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Intriguing Year Ahead For Miami Dolphins

2016 is a pivotal year for the Miami Dolphins. It seems the roster is shaping up to be the best in recent memory. But the questions begs: can the Dolphins finally put it together?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

As Stephen Ross watched his team carve out victory in their preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons, he must have experienced great enjoyment in watching the Dolphins play in the upgraded Sun Life stadium.

Even though the arena was nowhere near capacity, the decision to bring the seats closer to the football field made for the type of atmosphere that Miami could use to their advantage this season. That could be so important in 2016.

Yet the excitement this season extends beyond the stadium.  In fact, the moves this team have made on the football side this preseason dwarfes the stadium renovations. As they say, the football has being doing the talking.

Throughout preseason, Ryan Tannehill is beginning to look like the franchise quarterback Miami have been crying out for since the departure of Dan Marino.  He looks better composed in the pocket, is making the right decisions with the football and is becoming more accurate. In limited snaps, he has connected on 31 out of 43 throws.  He even put to bed criticism of his accuracy of the deep pass when he threaded a nice 46-yard arrow of a pass to wide receiver Jarvis Landry against Atlanta on Saturday night. In short, Tannehill is becoming much more football smart and street wise.

And it doesn't just stop there.  Improvements have been made across the team.

Part of Tannehill's recent success with the football these past few months are surely down to his wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and the offensive line.

The front office have assembled a talented wide receiver core that has a nice mixture of experience and youth. Their skillset perfectly compliments Tanehill's skillset. The ability to move quickly off the line, run crisp routes and catch the football means Tannehill can release the football quicker and watch his receivers make more yards after the catch than has been the case in previous seasons.  It's nice to make deep throws once in a while, but the staple of this offense will still be based on those high percentage short to intermediate throws.

And how about Lamar Miller?  Some were questioning whether he would lose a step when a packed on 10 pounds over the summer.  But from what we have witnessed so far, he looks even quicker and stronger. Behind him, LaMichael James and Damien Williams have looked solid, while Jay Ajayi needs some work.

Should all else fail, then Tannehill still has two quality tight ends up his sleeve. Miami will be hoping Jordan Cameron returns to Pro Bowl form, while Dion Sims is quickly becoming one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL, and very much underrated in the passing game.

Surely the only thing blocking Miami's path to success will be depth.  The Dolphins are a playoff team with its starters.  Should injuries hit at the wrong time, Miami's season could quickly derail.  The offensive line is one of these areas of concern.  It's being widely reported that Branden Albert won't be ready to suit up for game day until week 3 of the regular season. Luckily, however, Mike Pouncey's MRI on his knee showed up as negative, while Jason Fox is back in training after missing last week's game to a concussion.

Even in their absence, the offensive line has still been performing admirably. Ja'Wuan James looks strong, while Dallas Thomas could be a candidate for the most improved player.  Having said that, the team desperately needs their starting players to be healthy, if Tannehill is to stay upright.

On the other side of the football, the defensive line is elite.  Take this in for a moment and remember these names...Suh, Wake, Vernon.  Now imagine you are a quarterback and playing against the Miami Dolphins.  I don't know about you, but that picture scares me.  Add in Earl Mitchell, who had a great game against the Falcons, and that is one fine defensive line. Depth isn't an issue here, either. Terrence Fede, Derrick Shelby, C.J. Mosley and Jordan Phillips are the top backups on the team that are capable of rotational roles this season.

However, the exciting part of this defensive line truly rests on the play of the linebackers and the secondary. Having a dominant defensive line will do wonders for the other two defensive units of this football team. And it's starting to show.

When Koa Misi didn't man the inside linebacker position against Atlanta, Kelvin Sheppard played well, while Jelani Jenkins was his usual dependable self.  Zach Vigil and Mike Hull are also beginning to emerge from the pack, and Miami might just have to find a spot for both of them on the final 53-man roster.  The only blip along the road has been Chris McCain, who has been slightly disappointing and must perform better.

As for the secondary, well....they haven't really had much to do. Against Atlanta especially, the Falcons struggled to find their receivers due to the performance Suh and Co. And if a team does find their way through the defensive line, Jamar Taylor, Brent Grimes, Brice McCain, Reshad Jones and Walt Aitkens are dependable as the projected starters.

It's an intriguing year for the Dolphins.  The team will need to start fast.  In the first half of the season, only the Patriots could be some cause for concern.  The others - Washington, Jacksonville, Buffalo (twice), New York Jets, Tennessee and Houston - should not be feared. The second half of the season will be much tougher.

Are the Miami Dolphins ready?  It's almost time to find out.

Alex Parish is an Associate Editor at The Phinsider. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @AlexParish89.