The Miami Dolphins head into their 2016 training camp at the end of the week, with the first practice scheduled for Friday. There are a lot of changes coming to this year’s edition of the Dolphins compared to the team that hit the field last year. What will be the top stories to watch throughout this year’s training camp?
5. Returning from injury.
The Dolphins have several key players returning from injury this year, and how well they return could be integral to any success Miami has in 2016. Cameron Wake and Arian Foster both are coming back from torn Achilles tendons, Mike Pouncey had a foot injury last year and hip surgery in the offseason, DeVante Parker had an undisclosed injury during the offseason workout, rookie Xavien Howard will start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list after a minicamp-injury led to a knee scope, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu missed all of his rookie season last year with the Browns following a torn ACL at the end of his college career, and Kiko Alonso sustained a knee injury that cost him five games in 2015. It was a rough year for Miami - and for players Miami added this year. The Dolphins need to see all of these players return for 2016 and for them to be able to play at high levels.
4. Offensive line progress
You may have heard this training camp storyline a few times over the past couple of years. The Dolphins have to finally see the offensive line come together if they want to do anything other than flounder to another losing season. Left tackle Branden Albert, center Mike Pouncey, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James all had to deal with injuries last year, so they will hopefully be healthy. Assuming he can make the transition to the professional game and to left guard, first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil should immediately lock down the left side of the offensive line. The only question mark should be at right guard, where Billy Turner appears to be the leader in a position battle that will also include Jermon Bushrod, Jamil Douglas, and Dallas Thomas. The team will settle on five players to start on the line at some point in training camp and the preseason, and those five guys have to find a way to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill and open running lanes for running backs Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster, both things they struggled to do last year.
3. Next man up.
The Dolphins appeared to be headed toward a cornerback group with starters Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard, with nickel corner Bobby McCain. Now, Howard is headed to the PUP list, and there is an opening for Tony Lippett to claim the starter’s role. A 2015 fifth-round draft choice, Lippett spent his rookie year converting from a college receiver to cornerback, and a year later could be stepping into one of the two top spots on the depth chart for Miami. Is he ready? Training camp and the preseason may provide us an answer.
2. Ryan Tannehill’s growth.
Miami added the “quarterback whisperer” in head coach Adam Gase this year, a move that is expected to allow Tannehill to take the next step in his development - a step that was expected to come last year before he plateaued under then head coach Joe Philbin. This year, Gase is giving Tannehill more control over the offense and working to make sure he has the weapons to succeed. Tannehill will be learning the third different offense he has had in five years, but he has to be able to execute the new offense, even as he and the team are learning it, because this year is all about him.
1. A rookie leading the team.
Speaking of Adam Gase, this is his first year as a head coach. Will he be able to succeed where coaches like Joe Philbin, Tony Sparano, Cam Cameron, and Nick Saban failed? Will we have the awkward moments of seeing him focusing on the trash on the field, rather than what is happening with the players? Gase is going to make mistakes, as any rookie will, but the Dolphins did a great job this year of addressing needs and getting players that seem to fit Gase’s idea of what he wants to do with the 2016 edition of the team. Now, he has to prove that he is ready, at only 38-years-old, to take control of a struggling franchise and return it to the glory it had in the past. There will be a lot of focus on every move Gase makes this year. How a rookie head coach adjusts to his new role could be the make-or-break element of the 2016 Dolphins.