Dave Choate: This seems like a critical year for Ryan Tannehill. Do you think he has improved this year, and is his supporting cast good enough to make this offense dangerous?
Kevin Nogle: It has been hard to tell at this point, mainly because the team is clearly still trying to get into a rhythm in new head coach/offensive play caller Adam Gase's system. That said, I do think we see a better Tannehill this year, assuming the offensive line and running game come together. The Dolphins clearly used this offseason to upgrade the team around Tannehill, adding Gase, Laremy Tunsil, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, and Arian Foster. They also have young receivers in Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, both of whom have high expectations on them this year. Tannehill should have the weapons to be able to take the next step, it's just a matter of pass protection and him executing.
Dave Choate: Letting Lamar Miller walk seems like a risky play. Who do you have at running back now, and is running back going to be a strength for Miami?
Kevin Nogle: Running back is really a big question mark for the Dolphins. I don't think Miami ever had a chance to keep Miller, unfortunately, after two years of never fully utilizing him. Even with the coaching change, I think he was tired of 12 touches a game and decided it was time for him to go somewhere else. Jay Ajayi looks like a promising young running back, but he has injury issues that do add a little concern to the analysis of him. Arian Foster, obviously, comes with injury concerns, and questions about his ability as he turned 30 on Wednesday. I don't think running back can be considered a "strength" of the team, but they should be able to do enough to take some of the pressure off the passing game -- I hope.
Dave Choate: Defensively, there are some truly impressive pieces here. What do you see as the unit's strengths, and how will they stack up against the league's best D's in 2016?
Kevin Nogle: The defense is nothing but confusing. The names are all there, the talent is there, but they cannot seem to put it together. Cameron Wake has not played yet this preseason, so maybe his return will bring the spark that seems to be missing thus far, but even with Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso, Reshad Jones, etc., the defense just does not seem to be able to perform up to expectations. Understanding that this is just two preseason games into the year, but there are definitely some concerns with the run game, especially as the Dolphins look to use a Wide-9 technique defense this year, which leaves running lanes in the middle of the field and the linebackers have yet to step up. Cornerback is also a giant question mark, with Byron Maxwell the starter on one side and someone from the Xavien Howard/Tony Lippett/Bobby McCain/Chimdi Chekwa group eventually claiming the other spot. When the regular season does finally start, I think the pass rush will be the strength of this defense, and that it will be ready to go, but right now, there are clearly some questions marks, with enough of them to allow the Dallas Cowboys to roll to a 41-14 win over Miami last week.
Dave Choate: Name one player on each side of the ball we probably don't know about, but will learn plenty about Thursday night.
Kevin Nogle: On defense, there are a couple of players who have the potential to make plays at any point. Cornerback Bobby McCain and safety/conerback Michael Thomas are battling for the nickel spot, and they are both pretty talented. Defensive ends Terrence Fede and Chris McCain both have a ton of potential, with one of them likely to end up cut this year because of the group of pass rushers in front of them, including Wake and Williams. Offense it is a little harder to give you an answer. I think most people know who Jarvis Landry is now, and DeVante Parker seems like a big enough name out of college - though injuries slowed him down last year as a rookie - that he might not be the right answer either. It could be rookie wide receiver and kick/punt returner Jakeem Grant who is electric with the ball in his hands, using unbelievable speed, and the ability to keep up that speed even as he makes cuts and spins, to pick up big gains. However, he only played one offensive snap last week, so I do not know what the plan is for him this week. Otherwise, players like Jordan Cameron and Arian Foster are names people know, even if they are not playing up to that same level anymore.
Dave Choate: What's your prediction for this game (not very important, perhaps) and your season (very important)?
Kevin Nogle: On the game, I have no idea. As fans of the Dolphins, at this point we just want to see the first team offense find some rhythm and the first team defense simply show up. Let's say Atlanta 28-17.
For the season, this year is all about development for Miami. The offense is using one of the youngest group of starters in the league, and they are probably going to make some mistakes, especially as they learn another new offensive system. After a 6-10 season last year, just showing progress on the field - even if it is not always in a win - will be a step in the right direction. I think this team could land somewhere around 8-8, though 4-12 might not surprise me either, and sneaking into a 9-7 record seems like a possibility too. There are just so many unknowns about the Dolphins, the systems they are running, the comebacks of some major injured players last year, and things like that that makes it difficult to predict exactly what we will see out of Miami this season.
Thanks to Kevin for answering these questions, and go check out The Phinsider.