September 09, 2015

The most notable player on either the Washington Redskins or the Miami Dolphins won't be on the field in Sunday's opener at FedEx Field.

That may be a good thing for the embattled Robert Griffin III given that the biggest addition by Miami is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Kirk Cousins begins the year as the Redskins starter, and whether his pass protection holds up against an imposing Dolphins front that now includes Suh figures to be a major key to this matchup.

The story surrounding Washington was the status of Griffin, who went into training camp as the starter. That status became cloudy when Griffin, who has struggled since tearing his right ACL and MCL in a January 2013 playoff loss to Seattle, suffered a concussion in an Aug. 20 preseason game against Detroit.

That eventually paved the way for coach Jay Gruden to name Cousins the Week 1 starter. The Redskins (4-12) are 2-7 when Cousins starts compared to 14-22 overall with Griffin.

A neurologist will determine this week whether Griffin is OK to be the backup or if Colt McCoy will serve in that role. Gruden doesn't believe Griffin's presence is a distraction.

''The only distractions, like I said, are made out here,'' said Gruden, referencing the media. ''We don't feel like he's a distraction at all. We feel like he's a quarterback that's young and talented and done some great things."

Griffin was sacked three times by the Lions last month as Washington's offensive line struggled.

That unit will have its hands full Sunday when Suh makes his Miami debut after signing a $114 million contract to come over from Detroit as he became the highest-paid defensive player in league history.

''I'm definitely happy about my life,'' Suh said, ''but there's more to accomplish.''

Suh was part of the Lions' top-ranked rushing defense in 2014 and is expected to strengthen a Miami defense that ranked 24th against the run. He'll join a unit that includes Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake and emerging defensive stalwart Olivier Vernon.

The Redskins plan to use right guard Brandon Scherff to primarily contain Suh.

"It's Suh, it's Wake, it's Vernon, they have a great front," Gruden said. "(Defensive tackle Earl) Mitchell is doing a great job so I think just trying to keep them off balance (is key)."

While Suh's contract is historic, the $96 million, six-year extension Miami (8-8) handed Ryan Tannehill has drawn more scrutiny around the league. The deal has mostly been scorned since Tannehill finished 14th in the NFL last year with a 92.8 passer rating, tied for 12th with 27 touchdown passes and posted a yards-per-attempt figure of 6.86 that was sixth-worst in the league.

This will be his second season with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

''Our quarterback's going into his second year in the system, and coming off a year which was his best year of his three,'' coach Joe Philbin said. ''We anticipate he's going to continue to get better.''

Tannehill was sacked an NFL-high 139 times over his first three seasons, but the expectation is for better protection in 2015 since left tackle Branden Albert is expected to start Sunday as he comes back from reconstructive knee surgery. Albert was limited to nine games last season with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee.

Another asset for Tannehill is first-round pick DeVante Parker, who only saw action in the final preseason game after foot surgery. The former Louisville receiver is expected to play Sunday.

Washington made wholesale changes to a defense that surrendered 46 scrimmage touchdowns last year to match Chicago and Oakland for the league's worst total. Nose tackle Terrance Knighton, cornerback Chris Culliver and safety Dashon Goldson are among the notable additions.

The Redskins will want to take the pressure off Cousins by using Alfred Morris, who turned in his third straight 1,000-yard season by finishing 11th in the league with 1,074 rushing yards.

Immediately ahead of him in 10th was Miami's Lamar Miller, who gained a career-high 1,099 yards with eight touchdowns.

The mood is upbeat for the Dolphins, who lost three of four to close 2014 to mark six straight years out of the playoffs.

''The vibe here is way different,'' tackle Ja'Wuan James said. ''It seems more team-oriented, and everybody is excited."

The home team has captured the last seven meetings in this series. The Dolphins have dropped seven of their last eight road games against the NFC.

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