After what seems like an abnormally long NFL off-season (even though it really wasn’t), football is finally back. The Fins open up the 2011 preseason tonight at the Georgia Dome against the defending #1 seed in the NFC playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons.
While the Falcons–a team that went 13-3 last year–are coming off a stinging blowout loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Playoffs, the Dolphins are looking to start fresh after a second consecutive 7-9 season.
Both teams looked to upgrade their offenses in April’s draft. Miami did so by selecting Mike Pouncey, Daniel Thomas, Clyde Gates, and Charles Clay and Atlanta by pulling off the blockbuster trade of the year–moving up to select Alabama’s Julio Jones sixth overall.
There could be some veteran debuts, as well: Reggie Bush, Kevin Burnett, and Jason Taylor are among the Dolphins players who might see action, though coach Tony Sparano has warned that he may hold some guys out of the game.
Sparano has also mentioned that he isn’t planning on using this game like a traditional preseason opener and that he’s going to do all that he can to use the game as more of a practice. What that means on the field is up for some debate, but consider that your fair warning.
To get us ready, I’ve enlisted the help of some guys who know a lot more than I do. Keep reading to see what John Congemi is looking for from the passing game, what Keith Sims wants to get out of the running backs and offensive line, and what Kim Bokamper will be looking for on defense.
When talking about playing time at the quarterback position, my guess is that Chad Henne will probably play a couple of series to start the game and then give way to Matt Moore. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will script 10 to 14 plays he wants to see Chad execute on film and get the football to specific personnel.
Although Moore didn’t start on day one with the Dolphins, he’s picked up this offense quickly and has looked good throwing the football. His strong arm and mobility have been on display early in camp, and hopefully it will carry over to game time against the Falcons. I would expect Moore to play most of the first half and maybe some into the third quarter. That leaves rookie Pat Devlin and newly acquired Kevin O’Connell. I’m not sure if the plan is to play both quarterbacks in this game, but I expect Devlin to see the field in the fourth quarter.
If you’re a wide receiver and dressed on Friday night, expect to play and play a lot! You shouldn’t be disappointed if Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline leave the game early with Henne. That will give players like Marlon Moore, Roberto Wallace, and rookie Clyde Gates ample playing time. These receivers need to get on the field and prove why they deserve to make this team. Guys like Julius Pruitt, Patrick Carter, Phillip Livas, and Brooks Foster should see time either late in the first half or start the third quarter. Gates and Livas should also handle the return duties and all Dolphin fans should be excited to see Gates use his speed on special teams!
Coach Sparano has stated this off-season that the offensive line shuffling that drove me crazy for the past three seasons is over. He is looking for his best five linemen to start. Mike Pouncey, the Fins #1 pick, will get his first chance to prove he can be the anchor of this Dolphins line for the next decade. With the team’s best lineman on PUP (Jake Long) there’s a real chance for guys to step up and prove they deserve a roster and even a starting spot.
Some questions: At right guard, can Vernon Carey make the transition? Does last year’s 3rd rounder John Jerry improve enough to earn the starting nod? With Carey now inside, does Marc Colombo win the battle at right tackle? Ray Willis and super sub Nate Garner might have something to say about that, so it’ll be fun to watch.
Now on to the sexier position: running backs. Everyone knows Reggie Bush. No Ricky and Ronnie, so who will be the featured back or will it be running back by committee? A few guys will be using every single rep they get in these preseason games to impress the coaches. Kory Sheets has top notch speed, but is he back from the injury? Can Lex Hilliard make the leap and become a regular contributor? Daniel Thomas was carrying the ball this time last year for the KSU Wildcats, can he be an NFL RB and carry the ball 20-plus times a game? Also, keep your eye out for Nic Grisby. He’s along shot with this crowded group, but has gotten plenty of practice time.
On defense I really want to see Jared Odrick and how he bounced back from injury. There’s been a lot of talk about DB Jimmy Wilson and his ability to be around the football, so we’ll see about that, too. Also, don’t sleep on new ILB Kevin Burnett, who for some reason has flown under the radar. He replaces Channing Crowder, who we all love, but this guy has great ability and can fly sideline-to-sideline to make plays. Finally, like a lot of people, I’m also looking forward to seeing the continued growth of Sean Smith and Vontae Davis and if they can be the shutdown corners we all imagine they can be. After the slow start last year, I’m really looking for Sean to show an early spark.
So there you go, after months and months of waiting, the Dolphins will finally be back on the field against another team. Remember that our gameday coverage begins at 5pm and can be listened to on 940-AM in South Florida or you can watch anywhere in the world online at Dolphins.com. As for TV, the game will be shown locally on CBS-4 and will be replayed nationwide on Saturday at 1pm on NFL Network. You can also click here for complete broadcast information.
Which unit are you most interested in watching against the Falcons?
- 1st team Offense (71%)
- 1st team Defense (15%)
- Offensive Reserves (10%)
- Special Teams (3%)
- Defensive Reserves (1%)
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.