Is 2017 a playoff or bust season for the Dolphins?

The Miami Dolphins play the Philadelphia Eagles this Thursday night after spending a week in intense practices and drills in joint practices with the Eagles.

For the Dolphins, getting productive reps in pads for their starters was critical for bringing the team into a game-like atmosphere and creating camaraderie to face adversity heading into the season.

Starting with:

Quarterback Jay Cutler, based on multiple reports has looked good all week and has worked most of the rust off the last couple of weeks after being thrust into the role of “starter” by head coach Adam Gase.

He seems to be precise in his drops, crisp in his throws, and now has a better command for an offense he ran in Chicago with coach Gase and last season before an injury to his labrum in his right shoulder, his throwing shoulder.

Said Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel during this week’s practices: “Jay Cutler can side left and right, buying time in the pocket. It’s honestly something I’ve never seen (don’t judge me…I covered bad QBs).”

Cutler’s rapport with his teammate has improved rather quickly and in terms of utilizing his personnel, he continues to compliment his playmaking wide receivers as smart and talented football players.

For now, seeing Jay Cutler get meaningful reps on Thursday will show whether or not the Dolphins are ready for the season as an offense and as a team. The question is, will Cutler show he meshes with the offense and the team after week long prep?

What about a healthy O-line-Both Mike Pouncey (C) and Ja’wuan James (RT) will be starting and fans are hoping they can stay healthy leading into the season. The biggest question mark will be Pouncey and whether his surgically repaired hip can last longer than half the season. Will James play convincingly at Right Tackle or be a cap casualty in 2018?

At running back: Ajayi is healthy and he could show more than his -2 carry debut. The hope with Ajayi is that he returns to form so that Gase has an additional option if Cutler fails to get into a rhythm. Can Kenyan Drake earn some playing time since we’ve seen what he can do catching the football and flashed some speed on returns. Can the Dolphins running back attack show they can help the offense when it slows to a crawl?

Looking at the defense, after the recent signing of Rey Maualuga, the Dolphins appear to have strengthened their counter-attack against the run.

In spite of their 31-7 loss to the Ravens where not all the starters played deep into the game, it’s going to be an interesting battle on Thursday with Philadelphia featuring a strong running game and pass game.

As a defense, no one should count out Cam Wake. Wake might get a few less snaps this season, but being considered old, Wake isn’t.

In fact, Wake, based on a report by Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post, Wake is going hard each and every day. Wake goes at it with an intensity akin to a rookie trying to make the team, but more so as veteran imposing his will during these joint practices.

However, questions remain on how Matt Burke will allocate reps to not only Wake, but rookie Charles Harris. We know what Harris can do in practice and we know that his spin move to rush the quarterback is a throwback and an art form. The question on Harris is can he handle pass rush duty at 255-260 pounds facing big mauling tackles and guards.

My hope is that Harris will continue to evolve and will be used in those passing & third and long situations where Miami needs some get off and good consistent pass rush to make game-changing plays.

At Safety, the Dolphins need Reshad Jones to be stellar and show that physicality he’s known for. They need him to be a tone-setter and lead the defense. Bottom line Jones must stop the run and make tackles. However, he can’t do it alone which is why the Dolphins must get a lot out of their linebackers Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. What will the Dolphins do with Jones fellow safety Nate Allen when T.J. McDonald serves his eight game suspension?

Finally, while this third preseason game serves as an all important dress rehearsal for NFL teams, the Dolphins must play as competitively as possible and in all phases of the game to get some good film on the players fighting for spots and a good look at the starters who are a sure to be ready week one versus Tampa Bay?

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