AFC East: Miami Dolphins

MOBILE, Ala. -- The 2015 Senior Bowl practices are in the books, and it’s time to review all of my notes on who shined and who struggled throughout the week.

Here are seven awards after watching a full week of practices:

Best overall player: Washington DT Danny Shelton

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Danny Shelton showed off a high motor and nimble feet at Senior Bowl practices.
Coming into the week, I marked Shelton as a player I closely wanted to monitor because I figured he would be a strong target for the Dolphins at No. 14 overall. Miami's run defense was 24th in the NFL and struggled mightily in the final six weeks of the season. However, after the strong week Shelton had at the Senior Bowl, I’m not confident Shelton makes it to No. 14. Shelton is a legit stud at defensive tackle. He’s a little short (6-foot-2) but carries his 342 pounds well. Shelton also said he wants to drop a few more pounds before the combine, most likely to do the drills in Indianapolis. But his motor is strong, and he has surprisingly nimble feet. I have a hard time seeing 13 teams passing Shelton over. But the Dolphins shouldn’t pass if Shelton is there at No. 14.

Breakout player: University of Miami WR Phillip Dorsett

Scouts were fully aware of Dorsett’s speed. He averaged 24.2 yards per reception last season but only caught 36 passes. What Dorsett had to prove is he was more than a one-trick pony. He did a stellar job this week by showing off multiple routes and making tough catches against top competition at the Senior Bowl. Dorsett definitely helped his stock and was recognized by the Senior Bowl committee as one of the top practice players throughout the week. He's also interested in playing for the hometown Dolphins.

Biggest surprise: (Tie) Yale FB Tyler Varga and Delaware TE Nick Boyle

The biggest surprises came from small schools. It was hard to separate Varga and Boyle since both consistently stood out. So I rated this category a tie. Varga showed some quickness and very good hands out of the backfield. He’s a combo fullback/part-time tailback who can also get yards on the ground. Fullbacks are dying breeds in the NFL, but Varga could bring some value as a late-round selection. Boyle entered the week as a relative unknown, but he was the second-best tight end in practices behind University of Miami’s Clive Walford. Boyle is a big body who blocked well and caught the ball well. He told me he molds his game after Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller.

Most improved: Utah OLB Nate Orchard

The Utes had a good defense last season, and Orchard was one of their top stars. But it took a little while for Orchard to warm up at the Senior Bowl. The college defensive end was asked to do a lot of new things as an outside linebacker, such as stand up and drop in coverage. But things began to click for Orchard in the second and third practice. Orchard made more plays and turned out to be one of the North’s better defensive players by the end of the week. Orchard projects to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but he still needs time to learn the position.

Biggest disappointment: Quarterbacks

If you’re a team looking for a quarterback and don’t have a shot at drafting Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, good luck. The Senior Bowl proved there are slim pickings at quarterback this year. Alabama's Blake Sims, East Carolina’s Shane Carden, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson and Baylor’s Bryce Petty all had shaky moments. I saw a lot of fumbled snaps, errant passes and interceptions on both teams this week. None of the quarterbacks was able to separate from the pack in what was a golden opportunity. Teams are looking for quarterbacks all the time, and one of these players could have drastically improved their stock behind the "big two." But questions remain with this group.

Second biggest disappointment: Notre Dame TE Ben Koyack

The Fighting Irish have a strong tradition for producing NFL tight ends, and Koyack is the latest to come down the pike. So I expected to see more from Koyack, but he mostly struggled in Senior Bowl practices. Koyack wasn’t dynamic enough in the passing game or physical enough as a blocker. Boyle was the best tight end on the South team during the week. Maybe Koyack simply had a shaky week in practice and will perform better in the game.

Safest pick: Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett

Predicting the NFL future of college prospects can be a crapshoot. We also excluded Shelton since we made it clear that he was the best player at Senior Bowl practices. With that said, there’s something about Lockett that screams “NFL ready.” He’s smart, a good route runner, has dependable hands and great speed. These are all qualities you look for in a rookie. Therefore, Lockett is a safe pick to help some team as a slot receiver and in the return game immediately. He’s projected to go in the second or third round. The only concern is whether his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame can handle the physical pounding of the NFL. Lockett most likely will need to add at least 10 pounds of muscle.

