When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: EverBank Field- Jacksonville, Florida
TV: Local only, replay on NFL Network Monday night at 11 p.m.
Weather: Around 80 degrees with a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms
I've been out of the office for last couple days with some technical difficulties. As a result, I wasn't able to cover the final day of Dolphins' training camp or post my weekly take on the 53-man roster. But hey, it's the preseason for me too I guess. Tonight's exhibition contest in Jacksonville seems far from meaningless for the Dolphins, who need a huge bounce back performance for morale and momentum.
And when I say the Dolphins need to bounce back I'm really just talking about the offense, and more specifically the first-team. Four possessions, no points, not moving past their own 39-yard line, and three drops isn't going to cut it for this offense. Especially when all the pieces appear to be in place for this unit to finally break out. So what three questions need to be answered, and which three players will I be watching ever so closely?
Will starting offense bounce back?
Because of those well-documented struggles last week versus Tampa, Tony Sparano has hinted at letting Chad Henne along with presumably the entire first-team offense play as much as the entire first-half. Now, in the event Henne and the crew produce a couple scoring drives early and move the ball fairly consistently, we may see a satisfied Sparano pull them out sometime in the second quarter, but regardless we are going to get our best look yet at this supposedly revamped offense.
The fans are going to want to see the running game continue to look as good as ever, Chad Henne effectively move the chains by utilizing his top tier arm strength all the while making sound decisions, Brandon Marshall actually hang on for his first catch, and then get a few more, and the interior offensive line finally settle down. A full half of action against a likely average defense at best, should produce a couple scoring drives for the night to be a success. And when I say scoring drives, I'm not talking about field goals.
Will Run D' get first true test?
Considering Maurice Jones-Drew only ran the ball twice last week, and the Jaguars as a whole only ran nine times in the entire game, we may have to wait for Micheal Turner to come to town next weekend. If the Jags decide to let Jones-Drew out of the cage, though, we will get a great look at the run defense with Randy Starks at nose tackle. Outside of a few missed tackles and a couple over-pursued angles, the Dolphins' front seven was pretty solid in the first-half last week. Would that continue if one of the league's best backs is featured in the game plan tonight?
How will the secondary fare?
The secondary wasn't awful like the first-team offense last Saturday, but I think we can all agree that things could have been a little better. Vontae Davis, despite solid coverage, got beat for a deep pass along the sideline, Sean Smith gave up a touchdown because he was too deep covering the flats, Chris Clemons failed to lock up the starting free safety job, and all three strings struggled to get off the field on third down.
After going 5 for 10 for only 35 yards last week, David Garrard, who could also be feeling some pressure from Luke McCown's 244 passing yards and three touchdowns in the same game, will be looking for a bounce back performance of his own. Davis and Smith need to start showing signs of a near future dominate corner tandem, Chirs Clemons needs to wrap-up ball carriers, and those on the roster fringe can't afford to have a poor showing.
Three players to watch
Randy Thomas: After signing this week, former Pro Bowler Randy Thomas needs to showcase signs of his old self if he's going to make this team, yet along compete for a starting job. He's obviously not in good enough shape yet to see extensive time tonight, but I expect him to get possibly a whole series with the starters at left guard.
Nate Ness: Ness stole the show in the second-half against the Buc's, but consistency will now be a must if he's going to convince the Dolphins to keep six corners. Bill Parcells even reportedly called him a one-quarter wonder, which is likely a motivational tactic by the Big Tuna to get the same type of production out of Ness tonight and the rest of the preseason. He's obviously not going to force two fumbles and break-up two passes every game, but lock-down coverage against Jacksonville's second and third team receivers will keep his momentum going.
Patrick Turner/Marlon Moore/Roberto Wallace: Okay, I cheated a little bit by listing three players. But those three players are competing for just one spot. Patrick Turner is the unanimous favorite at the moment, but Moore and Wallace flashed enough potential last week and reportedly in training camp to possibly unseat Turner by taking over a game. All three need to continue to make plays in the passing game, but how they contribute on special teams will be equally important.
Wallace hurt his cause a week ago by allowing his man to block a punt. Those types of mistakes simply can't happen tonight. Moore will reportedly get some looks returning kicks. Consistently hitting the whole hard by going north and south and possibly breaking off a big return would likely make Moore the front-runner to surpass Turner.