The Miami Dolphins have played four preseason games and have one remaining. The roster has been trimmed from 90 players to 75. This is the time of year when dreams are accomplished while others are put in hold.
This is also the time of year when teams begin putting together their depth chart for the regular season. For the Dolphins, their depth chart appears to be ready to be written in pen.
There are not many battles for a starting position. There are some in the offense, but the defense appears to be set.
Now, lets take a look at what we can expect from each projected starter for next season.
Ryan Tannehill will be looking to improve from his rookie campaign and guide the team to the playoffs.
Going into his sophomore season, Tannehill has looked solid throughout the preseason. He has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions while showing improvement each week.
This is a big season for Tannehill. He has been given all the weapons to succeed, and the outcome of the season will rest mostly in his hands.
For the Dolphins to make the playoffs, Tannehill will need to throw more than 20 touchdowns and try to keep his interceptions to a minimum. From what he has shown thus far in the preseason, those numbers are not that far-fetched.
Tannehill will take the next step this year and will cement himself as Miami's franchise quarterback.
I'm not sure why there's a supposed running back battle between Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Miller has been getting limited carries during the preseason, but during his time on the field he has shown good speed, vision and blocking ability.
Miller will be vital for this offense and the continued development of Tannehill. With Dustin Keller lost for the season and with many questions still left to be answered about the tight end position, Tannehill will need a safety net when he is in trouble. Miller will be that net.
If he's able to run the ball consistently, he will open up the passing game. Also, his ability to catch the ball in the open field will benefit Tannehill.
Speaking on NFL Fantasy Live earlier this year, Miller said he had a goal of 1,500 yards this season. Not only is that necessary, but it is definitely possible.
When I started writing this article, I had Jorvorskie Lane as the starting fullback. Then news came in that he had been one of the casualties in order for the team to trim the roster down to 75.
Taking his place will probably be Evan Rodriguez. His ability to catch the ball and play special teams might have been the deciding factor in the Dolphins' decision.
I don't expect Rodriguez to play a big role in the offense, but he will play his role well when his number is called. He will be able to open up holes for the running backs when they line up in I-formation and will also be able to catch passes out of the backfield.
With the tight end position so wide open, it's not out of the question that Rodriguez might see some time at that position as well.
Losing Dustin Keller was big not only for the Dolphins offense, but for Ryan Tannehill in particular. They had developed chemistry in a short period of time and looked to be a viable threat.
Now, the Dolphins will look to Charles Clay, Dion Sims and Michael Egnew to fill Keller's role as best as they can. Clay got the starting nod against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he failed to take advantage.
He could not get separation from defenders and dropped a few passes, including one that could have been a touchdown. If Clay wants to be the starter throughout the season, he will have to play a lot better than he did.
In Miami's last preseason game, the coaching staff might give Sims and Egnew a chance to prove they play better than Clay and earn the starting nod going into the season. If Clay remains the starter, his pass-catching and route running must improve.
The Dolphins don't have a red-zone threat at wide receiver, which makes the tight end position so important. Whoever starts at tight end will play a key role in the red-zone.
After Miami's first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys, Jonathan Martin didn't exactly give Dolphins fans or Ryan Tannehill any confidence. He struggled during that game, but has since picked up his level of play.
He still has a lot of room for improvement, but he has certainly shown improvement each game. His run-blocking is excellent, but his pass protection is still improving. It's certainly encouraging to see Martin be able to keep pressure away from Tannehill and keep him on his feet.
For Tannehill and the Dolphins offense to be successful, Tannehill must be given time to throw, and he has to be able to trust his offensive line. The left tackle protects Tannehill's blind side, which will be extremely important.
Martin will keep improving as the season progresses and will be able to keep his side of the pocket clean.
There are not many complaints about Richie Incognito's performance. He was a Pro Bowler last year, and his production is not likely to drop.
Incognito's run-blocking is top-notch, allowing running backs to have big holes to run through. He has been a cornerstone for this ever-changing offensive line and has become a leader.
With Incognito playing alongside Jonathan Martin, the left side will be well-protected this upcoming season.
It still shocks me that Mike Pouncey gets so little respect. He has proven to be one of the top centers in the league, but is still mainly overlooked by the national media.
