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Game one of five preseason games didn’t exactly go off as hoped. The Dolphins made far too many mistakes. They looked out of sync. There was little continuity. In other words, they played as if they had been in camp for only two weeks, which was exactly the case.
Tonight represents another opportunity. A chance to correct the mistakes. A chance to build some consistency. A chance for the starters to get more valuable time together.
Yes, it’s still very early in this process. But it is still an important time, a time to continue the evaluation of the young players and a time to continue putting the pieces of this football team together. There are some tough decisions coming up. Some difficult roster cuts. Answers must start coming into focus.
Tonight against Jacksonville will be a gauge. How far has this team come? How much further does it still have to go? I am looking for subtle indicators that help answer those questions. I’m looking for signs that Ryan Tannehill has improved, that the offensive line is coming together and that the defense, with several new starters, can tackle better than it did against Dallas.
There are also several intriguing individual storylines that continue to bear watching. Guys you may not have heard of a few weeks ago. Guys you need to focus on tonight. My favorite five:
1. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Chad Bumphis: The kid just keeps opening eyes and catching passes. No fluke he caught 12 TD passes last season at Mississippi State. Looks an awful lot like Davone Bess.
2. Defensive end Derrick Shelby: An undrafted rookie a year ago, a spot player in all 16 games, Shelby has taken his game to another level. Two sacks against the Cowboys. More playing time tonight. It’s going to be very difficult keeping him off this team.
3. Offensive guard Josh Samuda: Also an undrafted rookie a year ago, Samuda has worked his way up the depth chart and, who knows, he could be the starting right guard on opening day. A Miami native, the coaches simply can’t keep him off the field. Could turn out to be a real feel good story.
4. Running back Jonas Gray: I know the Dolphins have plenty of running backs and I know Gray is way down the depth chart. But when he gets the ball, something good usually happens. The kid is so easy to root for. Spent last year recovering from a serious knee injury. You’d never know it now. Tonight could be huge for him.
5. Safety Kelcie McCray: Yet another undrafted free agent from 2012, Gray has a chance to snag the fourth safety spot. Injured last season, McCray, like Gray, has come back strong and seems to be picking things up in a hurry. Most importantly, he is making plays.
Then there are the other subplots. The more far-reaching subplots. Three areas that were weaknesses a season ago and have been the focus of plenty of scrutiny during camp. Three areas that need a push start, and tonight could be the perfect time.
Takeaways on defense: I have seen significant improvement in this area during practice, but it needs to transform into games. The Dolphins were minus-2 against Dallas. That won’t cut it.
The Dolphins do have some new difference-makers. Cornerback Brent Grimes could be special and rookie cornerback Will Davis always seems to be around the ball. Free agent linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler arrive with excellent credentials. There are several pass rushers more than capable of swiping the ball out of the quarterback’s hands.
But talent is one thing; productivity is another. The Dolphins need to begin a trend that will carry over to the regular season.
Success in the red zone: The Dolphins ranked 16th in the league in this category last season and that screams mediocre. Similar to the search for more takeaways, the red zone offense has been a priority in training camp. New plays have been implemented. New players have been brought into the mix.
It is imperative that the Dolphins have some success at this in the preseason in order to create a level of confidence for the regular season. I expect tight end Dustin Keller and receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson to be the key receiving components in the red zone. But it’s got to start with Tannehill making the right decisions, executing the right throws.
More big plays on offense: It hasn’t helped any that Wallace has missed a good portion of training camp. But he returned to practice on Wednesday and, more than any other player, he will improve last year’s meager total of three pass plays of 40 yards or more.
There are other potential playmakers. I like Keller’s ability to stretch the middle of the field. I like Lamar Miller’s ability to make people miss. I believe Gibson has enough speed to be a deep threat. But we need to start seeing signs of this. We need for the Dolphins to start feeling a little bit better about themselves. That, in reality, is what tonight’s game is all about.
A.C. in the A.M. returns on Monday with an analysis of the Jacksonville game
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.