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Miami Dolphins

Kenyan Drake is a Five Course Meal

Travis Wingfield

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Is 2018 the third-year back’s breakout season?

Surviving on appetizers for the past six years of his football career, Kenyan Drake is ready to dig into five-course feast. Merely a garaged sports car dating back to his time at Alabama, Drake obtained a bell cow gig in Miami out of team necessity.

After leading the NFL in rushing yards over that brief audition, Drake defected from the bench in search of greener pastures as a starter – and he found them.

Playing second-fiddle to the likes of Eddie Lacy, Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, Drake never eclipsed 92 carries in a single season in college. His acclimation to the professional game took a year and a half, but his instant impact helped change the outlook of the Dolphins’ off-season.

After shipping Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia mid-season, the Dolphins figured to enter the running back market with conviction in 2018. But after 291 offensive reps in the final five games, Adam Gase and company knew they needed not to replace Ajayi, but support Drake.

Every off-season is an opportunity to lose a job in the NFL. For Drake, the Dolphins’ moves at the position solidified his standing with the team, and their overall faith in the fresh-legged 24-year-old.

Quantifiable measurements dominate the player evaluation process and conversation. What do these players run? How high and far do they jump? These are typically accurate portrayals of how each individual could perform at this level.

For Drake, the tangibles are apparent. His relative athletic scorecard (provided by Kent Lee Platte @mathbomb) checked every box outside of the bench press.

But it was the improvements to other areas of his game that elevated him towards potential breakout super star.

There are five elements of his game I want to explore in this column:

Speed and Elusiveness – The homerun hitting ability to outrace defensive backs and the elusiveness to make players miss in crowded areas.
Power and Grit – To be a full-time back, you’ve got to bring the lunch pail and grind out tough yardage.
Decision Making – An often dismissed aspect of playing tail back, decision making is the difference between good zone runners and pro-bowl backs.
Pass Catching – It’s 2018. If a running back wants to be considered elite, he better contribute as a pass-catcher.
Pass Protection – Catching the football does a back very little good if he’s a useless pass protector.

There are examples from all five aspect of Drake’s game from his impressive finish to the 2017 season.

Speed and Elusiveness –

Track speed and game speed are two different entities. Luckily, for Miami, Drake features both in spades. The ability to turn the corner on a defensive back, or burn by a safety at the second level, these are the traits that take a back from a good scheme fit, to a true super star.

The two examples below highlight the way Drake’s pure, natural speed benefits the Dolphins when they get every assignment correct. When that happens, and a talent like Kenyan Drake is unleashed into the secondary, big plays are on the horizon.

The ability to accelerate through a cut is a rare trait – the Dolphins’ lead-back possesses it.

Power and Grit –

The common misnomer surrounding Drake’s game is that he’s a speed-guy and therefore a finesse back.

Au contraire.

Tackling Kenyan Drake requires a lunch pail mentality that a lot of today’s NFL players aren’t willing to pack.

Technique is just as important as sheer strength in this regard. A common theme with Drake’s carries, the focus on squaring up to the line of scrimmage. This fundamental allows the back to get skinny on plays where he has to “bang” (hit the hole) or throw a vicious jump-cut on a look that requires a “bend” (cut-back).

Decision Making –

The traits explained in the previous paragraph is the extent to which running backs make decisions. It seems simple, but the speed of the game makes it easy to flub an assignment – there’s a reason guys like Trent Richardson bust out of the league.

The complaint with Jay Ajayi was his refusal to bang and his perpetual need to bounce everything. This is how negative runs begin to stack up and put the offense in precarious down-and-distances.

Drake, on the other hand, has a north-and-south mentality. He has knack for finding the little openings that he can squeeze out the maximum amount of yardage.

Pass Catching –

An integral part of today’s NFL (and Adam Gase’s adaptation of the Ernhardt-Perkins offense), running backs have to be useful options in the passing game.

This goes beyond the run-of-the-mill swing route, flat route, screen plays and the route tree that comes with the territory. Here, we’re discussing his ability to flex out and run routes as a receiver.

