MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins opened 2021 NFL training camp on Tuesday at Baptist Health Training Facility. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
Will quarterback Tua Tagovailoa make the much-hyped Year 2 jump?
This is the central topic to whether the Dolphins have a successful 2021 season. In early glimpses of Tagovailoa this spring, he looked stronger physically with more zip on his throws. His wide receivers also noticed better footwork, mechanics, comfort and chemistry with them.
But the truth will come in training camp. Tagovailoa's rookie season was up-and-down and lasting memories are of him getting replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick twice in the fourth quarter of games. Tagovailoa is the unquestioned starter in 2021 and he is fully healthy after a year removed from a devastating hip injury while at Alabama.
Any and all excuses are gone. The Dolphins believe he will make that big jump, but the pressure is on.
What are realistic expectations for this season now that the Dolphins' rebuild is nearing completion?
It's playoffs or bust. This is Year 3 under coach Brian Flores, and all indications are this team is transitioning toward contention. No matter how you spin it, this Dolphins season will be a disappointment if they miss the playoffs. In 2020, the Dolphins went 10-6 and missed out on the playoffs because of a tiebreaker. In a new 17-game season, it might take 11 wins to make the postseason.
This Dolphins' roster is young, but Miami has a defense that finished in the top five in scoring last season, plus it has a much-improved skill group. The Dolphins should be considered second best team in the AFC East and chief challengers to dethrone the Buffalo Bills.
How different will the offense look under co-coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville?
The initial reaction to the Dolphins naming Studesville and Godsey was lukewarm because NFL teams rarely have two men splitting offensive duties, particularly under a defense-first head coach, but both coaches are experienced and capable of excelling in their roles.
It appears Miami's offense will be more flexible -- in terms of in-week game plans and in-game adjustments on Sundays -- something that was an issue under 2020 Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. As far as scheme, there should be more pre-snap movement, vertical deep shots and a blending of the collegiate and NFL games.
Running back Myles Gaskin said the offense looks "a lot different," and players have been excited about this scheme. The unique element of this two-man step up with Godsey and Studesville is that they have versatility and unpredictability in terms of game plans given each have varying backgrounds on their NFL résumés.
How will uncertainty around cornerback Xavien Howard's contract situation affect the defense?
Howard is Miami's best player, and the defense gets a lot worse without him. Howard skipped June's mandatory minicamp in a contract dispute, and it's troubling that there's a possibility he holds out of training camp.
Howard feels he has outplayed his contract extension and wants to at least be the team's highest paid cornerback over Byron Jones. The Dolphins believe it is too soon to make a contract adjustment after his May 2019 contract extension. There has to be some common ground found or this could get worse. If Howard holds out of camp, his next step might be asking for a trade.
Without Howard, the Dolphins are not a top-five defense and might drop to average at best. Noah Igbinoghene, the Dolphins' 2020 first-round pick, has been groomed to be a starting outside cornerback, but after a rocky rookie season, it might be too soon to give him such a big role. The Dolphins' defense is built around its top notch man-to-man cornerbacks -- and Howard is essential to Miami remaining a top defense.