The New England Patriots’ regular season will be kicked off this week, with the team taking on the Miami Dolphins — the third straight year the two AFC East rivals go up against each other in Week 1. Whereas the last two were both played at Gillette Stadium, however, this one will see the Patriots travel to Florida to face what will be challenging conditions.
The location is not the only thing that has changed since last year’s season opener, though. Both teams have seen considerable turnover both on and off the field, with the Dolphins in particular presenting themselves in a new look: gone is head coach Brian Flores, with former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel taking over for him.
McDaniel retained most of the defensive staff, led by ex-Patriots assistant Josh Boyer. However, he brought his own offensive assistants with him — including former New England wideout Wes Welker, the team’s current wide receivers coach. Even with Flores no longer part of the equation, the ties between New England and Miami are plenty both on the Dolphins coaching staff and the active rosters.
Let’s use this forum to take a closer look at it. Before we get started, however, a quick breakdown of where the Dolphins stand heading into this week:
- Record: 0-0 (t-1st AFC East)
- Offense: 0.0 points/game (t-1st NFL), 0.0 yards/game (t-1st NFL)
- Defense: 0.0 points/game (t-1st NFL), 0.0 yards/game (t-1st NFL)
- Turnover margin: +/- 0 (t-1st NFL)
Well, none of that comes as a surprise. It’s opening week, after all. This part of the preview will look differently next week against Pittsburgh. For now, however, let’s jump right to the Miami active roster to get to know each of the players currently with the Patriots’ Week 1 opponents.
(Note: The 53-man roster is up-to-date as of Wednesday 7 a.m. ET)
Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater, Skylar Thompson
The Miami offense will go as far as its starting quarterback will carry it: entering his third year in the league, Tua Tagovailoa will be under a lot of pressure. Not only has he played some up-and-down football his first two seasons as a pro, the team has also surrounded him with some top-tier talent. It might not be “now or never” territory just yet, but if Tagovailoa cannot elevate his game in 2022, the Dolphins might be starting to ask some questions.
The backup spots behind him, meanwhile, are manned by fellow former first-round selection Teddy Bridgewater as well as seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson.
Myles Gaskin, Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Salvon Ahmed, Alec Ingold
Two of the Dolphins’ projected top three at the running back position arrived this offseason, albeit under different circumstances. Chase Edmonds joined the team off the most productive season of his career, while Raheem Mostert missed virtually all of 2021 after suffering a knee injury in the season opener.
The No. 1 spot in the rotation, meanwhile, will likely be filled by Myles Gaskin yet again. The third-year back averaged 67.3 yards per game over the last two seasons.
Salvon Ahmed will serve as a backup option, with Alec Ingold possibly playing a valuable role in the offense as Miami’s fullback.
Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Cedrick Wilson Jr., Erik Ezukanma, Trent Sherfield
Miami has as intriguing a top three at the wide receiver spot as any team in the NFL: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Cedrick Wilson Jr. have the potential to put stress on any defense and will be a handful for New England’s rebuilt cornerback group.
Hill and Wilson Jr. arrived this offseason. The former is one of the best wide receivers in football and was a massively productive player for the Kansas City Chiefs between 2016 and 2021; the latter spent the last four years in Dallas and developed nicely into a reliable WR3. Jaylen Waddle, meanwhile, is entering his second year in the NFL; a first-round draft pick by the Dolphins last year, he caught 104 passes for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie.
Hill, Waddle and Wilson Jr. will take the majority of wide receiver snaps. The depth behind them will be provided by fourth-round rookie Erik Ezukanma and former 49er Trent Sherfield.
Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Cethan Carter, Hunter Long, Tanner Conner
Whereas the Patriots have only two tight ends on their active roster, the Dolphins are carrying five. The biggest name among the group is Mike Gesicki, who was franchise-tagged by the Dolphins earlier this offseason. At 6-foot-6, 247 pounds, Gesicki is a big-bodied target for Tagovailoa — and the connection was a productive one in 2021.
Durham Smythe is the TE2 behind Gesicki, with Cethan Carter, Hunter Long and Tanner Conner all backup and special teams options; the trio has just 10 NFL catches on its combined résumé.
