Reporting Tim Kephart
MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – The final cuts have been made and the preseason is over. The Miami Dolphins regular season opens up in less than a week at Sun Life Stadium against the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins’ offense is the biggest question mark heading into the Patriots game.
Quarterback Chad Henne is entering just his second season as the starting quarterback after enduring an August to forget off the field. He was rumored to be losing his job to Kyle Orton among others, but put together a solid preseason to keep hold of the starting job.
Henne’s improvement in the new offense will go a long way to getting the Dolphins out of the also-ran category of AFC teams. The new offense, helmed by Brian Daboll, has been more quarterback friendly and allowed Henne to make more adjustments at the line.
Behind Henne will be the running back duo of Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. Bush showed flashes of a superstar in limited preseason work, but has to produce at a high level all season long if the Dolphins hope to keep pace in the playoff race.
Thomas was the Dolphins’ second-round pick, but played and practiced poorly in August. His preseason was not impressive and he struggled to hit the holes opened by the offensive line quickly enough. Thomas will be counted on as a power back, a thunder to Bush’s lightning.
For both running backs, it will all start with the offensive line in front of them. Based on their performance in training camp, this could be the weakest link on the team.
Veteran left tackle Jake Long will start against the Patriots after rehabbing from off-season surgery. He’ll be flanked by left guard Richie Incognito, who has proven to be a solid pickup for the Fins.
But at center is where problems start to show up. Rookie Mike Pouncey was abused by strong defensive tackles in the preseason and his first assignment will be matching up with enormous nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end/tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Vernon Carey has moved from right tackle to right guard and looks to give Pouncey some veteran help along the inside. But right tackle will now be manned by Marc Colombo. He was cut by the Cowboys for not being able to play at a high level and is now the Dolphins starter.
Colombo and Carey had trouble opening holes during the preseason and if the struggles carry over to the regular season, it’s going to be a long year for Henne, Bush, and Thomas.
The strength of the Dolphins team will once again be defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense. Nolan has a veteran corps of players and is deep across the board at every position.
The deepest unit on the team is the defensive line. The Dolphins use a 3-4 defense, meaning they need three huge, yet mobile, defensive linemen. The Fins starters of Kendall Langford, Randy Starks, and Paul Soliai all fit the bill and are as solid a front line as there is in the NFL.
Behind them, the Dolphins keep coming with backups Tony McDaniel, Ryan Baker, Phillip Merling, and former first-round draft pick Jared Odrick. All of the defensive lineman will create headaches for opposing offensive lines seeking to block them and the Fins’ linebackers.
The starting linebackers for the Dolphins should keep the Dolphins in every game. Starters Koa Misi, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, and Cameron Wake give Nolan plenty of ammunition to send at opposing quarterbacks.
Add to that the starting cornerback tandem of Vontae Davis and Sean Smith and former Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell, and the Fins young secondary will give Nolan time to send more rushers after the quarterback.
But, the Fins season rests on the consistency of Chad Henne and the offensive line creating holes for Bush and Thomas to run through. If Henne continues to build on the preseason and the offensive line finally gels together, the Fins could be dangerous in the AFC.
The reality is the Fins have quite a bit to overcome to even begin talking about a shot at the playoffs; namely the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
The Patriots and Jets are both considered possible AFC Championship caliber teams. The Pats will once again be led by all-everything quarterback Tom Brady and a typically stout Bill Belichick-defense. The Jets will continue to feed off the energy of Coach Rex Ryan as they try to take the next step to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots have plenty of Super Bowl hardware, and the Jets have been to two straight AFC Championship games. The Dolphins won the AFC East in 2008, but were mauled by the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs that year.
For the Dolphins, they are hoping to replicate their success in season openers on Monday Night Football. The Dolphins are 3-1 all-time in a season-opening game on Monday Night Football, but it will be tough to get to 4-1 on MNF with the opener against the Patriots.