Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season has finally arrived! There is a lot of excitement surrounding the Miami Dolphins heading into the new campaign and rightly so, as the team looks much better than the one that stumbled across the finish line last year.
Miami made some big changes during the offseason, including the signing of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, former Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron and veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings. They also acquired speedy wideout Kenny Stills in a trade with New Orleans and selected receiver DeVante Parker in the first round of this year's NFL Draft.
Throughout training camp and the preseason the Dolphins starters have looked very good, moving the ball well on offense while shutting down the opposition on defense. Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to be enthused about the upcoming season.
Miami opens their schedule on the road, traveling up to our nation's capital for a Sunday matchup against the Washington Redskins. While expectations are high that the Dolphins will end their six year playoff drought, nothing in this league is guaranteed. Here are the top questions surrounding the Dolphins heading into Week 1.
Will Branden Albert and DeVante Parker play?
The Dolphins enter the new season with a healthy roster, for the most part. Left tackle Branden Albert has been practicing with the team for the past few weeks on his surgically repaired knee and barring a setback, should be good to go on Sunday.
As for Parker, it was a very good sign to see him suit up and catch a pass in Miami's final preseason game but the Dolphins are very deep at receiver and may hold him back to ensure he doesn't have any setbacks upon his eventual return. He's been practicing with the team though and it wouldn't be surprising to see him in uniform against the Redskins, but in a limited role.
How will the defensive line perform for an entire game?
It's no secret that the Dolphins should have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL. Adding Ndamukong Suh to a group that already featured Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Earl Mitchell should provide huge dividends for Miami.
While playing limited reps during the preseason the unit showed up as advertised, dominating opposing offensive lines while giving up a total of two field goals (one of which came on a muffed punt that set up the opponent inside Miami's 20-yard line). Now it's time to see how they perform for a full sixty minutes.
Is Ryan Tannehill going to take the next step in his career?
One of the most encouraging signs of training camp and the preseason has been the improvements shown by quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He's ascended in each of his three professional seasons but based on what he's done so far in 2015, it appears that Tannehill is ready to become one of the upper echelon QBs in the NFL.
Teammates have been raving about his leadership on and off the field, his command of the huddle and full understanding of Bill Lazor's offense. The other thing that has gotten much better, perhaps the most important thing, is his accuracy. Tannehill has been consistently hitting receivers in stride and has connected on more deep passes during this year's training camp than ever before.
How is the secondary going to hold up with two new starters?
The only major setback that Miami has faced during the preseason was the loss of starting free safety Louis Delmas to a season-ending knee injury. He has since been replaced by second-year safety Walt Aikens, who played very sparingly during his rookie year last season but has looked fine since taking over for Delmas.
The other new starter in the secondary is Brice McCain, who was signed as a free agent to give Miami some depth at the cornerback position. It appeared that Jamar Taylor was going to get the job but a recent quad injury kept him off the field for a couple weeks. McCain was one of the top slot corners in the league last season so he'll likely move to the inside when the Dolphins go to their nickel package, allowing Taylor to handle the outside.
Will the offensive line hold up?
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Dolphins offensive line heading into the season. We've already addressed the main one, which is whether left tackle Branden Albert will be ready in time for Sunday's game in Washington. All signs point to yes, but we won't know for sure until later in the week.
Aside from Albert, the play of the two guards will be under the microscope until they prove that they can handle the job. Third-year guard Dallas Thomas will play the left side while rookie 4th round pick Jamil Douglas won the job on the right side. It will be very interesting to see how they perform but Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey has raved about the play of the guards during training camp, so we'll see.
Are the rookie kickers ready to play in the NFL?
The Dolphins turned some heads this preseason when they cut their longtime punter Brandon Fields and kicker Caleb Sturgis and replaced them with a pair of undrafted rookies. Kicker Andrew Franks and punter Matt Darr have certainly looked good throughout training camp and the preseason.
Nobody would challenge the fact that they earned their way onto the Dolphins roster but the question of how they'll handle the pressure of playing in the NFL still remains. General manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin are showing a lot of faith by entering a season that has such high hopes with a pair of rookie kickers, but the move could end up paying off both short-term and long-term for Miami.
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