Last season, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan came to Miami and turned the league's 22nd-ranked defense in 2009 to the sixth-best in 2010. Nolan's schemes made the Dolphins an attacking "D."
When I asked Dolphins WR Davone Bess about the offense that new coordinator Brian Daboll has installed, he described the mindset as "going out and attacking." Coincidence?
It's hard to find optimists when it comes to the Dolphins, but if you need a tinge of hope, there it is. If a switch to an attacking-style defense worked wonders last year, maybe an attacking offense can have a similar impact this season.
It's a stretch, but at least the offense appears to be going in the right direction. You can't win in a division with the Jets and Patriots if you don't take some chances.
At this point, the Dolphins' inability to score points last season — the team ranked 30th in points scored in ’10 — has been discussed ad nauseum. Chad Henne was inconsistent. He never established a connection with Brandon Marshall, who wasn't a red-zone threat. The running game was ineffective and the O-line fell apart.
Enter Daboll, whose Browns offense ranked 31st in scoring last season. However, he gets better weapons to work with in Miami.
Bess said this offense will emphasize plays downfield. Henne finished near the bottom of the league last season in big plays, completing only four passes of 40 yards or more. Being an attacking offense that takes more chances essentially rests on Henne's shoulders, along with a whole lot of pressure for Miami to win, and Bess said the fourth-year signalcaller is handling it with ease.
"Chad is doing a phenomenal job of staying focused and keeping his mind straight on one goal and that's helping the Miami Dolphins," he said. "He's not getting caught up in what outsiders are saying. He's preparing well and taking everything one day at a time."
Marshall is the best of the receiving corps, but it was Bess who led the team with five receiving TDs last season. Along with the speedy Brian Hartline and rookie Clyde Gates, Daboll has a solid group of young receivers to work with, and it is certainly an upgrade from Cleveland. Those Miami receivers will line up in a variety of spots in the new-look offense, which should help keep defenses off balance.
Bess has shown the versatility to be productive lining up in multiple spots, and that skill should fit well in Daboll's schemes.
"The opportunity to line up anywhere," Bess responded when asked how the new offense benefits him. He might be known as a slot receiver, but Bess often lined up on the outside last season. "They've given us a lot of special abilities as far as lining up certain places."
Bess was really the lone bright spot last season for the offense, as he recorded career-high production numbers with a 79-820-5 campaign. Bess doesn't have the same pressure that is on Henne and Marshall to perform, but he won't get complacent.
"I feel like the sky's the limit. I'm always looking to get better. In this league, if you get caught being complacent, that comes back and haunts you," he said.
Now, the players around Bess need to produce.
Few around the league have the confidence in Henne that Bess is showing. Combine the question mark at QB with the overwhelming presence of the powerful Jets and Patriots, and it's easy to give the Dolphins little chance to make the playoffs. But if Henne breaks out in Daboll's attacking offense the way OLB Cameron Wake and the rest of the "D" did in Nolan's attacking defense, there suddenly will be a three-team battle in the AFC East.
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