They have an entirely new offensive line, which is not necessarily a bad thing after quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked an NFL-high 58 times last season. Meanwhile, their defensive line has not only quality depth, but also high-end quality across the board that is a tough matchup for a Patriots offensive line in transition.
So for those who believe that winning football games starts at the line of scrimmage, there is reason for optimism in Miami.
Of course, there is more to it than that, and another major storyline with the Dolphins is a new offensive system under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor, who is installing a Chip Kelly-based, Eagles-type attack. The Dolphins hope to play fast and give Tannehill better protection as he continues to grow into the job in his third NFL season.
For more on the Dolphins, below is our weekly primer.
Head coach: Joe Philbin (third season)
Offensive coordinator: Bill Lazor
Defensive coordinator: Kevin Coyle
General manager: Dennis Hickey (first season)
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. Left tackle Branden Albert. The former Kansas City Chief was the Dolphins' big signing in free agency, inking a five-year, $46 million contract. He entered the NFL in 2008 as Kansas City's first-round pick and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Albert is considered a good athlete, and his matchup against Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones should be a good one.
2. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James. The Dolphins' 2014 first-round pick out of Tennessee (19th overall), he has been locked into a starting role since Day 1. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound James, who has 35-inch arm length, started all 49 games he played at Tennessee to set a school record for an offensive lineman and is battle tested from playing in the SEC.
3. Tight end Charles Clay. The four-year veteran out of Tulsa drew the respect of Patriots coach Bill Belichick last year in the sense that Belichick assigned matchup cornerback Aqib Talib to cover him at times with the intention of taking away the middle of the field. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Clay is coming off a terrific 2013 season in which he totaled 69 catches for 759 yards and six touchdowns. He was held out of the first two preseason games (knee) before making his preseason debut against the Cowboys.
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. Defensive tackle Jared Odrick. A late first-round draft choice of the Dolphins in 2010, the 6-foot-5, 304-pound Odrick gave left guard Logan Mankins plenty of trouble last season. Between Odrick, free-agent signee Earl Mitchell (formerly of the Texans) and 11-year veteran Randy Starks, the Dolphins play tough on the interior and can control the line of scrimmage. This looks like the top area of concern for the Patriots given their moving parts at both guard spots and center.
2. Defensive end Olivier Vernon. Everyone knows about Cameron Wake, who is one of the NFL's most dynamic pass-rushers, but Vernon has also come into his own. He totaled 11.5 sacks last season while starting 14 games. The 6-foot-2, 268-pound Vernon was a third-round draft pick of the Dolphins in 2012 out of Miami.
3. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The former Tennessee Titan and St. Louis Ram starts opposite Brent Grimes, and has usually moved into the nickel position in sub packages. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Finnegan enters his ninth NFL season and has earned the reputation as one of the NFL's top agitators.
OTHER NOTES: Second-round draft choice Jarvis Landry, of LSU, had been serving as the top punt returner in the preseason. ... Former Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno inked a one-year deal as a free agent and teams with the speedy Lamar Miller as Miami's 1-2 punch. ... Starting center Mike Pouncey won't play after undergoing hip surgery in June. ... Former Lions safety Louis Delmas signed a one-year deal in the offseason and starts. ... Starting safety Reshad Jones and 2013 first-round draft choice Dion Jordan (defensive end) are suspended for the first four games of the season. ... Holliston, Massachusetts, native Chris Grier serves as Miami's director of college scouting.