MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – For years the Dolphins chased the Patriots in the AFC East, and now they’re chasing the defending division champion Bills.
As Miami’s training camp begins, much depends on the progress of second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, now fully recovered from hip surgery that ended his college career in 2019.
His receiving corps has been upgraded, but pass protection could be an issue. Miami did little in offseason to improve a ground game that ranked fourth-worst in yards per carry last year.
The status of All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard is a question mark. He wants to renegotiate his contract and might hold out.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-6)
CAMP SITE: Miami Gardens
LAST YEAR: The Dolphins missed the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season and are still without a postseason victory since 2000. But in Year 2 under coach Brian Flores, they doubled the win total and improved the point differential by 254. Rookie Tua Tagovailoa took over at quarterback at midseason and went 6-3 as the starter, but Flores benched him in two games. After allowing a franchise-record 494 points in 2019, Miami led the NFL in scoring defense entering Week 17. But a 56-26 loss at Buffalo in the finale cost the Dolphins a postseason spot and was a brutal backslide to end what had been a season of progress.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Will Fuller, WR Jaylen Waddle, C Matt Skura, QB Jacoby Brissett, DT Adam Butler, RB Malcolm Brown, DE Jaelan Phillips, OL Jermaine Eluemunor, LB Benardrick McKinney, OL Jermaine EluemunorTE/FB Cethan Carter, CB Justin Coleman, WR Robert Foster, DB Jason McCourty, S Jevon Holland, T Liam Eichenberg, NT John Jenkins, TE Hunter Long, OL D.J. Fluker, P Michael Palardy.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, S Bobby McCain, LB Kyle Van Noy, C Ted Karras, DE Shaq Lawson, DT Davon Godchaux, RB Matt Breida, T Julien Davenport, G Ereck Flowers, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, P Matt Haack.
CAMP NEEDS: The status of All-Pro CB Xavien Howard is a big question mark. He was a no-show at mandatory minicamp, wants to renegotiate the contract he reworked two years ago, and might hold out. Camp will test Flores’ plan to use co-coordinators on offense. Eric Studesville and George Godsey will team to replace Chan Gailey, who departed after one season. Tagovailoa must get acclimated to their play calling while he also bonds with new targets Will Fuller, top draft pick Jaylen Waddle and Robert Foster.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: The OL is jumbled as usual, with only one starting job decided: Austin Jackson at LT. There are at least five contenders for playing time at TE, and Flores might keep them all, or keep only three. The Dolphins want to sort out playing time in the defensive line among a group that includes Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, Adam Butler, Zach Sieler and Emmanuel Ogbah. They also want to figure out how to use rookie Jaelan Phillips, who could upgrade the pass rush. He played mostly DE at the University of Miami but is listed as a linebacker. Rookie Jevon Holland will get a chance to become a starter at free safety.
EXPECTATIONS: For years the Dolphins chased the Patriots in AFC East. Now they’re chasing the Bills, and the 2020 finale showed there’s plenty of ground to make up. Much depends on the progress of Tagovailoa, now fully recovered from hip surgery that ended his college career in 2019. His WR corps has been upgraded, but pass protection could be an issue, and Miami did little in the offseason to improve a ground game that ranked fourth worst in yards per carry last year. There could be up to 10 holdovers from a defense that was much improved in 2020 — if Howard returns. He led the NFL last year with 10 interceptions.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)