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With 2nd .500 finish in row, it's another year of not quite good enough for Dolphins, Philbin

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MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins run wind sprints and pass patterns. They run sweeps and draws. They run out of bounds and run out the clock.

Mostly they seem to run in place.

The Dolphins have been at or near .500 for three consecutive years under coach Joe Philbin, showing little or no progress toward ending their playoff drought. They were the only AFC team to finish 8-8 this season, and they went 4-4 at home, 4-4 on the road, 3-3 in the AFC East and 6-6 in the conference.

That made them the NFL's most mediocre team.

"It's hard," defensive tackle Randy Starks said. "But it has been like this since I've been here."

Actually, the most recent playoff appearance came in 2008, Starks' first year with the Dolphins. But they're 43-53 since.

For the second year in a row, a dud of a December ruined the Dolphins' postseason chances. They lost three of their final four games and were widely regarded as underachievers, even in their own locker room.

"Not making the playoffs with such a good team and good people, it's sad," safety Jimmy Wilson. "We're 8-8, an average team. That's not what we wanted when Philbin came here."

Here are things to know as the Dolphins begin another long offseason trying to escape their rut of being not quite good enough:

THE COACH STAYS: Philbin will be back for a fourth season because owner Stephen Ross believes the franchise is headed in the right direction. But Miami has gone 7-9, 8-8 and 8-8 under Philbin, and the coach knows he'll begin the 2015 season with his job on the line.

"I told Mr. Ross when I interviewed for the job that we were going to get better week to week and year to year," Philbin said. "Going 8-8 again, obviously I failed my obligation of responsibility I made to Mr. Ross. I didn't do well enough coaching this team to get them better. ... We have to find ways to improve, and do that quickly."

DEFENSIVE DECLINE: Philbin's first big offseason decision will be whether to retain defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle after his unit's late-season collapse. In the final four games, Miami gave up 28, 41, 35 and 37 points.

The aging defense ranked 20th in points allowed, compared with seventh and 11th in the first two seasons under Philbin and Coyle.

PHOTO: New York Jets linebacker Ikemefuna "IK" Enemkpali (51) attempts to sack Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) as Dolphins tackle Jason Fox (74) defends, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tannehill was able to complete the pass. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
New York Jets linebacker Ikemefuna "IK" Enemkpali (51) attempts to sack Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) as Dolphins tackle Jason Fox (74) defends, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tannehill was able to complete the pass. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

"We couldn't stop the bleeding," Starks said. "It was miscommunication, different things. We weren't on the same page. It just fell apart at the end. Put it on everybody."

ROSTER CHANGES: Mike Wallace ended the season on the bench, and the $15 million receiver might not be back next year.

Wallace has three years left on a $60 million, five-year contract, but his future is in doubt after Philbin yanked him for the second half of Sunday's season-ending loss to the New York Jets. Wallace led Miami with 10 touchdowns but was unhappy not to be targeted more often.

The Dolphins are also expected to consider releasing Starks; receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson; linebacker Dannell Ellerbe; and cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who might retire.

Players who will become unrestricted free agents in March include safeties Wilson and Louis Delmas; defensive tackle Jared Odrick; running backs Knowshon Moreno and Daniel Thomas; tight end Charles Clay; offensive linemen Samson Satele and Daryn Colledge; and backup quarterback Matt Moore.

OFFENSIVE PUNCH: The most encouraging development in 2014 was the improvement of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He set a franchise record for completions and became Miami's first 4,000-yard passer since Dan Marino. He ranked fifth in the NFL in completion percentage, 10th in touchdown-interception ratio and 14th in passer rating.

The running game was good, too. Lamar Miller surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time, and Miami averaged 4.7 yards per carry, second best in the NFL.

But pass protection was poor once left tackle Branden Albert suffered a season-ending right knee injury in Game 9, and for the second year in a row, an overhaul of the offensive line is needed.

NEEDS: General manager Dennis Hickey enters his second year in Miami about $6 million under the salary cap, and the Dolphins will be in the market for upgrades at guard, defensive tackle and cornerback.

Hickey will hope to do as well in the draft as last year, when he took tackle Ja'Wuan James and receiver Jarvis Landry in the first two rounds. James started every game and played well, and Landry led the team with 84 catches.

Miami will have the 14th pick in the first round in April.


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