As teams head to training camp and the NFL season approaches, The 33rd Team asks its experts to preview every team’s outlook for the 2023 season. In this installment, Chuck Pagano takes a deep dive into the Miami Dolphins.
Editor's note: After publish, Jalen Ramsey suffered a knee injury that required surgery.
>> READ: Dolphins Fantasy Football Preview
Dolphins Team Preview
What To Know: Offense
The biggest storyline is the health of Tua Tagovailoa. We know what he went through last season with the concussions. After Week 3 and then that horrible one at Cincinnati the next week. Can he stay healthy?
He led the NFL last year with a 105.5 passer rating on a whopping 8.9 yards per attempt with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Dolphins are much more successful when he's on the field than off it. They are 23-13 when he's on the field and 5-9 when he's not.
He took jiu-jitsu in the offseason. He's trying to teach himself how to fall and not hit his head on the turf. So to me, with all the playmakers that they have — starting with WRs Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle — this offense can be unbelievably explosive as long as he's on the field.
What To Know: Defense
The acquisition of cornerback Jalen Ramsey is huge, but not as big as that of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who's done a phenomenal job throughout a long, long NFL tenure calling defensive plays for four teams.
How quickly can this defense, including edges Jaelan Philips and Bradley Chubb and the secondary, adapt to the terminology? Fangio was there in the spring when the team went through OTAs and minicamp. Training camp will be the fourth or fifth time that the players on defense — Christian Wilkins and Co. — have heard the defensive fronts, coverages, stunts and blitzes. Fangio likes to use different packages. He bases out of a 3-4, but he has a penny package, a 40-package, and some different looks.
There will probably be some hiccups early on with the defense. He probably won't install everything. But how quickly can they pick up the terminology and the calls and do things exactly how he wants them to be done?
Biggest Off-Field Storyline
This is the Connor Williams situation. Miami signed him to a two-year, $14 million deal from Dallas in 2022. He's not happy with the contract, and he missed minicamp and OTAs.
Will he be a "hold-in" — shows up but doesn't practice? The Dolphins lost Michael Deiter, who signed with the Texans. Dan Feeney backs up Williams at center, but he dealt with some type of leg issue during the offseason. They also have undrafted free agent Alama Uluave on the depth chart as well.
Williams' situation could impact training camp. If the Dolphins don't have a lot of depth at center, that could stall things.
Breakout Player Prediction
You could go a lot of different directions here, but Jevon Holland, a third-year safety from the University of Oregon, stands out. He's got 133 tackles in two seasons with four interceptions. He's a playmaker. Look what Fangio did in Chicago in 2018 with Eddie Jackson.
Holland is a versatile player. He can play corner, safety and nickel. He's a very cerebral player on the back end. Look what Jackson accomplished in 2018 in Fangio's system in Chicago. He had six interceptions, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. He even scored three times.
Jevon Holland has the same type of athleticism and ball skills and can take the ball away for the Dolphins. Fangio will use him in a lot of different roles — that two-high shell defensive back he likes to run. Holland will have a breakout season and maybe six or seven interceptions.
Move the Dolphins Should Make
They picked up QB Mike White from the Jets, and he's got 307 attempts to his resumé. White is going into his third season, so maybe Miami should go after a veteran backup quarterback who's on the street. I don't think it's a matter of if but when an injury happens — not just to Tagovailoa — but to every NFL quarterback.
Maybe coach Mike McDaniel and the Dolphins will take a look at that quarterback room and sign a veteran guy as a backup, just in case.
2023 Season Expectations
The expectations are high. They're in a really tough AFC East division. You've got Josh Allen with the Bills and Aaron Rodgers in New York with the Jets. Don't ever count out Bill Belichick. Mac Jones now has Bill O'Brien as the offensive play caller in New England. So expectations are high, but it's going to be tough.
If the Dolphins stay healthy, they're going to be explosive on offense and be really good on defense under Fangio. This is definitely a playoff team. I don't know how far they will go, but it will be a successful season if they find a way to get in the playoffs and maybe win a game.
Other Season Previews
Chuck Pagano is a former NFL head coach and assistant, part of a coaching career that spans 36 seasons in the NFL and college. He is best known for his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts, a team he took over after the franchise lost Peyton Manning to injury and went 2-14 in 2011. The Colts went 11-5 in his first year in charge, then won two straight AFC South titles.