15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #2 Cameron Wake

The Miami Dolphins' secondary is thought to be an area of concern in 2013 and perhaps even more so when looking at the opposing quarterbacks the Dolphins will face this upcoming season. The schedule includes matchups against Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady twice. While this looks to be cause for concern, the Dolphins have one of the league's best equalizers for a suspect secondary: defensive end Cameron Wake.
Wake ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks in 2012. (Photo: ESPN)

Dolphin Shout 2013 Miami Dolphins Manifesto

I have been on a writing hiatus for two months now (62 days), and I would like to apologize. A lot has happened since my last piece in the football world and I haven't been around much to discuss it. 62 days is a long stretch without writing anything, and it has to be a personal record for me (definitely not a good thing).

I started Dolphin Shout in 2010 with the goal of writing something new every day, and while I don't have to write nearly as often as I did when the Shout was in its infancy I still need to write more than once every two months. I'm very proud of this site and I don't want anyone to attribute my lack of work to indifference towards Dolphin Shout, because that is not the case. As long as the internet exists Dolphin Shout will too.

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #3 Mike Wallace

Whether it be Torrey Smith with Baltimore last season or the New York Giants Victor Cruz the season before, having a receiver that can stretch the field in today's NFL has become essential to competing for a championship. For the Miami Dolphins this offseason, they believe that they have found that receiver in former Pittsburgh Steeler, Mike Wallace.
Mike Wallace looks to be Miami's top receiver. (Photo: NaplesNews)
Wallace is not coming off of a big year for Pittsburgh, but that doesn't make him any less of a burner. In 15 games with the Steelers last season, Wallace finished with 64 receptions for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. Wallace also averaged a career-low 13.1 yards-per-reception.

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #4 Reshad Jones

Reshad Jones is coming off of a season that many felt was deserving of a Pro Bowl selection. In his third year in the NFL, Jones had a career-year in 2012 and was the biggest playmaker on the defensive side of the ball for the Dolphins. This season, Jones may need to be just as good, if not better for a Miami secondary widely considered to be the weakest defensive link.

Jones led Miami with 4 interceptions in 2012. (Photo: PhinPhanatic)
Jones is coming off of a season in which he finished with 94 combined tackles, good for fourth on the team. Jones also finished with a sack, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and team-highs with two fumble recoveries and four interceptions.

Jones has always been a good cover safety, but showed improvement against the run last season. Jones will need to once again be strong against the pass as Miami has to face the pass-happy NFC South, Tom Brady and the Patriots twice, not to mention Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, who torched the Dolphins a year ago, in Week 2.

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #6 Jonathan Martin & #5 Mike Pouncey

There are definitely concerns for the Miami Dolphins on the offensive line. Jake Long, a former first overall pick and perennial Pro Bowler, is now in St. Louis. The guard position opposite Richie Incognito is also a big area of worry for 2013. But the two more important pieces to Miami's offensive front will rest in the middle and on the far left side of the line.

Second-year tackle Jonathan Martin. (Photo: Bleacher Report)
Second-year man Jonathan Martin will be the starter at left tackle for Miami and will be tasked with replacing Long. Martin started all 16 games for Miami last season beginning the year at right tackle before transitioning to the left side after Long suffered a season-ending injury.

A former All-American by a number of publications at Stanford, Martin was taken by the Dolphins in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Martin struggled at times last season, but has put on weight and will arrive at camp around 310 pounds. He has excellent feet, but the added weight should benefit him and the Dolphins not only in pass protection, but in the ground game as well.

Where Would the Dolphins Be without Free Agency?

As the preseason approaches I find myself thinking about where the Dolphins would be without the free agents that were signed this offseason. I am not big fan of free agent signings because our free agent signings haven't done very well for us in the past.

Maybe I am jaded by the Dave Wannstedt era where it seemed that every free agent the team brought in was an over-the-hill, used-up player whose best days were behind them. He drove this team right into the ground. Since him we have had a mish-mash of head coaches, philosophies, and schemes to the point that us fans had lost confidence in the team. That continues to this day.

Having said that, I feel that the free agent signings that were brought here this year are different than in the past. Yes, some of the players brought here had some injuries, but this is the NFL and most of the players have some degree of injury concern. That's not to minimize those concerns, but that is a fact in the NFL. So, for the sake of this discussion let's take the injury concerns out of the equation.

