As the Miami Dolphins get set for their dress rehearsal at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, starters need to be ready to take full advantage of the extra snaps they will see on Saturday as it will be the perfect time for these Dolphins to set the season’s tone.
So far, through the first 3 games of this year’s elongated pre-season, this team’s performance has been dominated by slow starts, inconsistencies, and flashes of brilliance that have been too few and too far between.
Defensively, the starting defense has been on point as they seem to be on track towards playing consistent football in preparation for the start of the regular season. Getting Defensive Tackle Randy Starks back from injury to bolster an already strong unit along with the establishment of Dimitri Patterson as the starter at Corner opposite of Brent Grimes, gives the defense a semblance of being primed to set a tone on Saturday with the opportunity to get in a groove with more playing time.
However, the offense is still gelling, looking for any sense of rhythm that would help them establish their identity as they approach the start of the regular season in Cleveland.
With that rhythm severely impacted by the loss of seam threat Tight End Dustin Keller, the Dolphins‘ offense needs to not only adjust to this loss but quickly adapt their offensive plan to fit their available personnel while continuing to build chemistry on a unit that is set to roll out a handful of new starters and another starting at a new position.
Among the situations needing to be clarified before opening day, are an offensive line needing to figure out who’s going to start at Right Guard and who’s going to provide insurance at Left Tackle behind starter Jonathan Martin. The line received a boost this week with the return of injured starter John Jerry, which allows stop gap Josh Samuda to return to his natural position of center and boost the overall depth on the interior.
With utility back up Nate Garner still recovering from his injury and emerging back up Left Tackle Will Yeatman on the shelf as well, the Dolphins find themselves in a precarious position when it comes to depth at the hardest position to play on the line protecting the Quarterback’s blind side. Lets be real for a second, the season could be in serious jeopardy with a significant injury to Martin, because who on this roster would replace him?
At least in Keller’s case, the Dolphins have inexperienced yet talented options in place to plug in and move forward, unfortunately they’re not afforded the same luxury at Left Tackle.
Other questions aside from who’s stepping up at Tight End in Keller’s absence and who’s filling in along the offensive line, are who’s going to start at Running Back and who’s going to seize the forth Wide Receiver job. 3rd year pro Daniel Thomas and 2nd year pro Lamar Miller are locked in a battle to be the opening day starter which is only close because of Miller’s inconsistency and Thomas‘ improvement.
Daniel Thomas has taken this off-season seriously and has made significant strides in showing off his all around ability, running hard between the tackles, catching passes cleanly, and protecting the passer. So far this pre-season, Thomas has been the more productive and consistent performer of the two.
While Miller obviously possesses more explosive ability, he has to take charge in this dress rehearsal if he hopes to hang onto the starting position that was handed to him at the beginning of the off-season. He needs to exhibit more consistency and concentration in order to hold onto that top spot. He has shown he’s more than capable in all aspects of the position, but he can’t be mishandling handoffs and dropping critical third down passes if he expects to take his game to the next level.
As far as the Wide Receiver position goes, the Dolphins top 3 players are arguably one of the top trios in the league but depth behind them is very thin with very little experience and no one yet to step up and stake claim on the position left vacant after Armon Binns‘ season ending injury and eventual release. This competition got real last week as Rishard Matthews returned from injury but he has to fend off competition seeking to make the roster in Chad Bumphis, Marvin McNutt, and Brian Tyms. As Binns‘ and Keller’s injuries would illustrate, you can never have enough playmakers.
Against a talented Buccaneers defense that fields a very talented secondary, they will be a formidable test for Miami’s fringe Receivers and Tight End’s looking to carve out some playing time in the regular season.
Saturday may be just another pre-season game or opportunity for the Dolphins to identify their main contributors and top back ups, but most importantly it’s a major opportunity for the Miami Dolphins to start fast and set the tone for the kind of season they hope and expect to have in 2013.