By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on April 29, 2014
The Miami Dolphins haven't made the playoffs since 2008 and haven't won a playoff game since 2000. To get over the hump of mediocrity in 2014, these five players will need to step up and perform at a high level. All five are set to enter a make-or-break season.
After drawing rave reviews for his work as a run blocker in limited snaps for the Rams, Shelley Smith finally has the opportunity to become a full-time starter. The Dolphins, needing more athletic linemen for their zone-blocking scheme, signed Smith to a one-year deal. If Smith can prove himself -- more specifically, put any doubts about his ability to handle interior pass rushers to rest -- the Dolphins will surely look to lock him up long term.
Louis Delmas is, in many ways, what the Dolphins' secondary was missing. He's an aggressive interchangeable safety who can lower the boom or force a game-changing turnover. A passionate leader as well, Delmas will bring better communication skills to the table. There's a reason the Dolphins were only willing to commit for one season, though. Knee issues have impeded Delmas' success so far and may intensify as he ages. Consistency will be key.
Dannell Ellerbe was thought to be the heir apparent to Ray Lewis in Baltimore -- sizable shoes to fill, no doubt. Instead, he followed the dollar signs to Miami last March. As it turns out, he couldn't even adequately fill the shoes of Karlos Dansby. Pro Football Focus ranked Ellerbe 50th of 55 eligible inside linebackers in efficiency. Without a drastic turnaround in 2014, the Dolphins will be looking to rid themselves of Ellerbe in 2015.
It's safe to say Mike Wallace's first year in Miami was a big disappointment. Despite becoming the league's fourth-highest paid receiver last March, Wallace only produced the 28th-most yards and the 38th-most touchdowns at the position. 2014 will be a crucial season for Wallace. If he doesn't live up to his billing, the Dolphins will, in all likelihood, let him go. Of course, he'll be reliant on the next player on the list to improve as well.
58 sacks, a nonexistent running game and unimaginative play-calling all held Ryan Tannehill back during his second season. With that said, his grace period is over. Although he played well considering the circumstances, he must make significant strides in year three. If not, he'll risk losing his standing as the future of the franchise. And in 2015, the Dolphins will likely, once again, find themselves searching for a savior.
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