1. Is Ryan Tannehill the next Dan Marino?
In truth, it’s the only question that matters this year. Ryan Tannehill will take his lumps — every rookie QB does — but if he can survive as the starter for all 16 games, he’ll be that much better for it next year. Perspective: Peyton Manning threw 28 picks his rookie year.
2. Does Tannehill have anyone to throw to?
Chad Johnson’s inglorious run with the team ended after one preseason game, one dropped pass and one (alleged) head-butt. Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee and Brian Hartline (if he’s healthy) are the Dolphins’ three-most accomplished receivers. After that, it’s just a bunch of names.
3. How will the Dolphins secondary fare without Vontae Davis?
By trading the former first-round pick, Vontae Davis, the Dolphins instantly turned one of their deepest positions into one of their thinnest. Sean Smith has looked great in camp, and Richard Marshall appears to be a solid addition. But there will be lots of pressure on Nolan Carroll.
4. How will Joe Philbin handle adversity?
Thanks to ‘Hard Knocks’ and Johnson’s penchant for embarrassing the organization, we know Joe Philbin is a no-nonsense guy who, among other foibles, likes a clean locker room and tied shoes. But come the first three-game losing streak, we’ll get a true test of his mettle.
5. Will Mike Sherman’s hurry-up offense work?
Tony Sparano’s ground and pound days are long over. Through two preseason games, the Mike Sherman offense had thrown the ball four times as often as it ran it. But if their young QB struggles with accuracy, quick three-and-outs could mean long days for the Fins’ defense.
6. Where will the pass rush come from (other than Cameron Wake)?
Cameron Wake’s 28 sacks the past three years would suggest he’ll face double-teams this season. The Dolphins’ lack of a complementary pass rusher on the other side all but ensures it. Olivier Vernon will get his chances in passing situation. Will the former Cane make the most of them?
7. Can the right side of the offensive line hold up?
A unit already a cause for concern got a little thinner before the third preseason game, when Eric Steinbach announced his retirement. That all but assured that Artis Hicks and Jonathan Martin would be the team’s starting right guard and right tackle, respectively.
8. Will Brandon Fields lead the league in punting?
Brandon Fields finished third in 2011, averaging 48.8 yards per punt and earning a four-year contract extension. If Miami can’t move the ball this year, he very well could improve on that figure. The deeper within their own territory the drives stall, the more space for Fields to kick.
9. Can the Dolphins compete for a playoff berth?
It’s been four years since Miami last played in the AFC postseason. And on paper, it’s hard to see them getting back in 2012. But consider the schedule: the team plays just five games against playoff teams from last year. That alone suggests an improvement on last year’s six wins.
10. Does Jeff Ireland survive the season?
The Dolphins’ embattled general manager Jeff Ireland has a lot riding on the success of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If the rookie quarterback succeeds, Ireland is vindicated. If not — and the team struggles — it could be the end of his five-year run in Miami.