What I’ll Be Watching…


Tonight marks the Dolphins’ preseason finale in New Orleans against the Saints. Tony Sparano says the starters could be playing for longer than just the obligatory first series tonight, but it remains to be seen which starters play that long and which key reserves will get in early. Regardless, there will be a number of battles for roster spots taking place tonight at receiver, in the secondary and along the lines.

I won’t be redundant and cover the same things Brian did in his article, but I will tell you the things I’ll be watching for as I click between tonight’s preseason game and the college football openers.

The First Team- Obviously the plan is to protect the starters tonight, and for good reason. The team opens a brutal schedule in Atlanta before returning home for a tough Monday night home opener against the Colts. But that doesn’t mean I want to see the first team offense go three and out before doing their best Matt Roth and donning their ballcaps. While Sparano has hinted he may leave the starters in for a good portion of the first half I would imagine some of the more essential personnel will be out early, but it’s important that the ones who are playing don’t phone it in. When Parcells came to Miami he talked about installing a winning culture first and foremost. I want to see the starters come out and live up to that, put in good, efficient work and give maximum effort for the series they do play.

It’s small, seemingly insignificant, but it’d be a much better note to close the preseason on if the starters could come out with a sense of purpose in the first series. That means a solid defensive performance, specifically from a starting secondary unit that seemed porous in sloppy conditions against Tampa. On offense, the line needs to get off the ball better and create push on the run. If Miami can get a good series out of their starters at the beginning of the game it will help put a lot of minds at ease in Miami over the next ten days as the season opener approaches.

Phillip Merling- I’m assuming we’ll see a heavy dose of Phillip Merling tonight as he seems to be battling for playing time at defensive end. Merling started camp as the starter and frankly a lot of fans had high hopes for him after his pick-six against Brett Favre and the Jets at the end of last year. But right now he’s behind Randy Starks and I really have yet to see much out of him in the preseason so far. Tonight is a big night for Merling, he’ll get the opportunity to play against second and third team lines and ideally, if he’s going to develop into a solid or even very good 3-4 end, I’d like to see him have an impactful game against said backups. It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t, he’s still a young player, but it would be a great sign of things to come if he could wreak some havoc.

Chris Clemons- Does anyone else really like this kid? He’s a little bit raw but from what I’ve read and seen so far, he has a great sense for the ball. That’s an intangible that really can’t be overstated.  The beauty is Clemons has impressive athletic credentials, he was the fastest safety at the combine and in college he seemed to like to hit. Clemons is going to get a couple of years to be an understudy to Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson. With some experience it’s possible he could turn into a solid starter down the road. Tonight Clemons should get plenty of time to get game experience as I assume he’ll be playing as early as the first quarter and will play alongside Tyrone Culver for the rest of the game.

Penalties- Last year Miami was helped largely in part by its ability not to shoot itself in its own foot. How many times in the dark days do you remember a drive being sunk because Wade Smith jumped early or Damion McIntosh held? As much as I love the offense those types of problems are still going to be killer this year if they can’t be avoided. Very few teams in the NFL have the luxury of being able to dig themselves out of a first-and-20 hole.

While I think that the ability to avoid penalties will carry over with the starters from last year, injuries are inevitable. So it’s important that as the preseason ends we see a mentally tough football team that plays with the same intelligence as the starters. Chances are the offensive line will not stay healthy and play together all year. So it’s important the reserves along the line not be prone to committing the type of penalties that destroy drives. Defensively many players will cycle in and out of packages all year, you catch my drift…

In this last game I want to see the whole team play mentally strong football and avoid penalties. That’s going to be paramount in the regular season and I want to see that the team is starting on the right foot.

Hope you all enjoy the game. I’ll be posting some observations afterwards.