With four out of the five Pre-Season games already completed, the Dolphins WR/TE corps looks like it is light years away from what is was this time last year! With the additions of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, the Dolphins have added speed and versatility. Also added with these two new weapons for Ryan Tannehill is a lot of guaranteed money, and with that guaranteed money comes big expectations. With all that being said, the three WR combinations of Mike Wallace (down field threat), Brian Hartline (possession WR and superb route runner), and Brandon Gibson (athletic and shifty slot), make a very compelling WR trio, and with WR projects Marvin McNutt, Chad Bumphis, and Rishard Matthews, the Dolphins could have a very good WR corps. Now with the devastating injury (torn ACL, PCL, MLC and dislocated kneecap) to Dustin Keller, Charles Clay, Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, and Kyle Miller will need to step it up in order for the TE position to fulfill its potential it had early on in Training Camp, before Keller's injury. With all that being said, let's look at the potential for the whole group.
WR Mike Wallace 6'0" 200 lbs Ole Miss
With the addition of Mike Wallace, the Dolphins FINALLY have a legitimate down field threat that can take it 40+ yards for a touchdown. A WR who gives defensive coordinators nightmares trying to prepare for him. A WR who scares CBs and forces them to give him the cushion needed to cover him. The common opinion around the league is that Wallace is a "one-trick pony." Meaning that he can only run the 9 route (fly route). But contrary to popular opinion, he is much more versatile than most think him to be. Coach Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, and WR coach Ken O'Keefe have been singing Wallace's praises all camp long thus far, being impressed with his exciting abilities. With 3 catches for 58 yards and 1 TD against the Houston Texans, he is finally showing signs of gaining some much needed chemistry with young QB Ryan Tannehill. A nagging groin injury prevented him from playing in the first Pre-Season game, but it should not hinder him for the remaining of the Pre-Season and heading into the regular season. Now that Wallace and Tannehill are developing some much needed chemistry, production on the football field should be coming here soon. With Wallace's blazing speed and Tannehill's big arm, the potential for this passing duo is almost limitless (barring any injuries). Look for Wallace to catch any where from 50-70 balls and amass 800-1100 yards for 7-10 TDs this year.
WR Brian Hartline 6'2" 200 lbs Ohio State
With the lighting fast Mike Wallace at one starting WR position, what kind of WR would be a perfect complement to him? You guessed it, WR Brian Harline. Hartline is as a reliable WR as you can get in the NFL. He is a superb route runner, reliable pass catcher, a security blanket for young QBs (Tannehill's favorite target last year as a rookie), and, entering his fifth year in the league, a leader in the locker room. With 4.58 speed, he is faster than most think, but he is "quicker than fast," as NFL analyst Mike Mayock would say, which is one of the reasons why is a great route runner. He signed a 5 year $30.775 million dollar contract this offseason, which leads you to believe that the Dolphins believe he can and will do better than 1,084 yards and only 1 TD (granted he did not have much help around him to take some pressure off)! Brian is a very smart and savvy WR, who knows how to get open versus any cover, whether it be press man to man, off man to man, or zone. His route running skills is what allows him to get open versus any man to man coverage, his veteran savvy is what allows to him find the hole in zone coverage to become open, and his field awareness is fantastic, always working back toward the QB when he is flushed out of the pocket and being pressured. Hartline will never wow you with athleticism or speed, but he he will always being a more than reliable target for Ryan Tannehill, and with Mike Wallace on the other side, he should be getting several more opportunities for one on one coverage this year. Look for Hartline to get around 65-80 catches, 800-1000 yards and 4-6 TDs.
WR Brandon Gibson 6'0" 205 lbs Washington State
Coming out of Washington State, Brandon Gibson was very much an afterthought in many NFL General Manager's minds, not being drafted until the 6th round in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. His 40 yard dash was not that impressive (4.59) and being only 6'0", he is not that physically imposing as a boundary WR. Being cut by the Eagles later in 2009, Gibson was then picked up by the St. Louis Rams and was able to make the team. He finally found his niche as the slot WR in St. Louis and finally took advantage of it in 2012 with 51 catches, 691 yards and 5 TDs, with 43 of his 51 catches being first downs. Assuming the math is right, 84.3% of his catches went for first downs! That is a fantastic percentage and looking further into the statistics, Gibson has 10 catches for 144 yards on third downs, 90% of which went for first downs. With all that being said, Gibson might not be the "big play WR" that every team covets, but the bottom line, Gibson produces catches and much needed first downs, which is something that the Dolphins desperately needed last year. Gibson will be a very physical slot for the Dolphins and Ryan Tannehill, and with the injury to TE Dustin Keller, Gibson could be the beneficiary of more opportunities during the course of the season. Look for Gibson to produce 35-50 catches, amassing 400-600 yards and 4-6 TDs.
