As the Dolphins closed training camp on Thursday, there are still plenty of opportunities for players that have something to prove in the preseason. Tonight’s game in Tampa is just another chance for established veterans to get work, and others to make a lasting impression on the Dolphins coaching staff. There are multiple storylines to follow so far with this team, but here are a couple of things that I’ll be paying particular attention to as tonight’s game unfolds.
1. What Happens After The First Series
Last week, the Dolphins first team offense had almost a flawless start, beginning the game very efficiently with a 10 play 73 yard scoring drive, taking nearly five minutes off the clock. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked sharp and in command of Bill Lazor‘s offense, delivering the football accurately and on time. There was a nice mix of run and pass, and the ball disbursement really put pressure on the opposing defense.
Against Tampa Bay, this unit should be more than just 10 plays, so I’ll be watching for the success rate of this offense over a bigger sample size. I’ll be interested to see if the screen game is involved in this week’s plan, as well as taking a shot downfield if the situation presents itself. Players like wide receiver Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline will get their first taste of preseason action, and even though running back Knowshon Moreno will likely be dressed, don’t expect him to get any on-field action until the third preseason game against Dallas. But still, my main focus will be on Tannehill and his ability to orchestrate and deliver with precision and accuracy.
2. Better Tackling
The storylines for the defense in the Atlanta game were too many 3rd down conversions allowed, not finding a way to get off the field, and the inability to tackle in space. The last observation needs to be corrected sooner rather than later, as the team has limited chances to practice full tackling before the season opener against New England. Poor tackling hurt this defense at times last year, and this is one thing that cannot carry over into the 2014 season. The concerted effort to address this issue during practice this week and Dolphins fans can only hope that the defense will execute this simple task. The starters on this side of the ball should play more than the one series of action they saw last week, which should give them the ability to get the repetitions needed not only to tackle, but to create some pressure on the opposing offense.
3. Position Battles
One thing to always watch for in the preseason is the battles at positions filled with competition. There are several key spots up for grabs on this team, and here’s a look at a couple of them:
- Running Back: While Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno are clearly going to be on this roster, both seeing significant playing options, there are a couple of young players that need to impress while others on the shelf. Damien Williams has been impressive throughout training camp, and he will need to continue with another strong showing. Orleans Darkwa is maybe just behind Williams, but should get enough opportunities to possibly close the gap. Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee have missed practices recently, and them potentially missing games could hurt their chances at making the roster. Newly signed Cameron Marshall will probably get carries late in the game, but he’s got an uphill battle because of his late signing.
- Wide Receiver: In my opinion, there are five wide receivers that have separated from the pack. Obviously starters Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline will be in those positions to start the season, and rookie Jarvis Landry has proven in camp to be worthy of significant playing time. Brandon Gibson coming off an offseason surgery has had a solid camp and will also likely remain a consistent target on the inside. Same goes Rishard Matthews, who has shown consistency, toughness, and the ability to get open. That leaves us with three names that have to make a move. Damian Williams, Armon Binns, and Marcus Thigpen all could be fighting for one spot, or fighting for a spot on someone else’s roster if the Dolphins don’t carry six receivers. It gets tricky with Thigpen because of his return ability, so it’s important for him to shine when he gets those opportunities…and the same goes for Williams.
- Defensive Back: The cornerback position on this team is pretty obvious. Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Will Davis, and Jamar Taylor are securely on this roster and all play different roles as the season gets underway. Louis Delmas, Reshad Jones, and Jimmy Wilson will see playing time at the safety spot -Jones when he gets off his suspension – but there’s a spot or two at least open behind them. Rookie Walt Aikens has impressed me enough not only with his secondary ability, but on special teams that he will make this team. Guys like Don Jones, Michael Thomas, Jordan Kovacs, Kevin Fogg, and Jalil Brown are all in contention for making a run at the 53-man roster.
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