The Miami Dolphins could have as many as five new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting-lineup projection:
Quarterback (Ryan Tannehill): He played his best football in his first season under head coach Adam Gase, posting a career-high 93.5 passer rating in 2016. But a sprained ACL and MCL that caused him to miss four games (but didn’t require surgery) does lead to some questions. Tannehill, who looked fine in the spring, must prove early in the regular season that he has no lingering issues from the injury.
Tailback (Jay Ajayi): Last year’s breakout player for Miami worked diligently in the offseason to become an all-around running back. Ajayi doesn’t want to come off the field on third down, and he looked much better catching footballs out of the backfield in the spring.
Wide receiver (Jarvis Landry): He tied his friend Odell Beckham Jr. for the most catches during a player's first three seasons in NFL history at 288. Landry is the Dolphins’ most consistent receiver and their emotional leader. However, both sides remain at a standstill regarding a contract extension heading into training camp.
Wide receiver (Kenny Stills): The Dolphins spent $32 million this offseason to re-sign their best deep threat. Stills’ speed stretches the defense and opens up things for other pass-catchers underneath. He led Miami with nine touchdown receptions last season.
Wide receiver (DeVante Parker): The former first-round pick is Miami’s most athletically gifted receiver, but Parker’s production has been inconsistent. Coaches say his work ethic and attention to detail have improved significantly in Year 3. If Parker stays healthy, he could be due for a breakout season.
Tight end (Julius Thomas): The former Pro Bowler had two down years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But Miami was elated to acquire Thomas in a trade and reunite him with Gase, who got the most out of the tight end when they were together with the Denver Broncos. Thomas should be a threat in the red zone to help Tannehill.
Left tackle (Laremy Tunsil): In a move that had been a year in the making, Tunsil is expected to move from left guard to left tackle this season to replace veteran Branden Albert, who was traded to the Jaguars. The former first-round pick was a stud left tackle at Ole Miss, and he shouldn’t have many growing pains. Tunsil has the size and athleticism to protect Tannehill’s blind side.
Left guard (Ted Larsen): The Dolphins signed Larsen in free agency to fill the spot vacated by Tunsil. The journeyman guard is on his fourth team in eight seasons. Other players in the mix to compete with Larsen in training camp include Kraig Urbik and rookie Isaac Asiata.
Center (Mike Pouncey): It has become an annual question of whether Pouncey can stay healthy. He hasn’t played all 16 games since 2012 and missed 11 games last season due to a hip injury. The Dolphins will be very cautious with Pouncey this summer to make sure he gets a healthy start into the regular season.
Right guard (Jermon Bushrod): The Dolphins re-signed Bushrod to a one-year contract after he started all 16 games at guard last season. He was the second highest-graded offensive lineman for the Dolphins in 2016, according to the coaching staff.
Right tackle (Ja'Waun James): Miami’s 2014 first-round pick is a solid player who still has room to grow. Coaches want to see James play with more of a mean streak. The Dolphins also picked up his fifth-year option for 2018, which is worth approximately $8 million.
Defense end (Cameron Wake): The ageless Wake, 35, continues to defy convention. Coming off an Achilles injury, he led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and made his fifth Pro Bowl. Wake also is a leader on the defense.
Defensive end (Andre Branch): He signed a $27 million extension in the offseason after a solid 2016 campaign. Branch needs to play better against the run in order to take the next step.
Defensive tackle (Ndamukong Suh): The five-time Pro Bowler had another strong year, but that was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Miami was 30th against the run. Suh is doing his part, but the entire front seven must improve with knowing their assignments around the defensive tackle.
Defensive tackle (Jordan Phillips): Time is running out on the former second-round pick to prove he can be a full-time starter. Phillips’ inconsistency has frustrated Miami’s coaching staff at times, but he still has potential.
Weakside linebacker (Kiko Alonso): Last season’s leading tackler is expected to move from middle linebacker to outside linebacker, although that is not set in stone. Alonso, who is a bit undersized, took a pounding in the middle last season and at times was pushed around. That led to some injuries late in the season. Moving outside will allow Alonso to use his speed and cover tight ends and slot receivers more.
Middle linebacker (Raekwon McMillan): Coaches have been impressed thus far with McMillan’s ability to call signals and line up the defense as a rookie. McMillan is athletic and a solid tackler. Former starter Koa Misi (neck) has yet to see the practice field and could lose his job if McMillan continues to play well.
Strongside linebacker (Lawrence Timmons): Miami’s big free-agent pickup will add stability and physicality to the front seven. Timmons has plenty of big-game experience from his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and should fit right in.
Cornerback (Byron Maxwell): Despite a slow start in 2016, Maxwell was a pleasant surprise for Miami after being acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Maxwell is one of the Dolphins' few experienced corners, and he will be counted on to bring along the younger players at the position.
Cornerback (Xavien Howard): The second-year player has the athleticism and potential to be a No. 1 cornerback after injuries derailed Howard’s rookie season. He is a natural playmaker with good coverage skills.
Strong safety (Reshad Jones): He returns from season-ending shoulder surgery and will provide an immediate boost to Miami’s secondary. Jones is a big hitter and tone-setter for the defense who will help with both the run and pass defense.
Free safety (Nate Allen): The veteran free-agent signing must quickly develop chemistry with Jones at safety. Miami also has T.J. McDonald (coming off suspension halfway through the season) as insurance if Allen doesn’t produce.
Kicker (Andrew Franks): He had his ups and downs, but Franks finished strong with a pair of tough field goals in the playoff loss to the Steelers. Franks doesn't get a lot of attempts but needs to make the most of every kick in an important Year 3.
Punter (Matt Darr): The third-year punter has been a nice find, after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2015. He had a career-high 32 punts inside the 20 last season.
Long snapper (John Denney): Miami’s longest-tenured player and NFLPA player rep is entering his 13th season. Denney has gone mostly unnoticed for more than a decade, which is a good sign.