Things do not look good for the Miami Dolphins headed into the 2012 season. If Hard Knocks showed us one thing, it's that the Dolphins might still be searching for their identity as we approach their Week 1 showdown against the Texans.
But that doesn't mean the season will be a complete disaster.
There are some talented players on this roster who are poised for big years and at least one future of the franchise-level talent who could be in line for a big payday.
With that, here are some out-on-a-limb predictions for the Dolphins.
Reggie Bush may not lead the league in rushing, but it's a good bet he'll be the Dolphins' leader in touchdowns by season's end. Not only is Bush the Dolphins' best running back, he's also their best weapon on offense. His versatility in catching passes out of the backfield provides another method in which Bush can put points on the board.
He led the Dolphins with seven total touchdowns in 2011; unless the Dolphins passing game gets off the ground and one of the unheralded wide receivers jumps off the map in a big way, it looks like he could be their leader in all-around touchdowns once again.
The Miami Dolphins are rolling out a rookie quarterback in a new system with no established wide receivers around him and a zone-blocking scheme with man-blocking personnel.
Not exactly a nurturing environment for a rookie quarterback to step into.
It's not about how Tannehill performs this year; it's about how he responds long-term to the issues he will undoubtedly face this season.
It's okay; Peyton Manning threw more interceptions than touchdowns as a rookie, too.
Cameron Wake is often regarded as one of the best pass-rushers in the league. Wake's first full season in the league saw the upstart pass-rusher out of the CFL log 14 sacks. He fell back to Earth a bit in 2011, with 8.5 sacks, but he also drew more holding penalties—by far—than anyone else in the league according to Football Outsiders.
According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks in the top 10 in cumulative pressures on opposing quarterbacks, and he ranks No. 1 in the league in terms of the most productive pass-rushers on average over the past three years.
Putting Wake at the defensive end spot in the 4-3 defense only plays more favorably into his strengths as a pass-rusher. I would be shocked with anything less than double-digit sacks, but 16 doesn't seem at all out of the realm of possibility.
7-Eleven will re-open for business by the time the regular season has drawn to its end.
By stashing Hogan away on the practice squad, the Dolphins allowed themselves the opportunity to call him up if any of the other receivers either underperform or get injured.
Unless a few receivers really step up their game when the regular season begins, the Dolphins could be looking to turn things over at the position rather quickly. They expressed a good deal of concern with the wide receiver position all preseason, and unless the performances change, the Dolphins' feelings about their receivers won't change either.
This may not be very bold, but it's certainly no less true. The Dolphins may be needy at wide receiver, but if there's one thing they won't do, it's compromise the new image they have cast upon their franchise.
Joe Philbin and Jeff Ireland went to great lengths to portray the Dolphins for the high-class organization they want to represent. Bringing back Johnson would undo a lot of the work they've done to build that image.
Chad Johnson may have had one final cameo on Hard Knocks, but he made his final cameo in a Dolphins uniform nearly a month ago.
Jake Long enters the final year of his deal, where he is slated to be the top-paid Dolphin at a $12.8 million cap hit, according to Spotrac.
He is the most valuable player on the Dolphins roster, and he plays arguably the second-most important position on the field.
It's a wonder why they didn't get this deal done this year, but the Dolphins know how important a player like Long is to the future of the offense. The change in blocking scheme shouldn't matter; Long is a building block regardless.
Albert Einstein described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I'm not insinuating that the Dolphins are insane, but their handling of the safety position this offseason seems to fall under that description.
The Dolphins have changed defensive scheme, so that could mean good things for their pass defense. However, this is a unit that gave up the third-most pass plays of 20-plus yards (63) and also gave up 10 pass plays of 40 or more yards. They were also exposed for an average of 7.2 yards per pass attempt, ranking 17th in the league.
With all that in consideration, you'd think the Dolphins would have tried to address the position in the offseason, but they enter their Week 1 contest with two very familiar faces starting at safety—Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones.
Expect the position to be a weakness for the Dolphins this season, especially considering the departure of Vontae Davis. Which reminds me...
The Dolphins had a formidable trio of cornerbacks when their depth chart consisted of Vontae Davis, Richard Marshall and Sean Smith. Once they traded Davis, though, the position got a shake-up that the current depth chart may not be able to withstand.
Is Nolan Carroll ready to step up into a bigger role? Does this make the signing of Marshall, who was brought in to be a nickel cornerback, less effective?
These are all questions that will be answered in time, but one thing we know right now is that the Dolphins currently don't have a physical presence like Davis in their secondary, and they currently don't have a corner they can match up on an opponent's best receiver with confidence.
The impact of Davis' absence could be felt at its worst in two divisional games against the Patriots, where the Dolphins have struggled to cover New England's pair of tight ends since the two entered the league two seasons ago.
Bess logged a career-high 79 receptions in 2010 catching passes from Chad Henne. He should be able to surpass that total with a more talented quarterback.
The Dolphins offense plays directly into Bess' skill set, and he was one of the few receivers that actually looked worth keeping on the roster this preseason.
He, like most Dolphins receivers, doesn't do his damage on deep passes, but in the short and intermediate areas in the middle of the field. It's his ability to create yards after the catch that is one of his strongest redeeming qualities.
As arguably the best receiver on the roster, expect Bess to be the one getting open the most often and for the Dolphins to do their best to put him in position to make plays.
After all the changes, all the exhaustive work that went into building the Dolphins into a new team with a new head coach, the Dolphins will end the 2012 season exactly where they ended the 2011 season: two games below .500 and out of the playoffs.
The Dolphins have a relatively easy schedule, as does the entire AFC East, and for that reason, what looks like a 3-13 team from our experience with the Dolphins on Hard Knocks will actually avoid being the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.