NFL Preseason 2010: A Miami Dolphins Preview Of Game One
The Miami Dolphins kick off their quest for the 2010 Super Bowl in Sun Life Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.
Well, sort of.
The Dolphins host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first of four preseason games lined up over the next month. This Saturday, Dolfans will get their first look at free agent acquisitions Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby, as well as the team's 2010 Draft class.
But before you get too excited over watching the Dolphins make their 2010 debut, remember, it's the preseason. In other words, it means absolutely nothing.
Coach Tony Sparano has already announced that he will play his starters for just one quarter on Saturday, leaving the rest of the game to youngsters and free agent hopefuls. So while the first team offense might look like the '08 Pats for that one quarter, remember that both teams will be utilizing only tiny portions of their playbooks, and blitzing will be at a minimum.
When you're watching this game remember that the 2008 Lions went 4-0 in the Preseason, and 0-16 in the regular season. Just let that serve as a reminder of how meaningless these games are as whole.
However, there are valuable nuggets to be taken out of a preseason game, and most of those come at the latter stages when players on the roster bubble take the field. So when you kick back in your favorite Sunday attire on Saturday, keep an eye on the following five story-lines.
Interior Line Musical Chairs
One year after literally paving the way for the league's fourth best rushing team, the Miami Dolphins offensive line is currently under construction.
While Jake Long and Vernon Carey are virtual locks at left and right tackle respectively, all three interior line spots appear to be up for grabs.
Pricey 2008 free agent acquisition Jake Grove came into camp as a lock for the starting center job, but he has been struggling with an injured knee, allowing Joe Berger to begin pushing him for playing time. If Grove can't play on Saturday, Berger will have a chance to shine, and possibly steal Grove's job.
Meanwhile, left guard Nate Garner was also making noise with his play, taking reps with the first team offense before suffering an injury on Wednesday. Richie Incognito, rookie John Jerry, and Donald Thomas will get plenty of time to prove their worth on Saturday, and a great performance might push one or two of them onto the top of the depth chart.
Who Will Return Kicks and Punts?
A torn Achilles ended return-man candidate Kory Sheets' season, narrowing the Dolphins search down to rookies Nolan Carroll and Tristan Davis, and veteran Patrick Cobbs.
Cobbs appears to be the front runner due to his experience, as well as his value as a third-down running back.
However, Carroll and Davis bring electric speed and a game-breaking skill-set to the return game. Davis appears to be the long shot due to the unlikelihood that he will make the 53-man roster. If he can find the open field during some returns on Saturday, expect the Dolphins to keep him a while longer.
Saturday will provide all three a forum to show off their poise in the return game, and it should be a fun battle to watch.
(Ryan Grice-Mullen is also a candidate for the return job, but an injury has kept him sidelined for a majority of camp. If he is able to play on Saturday, he will take some returns as well).
Outside Linebackers and Mike Nolan's Defense
New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's arrival has shifted the Dolphins defensive scheme away from a 3-4, and towards a "hybrid" defense. The details of Nolan's new defense are under wraps, and we will not get a great look at it on Saturday; however, we should get something of a sneak peak.
Whatever the scheme may be, Koa Misi and Cameron Wake appear to be in line to start Saturday as the team's starting outside linebackers. Both players are young, Misi a rookie and Wake in his second year, but both are expected to produce some serious chaos.
Wake and Misi both need to display, above all, their ability to get to the quarterback.
Wake proved that he can in limited playing time last season, but he needs to show he can do it on a play-by-play basis. More importantly, Wake needs to show he has the skill-set to be an every-down linebacker, and show that he can stuff the run.
Meanwhile, Misi needs to show he can both stop the run and produce a pass rush.
The Dolphins and the media are expecting huge things out of both players, and they have their first chance to shine on Saturday night.
Pat White's Role In The Offense
Pat White responded to his horrible rookie campaign by doing what everybody thought he should have done before arriving at Dolphins camp last season: put on some muscle.
White reportedly packed on 20 pounds this offseason, sending his weight up around the 200-mark.
Still, a bigger body does not equal better throws, and that was White's problem in 2009. The rookie was 0-5 in passes attempted last season, even missing opportunities to complete open screen passes.
He is only in year two, but White absolutely must begin showing signs of progression.
Expect White to get plenty of work out of a regular offense on Saturday, but the Dolphins will likely also deploy the Wild-Pat at some point. White is under the spotlight, and if he puts on a bad show on Saturday, the pressure will only increase.
Chris Clemons and The Dolphins Secondary
Although we will likely only see the Dolphins first defensive unit for one quarter, the secondary will be under the microscope each and every play.
Second year safety Chris Clemons has impressed the Dolphins coaching staff with his play throughout the early stages of camp, but his first real test will come Saturday when he will make his debut as the Dolphins new safety blanket. Hype is beginning to build around Clemons, and a good performance Saturday will be a start in silencing his critics.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins sent cornerback Will Allen to a knee specialist this week. Allen appears to have aggravated the same knee he blew out last season, which could be terrible news for the Fins.
If Allen can not play on Saturday, and it seems unlikely that he will, it will be interesting to see who the Dolphins put at nickelback. Reports claim former first round pick Jason Allen has taken reps there, but rookie Nolan Carroll could also get some looks.
Either way, after the first team comes out, keep an eye on Carroll and Allen. They are both having great camps, but we'll see what they're really capable of against an opposing squad.
Other Players To Watch on Saturday
A few other things to watch during Saturday's game:
Second year wide receiver Patrick Turner has done nothing but disappoint after he was selected in the third round of last year's draft. The heat is on Turner to show he can do something in this league. Turner claims he has been soaking up lessons from Brandon Marshall, but he needs to show he has potential on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Miami gives him.
Tim Dobbins has had a great camp thus far, and some initially believed he might dethrone incumbent starting inside linebacker Channing Crowder for his job. However, some of the hype seems to have settled, but Dobbins will have a chance to show the team if he truly has starting skills on Saturday.
The Dolphins re-signed tight end David Martin after cutting him loose midway through last season due to injury. Martin is a truly unique player who can use his size and athleticism to jump outside and play receiver. It will be interesting to see what team Martin rolls with on Saturday, but given that he just signed, he might work with some lower units until he gets accustomed with the team's schemes. Still, this has to cause for some concern over whether or not the team believes in Anthony Fasano after a down year in 2009.
Obviously, everybody will be watching Brandon Marshall, but don't get too excited or worried over his play on Saturday. In all likelihood, he'll get a few targets, but the team won't push him and Chad Henne to do anything crazy.