Where would we be without the free agents? I'll tell you right now where I think we would have been. We would be looking at another losing season. We would have needed to spend our early draft choices on at least two wide receivers that would take a few years to develop. We would not have traded up in the draft to steal the top rated defensive player in the draft.

Hidden in the free agent signings was something no one has mentioned that I know of. Those signings allowed us build some depth on this team. One of the problems we have had is when a starter goes down with an injury there was no one there that could take his place. We didn't have many reserves pushing the starters for the number one spot on the depth chart. So, this team could never build from within because of the lack of depth on the team.

I don't know how this season will shake out; maybe these free agents turn out to be nothing more than a bunch of hot air. Who knows? I know one thing. I like our chances a hell of a lot better this year than any of the past 10 years. We actually have a chance of competing with the better teams. The Patriots don't seem quite so difficult this year, and neither do those first five games that everyone seems to think we will lose.

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #7 Brian Hartline

There was plenty of buzz about the Miami Dolphins' changes in the passing game as the Dolphins look to have a much better aerial attack than they did a year ago. At wide receiver, Miami added deep threat Mike Wallace and dependable Brandon Gibson. Davone Bess is no longer a part of the receiving corps and tight end Anthony Fasano is now a Kansas City Chief and will likely be replaced by former New York Jet Dustin Keller. Perhaps lost in all the mix however, is Miami's leading receiver from 2012 and the team's single-game receiving record holder, Brian Hartline.

Hartline led Miami in receiving in 2012. (Photo: Miami Herald)
Hartline led the Dolphins in 2012 with 1,083 yards receiving on 74 receptions while scoring one touchdown. That lone touchdown came in Week 4 in Arizona on an 80-yard bomb from Ryan Tannehill in a game where Hartline tallied a franchise-record 253 yards receiving.

Hartline not only led Miami in receiving in 2012, he had more receiving yards last season than anyone on the current roster, including Wallace. Hartline also averaged 14.6 yards-per-catch last season which was tops on the team for all players with more than six receptions. Hartline even recorded a higher percentage of first downs than Bess, a player known for being a good third down receiver.

Hartline has a good rapport with second-year quarterback Tannehill and with the exception of Tannehill, no one will benefit more from the acquisition of Wallace than Hartline. With few deep threats on the outside last season, Hartline was the focus of most opponents' defensive schemes against the pass. With Wallace now on the roster, the focus will be taken away from Hartline which should allow him to excel for a second straight season.

Hartline has also proven to be dependable, both with his health and with his hands. Hartline has missed just four games in four NFL seasons and has played in all 16 of Miami's games in each of the last two seasons. Hartline has great hands, having made a number of excellent catches in his career and once he gets the ball, he usually does a good job of tucking it away. Hartline fumbled just once last season and with 183 career receptions, has done so just twice in his career.

With the additions of Wallace and Gibson, the Miami Dolphins should certainly be a better passing team in 2013, but as important as the new additions will be one of the more reliable players from a season ago, Brian Hartline. With much of the pressure taken off Hartline with the addition of Wallace, the Dolphins should have one of the better 1-2 punches at receiver in the AFC. It's also not beyond the realm of possibility that with more weapons and a more experienced Tannehill, that Hartline could actually have a more productive year for the Dolphins in 2013.

Mike Ferguson is a staff writer at Dolphin Shout and the founder and editor of Outside the Redzone. Like Outside the Redzone on Facebook!

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #8 Lamar Miller

The starting running back battle between Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller for the Miami Dolphins is thought to be a foregone conclusion. Miller is expected to top the depth chart by most and has even been given the endorsement of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But with the starting spot for Miller will come big expectations and relatively large shoes to fill.

Running back Lamar Miller. (Photo: PhinPhanatic.com)
Miller will be taking over for Reggie Bush, now a Detroit Lion, who averaged better than 1,000 yards rushing in two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. While Bush wasn't the prototypical every-down back for the Dolphins, he did produce and provided a number of big plays both on the ground and through the air.

With an upgraded passing game that includes new additions Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson at wide receiver, the running game will rest largely on the shoulders of Miller. A second-year player out of the University of Miami, Miller is very inexperienced and largely unproven. But with just a small sample size from 2012, Miller was solid in limited duty.

Of all the Dolphins with more than one carry, Miller averaged a team-best 4.9 yards-per-rush. On just 51 carries last season, Miller finished third on the team with 250 yards in addition to scoring one touchdown. On Miller's 51 carries as a rookie, he did not once put the football on the ground, an area where both Bush and Thomas have struggled.

