Everyone Has Clean Slate Under Philbin

Coach Joe Philbin

Three months ago Joe Philbin and his coaches knew very little about the players they inherited. All they had was film from last season, past impressions from when their former team had played Miami, and a vision for the Miami Dolphins moving forward.

"We're going to be a sound, smart, tough football team," Philbin said. "We're going to play hard and we're going to represent this organization the right way on and off the field. We've got an excellent group of high character guys who football is important to."

Philbin's staff wanted to begin the offseason program with a blank slate for everyone, giving players a new beginning, and an opportunity to make a lasting impression.

Some players — like receivers Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee, fullback Charles Clay, defensive end Jared Odrick and safety Reshad Jones — made a favorable impression, moving themselves up the depth chart, and possibly securing a starting spot entering The Opening of training camp.

Others, most notably offensive guard John Jerry and receiver Clyde Gates, saw their stock fall, and must work their way back up the depth chart to avoid being churned.

"We're going to rank each position 1-12, or however many players there are at each position," Philbin said at the close of the team's minicamp. "We're going to do all that stuff and I would caution to say that we haven't been in pads yet and we are still learning, but we obviously have a body of work now to make some evaluations.

"We'll have better information with pads and games, but we certainly have a sense and we are going to do our diligence," Philbin said. "It's going to be fun."

Philbin's version of fun involves a quarterback battle, rebuilding the right side of the offensive line, switching the Dolphins defense from a base 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme, and finding a starting safety combo that alleviates communication breakdowns, preventing the big plays that plagued last year's unit.

"We've got a chance to be great," Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said, referring to the defense's switch in schemes, which has Dansby serving as the middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme for the first time in his career. "We have a chance to be great in this defense. We have enough skill set. We have enough talent. We can make this defense work for us."

The fact Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, two Pro Bowlers, are anchoring the defensive front, certainly helps Dansby's case. The Dolphins have been a force against the run for three years, and switching to a 4-3 scheme should produce a lot of single blocking for the men up front. That approach would play into Miami's strength.

But the back end of the defense is the biggest concern for Miami. The departure of safety Yeremiah Bell and cornerback Will Allen has created a leadership void, and someone must fill it. Nobody has stepped forward so far.

"We have a lot of experienced guys and now it is just about buying into the system," cornerback Vontae Davis said. "It's up to us to buy into the system and become role models for the rest of the young guys to lead the defense. We've been around long enough to know what guys should be accountable."

On offense, the Dolphins added Chad Ochocinco and Naanee, two veteran receivers Miami picked up out of the NFL trash bin. Both flashed enough ability this summer to safely conclude Miami's talent-strapped receiver unit got helped this offseason. But the Dolphins will only go as far as a quarterback takes them.

Based on what the coaches saw during the offseason program there is a clear assignment for each competitor heading into training camp.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill must adapt to the speed of the NFL game, which he struggled with during the summer.

Matt Moore needs to become more consistent, practicing on a regular basis at the same level he played games on Sunday last season, when he produced an 87.1 passer rating. Moore occasionally struggles with his accuracy, and that's a cardinal sin in a west coast offense.

Garrard's status as the aged veteran means he'll need to stiff-arm the competition - completely dominate his peers - to win the starting spot outright because there's very little upside to making the 34 year old the Dolphins' starter in 2012.

"Our philosophy in that quarterback room is do whatever it takes to make the team better," said Tannehill, the No. 8 pick of the 2012 draft. "We're all going out there trying to be the leader of the team and not make mistakes."

Philbin doesn't mind mistakes as long as the Dolphins show growth during his first season as a head coach. He's aware the Dolphins are a work in progress.

"We're going to improve as the season goes on," Philbin said. "I think we're going to have a great deal of success here."

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