Dec 18, 2011; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (8) hands off to running back Daniel Thomas (33) during the second half against Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

Dolphins v Bucs -- Six Players to Keep an Eye On

The Miami Dolphins play their first preseason football game of 2012 on Friday night at 7:30 pm against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Sun Life Stadium.  For those who aren’t going to be in Miami to watch the game at the stadium or in Florida to watch the game live on TV, the game will be replayed on the NFL Network on Sunday at 7:30 am and then again on Monday at 1:00 pm.

Thus far, I have read all about training camp as reported in media, watched all the videos on the Official Dolphins Website, and watched Hard Knocks on HBO.  And, there are six players I will be keeping an eye on in this first preseason game of the Joe Philbin era.

Daniel Thomas — The big 6’1″ and 233 pound running back was drafted out of Kansas State in the second round of the 2011 Draft.  In his rookie season with Dolphins, he started off well with an 18 carries for 107 yard (5.9 yards per attempt) game against the Texans in Week 2.  He followed that game up with a 23 carries for 95 yards (4.1 yards per attempt) performance against the Browns. Then, nagging injuries seemed to plague Thomas for the rest of the season which concluded with a mediocre 3.5 yards per carry average.  At Kansas State, he carried the ball 298 times in 2010 for an average of 5.32 yards per attempt — he carried the ball 247 times in 2009 for an average of 5.12 yards per attempt.  I will be watching to see if Thomas can regain his form of early 2011 and whether he will be durable as in 2009 and 2010.  The Dolphins need a durable second back to Reggie Bush.

Jonathan Martin — The 6’5″ and 312 pound rookie right offensive tackle out of Stanford will be key as to whether the Dolphins offensive line can overcome the sack-fest of last year lead by the open-door policy of Marc Columbo at right tackle.  Martin was a steal in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft and needs to demonstrate the conversion from left to right tackle.  I will be watching to see if Martin keeps the pass rushers off the Dolphins’ QBs.  If Martin excels at right tackle and Long can stay healthy at left tackle, the Dolphins could have a very good year on offense.

Mike Pouncey — The 6’5″ and 303 pound second year center had snap problems in the shotgun formation during his time at the University of Florida.  He pretty much avoided that bad habit last year in his rookie season with the Dolphins.  However, during training camp, the shotgun snapping problems have cropped up again.  I will be watching to see if Pouncey can not only avoid the nightmare snaps which result in fumbles, but also that the majority of snaps hit the QB in the numbers.  This is important so that the timing based West Coast Offense can get off to a good start each play.

Sean Smith — The tall 6’3″ and 218 pound fourth year corner back has been having an outstanding training camp thus far.  He prepared well in the off-season entering camp in good shape having lost weight to improve his quickness.  Entering into camp, many questioned whether Richard Marshall would replace Sean Smith in the starting line-up.  Instead, Marshall has replaced Vonte Davis in the first depth chart — raising questions about Davis and not Smith.  I will be watching to see if Smith can lock down the opposing team’s big wide receiver, so that the defensive line can get to the opposing QB.  Let’s face it, the Dolphins have a lot of question marks at safety this year.  In order for the Phins to defend the pass better than last year, they need outstanding play from their corners to coincide with an consistent pass rush.

Vonte Davis — The 5’11″ and 205 pound fourth year corner back with a lot of potential made his reality TV show debut on HBO’s Hard Knocks portrayed as an out-of-shape and lazy prima donna who was demoted to the second team.  Last year, it was basically the same improper off-season preparation that resulted in Davis having a season plagued by hamstring injuries.  It might be worthwhile to read my last year’s article on “What’s with the Dolphins’ Hamstrings — A Doctor’s Perspective” to gain an idea on how the improper preparation for an NFL season can lead to hamstring injuries.  I will be watching to see if the national TV embarrassment of Hard Knocks will light a fire under Davis to turn his training camp around — the Dolphins’ coaching staff and team management could not have planned this more perfectly.  And, I will be watching to see if the improper preparation for the season will result in plaguing Davis again with bad hammies.

Ryan Tannehill — Yes, I too will be watching closely the debut of the Dolphins’ 6’4″ and 222 pound rookie quarterback taken out of Texas A&M with the eighth pick of the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.  But, I will be looking at something very specific.  I must admit that I was not a big fan of picking Tannehill.  I thought that he was too inexperienced (19 college starts) and not an accurate passer (only 61.6% completion percentage with a 2.82% interception percentage).  However, Tannehill looked good in the Dolphins’ first scrimmage completing 10 of 13 passes (77%) with one TD, no INTs and one Sack.  It is interesting to note that his completed passes reportedly included to Bess (1 yard), Johnson (9 yards), Clay (8 yards), Bess (6 yards), Bess (18 yards), and Fasano (TD) — all players that will see action during the regular season.  It seems like Philbin is giving Tannehill a chance to develop synergy with the prime time receivers.  Thus, I will be specifically watching for Tannehill’s accuracy — that is, not only whether he completes a pass, but whether he can put his receivers in a position to make a play after the catch — I felt this was the real downside of Chad Henne.  If Tannehill can demonstrate accuracy in the preseason, I don’t think that automatically makes him the starter come the first game of the regular season.  But, it makes it possible for the Dolphins to trade the veteran QB (Garrard or Moore) who is not named the regular season starter (maybe, for a valuable second or third round pick in 2013).

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What do you think?  Who will you be watching in the first preseason game?

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Tags: Daniel Thomas David Garrard Joe Philbin Jonathan Martin Matt Moore Miami Dolphins Mike Pouncey NFL Ryan Tannehill Sean Smith Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vonte Davis

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