Although he had just six receptions for 45 yards, Miller also looks to be a guy who can contribute in the passing game. At the University of Miami, Miller was a real playmaker and had the ability to take the ball to the end zone every time he touched it. Miller even returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Ohio State in Columbus in 2010. Miller rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in just two seasons of action with the Hurricanes in addition to scoring 17 total touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards-per-carry. He looks to bring that same skillset to the Dolphins.

While Miller does not have the experience of a Reggie Bush, he may actually be a better fit to be an every-down NFL back. Miller has put on some weight since his college days at Coral Gables and while speedy, weighs about 215 pounds.

Miller and Thomas are still likely to split the carries, but expect the bulk to go to Miller. Miller does need to improve in pass protection, but if he can continue to average just shy of five yards-per-carry, he will remain in the lineup.

While the expectations are certainly high for the Miami Dolphins in 2013, one point of concern remains the ground game. The Dolphins brought in talented receivers to help second-year quarterback Tannehill, but production in the ground game will be vital if the Dolphins are to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. If Miller can produce, that will really open up things for the Miami passing game and keep a defense with a lot of new faces, off the field.

Mike Ferguson is a staff writer at Dolphin Shout and the founder and editor of Outside the Redzone. Like Outside the Redzone on Facebook!

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #10 Paul Soliai & #9 Randy Starks

The Miami Dolphins' front four looks to be the strength of the Dolphins' defense again in 2013. While the end position could have the duo of Pro Bowler Cameron Wake and the first player defensive player taken in this year's draft, the heart and soul of the defensive front will rest on the interior.

Paul Soliai (96) and Randy Starks (94). (Photo: MiamiDolphins.com)
It's hard to bring up Paul Soliai without mentioning Randy Starks and vice versa. Last season, the two anchored a run defense that was near the top of the league for much of the season before teetering off at the end.

Soliai, a run-stuffer at 340 pounds, made just 29 tackles a season ago, but eight went for a loss. What Soliai brings to the Dolphins will be hard to measure statistically, but he's a tough guy to block in the middle. Soliai will likely give the Dolphins this season much of what he's given them over his six-year career, push in the middle to free up linebackers to make plays.

Soliai has played in each of Miami's 16 games in three straight seasons and recorded a career-high eight stuffs in 2012. Soliai finished the season with one and a half sacks despite limited playing time in obvious passing situations. Soliai also assisted on a career-high 11 tackles in 2012 and recovered a fumble in Miami's 30-9 win over the New York Jets on October 28th.

A late addition to the Pro Bowl last season, Randy Starks is coming off of a career-year and really excelled moving from a 3-4 defensive end to a 4-3 defensive tackle. In the first season under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, Starks was one of the Dolphins' biggest play-makers. And with his 305-pound frame, literally.

While helping Soliai clog the middle for much of the season, Starks was also third on the team with 4.5 sacks and was the only player not a defensive back to record an interception.

Like Soliai over the past three seasons, Starks has also managed to stay healthy, which is a great sign for Miami's defensive interior. Since joining the Dolphins in 2008, Starks has not missed a single game. He's also recorded at least three sacks in each of his five seasons with Miami.

While there will be a number of concerns for the Dolphins' defense heading into 2013, the defensive front should not be one of them. The interior combination of Soliai and Starks has been durable and strong in the middle while anchoring a run defense that spent much of the season near the top of the NFL. In 16 games last season, only twice did Miami allow a 100-yard rusher and for the Dolphins to make a playoff push, that will need to continue to hold true. But with Soliai and Starks in the middle, there is no reason that it shouldn't.

Mike Ferguson is a staff writer at Dolphin Shout and the founder and editor of Outside the Redzone. Like Outside the Redzone on Facebook!

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #11 Philip Wheeler

The first free agent acquisition to make the list, Philip Wheeler, joins the Miami Dolphins after four years in Indianapolis and one in Oakland. Wheeler will team up with Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbee, another offseason acquisition, to form the linebacking corps in Miami's 4-3 defense in 2013.

Philip Wheeler joins Miami after recording 108 tackles last season. (Photo: Miami Herald)
With the exception of Jason Trusnik, who has been little used as a linebacker during his career, Wheeler is the most experienced linebacker on the Miami roster and brings more than 100 combined tackles with him from Oakland.

