Dolphins vs. Panthers: Previewing Miami's Preseason Week 2 Matchup

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVAugust 20, 2015

Dolphins vs. Panthers: Previewing Miami's Preseason Week 2 Matchup

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins may be 0-1 this preseason, but they have plenty of reasons for optimism as they head into their second preseason game against the Carolina Panthers (1-0). 

    Miami's starting unit looked fantastic last week against the Chicago Bears, with an offense that hummed along in its lone drive like a Corvette driving down an empty highway. As a result, Chicago defensive end Jared Allen to told Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times that the Bears got "a little slice of humility." In addition, the Miami defense dominated Chicago's first-team offense in the trenches. 

    This week the Dolphins not only play the Panthers but are holding joint practices with them at the Panthers' training facility. Due to said practices, both teams should be familiar with each other when they play on Saturday. 

    Like with any preseason game, the final score won't matter, but what does matter is evaluating the young talent. In the first joint practice, Miami suffered a key injury to safety Louis Delmas, as he tore his ACL, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Saturday's game will be the first test for the players who are looking to replace him. 

    Not only will there be a battle for Delmas' spot, but the key battles continue at the second starting cornerback position, the fifth wide receiver battle and guard. 

    Here's a breakdown of what to watch for on Saturday night. 

    Location: Bank of America Stadium; Charlotte, North Carolina

    Date: Saturday, August 22

    Time: 7 p.m. ET

    TV: WFOR CBS 4 (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale), WTVX CW34 (West Palm Beach), WBBH NBC2 (Ft. Myers/Naples), Channel 27 WRDQ (Orlando), NFL Network (Replays Monday, 8/24 at 8 a.m. ET, Wednesday, 8/26 at 10 a.m. ET). 

News and Notes

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Torn ACL for Delmas

    The Dolphins lost an important part of their defense during Wednesday's joint practice with Carolina, losing safety Louis Delmas, according to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post

    Delmas tore his ACL, the same injury that ended his season prematurely in 2014. It was also the second ACL injury suffered during the practice, as the Panthers lost wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the same injury earlier in the session. 

    Delmas' injury opens up a new battle for his position, one that the now-departed Jimmy Wilson filled last year. Per Abramson, Walt Aikens, a fourth-round pick from 2014, will start in Delmas' place on Saturday. 

    Delmas isn't the only player who is vying for the top spot, as Michael Thomas should get plenty of snaps and opportunities to compete as well. 

    Miami won't just miss Delmas' play on the field but also his leadership. He is well-liked by his teammates, with wide receiver Rishard Matthews calling Delmas "one of the best leaders or he is the best leader on our team." Matthews told Abramson: "He brings a lot of excitement to the game. I think everybody will tell you he’s just an exciting player to be around—from the top of the organization, the bottom of the organization, everybody says the same thing about him. It’s very, very, very, very unfortunate."

    The play on the field can be replaced, but it takes a lot to replace Delmas' leadership. It will be up to Brent Grimes and Reshad Jones to provide that veteran leadership in the secondary in the wake of Delmas' injury. 

    Parker Activated from PUP List

    Delmas' injury overshadowed the good injury news—the activation of first-round pick DeVante Parker from the PUP list. 

    Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel reported that Parker was activated on Wednesday, which will allow him to practice in the coming days. 

    While Parker can practice with the team, it's still not clear if he will play in any of the remaining preseason games or if he will be ready to go for Week 1 against Washington. It's a step in the right direction if that is the goal; however, the Dolphins should not rush such an injury, as Parker represents an investment in the future and should be looked at that way. 

    Guards Shine in First Joint Practice

    No position on the Dolphins has received more scrutiny than guard, a position that throughout training camp has been dominated by the defensive line. 

    That domination by Miami's defensive line might just be the education needed. After a good performance against Chicago last week, the Dolphins' guards are winning the trench battle against the Panthers' defensive line so far in practice.

    According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Dallas Thomas has looked the best

    Head coach Joe Philbin liked what he saw out of Thomas and the rest of the offensive line, per Beasley: "I thought it looked relatively good." However, like any good coach should do, he tempered the enthusiasm and pointed out where unit didn't quite play as well: "I didn’t think our third-down period was as good; there were a couple of blitzes they hit us with. Sean McDermott, who’s a heck of a coach, he was in Philadelphia with Jim Johnson ages ago, and some of that stuff is still good.

    "They caught us on a couple."

    Getting caught on a couple is certainly better than the dominance we have seen from Miami's defensive line against the offensive line. It's not like the Panthers' defensive line is filled with scrubs either, as Carolina finished 13th in the league in total sacks. 

    Game action is always a different story though, and we'll get a better read on the unit during Saturday's contest. 

Latest Injury News

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    It's the preseason, which means NFL teams are not required to release injury updates like they would during the regular season. 

    Because of this, I had to utilize different tweets from Omar Kelly's Twitter feed to paste together this injury report for Saturday's game. 

    You won't see the status of whether the player will play or not; it's a list of players who were hobbled at one point and did not practice. Their game-time status will be decided come game time Saturday night. 

