The Miami Dolphins made some significant upgrades on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. Their biggest move was signing free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace, but they also added wide receiver Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller. With those additions and the development of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins figure to be much improved offensively, possibly to the extent of challenging the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. However, even with an improved offense, if the Dolphins are going to compete for a division title in 2013, their defense is going to have show significant signs of improvement as well.
The front four that Miami will put on the field will look similar to group it had last season, except with the addition of first round pick Dion Jordan. The Dolphins don’t know what exactly to expect out of Jordan in his rookie season, but they did get 15 sacks from Cameron Wake last season, so there won’t be too much pressure on Jordan to produce right away. Miami will also have quality depth at defensive end with Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon, so if Jordan has a good rookie season, the Dolphins could have four capable pass rushers, which should allow them to put consistent pressure on the quarterback.
The linebacker position was Miami’s biggest emphasis during free agency, as they added Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, both who will step into Miami’s starting lineup. Wheeler had a breakout season last year and appears to be entering his prime, so the Dolphins will be expecting a lot from him this season. Ellerbe is fresh off winning a Super Bowl and having the best season of his career as well. The Dolphins will expect him to own the middle of the field, where he could eclipse the 100-tackle mark for the first time. If Wheeler and Ellerbe play up to expectations, they should have no problem giving the Dolphins quality play at linebacker, as younger replacements after Miami parted ways with veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.
The secondary is where Miami will need the most help, after finishing 27th in the NFL against the pass last season. The Dolphins addressed the secondary in both free agency and the draft. In free agency they signed Brent Grimes, who only played in one game last season, but who had a few real good seasons in Atlanta between 2008 and 2010. In the draft the Dolphins added Jamar Taylor in the second round and Will Davis in the third round. Both Taylor and Davis are penciled in as back ups right now, but they should provide Miami with good depth at cornerback, while also pushing Grimes and Richard Marshall for their starting spots. At safety, the Dolphins will bring back Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons, two players that appear to be entering their prime.
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While Miami’s offense will get a lot of the credit if they end up challenging the Patriots in the AFC East and make the playoffs this season, but the defense appears ready to play an equal part in the team’s success. The Dolphins are younger on defense than they were a season ago, and they have several key players that are beginning to play the best football of their careers. Miami may not have one of the NFL’s elite defenses this season, but just as the Dolphin’s offense is expected to take a step forward in 2013, the defense should show significant improvement as well. If Miami is able to improve enough on both sides of the ball, they will have a realistic chance at toppling New England atop the AFC East this season.