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This is another step in the process, another clear way of gauging the progress of this football team. The importance of the second preseason game, far more than the final score, has more to do with fixing problems, building on the positives, unearthing young gems and searching for a level of consistency to carry into the regular season.
We will see more of the starters Saturday night in Tampa than we did in the preseason opener at Atlanta. That’s for sure. But will we see further improvement? Will we see better tackling? Will we see less penalties? Will we see a new offensive continue to grow and a third-year quarterback continuing to grow with it?
That’s what Saturday night is all about. It’s not about gauging whether this football team is ready for New England on the first Sunday of September. That’s for another day. It’s about clear, undeniable indications that the pieces are starting to fit together, that a comfort zone is developing and that the problems that have surfaced over the first three weeks of training camp can be fixed and will be fixed.
“We just want to keep getting better,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
So what should we focus on Saturday night? What should we be looking for as the preseason schedule hits its halfway point? Here’s five things I’m looking at:
• An encore from the first-team offense: I couldn’t have been more impressed with what the first team offense did last Friday in Atlanta. But, as good as it was, it was only one drive. Now we need to see more. We need to see Ryan Tannehill show us that he can put two solid showings together. We need to see first downs and smart decisions and it would be really nice to see a long distance hook-up between Tannehill and Mike Wallace.
• Continued growth on the offensive line: The Dolphins haven’t finalized a starting five yet. I’m hoping that the events of Saturday night seal the deal. It is important, I believe, for the first team line to work together in the third and fourth preseason games. I know that’s what Joe Philbin and Bill Lazor would like as well. But they aren’t going to force the issue. Focus on one player? Saturday night is important for right guard Dallas Thomas who must continue to show he belongs.
• Stop the run, improve the tackling: This goes hand in hand. If you stop the run, you are improving the tackling. We need to see progress from Koa Misi at middle linebacker and Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe on the outside. The tackling all across the defense was not acceptable in the preseason opener and you saw that translate into a greater emphasis this week in practice. The Dolphins have a chance to be a Top 10 defense, but only if they can consistently stop the run. That’s what I’m looking for Saturday night.
• A better running game: I’m not sure whether Knowshon Moreno plays Saturday night as he just recently returned to full practice mode after offseason knee surgery. Regardless of whether it’s Moreno or Lamar Miller, it is important that the Dolphins find some balance on offense. As good as I expect the passing attack to be, the job becomes much more imposing without the threat of a running game. You want to beat Tom Brady in the opener? Run the ball and keep him on the bench. That’s the challenge the Dolphins must meet.
• The young and the restless: There is a long list of first and second year players making a case for significant playing time. But they need to show it in games as they attempt to gain the confidence of the coaching staff. There’s the shifty moves and big-play potential of Jarvis Landry. There’s a vastly improved tight end in Dion Sims. There’s a rookie linebacker in Jordan Tripp who has a chance to be a good one. There’s a pair of second-year cornerbacks in Jamar Taylor and Will Davis who are both enjoying excellent camps. There’s rookie safety Walt Aikens and promising undrafted rookie defensive lineman Anthony Johnson. It’s an important game for these players and many others, a chance to secure a significant role on this team.
(On Monday, AC in the AM analyzes what happened against the Bucs.)(On Friday, AC in the AM takes a close look at Saturday’s second preseason 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.