The Miami Dolphins enter their fourth and final preseason game with more questions than nearly any other team in the league. The starting quarterback has been decided, but little else is certain on the team's depth chart and final roster.
Miami is hoping it can resolve at least some of its concerns in Wednesday's preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. The goal is to achieve as much continuity as possible going into the first regular-season game against the Houston Texans on September 9.
Here are three things to watch for tonight in Dallas:
Can any of the Dolphins' young receivers step up? As the regular season draws near, the already-shaky receiver and tight end situations have become murkier by the day.
In last Friday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, Miami's offense stagnated because of an epidemic of drops. Camp standout Legedu Naanee and usually reliable tight end Anthony Fasano each had multiple drops. Marcus Thigpen, Julius Pruitt and Charles Clay had one apiece, as well. As the night went on, it became even more obvious that Miami had a serious deficit in pass-catching options.
The Dolphins cut ties with Pruitt, and this game will go a long way in determining which wideouts are next. There are trade rumors and speculation that Miami may flip one of the trade assets it acquired in the Vontae Davis trade into a wide receiver. But as of now, the Dolphins have to sort out which of their current options are their best ones.
For Ryan Tannehill to succeed as a starting quarterback this year, he must have a reliable arsenal of weapons. This game will help determine who those weapons will be.
Now that Davis is gone, can Miami rely on its backup cornerbacks to fill the void? After trading Davis to Indianapolis and cutting reserve Jonathan Wade, the Dolphins are left with Nolan Carroll, Vincent Agnew and Quinten Lawrence at the position.
By most accounts, Carroll is having a good training camp and was a large part of Miami's comfort in trading Davis. He was a liability in coverage last year, however, and will have a target on his back whenever he steps on the field.
Even if Carroll holds his own this season, the Dolphins are razor thin at the position and will be crippled if there is an injury. Agnew and Lawrence combined have no regular-season NFL experience. Tonight will be an opportunity for them to show they are ready for a role on the team.
If they can't, the Dolphins will likely scan the waiver wire for replacements, if they aren't already planning to do so.
Very few primary starters play in the fourth preseason game. They are resting in preparation for the regular season, and for that reason there is little public interest in what happens in the game. But for 40 or so players remaining on the Dolphins' roster, this is one of the biggest games of their lives.
Soon Miami will have to trim its roster from the current total of 75 players to the 53 who will suit up for the regular season.
The coaches will be looking for a contribution by the special teams, and which players are comfortable stepping in, in case of an injury. A standout performance can solidify a roster spot just as a disappointing performance can squander one. Many of these players are playing for not only their careers in Miami, but their NFL lives, as well.
Fringe players to watch include 2012 draft picks WR Rishard Matthews, WR B.J. Cunningham and LB Josh Kaddu, as well as veterans RB Steve Slaton and G Nate Garner. WR Clyde Gates has perhaps one last chance to show that he and his world-class speed deserve to stay in Miami.
The Dolphins released WR Julius Pruitt, DE Jacquies Smith, LB Josh Linam, CB Trenton Hughes, S Tyrell Johnson, DT Chas Alecxih, TE Les Brown, RB Jerome Messam, CB Jonathan Wade and CB Marcus Brown to reach the 75-man limit by Monday's deadline.