That wraps up my 2015 Senior Bowl coverage. Check out the Dolphins blog for plenty of coverage of the draft and free agency this offseason. Also, follow me via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.
As expected, the New York Jets hired Miami Dolphins defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers to be their new defensive coordinator on Friday.

This move has been in the works for at least a week after the Jets hired head coach Todd Bowles. Rodgers is good friends with Bowles and the pair coached together in Miami from 2008-11.

Rodgers was one of Miami's most respected assistants. Defensive linemen such as Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick all developed under Rodgers' tutelage. The Dolphins also registered 39 quarterback sacks last season.

Miami is now in the market for a new defensive line coach to replace Rodgers.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was in a jovial mood last week. The team announced major changes to Sun Life Stadium and Ross, who worked on that project for the past few years, had reason to celebrate.

Tannehill
However, Ross' football team has been inconsistent on the field. He made his first head-coaching hire in 2012 with Joe Philbin, but the team is 23-25 in the past three seasons. The Dolphins went 8-8 the past two seasons. Yet, Ross believes the Dolphins have a bright future, in part due to the success of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

“I think you saw the development of Ryan, and a lot of the other younger players, and I think that bodes well,” Ross said. “It’s hard. You see all these teams making coaching changes and you see us, and none of them have quarterbacks, [they] mostly don’t. So I think that bodes well for the future as we build something.”

Tannehill silenced a lot of critics by throwing for 4,045 yards and 27 touchdowns and posting a 92.8 passer rating this season. All of the aforementioned totals are career highs. Tannehill also proved he could quickly learn a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor. The pair should be even more in sync in their second season together in 2015.

But the team still has a ways to go. The Dolphins finished third in the AFC East for the second straight season, and the division projects to be more competitive next season.

"We were up and down like everybody else," Ross said. "I thought we were getting there, and we didn't make it. But I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that we're on our way."
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is unsure if receiver Mike Wallace -- the team's highest-paid player -- will return to the roster in 2015.

Wallace
Wallace
Ross was noncommittal Friday when asked about Wallace following the team's unveiling of upgrades made at Sun Life Stadium. Wallace was benched in the second half of a Week 17 loss to the New York Jets following a verbal altercation around halftime.

The situation -- and Wallace's high salary -- put his status with the Dolphins in question. Wallace is scheduled to make $9.9 million next season, and $3 million of it is guaranteed if he's still with the team in March.

"I don't think anybody really knows that," Ross said of Wallace's future. "They're looking and assessing the team and what we have to do to win next year. That's the most important thing. Next year we need to win."

Despite his issues in the finale, Wallace had a strong season in Miami. He led the team in receiving yards (862) and touchdowns (10). Wallace also was second on the team with 67 receptions.

The Dolphins finished 8-8 for the second straight season, but the coaching staff will remain. That includes defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who will return for 2015, according to a team source. Ownership believes the team is heading in the right direction.

"We were up and down like everybody else," Ross said. "I thought we were getting there, and we didn't make it. But I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that we're on our way."
The Miami Dolphins ended their 8-8 season with question marks on their defensive staff, most notably with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. But the Dolphins could have more immediate issues with veteran defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers.

ESPN's Adam Caplan and ESPN.com New York Jets writer Rich Cimini both report the rival Jets have interest in Rodgers to become their next defensive coordinator. The news makes sense following the recent hire of new Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who has strong ties to Rodgers as they coached together in Miami from 2008-11.

Rodgers is one of the most respected coaches on Miami's staff. He is a holdover from the Tony Sparano era and was retained by current Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Players such as Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks all developed under Rodgers' tutelage. The Dolphins recorded 40 or more sacks for three consecutive seasons from 2011-13 and 39 sacks last season.

The opportunity to become a first-time defensive coordinator -- and do it in New York with Bowles -- could be too good for Rodgers to pass up. The Dolphins could be in the market for a new defensive line coach very soon.
The Miami Dolphins ended their 8-8 season with question marks on their defensive staff, most notably with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. But the Dolphins could have more immediate issues with veteran defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers.

ESPN's Adam Caplan and ESPN.com New York Jets writer Rich Cimini both report the rival Jets have interest in Rodgers to become their next defensive coordinator. The news makes sense following the recent hire of new Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who has strong ties to Rodgers as they coached together in Miami from 2008-11.