The two videos below come from the same game. It shows Drake’s explosive ability as a route runner and the sheer mismatch he can create on the outside.

First, the Dolphins get him flexed out on Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts. The play goes away from Drake, but you can see the speed discrepancy between the two players.

Then, as any great play caller would, Adam Gase comes back to that same look. This time the Dolphins capitalize with a deep strike that goes for 46 yards. There isn’t a linebacker in the league that can keep up with Drake on this type of play.

Pass Protection –

Pass protection is a precursor of being an impactful receiver from the backfield. If a back is nothing more than a turnstile, then the defense can blitz and render his release valve route obsolete.

This is an area of Drake’s game that came a long way in 2017. Rather than sit back and wait for the pressure to come to him, he went out and found work.

Notice the fundamentals discussed earlier in power-techniques. Staying square is just as important, if not more important, in pass pro than it is as a runner.

Drake feels the pressure, steps up into the hole, drops his caboose, widens his base, and delivers a perfect punch to keep Broncos Linebacker, Todd Davis, at bay.

Gase’s brief history of running back usage in Miami would suggest that he prefers a bell cow. He ran Arian Foster right out of the league, he leaned on Jay Ajayi in 2016, and doubled Drake’s career workload in a five-game stretch in 2017.

Injuries were a concern for Drake going back to Alabama. Two years in an NFL program, zero games missed out of 32, the ceiling is out of sight for this elusive sledgehammer.

If Drake realizes his potential, the Dolphins can salt away games in the South Florida heat. Perhaps even more important, they can set up the play action game – an area Ryan Tannehill has posted elite statistics in throughout his career.

@WingfieldNFL

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. BNF

    July 10, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    awesome work

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Miami Dolphins

Training Camp Guide – Linebackers

Travis Wingfield

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Go To:

Part 1: Quarterbacks
Part 2: Running Backs
Part 3: Wide Receivers
Part 4: Offensive Line
Part 5: Tight Ends
Part 6: Defensive Ends
Part 7: Defensive Tackles

Prologue: Come the morning of July 26, the sun will emerge over Nova Southeastern University and provide a glorious backdrop to the 54threndition of Miami Dolphins football.

The third year for the for the twelfth coach in team history will be met with heavy scrutiny. Exhausted by selfish players setting a poor example and creating an unsatisfactory atmosphere, Adam Gase took the reins of the organization.

Deviating from the recent operating procedure set forth by Mike Tannenbaum, Adam Gase, and General Manager Chris Grier, embarked on a new method of talent acquisition. Placing an emphasis on details, dedication and depth, the pair have heard criticisms from all channels.

General perception states that this roster is devoid of top-shelf talent and destined for a coveted top draft choice come April 2019.

Fact proves that this is the deepest roster the Dolphins have fielded since the days of Dave Wannstedt roaming the sidelines.

Who are the stalwarts? Who’s on the bubble? Who needs to update their resume?

This series will give you, the reader, a thorough report on each of the 90 players descending on Dolphins’ camp this August. Additionally, we’ll sort through the weeds and predict the final-53 men that will earn the right to wear the uniform draped in South Florida sports history.

Part VIII Linebackers:

Raekwon McMillan, Mike Linebacker – 1 year of NFL service
Jersey: 52
College: Ohio State
Age: 23 (turns 23 in November)
Acquired: Drafted 54thoverall (R2) in the 2017 NFL Draft
Signed: Through 2020, $1,174,384 APY base / $2,699,912 guaranteed

May 25, 2017; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan (52) catches a pass during OTAs practice drills at Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If Miami wants to buck the trend of bottom-barrel linebacker play from the last half-decade, Raekwon McMillan needs to be as advertised. The Dolphins coaching staff has gone out of its way to praise McMillan’s work habits, leadership, and football acumen.

To boot, he’s a good athlete that can play all three downs. Miami hasn’t had a true middle linebacker capable of playing every defensive snap since Karlos Danby – that needs to change in 2018.

