Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/7/12

A year without Hard Knocks only intensified the thirst fans had for the HBO program. Tonight, that thirst will finally be quenched.

For Miami Dolphins fans, the premiere of the new season represents a venture into uncharted territory - a national spotlight on the franchise.

It has been far too long since the team name lingered on the tongue of fans and analysts, so it will be interesting to see what stories become major talking points and who asserts himself as an HBO star over the next few months.

As always, there are storylines to follow during camp. Watching camp on television simply allows the fans to pay closer attention.

Here are five stories that I’ll be watching for throughout the series:



5. The defense and their conditioning - Miami’s defense played terribly last September. They were visibly out of shape, most notably in the embarrassing 38-24 Monday night loss to the Patriots in the season opener. Tom Brady threw for 517 yards in the game and many players succumbed to cramping.

With a new coaching staff, there is hope that the team will get into shape this August, and be better prepared to take on the challenges of the regular season. Changes are already underway, as presumed starter Vontae Davis has, as of yesterday’s initial depth chart, been demoted to the second team.

It will be interesting to see if the same out-of-shape players who damaged the team out of the gate last season will take it upon themselves to be better prepared this time around.

4. Chad Ochocinco Johnson - No stranger to the spotlight, the artist formerly known as Ochocinco will probably require more attention from television cameras than he will from opposing defenses. His demeanor was subdued last year as he struggled to find his footing in New England, but now he is no longer burdened with an inability to comply with the “Patriot way.”

Despite his antics, Johnson will be looked upon for veteran leadership. No such role was bestowed upon him last year, so now he will have to cope with a new set of responsibilities.

Speaking of the receivers...

3. How will the remaining receiving corps perform? Apart from Johnson, this is an under-talented group with no real leadership. Brandon Marshall made the Pro Bowl last year but was shipped to Chicago at the start of free agency in the spring.

If Johnson doesn’t perform, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline will be expected to be leaders. Both have had their moments, but Bess is more of a slot guy and Hartline has struggled to achieve consistency as a No. 2 receiver, so taking over as the No. 1 spot would be incredibly challenging.

Meanwhile, last year’s supposed steal of the Draft was Edmond “Clyde” Gates, a super-fast, tough kid who was supposed to be a stretch-the-field type of receiver. He never materialized on offense and he seemed too timid on special teams.

Early reports are that he has not improved thus far in camp, so these next few weeks may be his last shot to prove he can contribute with this organization. If he can’t, Gates may find himself looking for a new team after the preseason cuts are finalized.

2. Meet the Tannehills - Because Hard Knocks is just as much about the off-field proceedings as they are about football, Lauren Tannehill - the wife of Miami’s first round quarterback - is sure to become a star. HBO cameras will flock to the beautiful aspiring actress, and if she’s like every other good-looking girl in her twenties trying to break into acting, she won’t shy away.

As for her husband, Ryan is perhaps the most important Dolphin of the 21st century. Before him, the Dolphins hadn’t taken a quarterback in the first round since 1983, and the man they drafted that year has not yet been replaced.

The pressure on Tannehill to succeed is immense, and despite the fact that he may be given training wheels this autumn, how he performs in his first camp could say plenty about how he’ll succeed as a quarterback in the National Football League.

Meanwhile..

1. Who will start at quarterback? This is the No. 1 question heading into the Dolphins’ 2012 campaign. Matt Moore was serviceable last season. Heck, he was fantastic in spots. But to prolong that kind of performance over the course of a full season is an entirely different beast.

The thing that concerns me most about Moore is his history. Moore played the last five games for the Panthers in 2009. In those five games, he averaged 198 yards per game threw eight touchdowns, only one interception and the team went 4-1.

The following season was almost a perfect inverse. He started five games, threw five touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and the team went 1-4. Point being, last season’s success could carry over to 2012, or it could be another mirage.

Moore might not even get a chance to prove himself, David Garrard has been listed the starter as per yesterday’s depth chart, despite a year out of football. His performance in the preseason games, which start on Friday, will dictate whether or not Garrard will indeed be the man for the job.

The dichotomy between Moore and Garrard’s styles may give Miami an edge as defenses prepare for the Dolphins' offense, but without a guy that Miami can consistently count on, the team will be in trouble.

Ideally, one will outperform the other, and the Dolphins will be able to go forward with a trustworthy starter that Tannehill can learn from.

For now, we will wait and see. It all goes down tonight at 10:00 pm on HBO. Rejoice Dolphins fans, the 2012 season is here.



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