What: Dolphins vs. Panthers preseason exhibition
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Sun Life Stadium/Miami Gardens, Florida
TV: WFOR 4 (CBS) Miami, WCCB FOX 18 Charleston, NFL Preseason Live, replay on NFL Network tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Cam Newton making his first NFL start will grab the national spotlight, but in Miami, eyes will be on Reggie Bush making his debut in aqua and orange, while Chad Henne, the offensive line, and the first-team defense attempt to bounce back from a rough outing in Atlanta last week.
Last week’s struggles may have been overblown, but if the Dolphins’ starters look as inept as they did a week ago, the morale surrounding the organization will only continue to plummet. Those starters are expected to play into the second quarter, maybe even the whole first half in the case of some.
Again, the slate will be whipped clean come the Monday Night opener against the Patriots and how the team looked in the preseason won’t mean anything when it comes. But the Panthers were the worst team in football a year ago. Seeing positive signs is in order.
Sleep would come much easier for Dolphin fans if some of the major concerns surrounding this team are eased. Here are the top five things that need to happen to chalk up Week 2 of the preseason as a success for the Dolphins.
5 keys to success for Dolphins
1. Clean injury report: I may sound like a broken record, but that’s alright. Staying healthy is hands down the most important key for every team in the exhibition season. What meets the eye tonight won’t carry over to Week 1.
From a confidence standpoint it may for certain players, but once things get real, how the Dolphins played against the Panthers in the second week of the preseason will be forgotten.
However, significant injuries do carry over to the regular season. Meaningful games down the road could be impacted tonight if a starter gets seriously hurt. The probability of a key contributor getting banged up will increase with the first-team’s boost in playing time. Keep those fingers crossed.
2. Chad Henne lead one or two scoring drives, protect football: Depending on how he’s performing, I expect Henne to play into the second quarter if not the whole first half. Protecting the football will be priority number one, as he attempts to rebound from the two picks he threw in the first quarter against the Falcons.
But he shouldn’t accomplish that by playing conservative. Mr. Checkdown might benefit from Reggie Bush’s explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield, but it would be nice to see Henne lay the groundwork for a prolific connection with Brandon Marshall this season down the field.
Leading a couple scoring drives will go a long way in restoring confidence in Henne for the fans and coaches, whether they admit it or not, alike.
3. Some life from the running game: I didn’t expect the Dolphins to run all over the Falcons last week, as the interior offensive line is still very much in flux with a rookie at center and a former right tackle manning right guard.
I was at least hoping to see some push up front; enough to get a gauge for what rookie running back Daniel Thomas can bring to the table anyway. Instead the guard play looked incapable as Richie Incognito and Vernon Carey were seemingly dominated by a less than stellar Falcons’ defensive line.
With Reggie Bush making his debut tonight, we need to see progress up front. Life is going to be awfully rough for Chad Henne this season if he doesn’t have a respectable running game to lean on.
4. Shutdown Panthers’ running attack: The Dolphins were one of the stoutest defenses in football against the run a year ago. But last week the front seven looked like Swiss cheese, as the Falcons marched right down the field on Miami’s first-team defense with a heavy dose of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling.
There are far too many questions on the offensive side of the ball for a borderline top five defense to fall off. If Mike Nolan’s unit can pick up where it left off a year ago and take the steps you would expect a young defense to take, the Dolphins will be able to compete against anybody.
They may be on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs go all things the same on offense, but they won’t show up to a game they can’t win. If the defense isn’t who we think they are, though, this season could get ugly rather quickly.
Having said that, there is no reason to believe that’s where this defense is headed. It was one drive in the first preseason game. I not only expect a much better effort against DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, I would be shocked if the Dolphins didn’t keep them in check.
5. Expose Cam Newton: Cam Newton is probably going to be in the headlines tomorrow morning whatever happens tonight. For the Dolphins’ sake, the talking heads on ESPN better be arguing whether or not Cam Newton will be a bust or if Jimmy Clausen should still be considered for the Panthers’ starting job.
If Newton doesn’t look the part of rookie in his first start tonight, the Dolphins’ defense didn’t do their job. The Dolphins need to turn up the heat with the pass rush, forcing Newton to make some poor decisions, and capitalize on some likely forced passes by finishing those opportunities with an interception.
With the Panthers figuring to utilize Newton’s athletic ability on the bootleg frequently, tonight should be a good for test for the Dolphins’ linebackers. Kevin Burnett bolsters the linebacking corps’ speed and coverage ability. They should, I repeat should, pass with flying colors.