If you are like me, you are disappointed that Chad Johnson didn't carry over his improved media and off field behavior from New England. It seemed like he might be a guy to watch for a great comeback year, without all the baggage he displayed with the Bengals. But justifiably so, he is no longer on the team and the question of whether or not we have sufficient receiver talent comes back to the forefront.
We know by now that "west coast" offenses don't typically require one of those giant alpha-dog type receivers. This question was discussed at length with the parting of Brandon Marshall. Generally, west coast receivers are fairly interchangeable in terms of what position they can line up at. I would say that we definitely have a lot of guys with similar skill sets on the team. But how good are they and will we look elsewhere?
To answer this question we need to clarify this notion of 1,2 and 3 receivers. Some teams say that the #1 receiver is an X - receiver and this is a guy that is big and dominant. Along with the X receiver is a (#2) Z - receiver that is on the other side and he is typically a speed threat. Between the two is the (#3) slot receiver. Miami had this the last couple of years with Marshall as the X, Hartline as the Z and Bess as the slot. But that doesn't mean that all #1 receivers are X - receivers. For the most part, the 1,2 and 3 just refer to the quality of corner back they can beat with consistency. A guy that can beat most teams' best corner back would be a #1 receiver. If he can beat all or nearly all of the best corners in the league, we would probably refer to him as a "true" #1 receiver. #2 receivers can beat other teams' 2nd best corner back with consistency and so on and so forth.
So what happens when you don't have a #1 receiver? Well, you lose the benefit of rolled coverage and you lose at least one match up on the field. If you have a team of #2 receivers, you can win every match up on the field except one, but the safeties can roll coverage to either side which causes confusion for the quarterback. Miami does not, and almost definitely will not, have a #1 receiver this year. In order to compensate for this, Miami has to have at least two #2 receivers because one of them will be covered by the other teams best corner. So we get down to the main point... Does Miami have at least two #2 receivers? The answer is maybe but probably not. Hartline is a borderline #2 and Naanee is probably a notch behind Hartline. Bess is easily a #3 with #2 moments so he should be able to win his match ups if he remains in the slot. We have a couple other young hopefuls in camp, but these players are unknowns so it is difficult to speculate.
In order to compensate for this, Miami will be forced to get creative with their play calling and personnel. They will most likely turn to the running backs and tight ends to fill the void. This means you can probably expect a lot of inside and underneath work while Miami tries to put enough speed on the outside to draw away corners and safeties even if they aren't expected to win their match up. Luckily, both Bush and Miller offer options to get creative in the pass game. But this concept gets really difficult to run in the red zone because there isn't enough room to draw away outside defenders and open up the middle. So don't be shocked to see some 4 wide receiver sets in the red zone to force an extra match up in the middle. If a guy like Hogan (who was featured recently on Hard Knocks) can become an affective inside receiver, he could be lined up on the inside opposite of Bess for some quick hitters giving Miami a better chance in the red zone.
Because all of Miami's receivers are so young, it is very hard to predict how this will play out. My primary concern is that injury to Bess, Hartline or even Naanee could be crushing if nobody else raises their level of play. On a positive note, we are probably better prepared to handle any of these injuries than we would have been with Brandon Marshall going down. My best guess is that the coaches will try to put as much speed on the field as possible and work hard on setting up play action as by establishing the run game. This isn't because of the "west coast" philosophy, it is because it gives us our best shot to move the ball. I certainly don't expect to see any new additions to the team.