It is game day. And although the Miami Dolphins are playing but a preseason-opener, I must say I have a good feeling about this year, so mine eyes are eager to see how this team looks as it comes together. (Mine eyes? Old English much?).
Look, if I had to pick a team to win the AFC, I would pick the Indianapolis Colts. They have the quarterback who may already be the best signal-caller in the conference in Andrew Luck and I like their mix of veteran and young talent. I also like that they come at you with speed on offense and the defense has added some solid girth such as former Dolphin Kendall Langford.
But the AFC East is wide open for the Dolphins and, indeed, I could argue they should win the division. They will, after all, have the best quarterback in the division the first four games of the season -- barring a change in status to Tom Brady, who is fighting a four-game suspension to start the season.
If Brady is out, it will be Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm for the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots.
Jimmy? Is this guy an adult?
The Buffalo Bills are currently on track to go with Matt Cassel as their starter because E.J. Manuel has struggled during training camp.
The New York Jets lost their quarterback for 6-10 weeks two days ago because a teammate punched Geno Smith. And soon you'll be reading stories about how pretty good Ryan Fitzpatrick has been in his career. Except Fitzpatrick has been with six teams in 11 NFL seasons and the Jets are his fourth stop the past four years.
You know what that makes him? A journeyman.
Yes, the Jets and Bills have outstanding defenses. Yes, the Patriots have defensive genius Bill Belichick. But the Dolphins should have a very fine defense as well if one believes this unit's makeup on paper.
(They better have a fine defense on the field too or, you know, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle).
So I'm bullish on the Dolphins right now.
And tonight offers a first look at the 2015 team as coaches begin to piece this puzzle together.
Things to look for?
Yes, Billy Turner, who suddenly has emerged as a bigger question mark at right guard than the combination of Dallas Thomas and rookie Jamil Douglas at left guard, must perform. Look for him to get a longer look than most starters.
I want to see how the cornerbacks play. Zack Bowman, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett have shown signs they are going to be on the team. You want all three on the team because they are all 5-11 or taller. And two other cornerbacks who will be on the team are 5-10 Brent Grimes and 5-9 Brice McCain. So the Dolphins need length in that cornerback room to deal with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Rob Gronkowski and Andre Johnson and Sammy Watkins and Dez Bryant and Pierre Garcon.
I know I didn't mention Will Davis. He is not guaranteed a roster spot. He needs to show durability and play more physical and consistent to make this team.
I want to see the linebackers. Koa Misi is not scheduled to play. But the Dolphins need to work Chris McCain at strongside linebacker to see if he is fully versed in his assignments. They need to see if their confidence in Kelvin Sheppard in the middle is coaches falling in love with a player in the offseason or whether the affair is actually merited. And because last year was eye-opening about how durability can be an issue at linebacker for Miami, the team needs good performances from Jordan Tripp, Spencer Paysinger and others.
The others are the young guys. Somebody from the following group needs to step up on special teams and then not blow assignments if he gets a chance on defense: Mike Hull, Neville Hewitt, Jeff Luc, Zach Vigil. I'd say those four are vying for one roster spot right now. That can change but only if they make it change.
The defensive line battle is proving interesting, although not at the head of the unit. We know Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Terrence Fede and Derrick Shelby will be on the team. That doesn't leave a lot of room for guys such as Kendall Montgomery, Enmanuel Dieke, and Ray Drew.
The defensive tackle competition is going to see a good player get cut unless the Dolphins keep five. Hard to do. Right now, Anthony Johnson and C.J. Mosley are fighting for that fourth roster spot. Johnson had the advantage early in camp and is younger and cheaper.
Mosley has turned it on in the last week and he's got more experience.
Don Jones, who has not been healthy all camp is in trouble at safety. Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens and Jordan Kovacs are having productive camps. Rookie Cedric Thompson shows promise. Can't win a job if you cannot compete. The interesting thing is whether the Dolphins are comfortable letting Thompson go on waivers and then re-signing him, this time to the practice squad. Either that or Kovacs is out. The preseason will determine.
On offense, everyone assumes the five wide receivers will be DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews. Matthews has really helped himself on the field in the absence of both Parker and (lately) Stills.
But Michael Preston has also been impressive. Matt Hazel has been solid as well, although he seems like a practice squad possibility. The preseason will determine.
The Dolphins have two tight ends on the roster -- Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims. But does Gerell Robinson force the team to keep three? Are Jake Stoneburner, Arthur Lynch and Tim Semisch going to dazzle in games in ways they have not really done in practice?
Quarterbacks? It is going to be Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore. McCleod Bethel-Thompson will likely be cut and signed to the practice squad, assuming he doesn't have a terrible preseason or screws up otherwise. Josh Freeman is going to be cut, barring him becoming 2010 Josh Freeman -- and he's given no hints in practice that is about to happen.
These offensive linemen are on the team: Mike Pouncey, Branden Albert, Ja'Wuan James, Jason Fox, Jamil Douglas, Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas.
These guys have to hump to make it: Sam Brenner, Jacques McClendon, Chris Martin, J.D. Walton, Jeff Linkenbach, Michael Liedtke, and Aundrey Walker.
Right now, McClendon has the best chance of all the lower tier guys to make the team. He's been getting notable work with the first-team at right guard.
Running back: Lamar Miller and Damien Williams have done nothing to suggest they will not be the starting and second-string back this season. Williams is not explosive but he just does things right, including pass protection.
The Dolphins have taken a long, long look at LaMichael James this camp and that will likely continue against Chicago. Even on special teams. Jay Ajayi, something of a disappointment to this reporter because he hasn't been able to stay healthy, is probably on scholarship so he's not going to be cut.
Mike Gillislee and recent arrival Demitrious Bronson need to really wow because they start the evening at the back of the running back pack.
It all begins tonight at 8 p.m. eastern.