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 »This Week in History
Miami Dolphins

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  The Miami Dolphins began preparing for their regular-season opener against the New England Patriots while they were preparing for the preseason finale against the St. Louis Rams.

That's not abnormal in the NFL. And considering Miami's opponent in this case is the Patriots, who come packed with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, an early start is essential.

"We're already working on some stuff," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We're getting ready to play St. Louis this week, but New England is in the back of our minds. So we've already started some preparation watching tape, getting ready to play.

"It's going to be a big game for us."

In more ways than one.

When Miami hosts New England on Sept. 7, no matter the outcome it will be used as a gauge of how far the Dolphins have progressed since last season's tumult and changes.

This isn't about the bullying scandal and its fallout.

This is about new general manager Dennis Hickey, it's about new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and his spread-the-field, up-tempo system, it's about the revamped offensive line that includes left tackle Branden Albert, arguably the biggest prize in this year's free-agent sweepstakes, and right tackle Ja'Wuan James, the first-round pick from Tennessee.

It's also about the linebackers shell game that has last year's starters in different positions. It's about winning without starting center Mike Pouncey (hip surgery), starting safety Reshad Jones (four-game suspension) and reserve defensive end Dion Jordan (four-game suspension). And it's about the growth of Tannehill and head coach Joe Philbin, who are both 15-17 entering their third seasons.

Teams do not want to make too much of the season opener of a 16-game schedule, but, yes, this is a big game.

The question is whether the Dolphins will be prepared.

"We're getting there," Philbin said. "I like the way the guys have prepared."

Ideally, the Dolphins' offense will get up to the line of scrimmage quickly, spread the field, create mismatches with its pre-snap motion, have the ball out of Tannehill's hand and into the hands of a playmaker in a matter of seconds. Or, running back Knowshon Moreno will use his downhill style to move the chains and set up play-action.

Defensively, ideally, the Dolphins will use their aggressive defensive line to set the tone by making plays and creating the opportunity for the linebackers and secondary to make plays. And they'll greatly assist what could be an offense that struggles to score touchdowns.

If the Dolphins can defeat the Patriots it'll be a testament to everything they've done in the offseason. If not, doubt will surface.

It's a big game. But win or lose, the feeling will only last for one week.

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