Rodgers is one of the most respected coaches on Miami's staff. He is a holdover from the Tony Sparano era and was retained by current Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Players such as Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks all developed under Rodgers' tutelage. The Dolphins recorded 40 or more sacks for three consecutive seasons from 2011-13 and 39 sacks last season.

The opportunity to become a first-time defensive coordinator -- and do it in New York with Bowles -- could be too good for Rodgers to pass up. The Dolphins could be in the market for a new defensive line coach very soon.
The New York Jets hired Todd Bowles as their new head coach on Tuesday night. This surely presents a storyline to keep an eye on with the rival Miami Dolphins.

Bowles has a unique history with Miami. He was the team's secondary coach from 2008-2011 and one of former head coach Tony Sparano's top and most trusted assistants. When Sparano was fired 13 games into the 2011 season, Bowles took over the team as interim head coach and went 2-1 in the final three games.

Bowles clearly had the attention and respect of the players, who kept playing during a lost 6-10 season. He was so impressive that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross twice interviewed Bowles for the head-coaching opening, and Bowles became a finalist along with current San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and current Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.

And this is where it gets interesting for Miami. Ross chose Philbin over Bowles three years ago. Now, Bowles finally gets his chance to be a head coach -- but it's with the rival Jets who play Miami twice per year.

Meanwhile, Philbin enters the 2015 season on the hot seat. He has been unable to deliver on his promise to Ross to bring championship-caliber football team to Miami. Instead, Philbin is just 23-25 in three seasons and has yet to make the playoffs. He's also never had a winning season.

It is much too early to say whether Bowles is head-coaching material. But it is clear the Jets believe in his potential. If Bowles has a successful run in New York and the AFC East -- and Philbin continues to struggle -- it will put a bright spotlight on Miami's head-coaching decision in 2012.
Perhaps the most promising sign to emerge from the Miami Dolphins' 8-8 season was the progress of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He set career highs in yards (4,045), touchdowns (27) and passer rating (92.8), as well as learned a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor.

But who will back up Tannehill in 2015? It's an important question the Dolphins must address this offseason.

Moore
Miami only carried two quarterbacks on its 53-man roster for most of last season, and respected veteran Matt Moore will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Moore, who made $4 million in 2014, should garner interest from quarterback-needy teams. He's a very good backup and a proven part-time starter over his eight-year career. The Dolphins need cap room and can't afford to pay Moore what he made the past two seasons.

I talked to Moore a couple of weeks ago and he was unsure of his return.

"If the situation is right, that will happen," Moore said. "If there's a situation elsewhere that is intriguing, it might also happen. ...I'm going to kind of feel my way through it."

Translation: If Moore gets an opportunity elsewhere to compete for a starting job and with a higher salary, he's most likely leaving Miami.

The Dolphins will explore cheaper alternatives at backup quarterback, especially now that Tannehill is a proven starter. The easiest route would be to draft an affordable, developmental quarterback in the middle or later rounds. They also could look for a veteran in free agency if they are willing to spend more.

Tannehill's durability has been stellar. He started 48 consecutive games since Miami drafted him No. 8 overall in 2012. But a backup quarterback is always one play away.

The Dolphins must find a decent player behind Tannehill who also fits within their budget.
The New York Jets were 57-55 in Mike Tannenbaum's seven years as general manager. There were some highs, such as back-to-back AFC title game appearances following the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and there were lows, such as trading for quarterback Tim Tebow and handing out a big contract extension to Mark Sanchez.

Tannenbaum's track record has come to the forefront in South Florida after the Miami Dolphins hired him as executive vice president of football operations this week to take over the front office. On Tuesday, Tannenbaum stood by his record in New York.

“When you look over the 16 years I was there and the seven years as GM, I am proud of our record,” Tannenbaum said on a conference call with the Miami media. “Not every pick worked out. It usually doesn’t. I go back to what I said earlier that I wouldn’t trade the last two years for anything. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve really had a chance to reflect and spend time with college coaches, basketball coaches, player procurement, be it whatever sport. There are a lot of different things you can learn.”

