It is finally time to pull back the curtains.
The Miami Dolphins are beginning their fourth week of OTA practice sessions, and on Tuesday the media gets its first look at the 2014 team in action.
The squad might be playing a glorified game of flag football, but this is our first opportunity to see Bill Lazor test drive his new offense, and to monitor the changes defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is tinkering with.
Here are a few things I'll be monitoring on Tuesday because they should provide plenty of hints about what is to come this season.
1. How much does Ryan Tannehill's skill set fit into the new offensive Bill Lazor is building for the Dolphins. Will Lazor move Tannehill more than Mike Sherman, utilizing his athleticism? Can Tannehill's arm make the horizontal passing game come alive. Is Tannehill finally fixing the deep ball issues that have plagued him since his college days?
2. How many of the Dolphins' injured receivers - Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline, and Armon Binns - are working with the team instead of rehabbing their knee injuries? Gibson and Binns are the only receivers who fully tore their ACL, therefore needing at least nine months of rehab. That means the Dolphins should be easing them back into it action. Especially Gibson, Miami's starting slot receiver, who is eight months into his comeback.
3. What unit does the rookie offensive linemen start out with. Are Ja'Wuan James and Billy Turner penciled in as starters, or do they have to work their way up to that role by outperforming Jason Fox, Nate Garner and Dallas Thomas in practices? Fox, Garner and Thomas should all be ahead of them from a technique, understanding and fundamentals standpoint. It is ideal to make the rookies earn their starting spot by beating out the veterans.
4. What offensive linemen are serious contenders for the starting guard spots, challenging Shelley Smith and Turner? Garner has started 19 games in his six seasons with the Dolphins, but he's never seized an opportunity to win a starting spot outright. Will Jason Fox get a shot at playing inside? Sam Brenner is penciled in as Mike Pouncey's backup at center, but it will be interesting to see if he gets another crack at serving as a starting guard in 2014.
5. Which cornerbacks are contending for the starting spot opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes? Cortland Finnegan's experience will likely give him the edge over Will Davis, Jamar Taylor and rookie Walt Aikens, but it will be critical to see who backs up Grimes because that means they are trailing the rest of the pack.
6. How many cornerbacks are being crosstrained to handle the nickel cornerback spot? Jimmy Wilson has been the starting nickel for two seasons, but considering he's also the primary backup at free safety to the often injured Louis Delmas the Dolphins need to get someone else ready man the nickel spot. Finnegan is viewed as the backup nickel considering he played that spot with the Rams last year. Davis was being trained to play nickel early last season, but he's got strength deficiencies that need to be addressed. Safety Michael Thomas has also manned the nickel spot. Thomas sealed the Patriots win by intercepting Tom Brady inside the end zone last season.
7. At the end of last season Jelani Jenkins was nipping at Philip Wheeler's heals for the starting weakside linebacker spot. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins, a former Gator who contributed 17 tackles last season as a coverage specialist, picks up where he left off, pushing Wheeler for his spot. Wheeler led the team with 118 tackles last season, but was rated by ProFootballFocus.com as the worst 4-3 outside linebacker in the entire NFL in 2013.
8. The Dolphins have three defensive tackles - Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell - capable of handling the two starting spots. The front line will likely have a three-man rotation for those inside spots, but it should be interesting to see who is the front runner to serve as a starter, and which pair handles running downs. The battle for the backup spots between Isaako Aaitui, A.J. Francis and newcomers Anthony Johnson, Kamal Johnson and Garrison Smith will also be interesting.
9. How much has Dion Jordan's strength issues subsided? Is the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft past the shoulder issues that handcuffed him as a rookie? Can Jordan set the edge better, and will his developing skills as a defensive end allow him to push Olivier Vernon for playing time or the starting spot in his second season?
10. How will the tight ends be used in Lazor's new offense, and which backup best complements Charles Clay's skills as an H-back? Dion Sims and Kyle Miller both have the size needed to serve as in-line blockers, and Michael Egnew thrives as a seam threat. Rookie Arthur Lynch is behind that trio and it appears he's nursing a injury that kept him from participating in rookie camp last weekend.
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