The Miami Dolphins are one of the most storied franchises in the history of the NFL. From 1971-1973 they appeared in three consecutive Super Bowls and won two championships. An offense led by Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Paul Warfield combined with the No Name defense to lead the Dolphins to what remains the only undefeated season in the Super Bowl era. The Dolphins would reach the playoffs a total of 7 times in the 1970s, 5 times in the 1980s including two more Super Bowls. Led by Hall of Famer Dan Marino, Miami would return to the playoffs another 7 times throughout the 1990s. Marino would lead Miami to only one Super Bowl (1984) in his 16 year career and finish with a regular season record 147-93 as the Dolphins quarterback. That is the end of the good news at the quarterback position for the Miami Dolphins. Since Marino retired in 1999 seventeen different men have stood under center for the Dolphins. Names such as Jay Fiedler, Chad Pennington, Gus Frerotte and Chad Henne have the Miami faithful longing for the days of Don Strock. Following the departure of legendary coach Don Shula after the 1995 season the Dolphins have seen five head coaches come and go, most notably Jimmy Johnson and Nick Saban. Johnson would manage to win only two of three playoff games in four seasons with Miami, while Saban would have a career 15-17 record before returning to the safety of coaching college football. That leads us to the latest man to be given the keys to the Dolphin kingdom. Can Joe Philbin be the head coach to return the Miami Dolphins to the NFL elite?
The Miami Dolphins hired former Green Bay Packer offensive coordinator Joe Philbin in January of 2012. From 2007-2011, under Philbins watch, the Green Bay offense finished in the top ten of points scored and total yards every season. During that same time frame the Dolphins would not finish in the top ten of either category even once. The Packers averaged 28 points, over 265 yards passing and 109 yards rushing per game with Philbin as their offensive coordinator. The last three seasons Miami has averaged just over 20 points a game and thrown more interceptions (53) than touchdowns (52). Philbin has tagged former Packer and Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman to be his offensive coordinator. The two have a history of working together dating back to the days when Sherman hired Philbin to be one of his assistants in Green Bay. Sherman and Philbin will be able to work to the strengths of their personnel on offense and look to emulate the success they both had while coaching the Packers. The Dolphins have made the decision that to turn the franchise around they need a head coach who can specifically turn their offense around. Greg Jennings, Ryan Grant , Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley all flourished while playing in the high scoring system in Green Bay. However, before anointing Joe Philbin as perhaps the greatest offensive mind of the twentieth century there remains another fact to consider. The two starting quarterbacks for the Green Bay Packers during Philbins time as offensive coordinator were Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. The Dolphins used eight different quarterbacks in that same time span and suffice to say none of them are on a par with a Rodgers or a Favre. The first thing Joe Philbin must do is to find the quarterback to lead the Miami Dolphin franchise going forward.
One thing for certain is that the man to lead the Dolphins from under center is not currently on the roster. Chad Henne will most likely be allowed to leave in free agency and while Matt Moore filled in admirably last season he is not the long term answer. With one year left on his contract Moore would make the ideal number 2 quarterback for Miami in 2012.There will be the obligatory Peyton Manning chatter but with the certainty of both his current and future health in doubt, it would be ill advised for the Dolphins to invest in the future hall of famer. The Dolphins are looking to build a Green Bay style of offense that will be able to sustain itself going forward and to do that there is only one available name that fits that mold. Signing Matt Flynn needs to be the number one priority of the Dolphins once free agency kicks off in March. Flynn has been working with Philbin since entering the league in 2008 and in his only two career starts has shown a grasp of managing the system at a high level. Miami may not currently have the talent at the skill positions that Green Bay does but very few teams do. Brandon Marshall is a premier receiver in the NFL and could break out in Miami next season in this new offense. Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are both adequate NFL caliber wide receivers but the Dolphins do need an upgrade at the wide receiver position. Drafting Kendall Wright out of Baylor with their first round pick in Aprils draft is an option to bolster the receiver position in Miami. Anthony Fasano has an opportunity to catch a lot of passes for the Dolphins next season but may have to restructure his current deal to remain with the team. He would be wise to do so as the tight end position is used frequently as a red zone option in a Green Bay style offense. Drafting a big, strong pass catching tight end along the lines of a Coby Fleener from Stanford or a Michael Egnew out of Missouri on day two or three of this year's draft is possible as well. The Miami running backs are actually a more talented group than the one that Philbin is leaving in Green Bay. Reggie Bush is coming off of his best season and is arguably the number one receiving running back in the league. Daniel Thomas was an overall disappointment in his rookie year but did still manage to flash some of the skills the Dolphins saw when they drafted him in 2011 in spite of a lingering hamstring injury. CFL import Jerome Messam, at 6'3" and 250lbs may just end up being the goal line back Miami has been lacking.
As for the defensive side of the ball, Philbin has brought in Kevin Coyle to be his defensive coordinator. Coyle comes over from Cincinnati where he was defensive backs coach for the last nine seasons. The Dolphins have averaged 41 sacks, 14 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles the last three seasons and look for that trend to continue. Whether the defense is considered a 4-3 or some hybrid version of that, the Dolphins do need to add another pass rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake. Kendall Langford looks to be gone in free agency as does Paul Soliai, so there will be some changes to the defensive line in 2012. Vontae Davis, Reshad Jones and Sean Smith have continued to improve each season, while steady veteran Yeremiah Bell may have to restructure his deal to stay with the team. Karlos Dansby may also be asked to restructure to try and help the team manage the salary cap and he is poised to have a stellar 2012 season in Coyles defense. Miami has not returned a kickoff or punt for a touchdown since 2009 and that needs to change. Speedster Clyde Gates flashed some potential while averaging 24.8 yards per kick return last season so there is some hope there. On the flip side of that is Davone Bess, who has yet to take a return to the house in 4 years of fielding punts. Miami will definitely look for an upgrade in their punt returner heading into 2012. Joe Philbin can indeed lead the dolphins back to the elite level in the NFL and he can do it rather quickly. Signing free agent Matt Flynn to be his quarterback and bolstering the wide receiver position through the draft and free agency will help the Dolphins to make the playoffs in 2012 and keep them in the hunt for the AFC east title for years to come.