastating knee injury. While Dion Sims has put together a solid performance at camp, entrenching himself as the second tight end, the rookie still needs time to develop his skill set. Second year option, Michael Egnew had a forgettable rookie year, but has shown progress during training camp, including preseason performances. Charles Clay has a similar skill set to Keller, but has yet to produce on a consistent basis. All three players have potential, but a outside addition seems likely before the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Philadelphia Eagles addition of TEs James Casey and Zach Ertz gave Chip Kelly plenty of depth at a increasingly important position. Already having Brent Celek and Clay Harbor on the roster, Casey and Ertz give the organization options should a team seek a trade for last season’s holdovers. Celek has enjoyed a productive career as a Eagle. Elevating himself to a starting role in 2009, Celek has played in 60 games, making 237 receptions for 2,977 yards and 18 touchdowns, for a average of 12 yards per reception. Possessing size,athleticism  and experience in a West Coast offense, Celek is one of best options to offset the loss of #81.  If the Dolphins and Eagles can agree on compensation via trade, it’s possible Celek could be added for a 5th round pick.

The Denver Broncos offense, led by Manning and a myriad of receiving options are teeming with depth along the entire offense. Particularly at tight end, the development of Julius Thomas and Virgil Green, along with the presence of  veterans, Joel Dresssen and Jacob Tamme. With Julius Thomas putting together a strong camp performance, Dresssen and Tamme serve as a the reliable weapons, possessing solid hands and blocking ability in two tight end sets. The one player on the bubble is third year, Virgil Green. In 2011, the Dolphins were one of the teams that showed interest in the former Nevada tight end. Serving as a blocker, Green has potential as a receiver, being one of Colin Kapernick’s favorite targets in college. The Dolphins may be able to trade a late round pick, possibly even snagging him off the waiver wire should Denver depart ways.

Logan Paulsen of the Washington Redskins came into his own in 2012. Promoted to the starting unit after the loss of Fred Davis to injury, Paulsen hauled in 25 receptions for 308 yards and a touchdown in 10 starts. Standing at 6-5 261lbs, Paulsen possesses good size and hands, giving Tannehill another dual threat at the position.  With the return of Davis, the addition of rookie, Jordan Reed and the presence of the versatile Niles Paul, Paulsen might become expendable via trade, possibly a late pick and swap of tight end prospects (a la Michael Egnew).

One of my favorite candidates to fill the void is Cincinnati’s Orson Charles. The second year tight end has become expendable after the selection of Tyler Eifert. Eifert is likely to team up with Jermaine Gresham in two tight end sets, using Richard Quinn and Alex Smith  as blocking specialists. Charles is being primarily used at fullback in training camp, giving Ireland the option to explore a trade or poach the former Georgia Bulldog should the Bengals decide to release him. Scouted by the Dolphins in 2012, Charles was selected in the 4th round, totaling 8 receptions for 101 yards as a rookie. At 6-3 250 with sub 4.6 speed, Charles has the speed and athleticism to separate from defenders and make plays down the seam. If the Dolphins are able to make the acquisition, Charles would be another option to fill in after the loss of Dustin Keller.

There is always the possibility that some team makes  a unexpected release, maybe a  veteran or developmental talent, once teams trim down to the final 53. Jeff Ireland is known to  search for “acorns”, should a few become available. So there is a good possibility Miami looks to solidify the position outside of its current group.

Take Out From Dolphins vs. Texans

After last night’s defeat to the Houston Texans, the Dolphins leave the Lone Star state facing some of the same questions that have lingered through camp. The loss of Dustin Keller deepens the wound, depleting the tight end group and receiving game of a prized weapon acquired in free agency. The offensive line continues to struggle against the blitz, while the second and third team group at linebacker, outside of Josh Kaddu, have struggled against opposing offenses. If the team plans on competing for a wildcard spot in 2013 or giving the Patriots a true fight, there’s a good chance Jeff Ireland might still have work ahead of him, scouring free agency, waiver wire and seeking out possible trades to offset the current issues with the roster.

Going into last night’s game, the Dolphins were beginning to gel in some areas of the passing game. Dustin Keller has been one of the most consistent performer throughout OTAs, training camp and against Jacksonville, hauling in two receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown. Fans were shown a glimpse of the value Keller brought to the offense. Given the protection issues along the offensive line (another issue in itself), Keller gave Tannenhill a security blanket when defenses bring the heat. Keller went down after suffering a brutal hit to his knee, with Texan’s safety D.J. Swearinger (rookie) colliding helmet to knee as Keller tried to haul in the reception. Carted off the field, Keller immediately sought out a MRI to diagnose the severity of the injury, and according to ESPN, Keller will miss the 2013 season, giving the Dolphins a major concern at the tight end position.

http://espn.go.com/nfl/trainingcamp13/story/_/id/9578937/dustin-keller-miami-dolphins-season

