When inside linebacker Karlos Dansby arrived in South Florida for a visit with the Dolphins on the first day of free agency, it didn't take him long to be convinced about the direction of the organization.
It only took a few steps into the team's weight room on a random offseason afternoon.
"There were more than 40 guys in that building working out," Dansby said. "That showed me their commitment to winning. This organization is doing whatever it needs to do. That's what sold me, to be honest."
Here's what might sell others on Miami this season: To bolster its roster, the Dolphins gave two players (Dansby and wide receiver Brandon Marshall) a combined $93 million ($46 million guaranteed) over the next five years.
It's a huge investment from a team that's picky about its spending. But as the AFC East continues to be one of the most intense battlegrounds in the NFL, it also was an investment that should keep the Dolphins well within the hunt.
Offense: No offensive unit was criticized more during the last two seasons than the wideouts. And now, no unit has higher expectations. The Dolphins' passing game is expected to make a huge leap, primarily as a result of the Marshall acquisition. Marshall should provide the aggressive punch and yards-after-catch the Dolphins have lacked.
Marshall's presence also gives young quarterback Chad Henne the opportunity to flourish. Coordinator Dan Henning still can find ways to make Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams effective on the ground, but he'll have more flexibility with play-calling with Marshall in the mix.
Defense: This unit struggled considerably last season, ranking 25th in the league in points allowed. As a result, coach Tony Sparano fired coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and lured Mike Nolan away from Denver to replace him. But it's going to take more than a coaching change to get this unit back on track.
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Expect some differences in philosophy, including a step away from the pure 3-4 defense that Miami has run in the past. Instead, look for the front line to penetrate more gaps, allowing the team to benefit from its athleticism.
With Jason Ferguson suspended for the first eight games, end Randy Starks will shift inside to play nose tackle and rookie end Jared Odrick is expected to start from Day 1. Miami gave one of the most lucrative defensive deals in NFL history to Dansby, a good all-around player who is supposed to make the players around him better.
Brian Hartline, WR. Hartline was a rookie on a struggling passing team, but that didn't keep him from showing his potential early. He was responsible for four of the team's six biggest pass plays, and his growth should continue with Marshall the focus of opponents' coverage schemes.
"I think seeing Hartline (in games as a rookie) is going to help a lot going forward because you are not sitting there worried about not having enough evidence on what he can do. Now, can we improve it? Sure, we can improve some of these things." — Coach Tony Sparano
The Dolphins have become known across the league as a tough team with an innovative coaching staff, which causes opponents to be very diligent about their film study during the week prior to a game. Their ability to master the Wildcat offense was particularly impressive, but now it's time for them to take another step. ...
"They need to become a more multidimensional team on offense, capable of scoring more points, especially if the defense plays anything like it did last season when it gave up all of those points. It's obvious they realize this, since they added wide receiver Brandon Marshall. With Marshall, they're close to becoming the real deal. ...
"And think about it: If Ronnie Brown was able to be as productive as he was when the Dolphins didn't have a passing game, imagine what he's capable of doing when a defense isn't stuffing everybody they've got into the box. Marshall makes this whole team better."
Now that the front office has invested serious dough in a playmaker like Marshall, it seems clear the Dolphins believe the initial phases of the team's development is complete. Some major holes remain on defense, but as young players continue to grow Miami should begin to get back to being more like the team of '08 than last season's inconsistent bunch.
QB: Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen
FB: Lousaka Polite
RB: Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams
WR: Brandon Marshall, Greg Camarillo
WR: Brian Hartline, Davone Bess
TE: Anthony Fasano, Joey Haynos
LT: Jake Long, Nate Garner
LG: Richie Incognito, John Jerry
C: Jake Grove, Joe Berger
RG: Donald Thomas, Nate Garner
RT: Vernon Carey, Nate Garner
LE: Kendall Langford, Phillip Merling
NT: Randy Starks, Paul Soliai
RE: Jared Odrick, Kendall Langford
OLB: Quentin Moses, Koa Misi
ILB: Channing Crowder, Reggie Torbor
ILB: Karlos Dansby, Reggie Torbor
OLB: Charlie Anderson, Cameron Wake
CB: Vontae Davis, Sean Smith
CB: Will Allen, Sean Smith
SS: Yeremiah Bell, Tyrone Culver
FS: Chris Clemons, Reshad Jones
K: Dan Carpenter
P: Brandon Fields
KR: Patrick Cobbs
PR: Davone Bess
LS: John Denney
CSN: Chip Kelly says he'll adapt his offense to fit the NFL, but analyst Ron Jaworski isn't sold.
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