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Miami Dolphins
INSIDE SLANT

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Miami coach Adam Gase has a lot of challenges on his hands, and primary among those is getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to play better.

But Gase also must maintain the health of his three key offensive linemen (center Mike Pouncey, left tackle Branden Albert and right tackle Ja'Wuan James), get his defense to perform better than the 24.3 points per game it allowed last season, which ranked 19th in the NFL, and get lots of draftees from 2015 and 2016 to perform at a high level.

If the Dolphins want Tannehill to carry the bulk of the load, and it appears that's the case, his improvement is the key to Miami earning its first playoff berth since 2008.

Tannehill threw 24 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and an 88.7 passer rating last season, which was 21st in the NFL.

Much of his work in the offseason has focused on accuracy and footwork. On the field, Tannehill's improvement has to come mostly in red zone, third down and fourth quarter situations.

If the Dolphins want to spread the load among a variety of groups in addition to Tannehill, they need to focus as much on developing a running game and developing the defense as they do on the passing game.

However, it appears the 2016 season belongs to Tannehill, for better or worse.

And it appears Gase, the former Denver and Chicago offensive coordinator whose pupils include Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler, is comfortable putting the load on Tannehill.

Beyond that, and also going hand-in-hand with Tannehill's improvement, is the improvement of the offensive line.

In games in which Pouncey, Albert and James have started and finished in the last two years, Miami is 6-1. That's great, but it also means that trio has started and finished fewer than one quarter of the games in the last two seasons.

That must change.

Tannehill has been sacked 184 times in the last four seasons, more than any other quarterback during that span. Keeping Pouncey, Albert and James healthy, and successfully blending in rookie first-round pick Laremy Tunsil, a left tackle who will convert to right guard, are keys to keeping Tannehill on his feet.

Defensively, Miami must make up for the losses of cornerback Brent Grimes (Tampa Bay via free agency) and defensive end Olivier Vernon (New York Giants via free agency).

The Dolphins also must improve the defensive line's disappointing performance from 2015, and a big key there is the health of end Cam Wake, whose season ended with an Achilles injury.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Mario Williams must join Wake in regaining their All Pro status.

Behind them, linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell, acquired from Philadelphia in a trade, must be difference makers. Pro Bowl strong safety Reshad Jones seems poised for another strong season.

As for the draftees of the last two years, players such as Tunsil, wide receiver DeVante Parker, running back Jay Ajayi, cornerback Tony Lippett, and nickel back Bobby McCain must play well.

Suffice to say Gase, the NFL's youngest coach at 37 years old, has a lot to accomplish as Miami enters training camp.

CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies and veterans report to Baptist Health Training Facility in Davie, Fla., on July 28. Training camp opens on July 29.


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