TEs Charles Clay 6'3" 250 lbs, TE Dion Sims 6'5" 262 lbs, Michael Egnew 6'5" 255lbs
The season ending injury to TE Dustin Keller definitely is tough to take, especially considering the chemistry the he and Ryan Tannehill was developing early in camp, but there may be a silver lining to this injury. The loss of Keller for the season might force Charles Clay, Dion Sims, and Michael Egnew to hasten their maturation processes and develop faster than they would have otherwise. In other words, "throwing them to the wolves" and seeing how these young TEs respond. Starting TE/FB/H-Back Charles Clay, he was drafted in 2011 in the 6th round, due mainly to his versatility, but due to injuries and the loss of TE Anthony Fasano from last year, he has been thrown in to a prominent role of the offense now. Clay is a very "streaky," meaning that some days he looks like he could be a quality NFL starting TE and really tears it up in practice, and other days he just looks like "just another guy" on the practice field. He showed flashes of what he could do last year during the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks games, running good routes and catching TDs in both of those games. Then he has games like he did against the Tampa Bay Bucs last week where he was targeted 6 times and only managed to come down with 1 catch. Hopefully this opportunity forces him to be much more consistent moving forward. Dion Sims, a rookie out of Michigan St., was known more for his in-line blocking coming out of college. Playing at 280 lbs at Michigan St., he was asked more to block than he was to go out for passes and catch. Now at 262 lbs, he looks much more lean than he did in college and it appears as if he is moving better as well. During the Pre-Season so far, he looks like a more than capable blocker and looks like he has some potential in the passing game as well. Being a rookie TE, it is tough to transition right into the NFL become successful immediately, but that is what the Dolphins are hoping for him to do. Now, the enigma that is Michael Egnew. A 3rd round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Egnew came out of Missouri known as a pass catching, seam-threat TE. He was supposed to help the Dolphins passing game last year, but he only ended playing in two games last year, with those two games being the only ones he was active for. He was famously chewed out by Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman Hard Knocks on HBO, saying that if he was GM, he would have cut Egnew off the team. This offseason, Egnew did MMA training to improve his toughness, that was certainly in question a lot of times last year, and it seems as if some of his hard work has paid off. Watching him during the Pre-Season, it looks as if he has improved on his dreadful blocking from a year ago, and making some progress on catching the ball, some of which he was supposed to be good at coming out of college. Overall, it seems as if he has improved his game over the offseason, but the question looms, has he improved enough to keep a spot on the final 53 man roster? Only the coaching staff knows, but one would have to assume that he does, in fact, get a spot, especially due to the injury of Keller. Look for this trio of TEs to come up with anywhere from 35-55 catches, collectively getting 400-600 yards, and 3-5 TDs.
With an exciting trio of WRs this year and a young but potential filled trio of TEs, look for Ryan Tannehill to improve and build on what he was able to accomplish last year. With Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Charles Clay, Dion Sims, Michael Egnew being the main targets this year, it is safe to say they will definitely get the majority of the catches, but do not sleep on WRs like Marvin McNutt, Chad Bumphis, and Rishard Matthews, who are all fighting for the #4 and #5 WR positions. Bumphis has shown some real potential this Pre-Season, it is expected by some people that this Undrafted Free Agent out of Mississippi St. could make this roster. McNutt is a big body at 6'3" 216lbs, who, if he can develop, could turn into a valuable red zone threat WR for Tannehill. And Rishard Matthews, a 6th round pick from Nevada last year, could be the odd man, missing two weeks of practice earlier in the Pre-Season, although he he does have some special teams value and some good hands, which could help him make this squad and convince the Dolphins to keep 6 WRs.
This year looks to be one with hope and anticipation from Dolphin's fans everywhere and the team has enough talent to make a run at the playoffs if they can create of chemistry,work together as a team, instead of as individuals, and get hot as many NFL teams do at the end of the season to make that last second playoff push. With all these new weapons for Ryan Tannehill, it is still up to him to get them the ball. It does not matter how much talent you have at the WR position, if a team does not have a QB that can get them the ball, then all that talent is a waste. But from what Tannehill showed last year as a rookie, the Dolphins should not have that problem, and the only thing they should be worrying about is the health of their QB and the offensive weapons they have surrounded him with this year.
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