Miami Dolphins: 5 Things to Watch in the Preseason Opener

Chris J. NelsonSenior Writer IAugust 12, 2011

Miami Dolphins: 5 Things to Watch in the Preseason Opener

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    The lockout has been over for a few weeks now, but it's time to really get back to football with the Dolphins first preseason game of the 2011 season as they visit the Atlanta Falcons on Friday.

    The lack of OTAs or many training camp practices will likely force the Dolphins to keep things pretty simplified and I also don't expect we'll see much of the starters in this game as the team looks to avoid injury and evaluate the newer talent.

    That being the case, several roster sports or roles with the team could be up for grabs tonight, and here are five that have me intrigued.

    Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and currently works for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.

1. Battle for the Third QB Spot

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    Undrafted rookie Pat Devlin outplayed Tom Brandstater (now with the Cowboys) early in camp, but the Dolphins brought in some stiffer competition in the form of 2008 third-rounder Kevin O'Connell. For what it's worth, O'Connell actually leapfrogged Devlin on the team's initial depth chart from Monday.

    A disappointment thus far in his NFL career, O'Connell is still young and has a nice blend of smarts, arm strength, size, and mobility. Devlin is a solid developmental prospect and a worthy third-string quarterback candidate, but O'Connell is more NFL ready and has more upside.

    Expect both guys to see significant time in today's game, and this is one situation that could significantly make or break someone's attempt to secure a roster spot.

2. Will a Second Tight End Please Stand Up?

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    I've evaluated ad nauseam the Dolphins' lack of a No. 2 tight end over the past few seasons and what kind of negative impact that has had on Chad Henne and the team's offense.

    A tight end not named Anthony Fasano didn't catch a pass until Week 17 of last season, when Vikings' seventh-rounder Mickey Shuler hauled in two in the season finale. The team shuffled Shuler with fellow rookies Jeron Mastrud and Dedrick Epps to little success.

    The team didn't make any major additions at the position and are apparently hoping someone will step up, so it will be interesting to see if anyone can. Shuler appears to be the favorite but is certainly not safe, while undrafted rookie Brett Brackett (Penn State) has an intriguing skill set and is a player to watch.

3. Can John Jerry Get out of the Dog House?

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    Jerry was actually a guy I wanted the Dolphins to draft last year, and they did so in the third round in 2010. However, he was a significant disappointment in 12 games (10 starts) as a rookie and doesn't appear to be progressing given the team's shift of Vernon Carey inside.

    For whatever reason, the talented Jerry hasn't been able to put it all together yet and is seriously in danger of a roster spot. Former undrafted free agent Ray Feinga is more highly-regarded by the staff, and don't forget about the versatile Nate Garner, who missed all of last season with a foot injury.

    Incognito and Carey look penciled in as the starting guards, meaning Jerry has a battle on his hands to just earn a backup role with the team just a year after being taken in the third round.

4. The Backup Pass Rushers

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    It's no secret Cameron Wake was a monster last year, but teams are going to be gunning for him now and the Dolphins cannot get by without a better pass-rushing presence from the other outside linebackers.

    Koa Misi, who was shut out in the sack department over the final 10 weeks of last season, will need to step his game up or lose time to recently re-signed veteran Jason Taylor.

    The Dolphins also need to see if they have any capable rotational players in Ikaika Alama-Francis and free-agent pickup Jason Trusnik, as well as undrafted rookies Jonathan Freeny and Quinton Spears.

    The backup jobs at outside linebacker are wide open right now, and it will be interesting to see if someone can step up and take some pressure off Wake.

5. A New Starting Free Safety?

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    Clemons was solid in his first year as a starter in 2010, totaling 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. But there are concerns about his play-making ability, coverage skills, and overall upside, which means he's going to have to fight to fend off promising 2010 fifth-rounder Reshad Jones.

    Jones had a big game against Tennessee last year and was excellent on special teams, and word is he's been splitting time with Clemons at free safety in camp. Clemons is the incumbent, but Jones is going to make a serious push for the job and can separate himself in the preseason.