Kiko Alonso, Outside Linebacker – 5 years of NFL service
Jersey: 47
College: Oregon
Age: 28
Acquired: Via trade, Compensation: Swap of 2016 1stround picks (Alonso/Maxwell)
Signed: Through 2020, $7,227,500 APY base / $16,000,000 guaranteed

Alonso was habitually out of positon and outclassed by superior athletes in 2017. He’s better served playing off-set and off the ball; while also playing clean behind the defensive line.

Better health and a role more commensurate with his skillset should allow him more freedom to do what he does best – take the football away.

Stephone Anthony, Outside Linebacker – 3 years of NFL service
Jersey: 44
College: Clemson
Age: 26
Acquired: Via trade, Compensation: 2018 5thround pick
Signed: Through 2018, $1,932,930 APY base / $6,242,394 guaranteed

This is a massive year for Anthony. A first-round draft bust to this point, Anthony enters a contract year with the inside track for the opening day third linebacker role. His coverage deficiencies can be masked on passing downs by taking him off the field, and he’ll have to get better at identifying his keys in the run game.

Jerome Baker, Backup OLB – Rookie
Jersey: 55
College: Ohio State
Age: 28
Acquired: Drafted 73rdoverall (R3) in the 2018 NFL Draft
Signed: Through 2021, $952,300 APY base / $975,200 guaranteed

With an outside shot to nab one of the “starting” jobs, Baker gets by on superb athleticism and unselfish football. Consistently honoring gap integrity and flashing in all three phases, the hope is that Baker one day joins McMillan as the unquestioned top LBs on the roster.

Terence Garvin, Backup OLB – 5 years of NFL service
Jersey: 57
College: West Virginia
Age: 21
Acquired: 2018 Unrestricted Free-Agency
Signed: Through 2018, $880,000 APY base / $90,000 guaranteed

A special teams ace in Seattle with plus athleticism and coverage skills, Garvin figures into the rotation as a specialist. He’s also no stranger to putting his hand in the dirt and rushing the passer. Garvin signifies the shift towards a more athletic group.

Mike McCray, Cut, Sixth Linebacker – Rookie
Jersey: 58
College: Michigan
Age: 24
Acquired: 2018 Undrafted Free-Agent
Signed: Through 2020, $570,000 APY base / $0 guaranteed

Nobody will mistake McCray for a burner, but he’s a sure tackler that can defend the B-gap-to-B-gap running game. Much like the role filled by Rey Maualuga last season, McCray becomes the “thumper” of the group.

He also has a ringing endorsement from the owner; which goes further than you might think.

Quentin Poling, Cut, Practice Squad – Rookie
Jersey: 51
College: Ohio
Age: 23
Acquired: Drafted 227thoverall (R7) in the 2018 NFL Draft
Signed: Through 2020, $628,420 APY base / $93,680 guaranteed

For Poling to make the roster he will have to shine on special teams. Given the low-level competition he played in college, he may need a year to refine his game to make the opening day roster. He’s a perfect practice squad candidate.

Chase Allen, Cut – 1 year of NFL service
Jersey: 59
College: Southern Illinois
Age: 25
Acquired: 2017 Undrafted Free-Agent
Signed: Through 2019, $558,333 APY base / $20,000 guaranteed

Allen is the obvious choice to fill the role described in Mike McCray’s blurb, but the Dolphins can do better, whether it’s McCray or a player from another roster.

Mike Hull, Cut – 3 years of NFL service
Jersey: 45
College: Penn State
Age: 27
Acquired: 2015 Undrafted Free-Agent
Signed: Through 2018, $705,000 APY base / $0 guaranteed

Making it this long as a UDFA is impressive but, in his three years, Hull has never shown a penchant for any extraordinary traits. He’s an exemplary special teamer with little hope of ever making an impact on the defense.

Cayson Collins, Cut – Rookie
Jersey: 33
College: North Carolina
Age: 23 (turns 23 in November)
Acquired: 2018 Undrafted Free-Agent
Signed: Through 2020, $570,000 APY base / $0 guaranteed

Perhaps the greatest longshot at the position, Collins’ only real route to the roster is to play the best football of his life. Even then, he may need an injury to crack the roster – he does have a shot at the practice squad.

