The Miami Dolphins begin the 2019 regular season this afternoon by welcoming the Baltimore Ravens to Hard Rock Stadium. This is a tough test to start the season for Miami, especially since the Ravens have beaten up on the Dolphins in recent years, including 2017’s 40-0 trashing of the South Florida club.
What should we be watching for the Dolphins this week? There are plenty of areas of concern and curiosity when it comes to a team that has 14 players new to the team since the rosters were cut down to 53 players.
1. Offensive line
The Dolphins offensive line was a question mark throughout the preseason, with both guard positions and the right tackle spot puzzles that still needed to be solved. Then Miami traded away left tackle Laremy Tunsil and suddenly everything except center needed to be addressed. Daniel Kilgore, elected as a captain for the second time, will man the middle of the line, both guards will likely be rookies as Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun take those positions, though newly acquired players like Danny Isidora potentially claiming a position. Jesse Davis appears set to move to left tackle after playing right guard last year and right tackle all preseason this year. That leaves Isaiah Prince likely the right tackle, unless Julién Davenport of J’Marcus Webb can get spun up on on the playbook and protection calls incredibly quickly.
The Ravens are going to look to pressure Miami’s quarterback, and the offensive line has to be ready to perform.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Speaking of quarterback, Fitzpatrick won the starting position in a summer-long battle with Josh Rosen. The veteran now has to come in and catch the FitzMagic that made him the starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The coaches seem to want him on the field, either because Rosen is not really ready to play or because they already believe they know that Rosen will not be the team’s quarterback of the future. Either way, Fitzpatrick may have a shorter leash than we realize at this point. A poor performance or two, and Miami could look to move to the second-year passer.
3. Defensive front seven
All offseason and throughout the summer, the talk was Miami using more 3-4 looks compared to the 4-3 scheme, four defensive linemen and three linebackers, that has been the team’s base for the last several years. In the preseason, we primarily saw the team in a 4-3, with a nickel package (two linebackers, five defensive backs) extremely common. Yet, when Miami released their first depth chart of the regular season, it was built as a 3-4 scheme. Will the Dolphins truly shift to a 3-4, despite not showing it much in the summer? Will it provide the success - especially in the pass rush - that the team needs?
4. Minkah Fitzpatrick
The Dolphins’ depth chart also listed Minkah Fitzpatrick as the team’s second-string strong safety. Some fans reacted to that as a slight to one of the team’s best talents, and confirmation that the team does not know what they are doing. It is more likely that the coaches just needed to put him on the depth chart somewhere, so that is where they chose to do it. Fitzpatrick will likely see time at strong safety, with starter Reshad Jones not expected to play every snap as he did a couple of years ago, but he will be more than a rotational player. The Dolphins know they have a wildcard piece in Fitzpatrick, able to line him up just about anywhere on the defense, and they should use that ability. He will be a player to watch just to see how Miami uses him.
5. Wide receivers and tight ends
The Dolphins headed out of the preseason with Kenny Stills expected to be the top option in the receiving group. A trade to the Houston Texans later, and now the Dolphins need to find the head of the receiving group. Can DeVante Parker step up into that role, finally? Will Albert Wilson or Jakeem Grant find success as the top option? How will Allen Hurns and Preston Williams factor into the group? Will tight end Mike Gesicki become a favorite target, taking a step forward after a down rookie campaign?