Not really, but it feels like it.
The Miami Dolphins open up as 6.5-point underdogs in their season opener against the New England Patriots up in Foxborough on Sunday, despite the overhaul of both rosters.
New Faces from Right to Left
The Dolphins’ defense has a new face, literally, after signing seven new secondary players alone. They also picked up a couple of guys in the 2020 NFL Draft and claimed more off of waivers. Additionally, four new faces will appear in starting roles on the offensive line, as well as two new ones in the backfield.
Six of Miami’s 11 starting defensive players Sunday were not on the team last season and have been reported as fitting into head coach Brian Flores’ scheme almost instantly.
“I think at the end of the day, in football, there is a lot of different schemes, concepts, defensive structures and eventually you’ll see something that you haven’t seen before and you’ll have to rely on your rules and your keys,” Flores said. “If you do that, you should be okay. That part of it I like.”
Former Patriots, New Miami Captains Headline Secondary
Former Patriot linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are getting the start at their respective positions, and former Buffalo Bill LB Shaq Lawson is as well. This leaves LB Jerome Baker as the only veteran Dolphin starting at the position. However, the talent level of the four-man unit is higher than Miami has had in years. Furthermore, both Van Noy and Roberts are Dolphins captains.
For me to be elected a captain from my peers, I’m honored and just hope that we can take this first game – it’s a big game – and that’s what they want to do, that’s what we want to do,” Van Noy said. “It’s going to be a really, really highly competitive game right off the bat, and I’m excited for it.”
Howard, Jones, Igbinoghene to Headline Three-Headed Monster
More new faces getting the nod include former Dallas Cowboy cornerback Byron Jones, who is expected to play despite an ailing Achilles injury, and rookie Noah Igbinoghene, the No. 30 overall pick in this year’s draft, at nickel back. Igbinoghene is expected to feature as the third CB on the field alongside Jones and Xavien Howard in select defensive schemes and plays.
“One thing that’s really special about Noah is his maturity, the way he really approaches the game. He’s in the meetings early with coach, he’s in the meetings late. He’s taking notes, he’s very responsive to criticism,” Jones said. “He responds well to good plays and bad plays. It’s really cool to see a young guy like that come into the league and be so prepared.”
Jones continued, “With Xavien, truthfully, just seeing him on Day 1 and 2 of practice this year, seeing how he attacks the ball was special to me. I’m like ‘wow.’ Seeing his feet on the line of scrimmage and how he stays square, all this stuff I’m picking up from different players; but to see it in person is really different.”
More New Faces Will Find Work Sunday
Other notable defensive starters looking to slow down the new-look Patriots include former Kansas City defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. He will be backed up by rookie Jason Strowbridge. Additionally, rookie backup nose tackle Raekwon Davis will backup veteran Davon Godchaux, and former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill will back up Baker.
Former Cincinnati Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem, former Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier and former Baltimore Ravens defensive end Zach Sieler will also look to take the field at some point Sunday as well to make their Miami debuts.
Fitzpatrick Marches Offense into Foxborough
On offense, 16-year-veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will lead Miami’s charge. He will be accompanied by new-rostered running backs, veterans Jordan Howard and Matt Breida to hopefully give the Dolphins a run game.
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New Miami Run Game, Offensive Line in the Works
Miami had a league-worst rushing attack last season that saw Fitzpatrick lead the team in rushing yards with a little more than 200 yards. The Dolphins will turn to Howard and Breida in a committee with Howard likely to be more of the rushing back and Breida being more of the pass-catching back. Thankfully this season, Miami has a completely new offensive line outside of right tackle Jesse Davis. From right to left, Davis will be joined by rookie right tackle Solomon Kindley, veteran center Ted Karras, veteran left guard Ereck Flowers and rookie left tackle Austin Jackson.
“He (Kindley) has all the capabilities to be a great player and we have a lot of great rookies – Rob Hunt, Austin Jackson. We have good veterans – Jesse Davis, ‘E-Flow’ (Ereck Flowers) – so we’re feeling good,” Karras said. “We’re working hard. We had a good practice today and now we’ve got to take it to the field here come Sunday afternoon.”
Parker, Gilmore Face Off Again
Wide receiver DeVante Parker will again feature as Miami’s No. 1 wideout after signing a two-year extension in the offseason. He’s on a hunt for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and will likely lineup opposite Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, one of the best CBs in the league. Parker has recent history of outplaying the veteran, but the two will be one of the greatest season-opening matchups this season.
Williams, Ford Get the Call
WR Preston Williams is reported to be on hand for the game, being nearly finished with ACL surgery recovery. Furthermore, Isaiah Ford should be Miami’s No. 3 with WR Jakeem Grant on hand if needed who we should see as the kickoff/punt returner.
QB Cam Newton to Lead Patriots
Miami will be looking to send the Cam Newton-led Patriots back to their own locker rooms unhappy, as new-look New England is being led by a new signal-caller for the first time in 20 years.
Edelman, Harry Only True WR Options
He will have slot-beast Julian Edelman on hand in the contest as his optimal go-to target, as well as second-year WR N’Keal Harry. With the release of WR Mohamed Sanu ahead of the 53-man roster deadline last week, New England is lacking weapons in its receiving game.
Michel, White Must Do Better
It will likely turn to pass-catching-running back James White as its No. 3 go-to option and leaving RB Sony Michel to try and extend Patriot drives on the ground. However, while the White/Michel duo is one of the more experienced RB committees coming into 2020, they struggled mightily last year in terms of production and could still be on the decline. New England will need them to right the ship if it wants a chance on Sunday.
“We know they’re going to be tough and smart and know what they’re doing, and they’re going to have something unique for us that’s going to make us think. They’re going to challenge us every step of the way and it’s very exciting to go back,” Karras said.
Departures, Opt-Outs Plague Patriots Defense
The Patriots also lost a handful of defensive talent in free agency and to COVID-19 opt-outs. The secondary, who kept the team in a lot of its games last season, will now need the offense to pick up some slack and bail out a hurting corps.
There won’t be much home field advantage for New England with no fans in the stands this weekend, but the task of traveling to a daunting Gillette Stadium with its overpowering history could still provide sparks to a dismantled Patriot roster.
Dolphins, Patriots CBS National Game of the Week
With Miami’s growing pains of a nearly completely-rebuilt roster, a slugfest is likely in the cards for Sunday. Miami has a strong chance however to send itself to the top of the AFC East late Sunday on CBS’ national 1 p.m. eastern game of the week as the Patriots should come in with more growing pains than the new-look Dolphins.