2018 Linebackers at a Glance:

A position that has haunted the Dolphins for years, Miami finally has a collection of players budding with potential. We’ve all heard the buzz on McMillan but, until he plays a down, that’s only hype.

Alonso was drug through the mud in 2017. He’s playing on an absolutely asinine contract that gives fans extreme pause when his name comes up in conversation. When he gets his keys right, he’s a quality player – but he’s far too often washed out of the play altogether.

The third ‘backer job is one of the most intriguing battles of camp in 2018. Whether Anthony, Baker or Garvin seizes the role, the hope is that competition breeds success.

The defensive line appears to be set and improved, as is the secondary, but this group MUST improve its run defense for any of that to matter.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Training Camp Guide – Defensive Tackles

Travis Wingfield

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on

Go To:

Part 1: Quarterbacks
Part 2: Running Backs
Part 3: Wide Receivers
Part 4: Offensive Line
Part 5: Tight Ends
Part 6: Defensive Ends

Prologue: Come the morning of July 26, the sun will emerge over Nova Southeastern University and provide a glorious backdrop to the 54threndition of Miami Dolphins football.

The third year for the for the twelfth coach in team history will be met with heavy scrutiny. Exhausted by selfish players setting a poor example and creating an unsatisfactory atmosphere, Adam Gase took the reins of the organization.

Deviating from the recent operating procedure set forth by Mike Tannenbaum, Adam Gase, and General Manager Chris Grier, embarked on a new method of talent acquisition. Placing an emphasis on details, dedication and depth, the pair have heard criticisms from all channels.

General perception states that this roster is devoid of top-shelf talent and destined for a coveted top draft choice come April 2019.

Fact proves that this is the deepest roster the Dolphins have fielded since the days of Dave Wannstedt roaming the sidelines.

Who are the stalwarts? Who’s on the bubble? Who needs to update their resume?

This series will give you, the reader, a thorough report on each of the 90 players descending on Dolphins’ camp this August. Additionally, we’ll sort through the weeds and predict the final-53 men that will earn the right to wear the uniform draped in South Florida sports history.

Part VII Defensive Tackles:

Davon Godchaux, Starting Base Defensive Tackle – 1 year of NFL service
Jersey: 56
College: LSU
Age: 24 (turns 24 in November)
Acquired: Drafted 178thoverall (R5) in the 2017 NFL Draft
Signed: Through 2020, $650,487 APY base / $201,948 guaranteed

Godchaux came on like gangbusters from the word go in 2017. A fifth round draft pick selected to provide immediate depth and a long-term project for the post-Ndamukong Suh era, Godchaux earned his way from the depths of the roster to a full-fledged starter.

He’s exceptional against the run with a low pad level and hands that act as weapons allowing him to control his counterpart. He doesn’t offer much by way of the pass rush, but he has plenty of time to refine that skill set.

Akeem Spence, Starting Defensive Tackle – 1 year of NFL service
Jersey: 93
College: Illinois
Age: 27 (turns 27 in November)
Acquired: Traded from Detroit for a 2019 7thround draft pick
Signed: Through 2019, $3,000,000 APY base / $3,500,000 guaranteed

A necessary move in the wake of the Suh release, Spence joins former Detroit Lions defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek, in his pilgrimage to South Florida.

Spence embodies the playing style Kocurek demands – penetrating with your hair on fire. Spence is a high-motor guy that will sprinkle in the splash play from time-to-time.

Jordan Phillips, Rush Defensive Tackle – 3 years of NFL service
Jersey: 97
College: Oklahoma
Age: 26 (turns 26 in September)
Acquired: Drafted 52ndoverall (R2) in the 2015 NFL Draft
Signed: Through 2018, $1,090,727 APY base / $2,066,338 guaranteed

Nov 6, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (97) leaps over New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson (11) after making an interception during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins won 27-23. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The yin and the yang of Phillips’ career in Miami is perplexing. One play he looks like an all-pro; the next his feet are stationary and he’s getting blown off the football.

