Fans have been waiting a long time for the Miami Dolphins to role out an offensive strategy that is fast moving and aerial. Tonight, the long awaited debut (against another team) of the new look Miami West Coast Offense will be on display as the Joe Philbin era officially begins.
It’s easy to get hyped about the return of Dolphins football, but watching tonight’s game should come with some measure of caution. What that measure is comes down to what exactly you are going to be watching for. I recommend that you don’t look for progress. Regardless of the final score, you may be disappointed. Instead, I recommend these five things to watch, and these five things not to watch for.
Watch – The play on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Last years turnstile of Vernon Carey and Marc Columbo are gone and in their place is rookie Jonathan Martin at the tackle spot and FA RG Artis Hicks. The first team unit is still learning on that side but it will be the play of the back-ups that could go a long way in determining the overall successful changes that have been made. Philbin teaches a more athletic approach to the line of scrimmage offensively instead of the brooding hulking power graders that Sparano used the last four years.
Don’t Watch – The left side of the line. It’s unlikely that Jake Long and Richie Incognito will get much playing time and their back-ups are actually pretty decent. Nate Garner and Lydon Murtha have been pretty steady for the team when they are healthy. The Dolphins will be running a faster unit on the “O” as well and with that comes roll outs so protection from that side should be much easier to get.
Watch – The Dolphins defensive front seven. Finally the defense get’s to hit someone and a QB to boot. We know what Cameron Wake is capable of and we know that Paul Solia is a legit NT, but is he a legit defensive tackle in a 4-3? The outside linebacker positions and the rotation of the inside is going to give fans a clue as to how the defense is working under new DC Kevin Coyle. From the outside DE’s to the rookies there is plenty up front to watch defensively.
Don’t Watch – The Miami Dolphins running backs. Lamar Miller will not likely see many if any first team snaps tonight and that is perfectly fine with me. The fact that he is coming back from an injury is enough to warrant watching on the field and see how his cuts have progressed. His ability to take an NFL style hit and hold on to the ball as well. Daniel Thomas will get first team reps and even for a pre-season game seeing how he is attacking the holes will be paramount to a turnaround this season. Reggie Bush isn’t likely to see much playing time either. The Dolphins offense in general will be fun to watch but I wouldn’t concentrate too much on the RB’s this week.
Watch – Vontae Davis. We saw him on Hard Knocks looking sluggish and lazy. Tonight he should some significant work rolling in and out with Richard Marshall. The Dolphins corners will be allow fans to really gauge their progress. Sean Smith said last Friday in the interview we conducted with him that most of the changes in Kevin Coyle’s defense was nothing really difficult outside of the new terminology. We will see.
Don’t Watch – Oh you want to, I know you do, but there is no real reason to watch Chad Johnson tonight unless he plays most of the first quarter or all of it and the Dolphins offense is on the field a lot. Johnson will get his looks but like most of the veterans he will likely find himself on the sidelines most of the the first half or quarter. This is also the first time that the Dolphins QB’s can be hit so there is a very big likelihood that the rust is going to show a bit.
Watch – The pace of the offense. Over the last few years Dolphins fans have witnessed a lazy approach on the field. From breaking the huddle to the line of scrimmage to 2-minute drills. The lack of urgency on the part of the offense significantly wasted time and when the team needed to move the ball quickly they simply didn’t know how. From practice pace to the WCO, this offense is geared towards speed in how they do things. Watch to see how quickly the team gets to the line of scrimmage, gets on and off the field, and how they approach both sides of the ball with a sense of being faster.
Don’t watch – The Dolphins TE’s. An integral part of the WCO, the Dolphins TE’s will be an important cog in the offensive success this season. So why not watch them? For starters, the QB’s are going to be running this against a full speed contact defense for the first time and it will be very easy to get overly exuberant with numbers of catches. Like the RB’s out of the back-field, the Dolphins QB’s will likely look to their TE’s and RB’s to dump balls to and thus inflating their numbers. I would look more at weeks two and three as the offense get’s more acclimated. At that point we may have a better idea of whether the team is utilizing those two positions as check down receivers or if they truly intend to get them numbers similar to what was done in GB.
Watch – Joe Philbin’s coaching style. Is Philbin as mild mannered on the game field as he is in practices? This is the first game at any level that Philbin will coach as the head man. He will determine the time outs and call the pace of the game from the sidelines. In the booth, Mike Sherman will call the plays for the Dolphins and despite the fact that the HC in GB called the plays, Philbin will not. A lot can be learned from watching how a coach manages a game and tonight we will see what he needs to work on. We all know that Tony Sparano suffered through mistakes his first year as an HC and it’s only natural that Philbin will do the same. The question will be how quick he learns from those mistakes. More than anything else we will see this pre-season, the actions or non-actions of Joe Philbin will go a long way to determining the mental direction of this football team.
Don’t watch – For fist pumps. The Dolphins offense is the biggest change in Miami since the days of Dan Marino. Jimmy Johnson used Marino in a way that Shula did, let him fly, but following both JJ’s and Marino’s departure, the Dolphins have run a power attack with a passing game that compliments it. From Dave Wannstedt to Tony Sparano, a power running game with a balanced methodical passing attack has been the norm. This year, it’s an aerial attack supported by a fact paced rhythmic rushing attack. If you are looking for 3rd down and long calls that are safe so the team can make an easier field goal. You will hopefully be disappointed.
Chad Johnson and how he runs his routes, starting FB Javorskie Lane‘s blocking ability…is he Miami’s John Kuhn? The play of the 4th through 6th WR’s who will be battling for the final spots on that positions final roster, that battle will start to come more into focus tonight.