Moving forward the Dolphins will have to place their hopes in the remaining players on the roster. 2012 third rounder, Michael Egnew has recently drawn praise from head coach, Joe Philbin, expressing excitement for #84 going forward. Rookie, Dion Sims has had a tremendous showing at camp, earning himself a featured role in two tight end sets. Coaches will be counting on Sims to factor more into the passing game, especially now that Keller will be out for the year. Charles Clay has been used in a hybrid role, lining up at fullback and tight end. Clay has flashed the ability to create mismatches, much like Dustin Keller, but his lack of consistency has prevented from taking the next step. Kyle Miller was added in 2012, a waiver wire pickup from the Colts. While boasting nice size (6-5 260) and soft hands, camp injuries have prevented him from showing the organization the potential he could have as a receiver and blocker. Looking at the current group, the potential is there for one or more of the tight ends to aptly fill in for #81, but until that point, questions surround the position, likely resulting in Ireland adding someone in the not so distant future.

The Dolphins’ offensive line has been a liability up to this point. After three preseason games, OTA’s and three weeks of camp, everyone outside of Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey has failed to lock down their role in the front five. At left tackle, Martin struggled during the first week of camp, losing most battles against DE, Olivier Vernon. On the flip side Martin has shown progress with each advancing week going into the regular season. The former Stanford standout may yet prove himself a suitable replacement for the oft injured Jake Long.

Since John Jerry went down with a knee injury in training camp, coaches have shuffled players along the line, hoping to settle on a front five capable of keeping Tannehill upright and opening holes in the running game. Second year, Josh Samuda has been given every opportunity to take over for Jerry, but his struggled against first team defenses will likely result in his demotion to the second team, even a possible release should a upgrade suddenly become available. Nate Garner looked like a possible candidate, but a recent shoulder injury will keep him sidelined for a few weeks as he works on his recovery.

Right tackle, Tyson Clabo has struggled in his adjustment to the Fins’ zone blocking scheme, regularly getting beat in pass protection. Known for his steady play with the Atlanta Falcons, Clabo’s struggles leave you wondering if Atlanta released the veteran for more than financial reasons. Recently seeing Eric Winston sign with the Arizona Cardinals for a one year deal makes one question how the Dolphins passed on the former Pro Bowler, a player who thrived in the zone blocking scheme. If Miami wants to avoid another Marc Colombo type fiasco, Clabo has to play up to his billing or Tannehill will face constant pressure from the right side.

The other issue with the offensive line group is depth. Will Yeatman is headed into his second year as offensive tackle, converted from tight end. Against Jacksonville, Yeatman turned in a strong performance, creating intrigue over his potential. Last night’s match up against Houston’s Trevardo Williams, a rookie linebacker from Connecticut, resulted in Yeatman being pushed around, yielding two sacks in pass protection. Dallas Thomas has been inconsistent to this point, but the rookie third rounder will be given time to acclimate to the NFL. Free agent addition, Lance Louis has been limited throughout the preseason. His time with the Fins may be cut short if he fails to show coaches he is able to bounce back from last season’s knee injury. The remaining members of the group, outside of Sam Brenner, are likely to be replaced unless someone turns in a phenomenal performance in the two remaining exhibition games (highly unlikely).

At linebacker, the Dolphins starting unit has played solid football thus far, with free agent additions, Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler looking like upgrades. The questions facing the group lies within its depth. The moment the reserves take the field, the drop in production and talent becomes as clear as day. Running backs gain chunk yardage, second tier receivers and tight ends making plays outside or in the seam, all the while, the reserve linebackers fail to make impact. Outside of special teams ace, Jason Trusnick and rookie, Jelani Jenkins, the remaining slots at linebacker are left open to interpretation. Josh Kaddu has earn the praise of coaches, stepping up his play in recent weeks, more and more looking like a lock for the 53. Players like Austin Spitler, Jonathan Freeney and Lee Robinson have to play better if they want to be in the running for the final spot at linebacker, if not, look for Ireland to add a player or two via waiver wire.

Trying to avoid being too harsh over last night’s game, the Fins do have a few positive signs moving forward. The Dolphins have a plethora of depth on the defensive line. Coaches and management will face some tough decisions cutting down to the final 53. Undrafted rookies, A.J Francis (DT), Tristan Okpalaugo, Tracy Robertson (DL), and DE Omeka Onyenekwu have all flashed talent, but with so much talent already residing on the roster, Francis and Okpalaugo, if cut, will immediately be picked up by another team, or if one or two are kept, the potential gives coaches plenty of depth at a already strong position.

The starting offense made significant strides against the Texans. The long awaited, Tannehill to Wallace connection was in full effect last night, with Wallace reeling in three receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown, including a 33 yard completion, giving fans a example of the big play ability of their newly added receiver. Daniel Thomas had a memorable night, rushing for 25 yards on four carries while having one 27 yard reception. Look for Miller and Thomas to split duties going into the season, with the more productive back earning a majority of the carries.

Moving forward, the Dolphins look solid at receiver and running back, hopefully addressing the remaining questions after the preseason or finding it on the current roster with two preseason games remaining. If the Fins can address the lack of depth at linebacker, offensive line and maybe find another tight end to pair with the current group, Miami could make a playoff in 2013.