It’s surprising that a man his size struggles in the run game as much as he does, but he’s got elite pass rush ability from the interior. His sweet spot is the 25-30 snaps per game area, but he might need to play more in a contract year.

Vincent Taylor, 4thDefensive Tackle – 1 year of NFL service
Jersey: 96
College: Oklahoma State
Age: 24
Acquired: Drafted 194thoverall (R6) in the 2017 NFL Draft
Signed: Through 2020, $638,607 APY base / $154,428 guaranteed

Among the league’s best in run-stuff percentage, Taylor flashed on a very limited basis in 2017. He’s a mountain of a man with surprisingly nimble feet that help him work down the line-of-scrimmage on a variety of run looks.

Jamiyus Pittman, Cut, Practice Squad – Rookie
Jersey: 65
College: Central Florida
Age: 23
Acquired: 2018 Undrafted Free-Agent
Signed: Through 2020, $570,000 APY base / $0 guaranteed

Pittman might have the best pass rush upside of this entire group. For that reason, he earns a gig on the practice squad as a potential passing down interior collapser.

Gabe Wright, Cut – 3 years of NFL service
Jersey: 98
College: Auburn
Age: 26
Acquired: Signed from Detroit’s practice squad in 2017
Signed: Through 2018, $622,500 APY base / $0 guaranteed

Earning some playing time late in 2017 coming over from the Lions practice squad, Wright has a chance to make the team out of camp. His familiarity with Kocurek certainly doesn’t hurt his cause.

Anthony Moten, Cut Tackle – Rookie
Jersey: 43
College: Miami
Age: 23
Acquired: 2018 Undrafted Free-Agent
Signed: Through 2020, $570,000 APY base / $0 guaranteed

What’s not to love about a local kid that is going to wear #43 in the trenches during the pre-season? This group is wide open so a great camp from Moten could land him on the 53-man roster.

2018 Defensive Tackles at a Glance:

This is arguably the position of greatest concern on Miami’s entire roster. Suh was an all-pro that ate up an absurd number of snaps in his three seasons here. The challenge for Miami will be replacing those reps.

It’ll be up to Matt Burke to get creative with his packages. One could ascertain that the Dolphins overall lack of urgency at the position is because of the plan to use defensive ends on the interior in lieu of this underwhelming group.

Extending Phillips beyond 30 snaps is playing with fire, but the other three could see a sizable increase. Spence was a 60% player in Detroit, Godchaux was close to that number in 2017 and Taylor is sure to see a significant increase.

All four are quality rotational players, but the real problem will occur when (not if) someone gets hurt. Between Wright, Pittman and Moten, someone will find themselves on the active roster at some point this year – unless, of course, Miami looks outside of its own roster.

This position is the favorite candidate for plucking a player from another roster prior to September 9.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Rejuvenating the Miami Dolphins Brand

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are plastering Ryan Tannehill everywhere.

Go to the team’s website, and he’s the first thing you see.

Check out their social media pages, and you’ll find various audio clips and highlight reels scattered throughout the plethora of posts showcasing Tannehill.

Even their non-existent football (soccer for all us Americans) jerseys are tied to Tannehill:

We all know how prominent quarterbacks are to their football teams, but this exposure has been excessive – especially given how rarely we previously saw or heard from the normally-reserved quarterback.

It seems there was a clear vision between the team’s marketing division and those handling the football operations to shine a brighter light on their franchise quarterback.

The team is giving you a reason to get excited, but it begs the question: why haven’t the Dolphins marketed Tannehill like this earlier?

Had he yet to evolve into a leader?

While players are typically wise enough to not discredit their own teammates, there are a handful of former Dolphins who, when asked about Tannehill’s leadership ability, scoffed such a concept even existed.

Jarvis Landry is the latest former-Phin to give the fans a somber dose of what might be reality when the slot receiver mentioned how he and Tannehill didn’t have much of a connection; contrary to the camaraderie they showed on game day.

While everyone admits Tannehill is a great guy, it’s quite possible he really isn’t a good leader.

Sure, Ryan Tannehill has been a Team Captain since 2013 (the year he was appointed to Joe Philbin‘s leadership council).