Wheeler and Ellerbee will be tasked with replacing Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who left this offseason. While Dansby and Burnett were solid with the Dolphins and each combined for more than 100 tackles a season ago, they lack the play-making ability that Wheeler can bring.

Wheeler, at just 240 pounds, possesses excellent speed for a linebacker and led a porous Oakland defense with 108 tackles a season ago. While Burnett and Dansby combined for just three and a half sacks and one forced fumble a year ago with Miami, Wheeler had three sacks and two forced fumbles with the Raiders last season.

Wheeler has also been the epitome of durability. In his five seasons in the NFL, Wheeler has played in all 16 games four times and has missed just three games for his entire career. Wheeler does not have an interception in his five-year career and his contributions in pass defense will need to improve, but Wheeler can move and should be able to have a career-year in Kevin Coyle's defense.

Wheeler's experience playing on a contending team could also prove invaluable for a Miami team looking to move to the next level. In his four years with Indianapolis, Wheeler was on three playoff teams and played in Super Bowl XLIV against the New Orleans Saints. While he wasn't the most intricate part of those Colts teams, having the experience at a critical defensive position can only be seen as a positive.

While the Miami Dolphins are losing their top two tacklers from a year ago, Wheeler should help fill that void for what could be Miami's weakest position on defense. While Wheeler may not be as consistent a tackler as either Dansby or Burnett, he is a better pass-rusher and had more forced fumbles a year ago than both combined. With a defense that was near the top of the league against the run last season and with a Pro Bowl caliber safety in Reshad Jones at the back end, the linebacker position will be critical for Miami. If Philip Wheeler can have a third straight career-year, the Dolphins should manage to be just fine in a division that, with the exception of New England, lacks offense.

Mike Ferguson is a staff writer at Dolphin Shout and the founder and editor of Outside the Redzone. Like Outside the Redzone on Facebook!

15 Most Important Dolphins for 2013: #12 Marcus Thigpen

While he played virtually none on either offense or defense, the Miami Dolphins had a real weapon last season in returner Marcus Thigpen. Thigpen scored the first touchdown of 2012 for Miami, a 72-yard punt return against the Houston Texans in the season opener. Thigpen has made an effort this offseason to work himself into the rotation on offense, but whether he spends much time in the huddle or not, Thigpen remains a play-maker for Miami and will be one of the more important Dolphins in 2013.

Marcus Thigpen became the first Dolphin ever to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same season in 2012. (Photo: Sun Sentinel)
Last season, Thigpen ranked fifth in the NFL in kickoff return average and fourth when it came to punt return average. Thigpen was one of only five players in the league last season to return both a kickoff and a punt for a score, while becoming the first Miami Dolphin ever to do both in the same season.

While his touches were limited and may be so again in 2013, Thigpen is one of the few guys on the Miami roster with the ability to take it to the end zone every time he touches the ball.

Undrafted out of Indiana, Thigpen finally made his NFL regular season debut last season. Thigpen spent some time in the CFL, but his perseverance to finally land himself a spot on a regular season roster after being waived by both Philadelphia and Denver earlier in his career says something about him.

Thigpen had just one carry and one reception last year for the Dolphins, so anything Miami gets offensively out of him will be a bonus. But, his abilities in the kicking game really make Thigpen a game-changer and that was quite evident last season.

Despite being limited to just a return role, only Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Anthony Fasano scored more touchdowns than Thigpen last year for Miami. And though he's tied with Ryan Tannehill, Jorvorskie Lane and Charles Clay, Thigpen is Miami's second leading returning touchdown scorer from a season ago.

With the exception of Ted Ginn Jr., the Miami Dolphins have traditionally lacked a game-breaker on special teams, but not anymore. Before Thigpen's 96-yard kickoff return for a score against Buffalo in November, no Miami Dolphin had returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Ginn in 2009. For some years, 2010 comes to mind, the Dolphins were downright dreadful in the kicking game, but thanks largely to Thigpen, those days seem long gone.

If Thigpen can find a role on Miami's offense, he could, without a doubt, be just as dangerous as in the kicking game, but either way, Thigpen is one of the more explosive Miami Dolphins and could really help decide a few contests in 2013. Not only should Thigpen be one of the more important Dolphins for 2013, he has a very good chance to be Miami's best kick returner ever.

Mike Ferguson is a staff writer at Dolphin Shout and the founder and editor of Outside the Redzone. Like Outside the Redzone on Facebook!