This weekend represents the most exciting preseason game for most NFL fans. Traditionally, the second to last preseason game (we can’t refer to it as the “third” preseason game this year, due to the Hall of Fame game) is the game in which NFL clubs first team units play anywhere from two to three quarters, leaving little room for the players on the bubble to make an impression. Several of these players may not get a single snap in the game.
This should represent a true test of what the starters can do, even if the Dolphins may or may not be without several key players due to injuries. This will be the truest representation of the Dolphins starting offense, defense and special teams of the entire pre-season, as injuries will have to be dealt with during the regular season as well. Miami is left with a number of questions and storylines that should be answered or clarified during this weekend’s game, or else these needs will become even more glaring.
Some of the most poignant things to keep an eye on this weekend, beyond the play of the starting units are:
The Tight End Situation
You may not have heard about it, but one of Tannehill’s favorite targets of the preseason went down with a season (and potentially career ending) injury against the Texans last weekend. Sarcasm aside, the Dolphins are left with a number of unproven options at the Tight End position. Rookie Dion Sims has looked decent. Charles Clay and Evan Rodriguez are more suitable to the hybrid H-Back/Tight End role. Michael Egnew was atrocious in year one but has actually flashed a bit of talent this preseason in both the blocking game and in the receiving game. Kyle Miller made a nice catch on a deflected pass for a touchdown, but is still a stretch to make the Dolphins final fifty three man roster. The starting role(s) should be up for grabs this weekend, and one of these players needs to step up and seize the opportunity.
The Dolphins Right Guard situation appears to still be fluid, and John Jerry may reclaim his starting spot by default unless someone can step up and give him a run at the position. The position has been a veritable turnstile throughout the preseason thus far with the exception of when it was filled by Incognito, and if no one is able to step up expect a few roster moves to take place as NFL cut down days are approaching
Who Will Seize the Right Cornerback Position
Miami terminated the contract of the incumbent starter at Right Corner in Richard Marshall this week, leaving Dmitri Patterson as the de facto starter. Dmitri will need to step up and prove the role is his to lose this weekend, as young cornerback Will Davis may have a lot to learn at the NFL level but his playmaking, game-changing style of play is apparent. The loser of this battle will compete with Jimmy Wilson and Nolan Carroll for the Nickel Corner role, with Jamar Taylor expected to challenge for playing time as the season moves forward.
It will be interesting to see how Tannehill’s chemistry is developing with several key targets on offense, as there will be even more need for this after the loss of Keller. Tannehill already has good chemistry with Brian Hartline. His chemistry with Mike Wallace looked promising in limited action against the Texans, and it bears watching to see if he can light it up in his first game in front of the home crowd in Miami. Daniel Gibson needs more time on the field with Tannehill to increase the chemistry there, but there is promise. We may see a few of the younger receivers get in with Tannehill to utilize the chemistry as a tie-breaker in decision making for roster moves.
At the running back position, Miami needs to see the running backs increase their workload in the passing game to help make up for the loss of Keller. After several key drops last weekend, the running back committee needs to prove that they can be effective in the passing game and illustrate their chemistry with Tannehill.
The Strong Leg of Miami’s Kicking Game
In addition to the above items, it will be intriguing to see if Miami can continue their strong play in the kicking game this offseason. Rookie Caleb Sturgis has showcased a powerful leg thus far. Brandon Fields, who is a Pro Bowl caliber talent at Punter, appears to be having an extremely strong preseason. It bears watching to see if their strong play continues this weekend, as it will play a critical role in the field position battle for the Dolphins.
Roster Cut-Down Days
Keep a close eye on the players who play in the second half of this weekend’s game against the Buccaneers, as well as those who don’t. The current ninety man active roster will need to be reduced to seventy five players by 4pm EST on Tuesday, August 27th. This mean that fifteen players on the Dolphins roster will no longer be on their active roster by the middle of next week, possibly without further opportunity to prove themselves on the field.
Being on the roster after 4 pm Tuesday should be little comfort to those at the bottom end of the roster, as the August 31st deadline to reduce the roster to 53 players by 6 pm EST on Saturday, August 31st. Additionally, the bottom five to six players on the roster after each reduction will have a giant target painted on their backs as Ireland has shown a penchant in the past for “kicking the tires” on players waived by other teams.
What areas do you believe bear keeping an eye on for the Dolphins this weekend? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.