The Dolphins will be back on the practice field Wednesday when they begin their full-on preparations for the season opener against the Tennessee Titans.
They have gone through a lot to get to this point, starting in the spring with the offseason program and moving on to training camp and the preseason.
But there was one week that maybe stood out above all the others in its significance, the week NFL teams call "the dress rehearsal."
Every hardcore NFL fan has heard the term used to describe the next-to-last preseason game, the one where every team's starter gets the most playing time. But that's just one reason it's called "the dress rehearsal."
It's the one week between February and the second Sunday in September that most resembles the regular season.
The idea, actually, is to make it as close to a regular season week as possible.
"Our schedule throughout the week will be exactly what we'll experience Week 1 all the way through Week 16," center Daniel Kilgore said. "It's great for us because it's the one preseason game that we actually game-plan. It's something that the offensive unit really looks forward to because we know we're going to get to play extended time in this game. The week leading up to it, the schedule is the same as what it will be in the season, the meetings are a little bit longer, the workload on the field might be a little bit lighter, but the mentality of things kind of shifts different than just a normal preseason game. Knowing that this is what we're going to go through in the regular season, we're kind of getting ourselves ready and prepared for that."
The "dress rehearsal" began this season two days after the Dolphins faced the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Friday, Aug. 17.
With the third preseason game scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 25, Head Coach Adam Gase just moved everything up one day to simulate a regular season game week, meaning Tuesday became a typical Monday, Wednesday became Tuesday, and so forth.
So the last actual practice of the week, which in the regular season will be Friday, this time took place Thursday.
The schedule even extended to quarterback Ryan Tannehill's weekly media session. It occurs on Wednesdays during the regular season, so for that one week it happened Tuesday.
The first question, not surprisingly, involved his thoughts on that upcoming all-important next-to-last preseason game.
"I think it's obviously the closest thing you get to a real game as far as game-plan preparation," Tannehill said that day. "We're setting it up how we go through a normal week so meetings, install, everything is pretty similar to a normal week. So it gives us a good dress rehearsal, so to speak, of your process through the week and creating habits of on what days you do what, and obviously getting ready to play."
That third preseason, against the Baltimore Ravens, also provided another, more extensive, opportunity for newcomers to jell with their new teammates.
That was that case for Kilgore, as it was for defensive tackle Akeem Spence and several others.
"It's very important because that's when you've got more of your starters out there," Spence said. "You're playing into the second half. It's pretty much a dress rehearsal for the season, for when Tennessee rolls in here. Obviously on defense, speaking about the defensive side of the ball, you want to play well, especially the guys up front, get to the quarterback, causing some disruption, doing what we do and just playing well as a unit, as a defense all together and putting out a nice product for the fans and everybody to come watch on Sunday."
As it turned out, the only player listed first on the Dolphins depth chart to miss the game against Baltimore was wide receiver DeVante Parker, sidelined because of a finger injury.
The Dolphins ended up losing that game against Baltimore, but the starters built a 10-3 halftime lead before most of them were given the rest of the night off.
For the offense, the most encouraging thing was a 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that ended with an 8-yard pass from Tannehill to new wide receiver Danny Amendola. It was the first time the first-team offense had gotten into the end zone in the preseason.
"The touchdown drive was excellent," Kilgore said. "We started slow in the first quarter. The second quarter we were able to pick up the tempo, move the ball down the field really quick. Danny did a great job of getting open, Ryan did a great job finding him and then the line just gave Ryan time. (After) they connected, Danny made a couple guys miss, got upfield, got vertical and scored. That was exciting because this is our dress rehearsal and that was the first touchdown that the unit had had this preseason. So it was exciting. It was something for us to build off of."
For good measure, the offense added a field goal right before the half after driving 62 yards in only 45 seconds.
"I still think we are headed in the right direction," Tannehill said after the game. "Obviously something you want to be able to do is start fast, so I was disappointed, personally, disappointed as an offense in how we started the game. We can't consistently start games like that. When you get behind early … the defense did a good job of keeping us in that thing. … But you can't expect your defense to keep a goose egg up there for that long. Props to the defense for making it happen, but as an offense we have to be able to move the ball effectively early in the game and get points."
Besides holding Baltimore to three points in the first half, the defense accomplished its goal of tightening up the run defense after a difficult outing against Carolina. The Dolphins gave up 3.9 yards per rushing attempt in that first half, an average that goes to 3.05 if not for a 21-yard run by quarterback Robert Griffin III on an option play.
"I know we wanted to stop the run because Carolina the week before, we gave up that long run and it kind of left a bad taste in everybody's mouth," Spence said. "We just wanted to come out that third game, stone the run, get after the quarterback and play the type of defense that we're capable of playing like we do out here in practice. We kind of got that taste out of our mouth and kind of got the defense rolling a little bit and looked the way we're supposed to.
"It's never going to be perfect. You watch the tape. You see what you did well, you see the things that you did wrong and you come out here in practice and you just try to fix it, fix our run fits, pass rush, whatever we're doing. You just always try to correct the mistakes and then just try to move on to the next week. Football is never perfect, so always working."
It also was a good night for the special teams, as Vincent Taylor blocked a field goal attempt in the second quarter.
This was nothing new for Taylor, who blocked a field goal and an extra point as a rookie last season, but it was the first time Spence got to see him do it in person.
"That was awesome," Spence said. "Vince is a beast. When I first got here, I noticed he was like the main guy blocking field goals last year and just to see him get one in the dress rehearsal, that was big and I was very happy for him. Then he went out and got a sack as well. He had a real big game, and you're just happy for your brother."
Even though the Dolphins ended up on the losing side of the scoreboard that night, there were enough highlights to leave the game with a positive feeling.
Head Coach Adam Gase had stated his goals in the days leading up to the game, and for the most part those were met.
"Every team in the league would really like to play well in the third preseason game," he said. "Well, there's a lot of teams saying that and you know half of them are going to be angry and half of them are going to be like, 'All right, I feel good going into the season.' I just never feel like you can be too high, be too low. You have to understand, what are our strengths and what are our weaknesses? And try to get better at your weaknesses and try to put together good drives. That's what we need to do. That's the No. 1 thing for us on offense, and the defense, it's the same thing. We have goals for this week and we want to try to get better from last week. That's what we're working on."
The "dress rehearsal" over, the Dolphins moved on to the final preseason game and another crucial time heading into the regular season, finalizing the 53-man roster.
It all set the stage for this week when the real fun begins.