Here are several hits and misses during Tannenbaum’s tenure as Jets’ general manager from 2006 to 2012:

  • Tannenbaum usually shines in the first round. He has a list of home runs with New York’s top pick, which includes cornerback Darrelle Revis, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Miami has a quality pick this year at No. 14 overall and needs to get this pick right.
  • [+] EnlargeStephen Hill
    AP Photo/Chris SzagolaThe Jets missed on several second-round picks under former GM Mike Tannenbaum, including WR Stephen Hill.
    On the flip side, Tannenbaum has a history of second-round busts. He drafted quarterback Kellen Clemons in the second round in 2006, offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse in 2010 and receiver Stephen Hill in 2012. All three were didn't work out. Tannenbaum’s only good second-round pick during his seven-year as general manager was linebacker David Harris in 2007.
  • Tannenbaum struck gold on several trades and free agents that led to New York’s playoff success. Veteran acquisitions such as cornerback Antonio Cromartie, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, linebacker Bart Scott and receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards helped fuel New York’s playoff runs in 2009 and 2010.
  • As we mentioned early, Tannenbaum does not have a good history identifying quarterbacks. Clemons was a bust in 2006. The Tim Tebow trade was inexplicable. However, the Sanchez pick is debatable. New York traded up in the first round (No. 5 overall) to get him and he helped get the Jets twice to the AFC title game. Those are positives. But Sanchez clearly didn’t improve and New York signed him to a contract extension that signaled the beginning of the end for Tannenbaum. However, the Dolphins already have their quarterback in place for at least next season in Ryan Tannehill.
  • Finally, the Vernon Gholston pick at No. 6 overall in 2008 may be the biggest stain on Tannenbaum's résumé. Gholston remains one of the worst NFL selections in the past decade. He flamed out in three seasons and has been out of the league since 2010.

As with most personnel bosses, there are hits and misses. The goal for Miami is that Tannenbaum builds on his strengths and learns from prior mistakes.

Tannenbaum said Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey will retain control of the draft and personnel moves. But rest assured Tannenbaum will have his fingerprints on Miami's roster this upcoming season.

“Everybody’s going to have input, but ultimately who we pick and when we pick, the roster decision will rest with him,” Tannenbaum said of Hickey. “Again, I’ve seen him work. I know he’s a collaborative leader. That’s my belief.”
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The Miami Dolphins hired former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum to oversee the front office, the team announced Tuesday. His title will be vice president of football operations, and this is an interesting move for several reasons.

This move strengthens Miami's front office. Tannenbaum, whose Jets teams reached back-to-back AFC title games following the 2009 and 2010 seasons, has 16 years of front-office experience in the AFC East -- a division the Dolphins haven't won since 2008. Miami must close the gap with the New England Patriots, and Tannenbaum's knowledge certainly cannot hurt in that quest.

But this move makes you wonder: Did the Dolphins ever truly believe in first-year general manager Dennis Hickey?

Miami went through an extensive search last year, and Hickey was not its first choice. Multiple candidates turned down offers from the Dolphins or declined to be interviewed. Some candidates didn't like that they had to stick with head coach Joe Philbin, as opposed to bringing in their own coach. Others felt the organization setup wasn't right.

In the end, the Dolphins landed Hickey -- and essentially made him the boss for one year before hiring a new boss to watch over him. Hickey will report directly to Tannenbaum -- but not the coaching staff. Philbin, along with Tannenbaum, will report directly to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

Hickey's first-year record (8-8) was not a bad one. He found productive rookies Ja'Wuan James and Jarvis Landry in the draft. He also signed left tackle Branden Albert and starting safety Louis Delmas in free agency. There were some misses, but no general manager in the NFL has a perfect record. According to Tannenbaum, Hickey will keep final say on draft picks and personnel, but it will be a "collaborative effort."

Hickey now has an added layer above him in the front office. The pressure is on the general manager -- and many within the Dolphins' organization -- to produce a playoff season in 2015.
DAVIE, Fla. – It wasn’t the best sight this week for the Miami Dolphins.

Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert, who is responsible for protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blind side, hobbled slowly into the locker room with a walking cane. Albert is off crutches following season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL. But he looks nowhere near ready to return to the field, where he was arguably Miami’s MVP through the first half of the season.

Albert
Albert
Albert expressed optimism about his return to the Dolphins in 2015.

“I got every confidence [I will bounce back],” Albert said as players cleaned out their lockers Monday. “I got a good training staff. We’re working every day and I’m going to keep pushing.”

Albert is one of Miami’s major keys to success going forward. Not only is Albert Miami’s best offensive lineman, but he just signed a $47 million contract in free agency.

