Welcome to another installment of Enemy on the Ship, a series of articles where I am graciously given the time and effort of a writer or blogger for the teams the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face in 2013, and they share their thoughts on the team they cover, and how they’ll do against the Bucs in 2013.
The Buccaneers will battle for in-state bragging rights against the Miami Dolphins this season, so we asked Kevin Nogle to join us to discuss the Phins. He’s the managing editor of The Phinsider, the SBNation Dolphins’ site. You can find him on Twitter here.
Leo Howell – The Dolphins were possibly the most active team this offseason, making big moves seemingly every day at the start of the free agency period. How has the team changed heading into 2013, and do you believe it has changed for the better, or has the impact been negative?
Kevin Nogle – Absolutely positive. The team addressed their needs methodically and clearly according to a plan. From the outside, I know it looked like a mad dash to give people cash, but it really made a lot of sense. The team needed to upgrade their receiving targets, they went after Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, and Dustin Keller. They needed to fix a secondary that was destroyed last year by subpar play, lack of turnovers, and injury. They let Sean Smith leave, rather than overpay him, then went and got Brent Grimes.
The move that surprised me the most was dumping Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in favor of Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. Both Dansby and Burnett would be cost prohibitive against the cap in 2014, so I thought they would be released after this year. However, the Dolphins clearly like Ellerbe and Wheeler, wanted to get younger now, and made the move.
The team is in a better position now than where they were at this point last year. Now, it’s just a matter of getting the chemistry to have a better season than they did last year.
LH – We recently posted an article on the site praising Josh Freeman for his ability on play action passes, but had to credit Ryan Tannehill for his incredible numbers on such plays in 2012. It seems like there is a ton of potential in this young man, but is he ready to be the franchise QB the Dolphins need in 2013? Or is he still a couple of years away from reaching his peak?
KN – I think he is going to take a big step forward this year, with a year of experience under his belt. Coming out of college, he only had 19 career starts as a quarterback. Most teams like that number to be around 30 for a first round pick. Now, with 16 starts as a rookie, Tannehill has reached that mark. Essentially, last year was his senior year of college, but he played at the NFL level – and played well.
That’s something a lot of people missed last year. Tannehill actually played well for a rookie in any year except last year. Obviously, he’s going to be compared to Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russel Wilson. Those guys were playing outstanding football. But, in a year without those three, Tannehill was a rookie who played well.
Now he has the extra year of experience, and all the new weapons added to the offense. He should take a step forward, and it should be a big one. He’s not going to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady this year, but he should be moving in that direction – and playing well enough for the Dolphins to be a player in the AFC playoff picture.
LH – The running back situation in Miami is unproven at best, with plenty of promise but not a lot of track record. Tell us who the featured back will be when the Bucs take on the Dolphins, and why Bucs fans should (or shouldn’t) be worried about him.
KN – The starter for the Dolphins this season should be Lamar Miller, unless someone just explodes in the preseason. As a rookie, Miller averaged 4.9 yards per carry last year, but that was only on 51 carries. Will he keep up the numbers when he is getting 200-225 carries?
He came out of Miami as a speed back, and one that could make one cut and be gone. However, he also had times where he was getting caught in the backfield, trying to cut it back against the grain. From everything coming out this offseason, Miller has worked hard on his footwork and his strength, making it so he can attack defender instead of trying to dance around them.
He is someone who is set to surprise a lot of people this year. Hopefully he is able to do it once the games start.
LH – The Dolphins defense features a couple of decent players, but the one who stands out to me is Cameron Wake. Tell us about Wake and his new rookie counterpart Dion Jordan, and how they will figure into the Dolphins’ pass rush efforts. Will Josh Freeman be in trouble against the Phins?
KN – Every quarterback could be in trouble against the Dolphins this year. Cameron Wake is a player who should be a much bigger name in the NFL than he is. He was fourth in the NFL last year in sacks with 15, his second season with 14 or more sacks, in just four years in the NFL. Over the past three years, he has average 12.5 sacks per season. He’s on a tear lately, and not many teams have been able to stop him.
What makes Wake even more impressive is that it’s not all about sacks. He truly dominates offensive lines, adding hurries, pressures, hits, and offensive holding penalties to those sacks. As a pass rusher, Wake was far and away the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus’ rankings.
Now, the Dolphins have added Dion Jordan, who, prior to the draft, or even being linked to the Dolphins, was being compared to Jason Taylor. As a Dolphins fan, that’s pretty exciting. If he can become anything like Taylor, Miami did well in the draft.
The player no one has heard of yet, but could this year, is Olivier Vernon. He was the primary reserve defensive end last year, and learned a lot from Wake. This year, he’s been playing so well in offseason workouts as well as in film footage form limited snaps last year, that the team is considering moving Jared Odrick, last year’s starting right defensive end, back to his college position of defensive tackle. Vernon is someone to watch this year, and could have a big year as teams focus on Wake and Jordan.
Miami should have a dominant pass rush this season, with Wake, Vernon, and Jordan all contributing in meaningful ways.
LH – Finally, how do you believe the game between the Bucs and Dolphins will shake out? Who will win bragging rights in the state of Florida?
KN – I really liked the move of the Buccaneers last year to sign Greg Schiano as their coach last year. I think he will continue to move the Buccaneers in the right direction.
The pass rush is questionable, however. I like both Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers, if they are healthy, and can stay healthy. That’s going to be one of the biggest questions all season long around the Tampa Bay defense.
Obviously, this is a big season for Josh Freeman. Is he able to get back to the special quarterback we all saw in 2010? I watched Freeman at Kansas State, and I think he has all the right talent to be able to turn it around, but it’s a matter of confidence at this point. If he gets things moving in the right direction, the Buccaneers could be a dangerous team in the NFC South.
As for the matchup with the Dolphins, it should be a great game. Is Revis back, and will he be able to match up with Wallace? Will the Buccaneers pass rush win over a re-tooled offensive line from Miami? How will Lamar Miller look by Week 10? Will Freeman be playing at a high level? What about Tannehill?
There are a lot of questions around both these teams – which I guess makes sense of two 2012 7-9 teams. I think the Dolphins will probably win the game this season (would you really expect me to pick against Miami?). I think it’s probably going to be a close game, but I think Miami’s additions this year will be gelling by this game, and they will out-match Tampa Bay.