Terron Armstead, Austin Jackson, Greg Little
The Tyreek Hill trade stole most of the headlines this offseason, but Miami also made a splash in free agency: the team brought long-time New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead aboard via a five-year, $75 million contract. Armstead is a bona fide left tackle, who will protect the front-side for left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The blindside, meanwhile, will be guarded by 2020 first-round draft pick Austin Jackson. Jackson made the move to the right side of the line this offseason, after playing primarily at left tackle and left guard earlier in his career.
Greg Little is the OT3/swing option behind Armstead and Jackson.
Interior offensive line
Liam Eichenberg, Connor Williams, Robert Hunt, Michael Deiter, Robert Jones
Three former second-round draft picks will start along the Miami interior offensive line: Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hunt at left and right guard, respectively, with Connor Williams at center. Williams is a new addition to the group after having started his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Michael Deiter will offer experience as a backup behind the starting three; he opened 2021 as the team’s starting center. Robert Jones is a second-year depth option.
Interior defensive line
Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, John Jenkins, Zach Sieler
Miami’s interior defensive line is led by a pair of early-round draft picks. 2019 first-round selection Christian Wilkins is the best out of the bunch and a disruptive player against both the pass and the run. His running mate is 2020 second-rounder Raekwon Davis, an intriguing if somewhat inconsistent starter-level option alongside him.
John Jenkins, himself a former third-round pick, and Zach Sieler round out the rotation. Sieler in particular has played some solid football since arriving in Miami in 2019.
Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillips, Melvin Ingram, Trey Flowers, Andrew Van Ginkel
The Dolphins have some impressive depth along their defensive edge — a group that includes former Patriots standout Trey Flowers. The veteran projects as more of a rotational option, though, with Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram as the top three.
Ogbah and Phillips had a combined 17.5 sacks last season, even though they were held sack-less in two games against New England last year. Nonetheless, they will be a tough challenge for an offensive line that has had its issues throughout the summer. The same is true for Melvin Ingram, who is on the back nine of his career but can still be disruptive.
The same is also true for Andrew Van Ginkel and particularly Trey Flowers.
Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, Channing Tindall, Samuel Eguavoen, Duke Riley
Fifth-year man Jerome Baker may not be a household name but he is the leader of Miami’s defensive front seven and a player capable of making an impact as a pass rusher — he ranked third on the team with 5.5 sacks last season — as well as a run defender and in coverage. Baker is Miami’s No. 1 linebacker, but not the only player worth mentioning.
Former Patriot Elandon Roberts still provides value on early downs, while third-round rookie Channing Tindall has a high ceiling. Samuel Eguavoen and Duke Riley offer depth on defense while also bringing experience in the kicking game to the table.
Xavien Howard, Noah Igbinoghene, Nik Needham, Kader Kohou, Keion Crossen, Justin Bethel
Miami’s cornerback group is similar to the team’s wide receiver position: there is the top three, and then the rest. The No. 1 is All-Pro Xavien Howard, one of the league’s premier press-man cornerbacks. He will be joined on the outside of the formation by Noah Igbinoghene, a former first-round draft pick who has yet to live up to his draft status. Nik Needham will be the primary option in the slot.
The other three are undrafted rookie Kader Kohou and a pair of ex-Patriots: Keion Crossen was a seventh-round pick by New England in 2018, while Justin Bethel was the most surprising of the team’s roster cuts last month. Both project to see prominent action on special teams but play only a marginal role on defense.
Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones, Eric Rowe, Eljiah Campbell
Miami has some stability at safety, with Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones and another former Patriot — Eric Rowe — returning as the top three options at the position. Miami rotates its safeties based on look, but Holland will be on the field for a majority of snaps; he is the team’s primary free safety.
Jones and Rowe, meanwhile, align closer to the line of scrimmage. The former is a classic strong safety, while the latter is a classic nickel that is capable of aligning in the slot, in the box or split out wide.
Campbell was used exclusively on special teams during his first year with the organization in 2021.
Jason Sanders, Thomas Morstead, Blake Ferguson
Miami’s special teams operation has played a lot of football, albeit not together. Place kicker Jason Sanders is entering his fifth year, while long snapper Blake Ferguson is in his third; both have been with the Dolphins throughout their careers thus far.
The most experienced member of the group is also its newest: 14-year veteran Thomas Morstead joined Miami earlier this year; the Dolphins are the punter’s fourth team in the last three years.