The Dolphins made a significant investment to protect Tannehill and it paid dividends through the first 10 games, before Albert went down. The offensive line struggled with pass protection after that point, which included seven sacks allowed in Miami’s loss to the New York Jets in the season finale.

The injury took place in November. That means the usual 9-12 month recovery timeline for ACL tears puts Albert’s return between August and November.

Miami certainly needs Albert on the field at the start of the regular season. But Albert said it’s too early in the rehabilitation process to think that way.

“My goal is to be healthy to help this team,” Albert said. “I don’t know when. I’m not going to set myself up for anything like that. Whenever it’s time to step up, I will step up.”

Albert was playing at a Pro Bowl level through 10 games. His injury forced rookie Ja’Wuan James to move from right tackle to left tackle. The right tackle position rotated between Dallas Thomas and Jason Fox.

The Dolphins went 1-3 in the final month of the season and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year.

“It was rough watching the games and just knowing you couldn’t be there to help your team and you can’t do nothing about it,” Albert said. “It took a toll on my, but things happen in football and I couldn’t be with my team. But I still got a future ahead of me to help this team out next year and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Miami Dolphins season report card

December, 31, 2014
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The Miami Dolphins (8-8) had another roller-coaster season under third-year head coach Joe Philbin. The Dolphins handily beat the New England Patriots in Week 1 and were 2-0 in prime-time games. But then there were the three December losses -- including the season-ending defeat to the 4-12 New York Jets.

The Dolphins had an inconsistent and disappointing season, which will be reflected in many of the team's final grades.

Team MVP: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the biggest bright spot in Miami's up-and-down season. He eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in a season for the first time and is the first Dolphins quarterback since Hall of Famer Dan Marino to reach that mark. Tannehill set a franchise record for completions in a season (392), surpassing Marino. His 27 passing touchdowns set a career high as well. Tannehill's development offers the most hope for the Dolphins' future.

Best moment: Did the Dolphins peak too early? In hindsight, their best moment was defeating the Patriots 33-20 at home in Week 1. They trailed by 10 points at halftime and dominated in the third and fourth quarters. The Dolphins had opportunities for defining moments in last-minute losses to the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos. Those could have saved Miami's season.

Worst moment: The Dolphins held the final AFC wild-card spot entering Week 15. All they had to do was beat the Baltimore Ravens at home to position themselves for a strong playoff push in the final weeks. Instead, Miami lost 28-13 at Sun Life Stadium. That game turned out to be the last realistic chance at making the postseason. Losses to the Patriots and Jets followed.

2015 Outlook: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross took the mystery out of the offseason when he announced after the Vikings game that Philbin would return for 2015. That was the biggest decision for Miami heading to the offseason. General manager Dennis Hickey also gets another year to make over the roster, and Tannehill earned his spot as the starting quarterback for 2015. The Dolphins are not far from becoming a contender. They're 16-16 the past two years and need tweaks and improvements only in certain areas. I would start by evaluating the defense -- from the players, scheme and possibly even the coaches. What Miami did defensively in the second half of the season didn't work.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Two years in, Dion Jordan of the Miami Dolphins remains a mystery. The coaching staff has not figured out the best way to use the former first-round pick. He began as a defensive end and the coaching staff even started him at outside linebacker in Sunday’s season finale against the New York Jets.

Joseph
Jordan
But according to Jordan, a position switch in 2015 isn’t necessary for him to reach his potential.

“I’m a defensive end, man,” Jordan said Monday as players cleaned out their lockers. “I will continue to do whatever they need me to do, whether it’s covering a special-teams kick or blocking on a kickoff return or covering guys in space.”

Dolphins’ coaches, including defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, said everything must be evaluated in the offseason for Jordan. Miami invested heavily in Jordan by trading up to the No. 3 overall pick to get him in 2013. Yet, Jordan only has three career sacks to go with 46 tackles in two seasons.

Jordan also had two suspensions this year that kept him out of the first six games. He violated the NFL’s substance abuse and performance-enhancing policies and didn’t return until mid-October.

It also doesn’t help Jordan that Miami also has two solid starters ahead of him at defensive end in Pro Bowler Cameron Wake and two-year starter Olivier Vernon. Linebacker is a bigger position of need and could help Jordan see the field faster next year.

