The intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday could be the moment when the Dolphins quarterback competition comes into focus, when a No. 1 receiver emerges and when a talented defense forges its identity.
Or, it could be just another practice, albeit in front a bigger crowd than normal.
If recent history is any guide, the best advice is this: Enjoy the mock game, held at Sun Life Stadium at 9:15 a.m., for what it is a dress rehearsal for an exhibition game and you wont be disappointed.
Need a reminder why? Just look at the unofficial stats from one year ago.
Chad Henne went 11 for 17, threw for roughly 135 yards, three touchdowns and had just one interception. Thats a quarterback rating of 104.2.
And guess who caught all three touchdown passes: Brandon Marshall.
So much for past performance predicting future returns.
[On Thursday,] we had 192 or 194 snaps of third-down [situations], Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. If one quarterback makes one good play on third-and-5 [Saturday], does that override the 48 other snaps? Youve got to be careful about that.
The body of work is more important.
Said cornerback Richard Marshall: You cant put too much weight into it, because were not in an actual game setting.
That said, coaches throughout the league hold these glorified games for a reason (and not just to give fans an early look at the team).
After seven months of nothing but drills and weightlifting, its the first chance they get to evaluate their team in a game situation, albeit in a controlled environment.
Want to evaluate along with them? Here are five story lines to follow if youre awake in time:
• Quarterback battle: It has been the dominant narrative all summer.
The principals (as if you dont already know): the Incumbent (Matt Moore) against the Comeback Kid (David Garrard) against the Next Great Hope (Ryan Tannehill).
Philbin said Thursday theyre essentially even after Week 1 (although Garrard has looked superior to most observers outside the team), so whoever plays best will have the inside track to start Fridays exhibition opener against Tampa Bay. Philbin reiterated Friday that he hopes to have a decision made heading into the third exhibition game, which is traditionally when the first units get the most work although that isnt hard and fast.
Go out and get better, Tannehill said, when asked what he wants to get out of Saturday. To have a full live practice, its different. Well be able to get into more of a flow of the game.
• A brave new (defensive) world: How does Cameron Wake, listed at 250 pounds, hold up with his hand in the dirt most every play? Can Karlos Dansby adapt to playing a true middle linebacker for the first time?
These are just a few of the questions that come with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyles new system. And although the 4-3 defense in theory is less exotic than a three down-lineman front, no disciple of Marvin Lewis is just going to sit back and play Cover-2 in the secondary.
Weve got some guys up front who can rush the passer, some physical guys, cornerback Vontae Davis said. Weve got some young talent, but its up to us to put it all together.
• Playing time up for grabs: Heres what we do know about the Dolphins receiving situation: Davone Bess is a lock to make the team (and most likely start). Everyone else is a question mark.
Chad Johnson needs to translate a strong first week into dependable production. Receivers such as Legedu Naanee and Roberto Wallace have made the most of their opportunities (particularly with Brian Hartline out), but neither is guaranteed a roster spot. The clock is ticking for rookies B.J. Cunningham, Rishard Matthews and Jeff Fuller to prove they belong.
• Time to answer the Bell: Its hard to play defense without two safeties, and so the Dolphins will need to decide on one to replace Yeremiah Bell. Miami appears to want Chris Clemons to be that guy, but Jimmy Wilson and Tyrone Culver each got a chance to play with the first-string when Clemons missed time with injury.
• Return of the Dolfans? The Dolphins havent won a playoff game since 2000, and when things went south in 2011, disappointed fans decided to finally hit the team where it hurt: the ledger sheet.
The Dolphins drew an average crowd of just 60,886 last year, fifth-worst in the NFL. Sun Life Stadium was just 81 percent filled to capacity. This scrimmage is the first true test of any renewed enthusiasm: Its being held on a Saturday morning, and admission is free.