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Believe me when I tell you that the Dolphins players are sick and tired of practicing against one another for the past two weeks. I mean how many times can Brent Grimes cover Mike Wallace? Can Mike Pouncey go up against Paul Soliai? After a while, it gets a little stale. You know what’s coming and they know what’s coming.
Welcome to a fresh new challenge. The Dolphins finally get a chance to go against someone wearing a different uniform. Granted, it is the first of five preseason games and most of the starters will be long gone by the second quarter, but at least it’s something different. And in the sore, tired days of early August, something different can be as valuable as a frosty bucket of ice.
With that in mind, here’s an easy guide of 10 things I plan on following closely Sunday night against the Cowboys:
1. Tannehill for however long he plays: Every snap, every different situation is important for this second-year player. With five preseason games, I expect Ryan Tannehill to play somewhere between 8-10 quarters. How that is divided up depends on coach Joe Philbin and his staff. But it is imperative that Tannehill develops a clear comfort zone heading into the Sept. 8th opener and that process begins against the Cowboys.
2. More Miller Time: I’ve got a feeling the battle for the starting running back job will continue well into the preseason. But Lamar Miller is clearly the front-runner and it is important for him to convince the coaches he can be both reliable and productive. With his speed, he has a huge upside. I expect his number to be called 5-10 times against the Cowboys. I’m looking for clear indications that he belongs.
3. The continued growth of Dion Jordan: The No. 1 pick is residing solely at defensive end these days and he clearly showed his speed and skills in the team’s practices this week. If Jordan can keep this pace up, beginning Sunday against Dallas, he will be playing a lot in a hurry. I can tell you this: I have seen nothing since he returned to practice to remove a shred of enthusiasm about this kid’s potential. The Dolphins are rightfully trying to temper expectations. But what we see on the field really says everything.
4. Who will emerge as the second tight end: It is already clear that Dustin Keller is the starter and will be a big part of this offense. But the Dolphins will likely use a steady dose of two tight ends. Draft pick Dion Sims has been the most impressive of the “other” tight ends in training camp. This is a make-or-break time for second-year player Michael Egnew and Kyle Miller, also a second-year player, will get some significant reps. Charles Clay is listed as a tight end, but could be used more as an H-back.
5. How will the pieces come together on the offensive line: An injury to right guard John Jerry has resulted in some line shuffling and the Dolphins have been experimenting with all sorts of combinations. That will continue against Dallas. Josh Samuda is getting work at both guard and center and he is an interesting guy to keep an eye on. But it’s hard not to just key on left tackle Jonathan Martin who must show this preseason he can handle perhaps the most challenging position on the line. He has been struggling in practice against Dion Jordan, but that may be more about Jordan than Martin. We’ll soon find out.
6. Which young player will step forward on the defensive line: This, I believe, is the deepest, most talented area of the team. I can count six, maybe seven, defensive lineman who are pretty much locks. That means there are probably one or two other spots available. Keep an eye out on A.J. Francis, an undrafted rookie out of Maryland. He has made some head-turning plays in camp. Kheeston Randall, a draft pick last year, is also solidly in the mix.
7. Who haven’t we heard much about: Preseason games are all about turning heads and there are several players on this team who need to do something to separate themselves. Fourth-round pick Jelani Jenkins is an excellent example. He has a real chance to impact this football team both as a reserve linebacker and as a core special teams player. I fully expect that he will get significant playing time tonight and throughout the preseason. I’ll be watching to see how he responds.
8. The young cornerbacks: There is a reason the Dolphins used a second round and a third round pick on Jamar Taylor and Will Davis: Both are expected to contribute right away. Taylor has missed time with an injury, but is back now and looking solid . Davis had a nice diving interception in the scrimmage and has shown a penchant for making plays. Both should play a lot against Dallas. If this progress continues, the Dolphins could be as deep at cornerback as they have been in years.
9. Trying to Catch someone’s eye: Injuries to receivers Armon Binns (season ending) and Rishard Matthews (several weeks) have created some significant uncertainty behind the top three receivers Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline. Two new receivers – Keenan Davis and Julius Pruitt – were signed just this week. Marvin McNutt has had a solid camp as has Chad Bumphis. Who will step up? Who will earn that important fourth receiver spot? Things could start coming into focus against the Cowboys.
10. Just for kicks: One of the most anticipated competitions in training camp will now reach another level. It is too early to tell whether incumbent Dan Carpenter or rookie Caleb Sturgis will be this team’s placekicker. It is a crucial decision for this staff that will have far-reaching implications all season long. Sturgis, a fifth-round pick, is making less money than Carpenter and that will be a factor. But the biggest factor is who kicks better and that’s what we’ll begin to see against the Cowboys. Right now it is way too close to call.
A.C. in the A.M. returns Monday with an analysis of the first preseason game against the Cowboys
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.