It's officially game week for the Miami Dolphins!
On Friday night, at 7:00 ET, the Miami Dolphins will take the field for the first time in 2023 in an exhibition preseason game versus the visiting Atlanta Falcons -- who are in town for some joint practice sessions this week. Here's what Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is saying ahead of the joint-practice week:
So, what should we be watching for in a game that has no real implications on Friday night? Here are five things to keep an eye on as the Dolphins step onto the regulation field against a real opponent in a few short days:
1. Who will take the CB2 spot with Jalen Ramsey out?
With freshly traded for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey set to be inactive following knee surgery, the outside cornerback spot opposite Xavien Howard seems to be wide open. The Dolphins recently signed cornerback Eli Apple to compete for the interim spot, but there are others competing for the position, such as top draft pick Cam Smith, the rookie second-rounder out of South Carolina, who has been flashing glimpses of greatness in camp.
It will be interesting to see who gets the start at the position, but it'll be even more interesting who comes out as the clear option to win the spot. Apple, Smith and former first-round selection Noah Igbinoghene all figure to compete for the starting outside spot. Apple has the most experience as a former starter for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals. Smith has the most upside and potential as an exciting young rookie. But Noah Igbinoghene has the most to prove as a former first-round pick who has yet to live up to his early selection.
2. Who will stand out as the true backup quarterback?
As Tua Tagovailoa eases himself back in to the starting quarterback position, there are still question marks surrounding who his immediate backup will be. In the Dolphins situation, the backup quarterback is a pretty important position due to the recent injury history at the position, especially Tua. Miami did not retain Teddy Bridgewater, the primary backup last season, who also had trouble staying on the field. Instead, they retained seventh-round rookie from last season Skylar Thompson, as well as signing former New York Jets quarterback Mike White. The Dolphins also brought in undrafted rookie James Blackmon Jr.
The preseason is fun for seeing the depth of the team. Preseason play is make or break for the fringe players on the roster, with solid performances solidifying their spot on the roster -- and bad performances losing players their jobs. When the Dolphins take on the Falcons on Friday night, it is the first true test for the three individuals competing for the backup spot. While these quarterbacks may be playing against lesser competition, it's still worth assessing their decision-making, football IQ, arm talent and understanding of the Dolphins playbook. Friday night will be the first step in deciding who should be Tua's immediate backup.
3. Which receiver will stand out as the true WR3?
The top two receiver spots are set in stone with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but the depth order behind them is wide open. On Friday night, we could see one of the rest of the bunch stand out and take a lead in the competition for the Dolphins' third wide receiver.
Unofficially listed as the third wide receiver on the depth chart is Cedrick Wilson Jr., who left a lot to be desired on the field last season. There are several receivers who could realistically leapfrog him on the depth chart, including free agent signings Robbie Chosen, Braxton Berrios and young second-year target Erik Ezukanma, who has been a standout in camp after seemingly building a nice rapport with Tua.
Like with the quarterbacks, the receivers' first opportunity to make their case for playing time is this Friday night against a good, young Atlanta secondary. It will be interesting to see who can get open and make plays in McDaniels' playbook, especially catching balls from backup quarterbacks. Having a lot of wide receiver depth is a good problem to have, but the Dolphins must make a choice of who will begin the season as WR3, and these preseason games will play a big role in that decision.
4. Will we see some wrinkles of Vic Fangio's new defense?
Typically in preseason games, you will see a pretty basic, vanilla defense played. However, in a situation like Miami's, with new players and a new defensive coordinator with new schemes, could we possibly see a preview of what this defense will look like this preseason?
Fangio is known for his complex defensive schemes, chock full of disguised blitzes and coverages, meant to confuse an offense. He strategically puts his personnel out of place in order to not give the opposing quarterback a good look at what the defense is playing. An aggressive defensive coordinator, Fangio sends blitzes from every level of the defense. Could we possibly get some early DB blitzes as the coaching staff wants to get the players reps in a live game?
As reported previously, Fangio has been pretty critical of his new personnel, citing a lack of depth. He is openly challenging his players to step up and presenting an opportunity for anyone on the defense to compete for playing time. It will be interesting to see who does take that step up this preseason, and the first opportunity for someone to step up in this new defensive system will be Friday night.
5. The no-name tight end group will make its first appearance
We know the biggest question mark on the roster is the tight end group. It's been hammered into our heads that the Dolphins don't really have a true starting tight end after letting Mike Gesicki walk in free agency. However, on Friday night we will see if that claim has any merit.
The starting tight end penciled in currently is Durham Smythe, who has seen playing time sparingly over the last several seasons. I would imagine Smythe comes in Friday night as a starter, but I'm more interested in how the guys behind him play. We know very little about the rest of the guys and this preseason will be their opportunity to make a name for themselves.
On Friday, we could see one of the other guys emerge. These tight ends, listed as backups, include former Cincinnati Bengal Tyler Kroft, former Atlanta Falcon Eric Saubert, and rookies Elijah Higgins and Julian Hill. It's a little scary to not know the depth Miami will have at tight end, but is also kind of exciting to watch one of these guys step up to be the guy.