“That’s certainly going to be one of the main topics. We have got to find ways to utilize him more," Coyle said of Jordan. "There were some extenuating circumstances both last year, him coming in having a shoulder issue and then again this year with the suspension and so forth. We have got to get him in the right spot and we’re going to evaluate that real closely and we’ll see what we determine to be the best fit for him."

Jordan has enough athleticism and size to play either position. Although Jordan’s preference is to remain at defensive end, he said he will keep his options open.

“I’m good with whatever they ask me to do, but at this moment I’m a defensive end,” Jordan said. “Going into my offseason I’m going to continue to work on little things as far as strength, just making sure my body is 100 percent and getting ready to go.”

2015 Miami Dolphins' draft order

December, 29, 2014
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The Miami Dolphins concluded their season Sunday with a 37-24 loss to the rival New York Jets. Miami has an 8-8 record for the second consecutive season, which is a disappointment.

It's time to turn the page to 2015 and focus on where the Dolphins must get better. Here is a first-look at Miami's top pick:

Pick: No. 14

Top needs: LB, G, TE, CB, S

Analysis: The Dolphins are in for a tricky offseason. They have a lot of talent, but some of that talent is overpaid and making it tough on the salary cap. Miami could have many cap casualties, particularly on defense. It also will be tough for the Dolphins to re-sign their top free agents such as defensive tackle Jared Odrick and tight end Charles Clay. Projecting key cuts such Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, linebacker will be Miami's biggest need. Clemson's Vic Beasley, Washington's Shaq Thompson and University of Miami's Denzel Perryman are among the top-rated linebackers, according to ESPN draft expert Todd McShay. Those are some early names to keep an eye on. There certainly will be more names surface in the next few months.
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- There are reasons to be disappointed in a once-promising 2014 season for the Miami Dolphins, who lost 37-24 to the lowly New York Jets on Sunday and finished 8-8 for a second straight year.

The Dolphins have holes to fill on the offense line, a No. 1 receiver who isn't happy and a defense that essentially disappeared in the second half of the season. And despite Joe Philbin's vote of confidence from ownership, questions still remain if Miami has the long-term solution at head coach.

Despite all the uncertainty, there is hope at quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill at least provides hope Miami can turn it around. It's clear that the Dolphins will go only as far as Tannehill takes them in 2015 and beyond.

Tannehill had a decent, but not spectacular, game on Sunday. He threw for 259 yards and one touchdown and had an 87.4 passer rating to wrap up a career season. But he wasn't in a festive mood.

"Does it feel good to lose?" Tannehill said. "No, I hate losing. I put [in] a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears."

Tannehill eventually will be able to see his progress and individual success once he studies the big picture. By all accounts, 2014 was a good year for the former first-round pick.

Here are some key statistics about Tannehill:
  • He eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, becoming the first Dolphins quarterback since Hall of Famer Dan Marino to reach that single-season total. Tannehill also set a new franchise record for completions in a season (392), also passing Marino.
  • He set career-highs with 27 touchdown passes and a 92.8 passer rating. Miami's scoring also improved from 19.8 points per game in 2013 to 24.25 points per game this season.
  • He has never missed a start in three seasons, despite being sacked 139 times. "I can't even express how tough this kid is and what he goes through," Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore said. "Mentally, physical, it's impressive to watch him go out Sunday, play, get banged around and regroup during the week. ... I don't know if I've met anyone tougher."

Tannehill entered his third season with several questions, and he answered most of them. He learned a new offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor and improved within the system as the season went on. Tannehill also improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio and his play speed. A second year in Miami's offense should only make him better.

One weakness continues to be Tannehill's inconsistency throwing the deep ball. That limited the offense to some degree. But Miami cannot expect a perfect quarterback. If I were Tannehill, I would put a major offseason focus on deep balls in an effort to at least become average in that area next season.

The Dolphins have an interesting decision to make, in regards to Tannehill's contract. He has one year remaining on his rookie deal. However, the team has a option this spring that will cost approximately $15 million to keep Tannehill in 2016.

At the very least, the Dolphins should ensure that Tannehill is Miami's quarterback for the next two seasons. Otherwise, they could enter talks for a long-term contract with Tannehill at a time when even up-and-down quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton receive huge extensions. That route would be more risky for Miami.

But Tannehill's arrow is pointing up and, therefore, so is the Dolphins'. Continued progress from Tannehill in Year 4 makes Miami a playoff contender to watch for next season.

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