    Louis DelmasSACL
    Koa MisiLBCalf
    Jordan TrippLBAnkle
    Bobby McCainCBHamstring
    DeVante ParkerWRFoot
    Don JonesSShoulder
    Branden AlbertLTACL

    It's a safe bet to assume that Parker, Albert and Jones won't play. Jones, like Parker, was activated off the PUP list on Wednesday and is practicing for the first time this week, while Parker and Albert are being brought in slowly because of the nature of their injuries. 

    Tripp likely won't play as he's still recovering from the ankle injury suffered last week against Chicago. Misi has practiced but could still sit out on Saturday. If he does, Kelvin Sheppard will against start at middle linebacker. 

    Not on the list but notable is Kenny Stills, who has practiced with the team all week after sitting out last week's game with a calf injury, per Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. He should play on Saturday. 

Key Matchups

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Miami's Offensive Line vs. Carolina's Defensive Line

    The Dolphins offensive line looked good against the Bears and through the first practice looked good against Carolina, but as we mentioned before, it's different in an actual game situation. 

    Miami will still be without Branden Albert, which means Jason Fox will have to step up. Pro Football Focus graded Fox the worst among Miami's starting offensive linemen against Chicago at minus-0.5, but most of that grade came from his holding penalty. 

    Dallas Thomas graded a minus-0.3, while the best graded player was Billy Turner at 1.5

    These grades did come with a small sample size though, as the unit looked cohesive against the Bears. Carolina does have a better defensive line than Chicago, so it will provide a true test. 

    Miami's Cornerbacks vs. Carolina's Wide Receivers

    This matchup might be more important for the Panthers than the Dolphins, but with so much change at secondary for Miami compared to last season, it's still an important one to watch. 

    Brice McCain missed the game last week but will get ample opportunity on Saturday. He and Will Davis are competing with Jamar Taylor for the second starting cornerback job, a job that Taylor seems to be the favorite to keep because of his good play in camp and a solid game against the Bears. He graded out at 0.2 while allowing a quarterback rating of only 56.3 when passes were thrown his way, per Prof Football Focus.

    Davis had a solid day as well, grading out at 1.5 and allowing a quarterback rating of 42.4. 

    More importantly the free safety job is now officially up for grabs thanks to Delmas' injury, and Walt Aikens looks to be the starter on Saturday. Last week, he graded out at 0.6. He's competing with Michael Thomas (who had a grade of minus-0.2) and rookie Ced Thompson (grade of minus-2.0)

    On the other side is Carolina's Devin Funchess, who should get the majority of targets with the first team. Carolina is not a deep team at wide receiver, so expect the receivers on the roster to fight hard come Saturday in a wide open race. 

    Miami's Defensive Line vs. Carolina's Offensive Line

    A big deal was made as the coaching staffs of the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers urged the teams not to fight each other. 

    We didn't see any brawls on the level of the Cowboys-Rams brawl from Tuesday, but there was a skirmish between Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon and Carolina offensive lineman Michael Oher, per Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post

    The players quickly broke up the fight; however, it does show a key matchup between the Dolphins' defensive line and Carolina's suspect offensive line. 

    Miami should be favored in this matchup. The Panthers' offensive line is reminiscent of the last two seasons of Dolphins' offensive line play and looks like the type of unit that's hastily put together because of multiple injuries in the middle of the season. 

    I can't tell you who won Wednesday's fight, but chances are Vernon will win the trench battle on Saturday. 

Matchup X-Factors

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Dolphins X-Factor of the Week: Cedric Thompson

    All eyes will be on the secondary, specifically the safety position where Walt Aikens is currently the favorite. 

    Despite that status (or because of it), expect Cedric Thompson to get the majority of snaps at the position, making him the X-factor of the week for the Dolphins. 

    Thompson is in his rookie season, and while he didn't look great against the Bears last week, he did show some good signs and was instrumental in a goal-line stand the Dolphins were able to execute. 

    Miami drafted Thompson for his ability as a communicator and the fact that he's a good open-field tackler. The original idea might have been to sit him for the season and allow him to learn, but with Delmas out, it's open season and Thompson should have an opportunity. 

    He's also one of the most interesting players on the team to follow. He has his own blog, which in mid-July he used to detail his experience feeding a homeless man. 

Prediction: Dolphins 22, Panthers 17

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    It's preseason, so the final score really doesn't matter. In fact, making this prediction does feel like a pointless exercise in mental gymnastics (yes, that could describe any prognostication). 

    I'm going with the Dolphins because while their depth didn't look good against the Bears, it is stronger than the Panthers as a whole. 

    More importantly, you'll see more of the first team on the field. While the Panthers have a better chance at winning their division and going to the playoffs (as illustrated by the last two years and how putrid the NFC South was last season), the Dolphins are the more talented team. 

    Most importantly, look for how the position battles at guard, corner and safety come out and just hope that no one else gets hurt. It's been a bad enough week as it is, and no one wants it to get any worse.