MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins began training camp amid chatter they were ready to compete with the New England Patriots for AFC East supremacy.
Miami’s very active free-agency period, combined with a widespread perceived notion that Bill Belichick’s team is on the decline, will do that.
But through five preseason games, the Dolphins showed little to send shockwaves through New England. They’re still a work in progress.
Miami won Thursday night’s preseason finale 24-21 in a Battle of Backups with the New Orleans Saints. The Dolphins finished the exhibition slate 2-3 thanks to a 56-yard touchdown pass between quarterback Pat Devlin and wide receiver Marvin McNutt with 3:02 left, and De’Andre Presley’s interception with the Saints driving in the final seconds.
Miami (and every other NFL team) will need to reduce its roster to 53 players by Saturday at 6 p.m.. All eyes then focus on the regular-season opener at Cleveland on Sept. 8.
“We gotta be ready to go week in, week out,” receiver Mike Wallace said after Thursday’s win. “It’s a big season for us.”
So, what did we learn about the 2013 Dolphins during the preseason?
Coordinator Kevin Coyle’s defense certainly seemed ready to get real based on its final tuneup, the first half against Tampa Bay on Aug. 24. The first teamers limited the Buccaneers to 63 yards, just 26 (2.0 per carry) with one first down on the ground.
That’s not to say everything was perfect defensively. Rookie edge rusher Dion Jordan (shoulder) didn’t play during the final three preseason games, and secondary competition for time in the nickel package went down to the wire.
Don’t be surprised if Jordan sees some action, especially on third-down situations, at Cleveland.
The defense should be formidable, a quality that would be enriched if the group can stay fresh by watching some long, time-consuming Dolphins drives.
Miami’s offense showed signs of life the past few weeks but lacked consistency, especially in the red zone. Besides that, there are concerns for coordinator Mike Sherman’s unit.
First and foremost, can second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill show he deserves to be mentioned in any discussion about the league’s best young passers?
Can Lamar Miller, who figures to get the starting running back job over Daniel Thomas, make fans and media forget that the team let Reggie Bush leave via free agency?
Will the loss of starting tight end Dustin Keller significantly hurt both the running game and the wideouts’ ability to get open? Or will Charles Clay, Michael Egnew and/or Dion Sims develop into a viable option for Tannehill?
Egnew (one catch) struggled against New Orleans, but Sims caught four of six passes thrown his way, including a touchdown.
Jonathan Martin seems capable of replacing departed Jake Long at left tackle, though we’ll know more once the season starts.
“I’m really eager to get stated,” Martin said. “It’s been a long five games, a long eight weeks. We’re eager to go.”
Tannehill appeared to be getting sync with new receivers Wallace and Brandon Gibson, but making connections will be harder if the offensive line doesn’t provide time … or no tight end steps up … or if the running game struggles.
A topic created on the draft’s final day came to fruition when fifth-round pick Caleb Sturgis won the kicking job when veteran Dan Carpenter was released Aug. 14. The rookie finished the preseason a perfect 9 for 9, including all three attempts against the Saints.
After failing to stick with Arizona following a tryout, Carpenter signed with the New York Jets to compete with Nick Folk.
If Carpenter wins the Jets job, Dolphins fans take note: Miami plays at New York on Dec. 1, and the Jets visit here in the season finale on Dec. 29.
Do I really need to point out the potential nightmare scenario there?