His ability to get to the second level is as good as anyone's, leading the way for the running backs to have big runs. His pass protection is also top-notch as he's able to keep the pocket clean for Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball.
By having another good year, Pouncey may gain the recognition he deserves and earn a Pro Bowl spot.
I've never been the biggest John Jerry fan. However, since watching what Josh Samuda went through as the starting right guard during Jerry's absence, I now appreciate the work Jerry does in the trenches.
The Dolphins decided to terminate Lance Louis' contract in order to trim the roster to 75 players and will expect Jerry to be the starting right guard once the season begins.
Having only played one quarter this preseason, Jerry will most likely see a lot of action in Miami's final preseason game. He has experience playing the right guard spot and is the best player on Miami's roster who can fill the position.
Jerry will do a solid job protecting Tannehill and in run-blocking. Now Samuda can go back to being the backup center.
Miami's newest addition to the offensive line has been having a solid preseason. Tyson Clabo has been good in pass-blocking, allowing fans to forget about the days of Marc Colombo.
Clabo has not seen any competition at right tackle and will be the season-long starter. He's another solid player who will be looking to help keep Ryan Tannehill on his feet and allow him enough time to find Mike Wallace on a deep route.
The Dolphins made a lot of moves this offseason, and Clabo has been one that has been flying under the radar, yet was one of the most important moves made.
From one of the most under-the-radar signings by the Dolphins to the most publicized signing.
Mike Wallace gives Miami the deep threat it has been lacking and a legitimate No. 1 receiver for Ryan Tannehill. The two have already hooked up this preseason, including a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Wallace will not only give Tannehill a weapon, but he will open up the field for everyone else, including wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Some people question the amount of money the Dolphins payed for Wallace's services, but his impact is already being felt.
Safeties are not lining up inside the box and slot receivers have more room to work with. Last year, Dolphins wide receivers only had three touchdown catches. This year, Wallace will have more than three touchdowns by himself.
Jeff Ireland wanted the offense to be more explosive, and he certainly has that with Mike Wallace.
Aside from Ryan Tannehill, nobody benefits from the Mike Wallace signing than Brian Hartline. Hartline was Miami's No. 1 receiver last year, but his skill set is not suited to fill that role.
With Wallace in the mix, Hartline will no longer see the opposition's best cornerback and will no longer garner the attention of the secondary. This will give him more freedom to work with, allowing him to be an even more effective receiver.
Hartline is coming off a 1,000-yard receiving season and will be looking to duplicate that. It's not out of the question, but with Tannehill having more weapons, he may not be looking Hartline's way as often as he did last year.
One of the players that took advantage of his opportunity when Randy Starks decided to skip OTAs was Olivier Vernon. The Dolphins moved Jared Odrick in Starks' absence and plugged in Vernon at defensive end opposite Cameron Wake.
With Dion Jordan still nursing an ailing shoulder, Vernon has continually shown he is capable of handling a starting role. During the preseason, he has constantly pressured the quarterback, including having a sack against the Buccaneers.
He has been a good complement to Cameron Wake and will be an even better complement once Jordan is healthy. The Dolphins were looking for someone to create pressure in order to help Wake. Vernon has certainly done that so far and may reach the double-digit sack mark this season.
Paul Soliai continues to take up blockers. His size and strength allow him to be stout against the run while generating pressure against the pass.
He is one of the leaders of one of the best defensive lines in the league and will look to keep his high level of play when the regular season begins.
Soliai won't give you many sacks, but he will generate a lot of pressure and garner attention that allows the defensive ends and the linebackers to get to the quarterback. He's an important part of this defense and will be proving that during a contract year.
Another player who took advantage of Randy Starks' absence was Jared Odrick. He spent last season playing as a 4-3 defense end and struggled some rushing the passer.
This year, the Dolphins moved him inside, where he has really excelled. He looks like a dominant force inside and someone worthy of a first-round pick.
Odrick looks bigger and is having no trouble with his transition from defensive end to defensive tackle. Alongside Paul Soliai and with Randy Starks behind the two, the defensive tackle position is Miami's deepest.
He has the potential to be a real force in Miami's defense this year and may surprise a lot of people.
There's not much to say about Miami's best player. He will once again be a dominant force at defensive end and will reach double-digit sacks.
