Protection and Health Will Key Dolphins Passing Game

Keller (81) and Wallace (11). (Photo: El Nuevo Herald)
While the Miami Dolphins offense struggled early on once again in Friday's 27-3 preseason victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the starting unit finally got it together on its final drive which resulted in a touchdown. But despite the early struggles, it has become apparent that this will be a far more dangerous team when it comes to throwing the football in 2013.

The Dolphins look to be a more dangerous passing team this season despite the prized signing of the offseason, Mike Wallace, going without a catch in his first game in a Dolphins' uniform. But who needs a receiver that can stretch the field when you have a tight end that can do it?

In his Miami debut, former New York Jet tight end Dustin Keller shined. Keller recorded two receptions for 46 yards including a 22-yard touchdown on what would be quarterback Ryan Tannehill's final pass of the night. While Wallace was shut out, Brandon Gibson had a 14-yard reception to give Miami its initial first down of the night.

It's hard to imagine that Wallace will have anything but a productive season. Bundle that with the additions of Keller and Gibson and the team's leading receiver from a year ago, Brian Hartline, Miami has plenty of weapons for Tannehill to get the ball to. While tight end Anthony Fasano led the Dolphins with five touchdown receptions a year ago and receiver Davone Bess was a machine when it came to converting third downs over his five-year career with the Dolphins, both Gibson and Keller look to be upgrades.

Gibson may not put up the sort of numbers that Bess did with the Dolphins, but he looks to be a player that can better stretch the field vertically along with speedsters Wallace and Hartline. The same is true with Keller. While Fasano was a dependable big body at the tight end position, Keller is a walking mismatch in the passing game. That was evident as he averaged 23 yards-per-catch on Friday.

But while the Dolphins have playmakers in positions where they did not a season ago, the success of the passing game will hinge more largely on pass protection and health rather than personnel.

The biggest reason for Miami's early offensive struggles on Friday was the inability to protect Tannehill. A Jacksonville defense that ranked just 30th in the NFL a season ago and last in sacks was able to get constant pressure on Tannehill early on which led to one sack, a pair of three-and-outs and another possession that lasted just four plays eventually resulting in a Brandon Fields punt.

Coming into the season, the offensive line was a major concern and to this point, it still is. The Dolphins went out and shored up the right tackle position with the signing of Tyson Clabo, but Jonathan Martin will have to step up his play as the full-time left tackle protecting Tannehill's blind side. The guard position opposite Richie Incognito still remains a mystery at this point as well.

The second key to Miami's passing game this season will be the ability to stay healthy. Both Keller and Wallace fought through injury a season ago which led to down years for each. Protecting Tannehill will also be instrumental if the second-year quarterback is to start all 16 games as he did in 2012.

The Dolphins certainly have the personnel to be explosive in the passing game this season, but personnel won't be the big concern. If the offensive line is unable to protect Tannehill, the playmakers surrounding him won't be able to make an impact and with Wallace and Keller coming off of injury-plagued seasons, that once again looks to be a concern. While the play of Keller in Jacksonville and the starting offense's final drive were encouraging, the pass protection up front early on still leaves much to be desired.

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