Thursday night the Miami Dolphins face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last preseason game of the 2015 season. After that the games truly count.
For the majority of the players on each team there is nothing more to prove. The last game is an open tryout for other teams and practice squads. It is one last chance for the last few players on the 53 to make their mark.
For the players we will actually see during the season the work is already done.
There were questions to be answered this preseason:
How well would a nearly entirely new receiving corps work with franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill?
What effect with Ndamukong Suh have on the Dolphins defense?
Will the offensive line be good enough(especially at guard) to protect Tannehill?
Each of these questions have been answered and then some.
The first team offense has run like clockwork. Moving down the field and scoring in each of the preseason games. Tannehill is looking more like a seasoned veteran than a young player entering his fourth season. While we have not seen much out of first round draft pick Devante Parker(recovering from foot surgery) between a resurgent Rishard Matthews, second year star Jarvis Landry, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills the receiving corps looks as deep and talented as it has in years.
The offensive line has been a concern to say the least over the last few seasons. The last two season the Dolphins gave up 58 and 46 sacks respectively. That is simply too many hits on the quarterback to expect much prolonged success. During this preseason they have played without starting left tackle Brandon Albert and frankly they have not looked bad. The guards, a question for years, have held their own. Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas have competed over the two guard positions and the results are positive. Thomas and Douglas are the likely starters but nothing is set in stone. This is not to say that suddenly this is an all-pro line. Far from it. This is a competent line that should be good enough to reduce the sacks to a reasonable number.
Now we come to the man called Suh. Could he possibly live up to the massive contract he signed during the offseason? The early answer is yes. Against the Atlanta Falcons the defense, especially the front seven, abused quarterback Matt Ryan series after series to the point he looked relieved to take a seat. This line is fierce and rejuvenated. The best thing about Suh thus far is that he does not seem remotely satisfied in the success so far. That is what a leader does-he strives to be better tomorrow.
Beyond that depth is still lacking but that takes time. Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas look to be able to fill the role expected of injured Louis Delmas. UDFA rookie linebackers Zach Vigil and Mike Hull both look like diamonds in the rough, if only there is room on the roster for both players.
There are still minor questions to be answered. That will come with the final preseason game and the cut down to 53. Until then things look good.
In fact things look better than they have in years.