Training camp is over, the preseason is over, and now we await the start of the regular season in three weeks when the Miami Dolphins visit the Los Angeles Chargers.
It was an interesting training camp and preseason from the standpoint the Dolphins are coming off a playoff appearance and have big expectations for 2023. Some think the Dolphins have a two-year window to get to a Super Bowl, making this an extra important season.
Coach Mike McDaniel enters his second season full of knowledge from a year ago and full of promise for the year ahead.
With those thoughts in mind, here’s what we learned during training camp and the exhibition season:
Tyreek Hill and Christian Wilkins are grown men
These two guys had the best training camps, by far. It’s not even close. The problem is they didn’t shine together for long. Wilkins was dominant early, but then staged a hold-in due to a contract dispute. Hill was slow early, possibly due to static from a lawsuit, but was dominant late in camp. Both seemed poised for big seasons.
The defense looks good
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has presided over a unit that has had at least three days of nine or more sacks against the Dolphins offense, and had a few days of multiple interceptions. In other words, this defense has been a play-making unit, and that’s without cornerback Jalen Ramsey (knee) and Wilkins only there for half of training camp. Edge rushers Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb have been good, so have cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Kader Kohou, safety Jevon Holland, and defensive lineman Zach Sieler.
Tua seems ready
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, with his added bulk, appears ready to take the hits he’ll receive during the season without being concussed or seriously injured. No, he didn’t take many hits during training camp or preseason, but the ones he did take (or make in the case of his tackle after throwing an interception) went well.
Dolphins interested in a RB upgrade
The Dolphins have been reportedly interested in running backs Dalvin Cook, Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley and DeAndre Swift. Nothing has been confirmed by the team, but that’s so much smoke you have to believe there’s a small fire out there somewhere.
Coach Mike McDaniel seems to like running backs Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., and rookie De’Von Achane, but also seems to want more.
Draftees are what you figured
Among cornerback Cam Smith, the second-round pick from South Carolina, Achane, the third-round pick from Texas A&M, tight end Elijah Higgins, the sixth-round pick from Stanford, and tackle-guard Ryan Hayes, the seventh-round pick from Michigan, the Dolphins might have done well.
Smith is battling for a role as the boundary cornerback opposite Howard in the nickel package, when Kohou plays in the slot.
Achane is fighting for a role as the No. 3 running back and starting kickoff returner.
Smith and Achane have battled shoulder injuries, and Achane is still dealing with it.
Higgins and Hayes seem to be practice squad candidates.
Run game might be emphasized … seriously
McDaniel said he wants to run more this year (they were 31st in rushing attempts last season) and indications are he might be committed to following through on that statement.
The Dolphins had 38 carries for 205 yards against Houston in their second preseason game, which followed a 26-carry, 168 yards performance against Atlanta in the preseason opener, and a 24-carry, 124-yard performance against Jacksonville in the preseason finale.
We’ll see what happens beginning with the Sept. 10 season opener at the Chargers.
OL might be OK, however …
The offensive line remains a wait-and-see proposition.
It’s tough to make any offensive line predictions because left tackle Terron Armstead, the Dolphins’ best offensive lineman, missed most of training camp while recovering from offseason right knee surgery and a right leg injury sustained in joint practice with Houston.
But it seems right tackle Austin Jackson, a question mark before training camp, might be solid.
It also appears Isaiah Wynn will start at left guard over Liam Eichenberg. Either way that position figures to be the weak link.
Still, among Armstead, center Connor Williams and right guard Robert Hunt, the Dolphins should have a good foundation.
If Jackson and Wynn are decent, and if backup left tackle Kendall Lamm is solid when he fills in for Armstead (who has missed an average of five games per year the past seven years), the offensive line has a chance to be productive.
Of course, that’s a lot of ‘ifs’.
New coaches must make instant impact
Among Fangio, Renaldo Hill, the passing-game coordinator/secondary coach, and Butch Barry, the offensive line coach, and safety coach Joe Kasper there are big expectations to correct some of the things that slowed the Dolphins last season.
Fangio’s defense seems to be coming along nicely even with the injury to Ramsey and Wilkins’ hold-in preventing a look at its full potential.
Barry’s offensive line is somewhat of a mystery.
Kasper’s group has been slowed by injury with Brandon Jones (knee) apparently suffering a setback and unable to rotate in much with Holland and fellow starter DeShon Elliott during practice.
The new coaches seemed to do good work with their units during training camp, but questions remain.