And yeah, Ryan Tannehill has been so secure in his position that the team hasn’t brought in any legitimate competition for him since his rookie season when David Garrard was the favorite to win the starting job out of camp.

But do either of these facts solidify Tannehill as the face of the franchise?

Players know the quarterback is the most vital and sensitive position on the team. It’s also the most exciting position on the team.

And without one, you’re an afterthought in the NFL.

Brent Grimes, who doesn’t seem to have the ability to express his own opinion, used his wife’s vocal chords to let everyone know that while he was a member of the Dolphins he didn’t believe in Tannehill.

It was evident Grimes came to Miami for a starting opportunity and a paycheck, and when he found he had the ability to obtain that elsewhere, he used his lack-of-confidence in Tannehill to get himself jettisoned from the team.

Former Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace was very critical of Ryan Tannehill, essentially blaming him and his unpolished deep ball for failing to put up productive numbers while in Miami.

Remember when the Dolphins (rightfully) thought Brandon Marshall was such a negative influence on the franchise (between his wife stabbing him, to sparring with former quarterback Chad Henne), that they traded him to the Chicago Bears before he had a chance to infect their newest quarterback?

These divas were quick to deflect negativity from themselves, while there have been plenty of current and former teammates that believe Tannehill is a real motivator.

The thing is, it’s hard to tell if these former, unhappy players are audibly expressing what a locker room of players can’t while they’re on Tannehill’s team, or if the players that are currently on the team are heaping their praises because that’s what’s expected of a teammate.

Regardless, since he returned to the practice field following his second knee injury, the Dolphins are trying very hard to show everyone how well-liked the quarterback is by his teammates.

Is all of this attention an attempt to escape the leaderless image Jay Cutler displayed last year?

Miami doesn’t have the kind of vocal leader you can market to the fanbase.

There are no Richard Sherman’s or Ray Lewis’ getting this team ready for the game. Cameron Wake isn’t going to fire up a fanbase. Bobby McCain’s leadership style is to loosen the mood, not intensify your passion. Reshad Jones is an impressive player, but his tactic is to trash talks his opponent on the field.

So who does that leave us with?

The rejuvenation of Ryan Tannehill is already a compelling story.

Off the field for over a year, can this beacon of hope corral the players around him and restore faith in the organization, the city and the fanbase?

This story has Comeback Player of the Year and Cinderella written all over it.

But it also has a lot of truth behind it.

Ryan Tannehill and head coach Adam Gase are perfect for each other. They’re both tremendously dedicated to perfecting every intricate detail of their gameplan, both study meticulously, and both are passionate about not losing (different than having a passion for winning).

They both spend countless hours reviewing film; they’re at the facility earlier than expected and later than necessary.

In his interview with Locked on Dolphins, Jeff Darlington mentioned that Gase felt like he had Tannehill right where he wanted him.

Both player and coach felt Ryan Tannehill finally turned the corner that Arizona game. It was finally time for Tannehill to truly step up and lead the team.

His team.

And then it all snapped.

The 2017 season was supposed to be the year owner Stephen Ross finally saw his purchase blossom. The team was finally about to turn the corner of mediocrity and become relevant again….and then all the money destined to churn through the turnstiles was gone before the first game could even be played.

This team will gladly accept every dollar this marketing campaign brings them by hyping up the fanbase and getting them invested in the season.

They have a lot of ground to make up after showing promise at the end of the 2016 season.

Maybe all of this marketing is just their way of educating fans on how Tannehill really acts and how he’s really received.

The local media certainly hasn’t done it.

The national perspective believes the Dolphins and Tannehill are bottom-5-caliber.

Even our own fans have the perception that Tannehill hasn’t orchestrated some of the most impressive numbers for a QB in their first 4-5 years in NFL history.

This is something the Dolphins can only fix by winning. But, they have gotten a head start on making everyone believe this is the year you can’t miss.

The return of Ryan Tannehill? The return to greatness? The return of the Miami Dolphins?

Lose, and this is all forgotten. Win, and you rejuvenate a franchise.

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