Miami Dolphins vs. Chicago Bears: Previewing Miami's Preseason Week 1 Matchup
The game's overall result isn't what will matter, as we won't see the first team out there for too long for either team. What you want to see is how well certain trouble positions play as well as the players who are fighting for starting jobs.
You'll also get to see the players who are battling it out for the final roster spots, which on the Dolphins includes the battle for the sixth wide receiver slot, the linebacker spots and the secondary.
Most importantly, you don't want any key players to get hurt, an overall theme of this and every preseason.
Location: Soldier Field; Chicago
Time: 8 p.m ET
TV: WFOR CBS4 Miami, check here (via 506Sports.com) for where it's airing live outside of Miami
(NFL Network replays air Friday and Tuesday, August 18 at 10 a.m ET.)
Latest Injury News
There's plenty of injury news despite the fact that not a single game has been played.
Linebacker Koa Misi and wide receiver Kenny Stills are already likely to be out for Thursday night's game, per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.
Misi and Stills are both nursing calf injuries. Both players are safe in terms of roster spots, however, with Misi the question is whether he will start at middle linebacker or strong-side linebacker. Kelvin Sheppard, whom Misi has been competing with at middle linebacker, will start in his place.
Stills' injury gives Rishard Matthews a chance to start. Matthews has had a very good training camp so far.
Rookie running back Jay Ajayi will miss Thursday's game due to a hamstring injury, per Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, which gives LaMike James more playing time.
As for the long-term injuries, Branden Albert tells Chris Perkins of the Sun Sentinel that he'll be back "sooner rather than later," which is good news to hear. Albert's presence takes a lot of pressure off the Miami guards, as they have been the preseason's most embattled unit.
Matchups to Watch
Most of these matchups will occur in the first quarter only, but they are worth keeping an eye on.
LG Jamil Douglas vs. NT Will Sutton
Jamil Douglas will have a familiar challenger awaiting him in his first NFL preseason game in former teammate Will Sutton.
From what I saw Friday night at the scrimmage, Douglas has been Miami's best guard during training camp, playing both left and right guard. He performed well during the scrimmage and seems to be the front-runner for the starting left guard spot (assuming Miami doesn't sign a veteran).
Douglas, a left tackle while he and Sutton were both at Arizona State, should have his hands full with the second-year defensive tackle and former teammate, but it would be a good first test in the NFL.
G Dallas Thomas vs. DT Ego Ferguson
The better Jamil Douglas plays, the worse it is for Dallas Thomas.
Thomas started nine games for the Dolphins last season and is having a very inconsistent training camp (but not the worst among guards; that would be Billy Turner). However Thomas has also been experimented with, as Miami played him a little bit at left tackle, per James Walker of ESPN.com.
I still expect to see Thomas play more guard, likely sharing reps at both right and left guard, predominantly right guard where he'll match up with second-year player Ego Ferguson.
CB Jamar Taylor vs. WR Alshon Jeffery
Yes, under normal, regular-season circumstances, you'd want Brent Grimes matched up with Alshon Jeffery.
But it's the preseason, and you want to see what you have in your cornerback unit. The best way to do that would be to have Taylor cover Jeffery for the relatively few series Jeffery will be in the game.
Taylor currently has the second-boundary corner job, but he's facing stiff competition from Brice and Bobby McCain.
X-Factor: Rishard Matthews
Rishard Matthews has plenty to gain on Thursday, a night where he will be a first-team starter.
Matthews gets to start because DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills suffered injuries. He'll be lining up alongside Jarvis Landry and Greg Jennings.
How much does Matthews have to prove? Plenty. Matthews is competing with Matt Hazel for the fifth receiver slot and is entering a contract year. He has asked Miami to either trade or release him twice this offseason, but he has been impressive in training camp in Parker's absence—Miami's first-round pick.
What the Experts Are Saying
Rishard Matthews vs. Jamar Taylor
This training-camp season seems to be filled with fights on every team.
While not as infamous as a couple of scuffles other teams have had to deal with, the Dolphins saw one scrap between wide receiver Rishard Matthews and cornerback Jamar Taylor, per Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel.
Both players are respectively fighting for jobs, and there was some jawing back and forth between the two before they came to blows.
Thankfully, this was nothing more than normal training-camp stuff between two highly competitive players, looking to prove themselves. Mix that in with the sweltering August heat and humidity and you have an explosive situation ready to go.
Matthews blames the heat for the fight, saying:
We're out here in this heat competing against the same person every day. I'm surprised there hasn't been more. It happened. It's over now. We move on.
Me and Jamar are still competing for a spot out there. We're out there the majority of the reps and you all know how this heat is. It gets under your skin. You compete against the same guy every day. It gets tiring after a while.
The chance to compete against other guys couldn't have come sooner for either player. Both are fighting for starting opportunities, but in the end, it's good to know that it's not personal and nothing more than fodder for entertainment.
Dolphins Starters Expect To Play Two Series
Omar Kelly also reported that the Dolphins starters should play anywhere between two to three series, depending on if a series ends in a three-and-out.
The first preseason game is usually looked at as a feeling-out game. It's usually vanilla play-calling and very limited snaps for starters. Only playing two series makes sense; however, there is a lot we'd like to see from the offense, and two series might not be enough—at least for this game.
Turner To Get Plenty of Playing Time
Per Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins' plan for guard Billy Turner is to "run him ragged" on Thursday night.
In other words, Turner will see plenty of snaps, not just with the first unit, but also throughout the game.
Per ESPN.com's James Walker, Turner has struggled throughout training camp. In fairness to Turner he has had to face Ndamukong Suh, a matchup that other guards have been able to avoid. Playing him against Chicago's defensive linemen might help build Turner's confidence long term.
Prediction: Dolphins 19, Bears 16
It's the first preseason game, so the opponent really doesn't matter.
The Bears have their own issues to worry about, and the Dolphins are practically just different bodies to practice against.
For the Dolphins it's the same thing; the Bears are just different bodies to practice against, while the road trip is a team-bonding experience.
The game speed will be NFL game speed, which you don't see in practice. However, in the end, it's a preseason game, and what counts is how good the first unit looks and what players perform the best.
Because of that, I predicted the Dolphins will win by the most vanilla score possible: 19-16.
Some observations in this story came from what I had seen at Dolphins training camp and at the scrimmage held on Friday Night August 7th.