He is the quarterback of the defense and one of the leaders of the team. There's no sign that his production will drop anytime soon; he will keep harassing quarterbacks on every snap.
Koa Misi is Miami's longest-tenured starting linebacker. That's not something many thought would be true after his first couple seasons in the league.
Misi has been solid during the preseason and will look to be a big contributor once the season begins. He is able to drop into coverage and blitz when he's asked to. He won't be a star defensive player, but he will be solid at his job.
One of the Dolphins' newest acquisitions, Dannell Ellerbe has shown why Jeff Ireland decided to drop so much money on him.
He has shown great instincts at middle linebacker and has shown good blitzing ability. When Miami decided to release Karlos Dansby after signing Ellerbe, there were questions whether Ellerbe could handle being a starter. Through four preseason games, he has proven that not only can he handle starting duties—he's become Miami's best linebacker.
Ireland wanted to get younger and more athletic at the linebacker position, and he certainly made a good move when he signed the former Baltimore Raven.
Not only will Ellerbe help this defense excel, but he'll also help it do things it really couldn't last year. Forcing turnovers and sacking the quarterback were things the Dolphins' linebackers had trouble doing last year; wiith Ellerbe on board, quarterbacks must be aware of where he's roaming at all times.
Another addition to the roster who helped the team get younger and more athletic at linebacker was Philip Wheeler. His signing was a complete surprise and one that many Dolphins fans questioned at the time.
Wheeler doesn't have the potential to be as good for Miami as Ellerbe, but so far during the preseason he has shown potential to help the defense by performing his role. He has shown speed, which the Dolphins lacked at the position last year, but has struggled with tackles in the open field.
To this point, Wheeler seems like a good signing for Ireland, as Kevin Burnett seemed to be losing steam. If the linebackers all stay healthy, this defense will be hard to get through.
The signing of Brent Grimes may have been Miami's best move of the offseason. Before last season began, the Dolphins traded their No. 1 cornerback Vontae Davis. This offseason, Sean Smith signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving the Dolphins with a big hole at cornerback.
They decided to roll the dice on Brent Grimes, who was coming off a season-ending Achilles injury. So far, it appears that the gamble has payed off as Grimes has looked very good. He may be Miami's best cornerback since Sam Madison was roaming in the secondary.
Grimes gives this team a legit No. 1 cornerback who can line up against the top receivers in the league and help generate turnovers, something the Dolphins have lacked the last few seasons.
By signing Grimes, the Dolphins upgraded their biggest defensive weakness last year. He will be a playmaker in this secondary.
Dimitri Patterson solidified himself as Miami's No. 2 cornerback when the Dolphins decided to release Richard Marshall.
The battle for the position was going to come down to Patterson and Marshall, with the loser most likely being released. Patterson proved to the coaching staff that he deserves to be a starter and will be given a shot this season.
Behind Patterson, Miami has a young duo in Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. If Patterson fails to play at the level he has this preseason, the coaching staff won't mind throwing either youngster into the fire.
Patterson has the advantage that he probably won't be lining up against the best receivers, but he will have to play solid in his role for the defense to be effective.
Chris Clemons has proven to be a solid safety during his short time in the league. The Dolphins have given him a chance to prove himself again this year before they consider signing him to a long-term contract.
He has formed a formidable duo with fellow safety Reshad Jones and has given Miami enough confidence to keep him as the starter. Clemons won't shine by creating turnovers and knocking people out, but he makes the right plays when he needs to and has been improving in coverage.
This year, Clemons should show improvement from last year's performance. There hasn't been much to talk about regarding Clemons, which is always a good thing for a defensive back. He should take another step forward this year.
Reshad Jones burst onto the scene last season and was rewarded with a long-term contract this offseason. Jones was a fifth-round draft pick who had to go through some growing pains when his NFL career began. Now, he is considered one of the best safeties in the league.
Compared to Clemons, Jones is the better player, but they both complement each other so well that it's hard to imagine either one playing without the other.
Jones led Miami in interceptions last season and, even though he probably won't lead them this year, he will be among the top in that category. He is a tough safety who can cover just about anyone and is strong enough to play inside the box in order to stop the run.
Last year was Jones' coming-out party as he was considered by many to be a top safety. This year, he will cement himself as one of the top safeties in the league.