Although the Dolphins closed out the season in disappointing fashion, they have a lot to look forward to in 2013 as some of the rookies they picked up last off-season proved they have the goods to deliver for years to come.
First-year Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was thrust into the spotlight when he earned the starting job in the preseason over sixth-year veteran Matt Moore. Tannehill, who broke Dan Marino’s rookie record for most passing yards in a single game when he threw for 431 against the Cardinals, certainly deserved to be a first-round pick, as he now provides the Dolphins with the stability at the quarterback position they desired after the end of last season.
“I think he’s throwing the ball a little more accurately,” Miami head coach Joe Philbin said regarding Tannehill’s development. “I think his decision making has gotten better. I really do. As you know, the number one criteria here is a decision-maker at quarterback and number two is accuracy. So, those are things that we’re always striving to improve.” Tannehill finished the season with 3,294 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Tannehill, though, wasn’t the only rookie to make his mark this season. Defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was drafted in the third round, had a respectable year as a reserve behind Pro Bowler Cameron Wake. Vernon was healthy the entire season playing in all 16 games. He racked up 31 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. He also blocked two field goals and recovered a touchdown on special teams. The 22-year-old’s breakout game was against the Rams in Week 6 when he picked up two key sacks which forced St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein to attempt two long field goals – both of which he missed. The big plays helped the Dolphins come away with the 17-14 win.
“I think he’s an instinctive football player,” Philbin said. “He’s got some, we like to call it twitch or snap in his body. He’s got good strength for a young guy. He’s competitive. He’s not afraid.” Vernon has taken advantage of the opportunity he’s gotten to learn from a veteran like Wake, picking up pointers and developing a solid work ethic. He’s absolutely a kid with a bright career ahead of him.
21-year-old rookie tailback Lamar Miller did an excellent job this season when his number was called. Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman had a hard time getting Miller a substantial number of carries when starting running back Reggie Bush and backup Daniel Thomas were fully healthy. But when Miller was needed he certainly played well. The fourth-round pick out of the University of Miami saw action in 13 games, with 51 attempts for 250 yards and a touchdown. He actually finished the season with a higher rushing average than Bush (4.3) and Thomas (3.6) picking up 4.9 yards per carry.
“I think he’s going to be a good football player in this league,” Philbin said about the young running back. “He’s got good instincts as a runner. He’s got good balance. He can catch the football. I think he has a chance to be a very good pass protector eventually too. I really do. He’s got good feet. He can bend. I’m excited about him.”
Tannehill, Vernon and Miller were definitely the top performing first-year players for Miami this season and will absolutely play a big role for the Dolphins in the coming years.
Other notable rookies who stepped up for the Dolphins this season included receiver Rishard Mathews, fullback Jorvorskie Lane and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin who started in the last few games of the season after the injury to veteran offensive lineman Jake Long.