Who Miami Dolphins are was hidden in preseason win. 5 big questions that still need answers | Opinion

Jason Behnken/AP

Couple of quick, fun facts about NFL preseason openers:

The year the Miami Dolphins made history and went 17-0 in the 1972 Perfect Season whose 50-year anniversary is about to be celebrated ... they started 0-2 in exhibitions.

The year the Fins had their worst season ever, 1-15 in 2007, they started the preseason 2-0.

We mention this as something of a public service so you do not attempt to discern anything meaningful, for good or ill, from Saturday night’s 26-24 fake-game win in Tampa that would have been a loss had a last-second Bucs field goal try not agreeably bonked off the right upright.

Preseason openers almost always are inscrutable mysteries, the game a glorified tryout stage for the bottom-tier roster guys most likely to get a knock on the door on the first cut day.

This one was even more unreadable for meaning as new coach Mike McDaniel did not even give the token couple of series to Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Terron Armstead, Xavien Howard or anybody else anybody wanted to see.

Whoever the Miami Dolphins are, whatever they will be, however good they might prove -- we did not see that team for even the flash of a glimpse Saturday.

Third-string rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson played the entire game (and pretty well) for Miami, the only time I can ever remember only one QB playing in the first preseason game.

The show-nothing opener leaves us with two exhibitions left to see what we could not Saturday as the team rolls toward its Sept. 11 regular season debut vs. rival New England.

Saturday may have answered that the Fins might have a pretty solid third-string quarterback. That’s it.

Now here are the five questions still begging answers:

Will Tyreek unlock Tua?: The great cost Miami paid to acquire the Cheetah, Tyreek Hill, from Kansas City, will prove worth it if it lifts Tagovailoa in Year 3 to the long-term answer they need him to be. Joining Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki and others in a deep receivers room gives Tua all the weapons and takes away all the excuses.

Since drafting Tagovailoa fifth overall in 2020 the team has lamented not being bad enough to get Joe Burrow, then second-guessed not taking Justin Herbert, then gone hard after Deshaun Watson, then tampered improperly to lure Tom Brady -- all because they hadn’t been sold on Tua.

That either all changes this season, or they start all over at the most important position.

Can McDaniel bring the run-game magic?: The new coach and Kyle Shanahan disciple brings the running game scheme built on doing a lot with a little. No instant proof Saturday, with 49 yards from 15 carries and no prominent back playing much, and with Tampa stacked to stop the run.

The Dolphins run-room is rebuilt without a star back but with four quality pieces in newcomers Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel joining returning RB Myles Gaskin, plus the addition of a fullback.

Newfound balance on offense is supposed to further make life easier for Tua. But so much of that depends on this:

Is the long offensive-line nightmare finally ending?: Tackle Terron Armstead, the team’s top free agent get this offseason and one of two new OL starters, did not play Saturday. His arrival is supposed to bring a literal and figurative big change for an historically bad Dolphins O-line.

It isn’t for lack of trying. Miami since 2010 has drafted 16 offensive linemen including 11 in the top three rounds including four in the first round. Yet little has worked. Tua had little time to think, or throw; hence the quick, short passes and boring (and ineffective) offense.

Will running it back on D prove a gamble?: Miami’s defense was good-not-great last year, eighth in takeaways but only 15th in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed. But the Dolphins stood pat with negligible additions or changes as all of the capital and effort was put into improving the offense.

The strategy relies on continued ascension by young, high-upside players like Christian Wilkins, Jaelan Phillips and Jevon Howard. But will there be sufficient pass pressure? Is the linebacking corps good enough?

No indications of any value Saturday as Tampa Bay, like Miami, sat almost all its top players starting with Brady.

Are Fins really going high-risk/high-reward on return game?: We saw none of this Saturday, but the depth chart says Miami is about to do what NFL teams rarely risk trying: Use their biggest playmakers on kickoff and punt returns.

“The Cheetah” Hill is slotted the No. 1 kickoff returner. Mostert, the speed-first running back, is listed as the No. 1 punt returner. Waddle, who topped 100 catches as a rookie last year, is listed No. 2 in both roles.

McDaniel will be thee daring genius if he goes though with this and it works as well as it might. And he’ll be second-guessed everywhere, and loudly, if the added risk leads to costly injuries. (I like the gamble. Don’t play scared. Don’t let caution rule you. Here’s a pledge that second-guessing wouldn’t come from me).

All of our five questions now await what we didn’t even begin to get a hint of Saturday night: Answers.