This week, we get the inside slant on the Dolphins from Greg Likens, host of the Dolphins' pre- and post-game radio shows and daily host of The Finsiders, a multimedia program that airs on MiamiDolphins.com, WINZ-AM 940 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Fox Sports Florida. *
I also broke down the Broncos for *The Finsiders in an interview you can access here.*
What has been the difference in Ryan Tannehill the last several weeks in making the next step in his development?**
LIKENS: I think one of the main differences for Ryan Tannehill has been his comfort level in (offensive coordinator) Bill Lazor's offense. The first two years of his career, he was working under Mike Sherman as the offensive coordinator, who was his coach at Texas A&M, so he was really confined to the same offensive system over the last few years in college and then his first two years as a pro.
Now, Bill Lazor comes in and installs a new offense, and it's taken him a few weeks to get comfortable. But in the last seven games, he's completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions, and he's even said that when the Dolphins went to London in Week 4 to play the Raiders, he kind of felt like he turned the corner there as far as his comfort level, and also his ability to stop thinking about what this new offense provides, and just going out and playing football on instinct, and it's shown. He's just in more command, and I think that he's grown comfortable in this offense with all the weapons that he has.
That's a good point about all the weapons, because he's not emphasizing one target; he's spreading the ball around. You really don't know where Tannehill is going to go from drive to drive and play to play.**
LIKENS: Yes, and I think that from some people's perspective, there's a focus on the fantasy-football numbers, and that's not a good thing when looking at the Dolphins. But you're right, any opposing defenses trying to game-plan against the Dolphins -- they don't know who's going to get the ball. Now, Mike Wallace leads the team with six touchdowns, but besides that, Jarvis Landry, Charles Clay, Brian Hartline, Dion Sims, Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews -- they've got a bunch of weapons that Tannehill can throw the ball to, and it also helps that he's got the sixth-best rushing offense on his side, with Lamar Miller leading the way.
That's something that he hasn't had in his first two years here. So these weapons are guys that can all make plays, and I think that the biggest obstacle for opposing defenses is not knowing who they need to key on, because everybody's alive in Lazor's offense.
And how important has Miller been, especially with Knowshon Moreno going on injured reserve so early in the season?
LIKENS: I know you guys are familiar with Knowshon from his days in Denver, and it seemed after his Week 1 performance where he broke through and carried the team in that comeback victory over the New England Patriots, that he was going to be a key cog in this offense. But after he goes down on his first carry of Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills, it's been a seamless transition to Lamar Miller.
Miller had talked in the offseason about being ready and being capable of carrying a larger load. I don't think that was what they originally intended for him to do, but he's really excelled. He struggled with a shoulder injury which kept him out against Detroit, but he bounce back and had 98 yards from scrimmage against the Bills last week, and right now is averaging almost five yards per carry and has really played a nice role as he's blossomed along with Tannehill and the offense.
How much has the loss of Branden Albert hurt the offensive line?**
LIKENS: The loss of Branden Albert is big. You look at the first priority in the offseason for general manager Dennis Hickey when he was hired -- he locked up Brent Grimes, and then the next thing he needed to do was find the foundation for the offensive line, and he went out and gave Branden Albert a five-year, $47-million deal, and he had been playing terrific football, locking down the blind side of Tannehill.
When he went out, it was a huge hole. They moved the No. 19 overall pick, Ja'waun James, from right tackle to left tackle, and then Dallas Thomas moved from guard to right tackle. It's created a big hole. I think James played pretty well last week. Thomas is a bigger question mark at right tackle, but just in general, it's a lot to ask of your rookie first-round pick to play left tackle when he hasn't started at that position since high school, so time will tell.
I know it's a big test this week with Ware and Miller combining for 19 sacks entering this matchup. It was a test last week; they gave up five sacks to the Bills. The nice thing that Lazor was able to do in tandem with Tannehill, was to make sure the quick passing game was working. They got rid of the ball as quickly as possible to counteract that. That's certainly something that the Dolphins are wary of when it comes to facing this Broncos team, and it's yet to be seen whether this offensive line can come together for them to be successful.
On the defensive side, everyone knows about what Cameron Wake can do, but what about some of the other defensive linemen like Olivier Vernon and Jared Odrick?
LIKENS: Yes, and we discussed the complementary pass rusher that has with DeMarcus Ware. Cam Wake has that with Vernon. But there's a lot of unsung heroes on this defensive line. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle does a great job of rotating those guys in, so whether it's a Jared Odrick, a Randy Starks, an Earl Mitchell, a Derrick Shelby, and now Dion Jordan, since he's been back from suspension -- all of these guys are getting reps. They keep everybody fresh.
At the end of the day, Cam Wake opens things up for everybody with his ability to get off the ball and create havoc in the opposing team's backfield, but all of those guys are talented at doing their thing, and you take a look at where they rank defensively -- the Dolphins are the fourth-best team when it comes to sacking the quarterback, the second-best when it comes to total defense, and they're the fourth-best scoring defense. A lot of it has been Cam Wake, Brent Grimes and some of these guys individually, but I think that if you ask all the defensive players from the Dolphins, it's been a real team effort, and they're getting many people involved.
You mentioned Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013. Is he close to turning a corner?**
LIKENS: It's a good question. I think Dolphins fans are asking that down here, as well, because I think they're utilizing him in a way where he's not only rushing the passer -- which is what they drafted him to do -- but also in coverage. A couple of weeks ago against the Lions, he found himself running after Calvin Johnson up and down the field, because he's such a good athlete, and that wouldn't be something you expect from a 6-foot-6, 295-pound lineman who normally gets after the passer, but he's very versatile, and they're using him that way.
I think that he's going to turn the corner the more comfortable he gets. He was really held back by the two suspensions he had to sit through to start th season, missing six games, but since he's been back, they're using him in a versatile role, but time will tell whether he's actually going to be the real difference-maker that you'd expect from a former No. 3 overall pick.