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.
We kicked off this series a week ago with blinders on. Players already had the opportunity to impress in training camp, but hadn’t showcased their ability in a game setting yet.
Well, we got our most revealing glimpse of the 2011 Miami Dolphins last Friday night in Atlanta.
More importantly, for the sake of our 53-man roster projection, we saw a few roster bubble players surface as possible upsets to make the team.
Meanwhile, others underwhelmed and now must right the ship in a hurry if they stand a chance of surviving final cuts.
As a reminder, this isn’t a 53-man roster prediction. We’ll save that for after the exhibition season has concluded.
This is simply a freeze frame of what the team might look like if the Dolphins were forced to make final cuts today. A total of six positions have been tweaked since last week.
Quarterback: Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Kevin O’Connell
Cuts: Pat Devlin
Devlin may have played in Atlanta while O’Connell didn’t leave the sideline, but the depth chart doesn’t change from my point of view. The Dolphins have plenty of film on O’Connell and hold a better grasp for what he brings to the table.
Devlin, meanwhile, is only a rookie and the Dolphins wanted to, probably still want to, get a better feel for what he can do at this level. Devlin went 0-2 in The Georgia Dome. He’ll need to make better of his opportunities against Carolina if he hopes to surpass O’Connell and the experience he provides at the third spot.
Running back: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lex Hilliard, Nic Grigsby
Cuts: Kory Sheets
It wasn’t the prettiest performance from Kory Sheets, who averaged a measly 2.0 yards-per-carry on nine attempts. Nic Grigsby wasn’t exactly productive either, but he led the Dolphins in rushing against the Falcons with 22 yards on seven carries.
Grigsby reportedly moved up to the third-team ahead of Sheets this week in practice. Sheets could easily bounce back and reclaim his roster spot against the Panthers, but if Week 1 was a sign of things to come, it’s clear that many were too high on him this offseason.
Fullback/H-back: Charles Clay
Cuts: Lousaka Polite
Charles Clay is already getting the nod over Polite on the first-team at fullback, as he’s crossed trained at tight end as well. Sparano also mentioned Lex Hilliard as a possible fullback option. He did give Polite a vote of confidence to the media, but it appeared as though he was paying some respect to a veteran who is likely on the outs to me.
If the Dolphins were to keep Polite it would be for short-yardage situations only. He just doesn’t get the job done anymore as a lead blocker. It’s hard to justify, as important as those short-yardage conversions are, keeping a guy around for a 10-15 plays a season.
Tight end: Anthony Fasano, Jeron Mastrud
Cuts: Mickey Shuler, Brett Brackett, Dedrick Epps
With Charles Clay figuring to see plenty of snaps at tight end as well, I still think the Dolphins can afford to only keep three. That could easily change as teams make cuts themselves and the Dolphins can search the waiver wire for some depth at the position. Because right now, they have none.
Excluding Fasano, I have a hard time seeing two of these guys, who would likely be nothing more than practice squad material on many NFL teams, taking up roster spots.
Wide Receiver: Bandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Clyde Gates, Phillip Livas
Cuts: Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, John Matthews, Patrick Carter
By no means is Phillip Livas even close to being a lock to make this team. Like I said, this is a freeze frame not a prediction. This 53-man roster projection is under the assumption that the final three preseason contest will mirror what happened in the first one.
I’ll go out a limb and say that won’t happen. Phillip Livas probably won’t return another punt the distance. But if he can simply continue to show some explosiveness with the ball in his hands, while consistently producing respectable returns, he’ll likely find a spot.
With Roberto Wallace in the midst of a strong camp and preseason, and with Clyde Gates looking promising, the Dolphins will have to keep six receivers to make room for Livas.
Offensive tackle: Jake Long, Marc Colombo, Lydon Murtha, Nate Garner
Cuts: Ray Willis, Matt Kopa, Allen Barbre, D.J. Jones
Ray Willis, likely the only projected cut capable of seriously challenging for a roster spot, has been absent at practice all week for presumably a personal issue.
And while the Dolphins not cutting him, at least not to our knowledge, somewhat shows their favorable opinion of him, the guys ahead have obviously further distanced themselves.
Offensive guard: Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, Ray Feinga
Cuts: John Jerry
This may be the weakest position on the team right now. John Jerry has given us no reason to believe he deserves a roster spot, only confirming how huge of a bust he’s been since the Dolphins selected him in round three of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Center: Mike Pouncey, Joe Berger
It looks like the Dolphins want to cut Berger, as they’ve been giving Nate Garner reps at center all week. From what I’ve heard, though, Garner has had some snapping issues. If the Dolphins don’t feel safe with Garner backing up Pouncey, then Berger likely squeezes on the roster.
But let’s not forget Richie Incognito is still capable of playing the position, although the Dolphins may not feel comfortable moving him from guard where there isn’t exactly a capable fill-in on the second team.
The final horn sounds on a sweltering August day in Davie. Practice may be over for the Miami Dolphins, but it’s just begun for Reggie Bush.
Fans that aren’t quite ready to head home either can see him out there long after his teammates have bolted for refreshing air-conditioned climates.
He’ll hit the sleds, catch passes off the jugs machine, even run wind sprints. He’ll likely top the day off with an autograph session that’s been known to last up to 45 minutes, rewarding those fans that endured the heat and humidity with him.
The “scandalous” college football legend, who felt compelled to forfeit his 2005 Heisman trophy following heavy sanctions on USC and allegations that he received improper benefits, is seemingly doing all the right things in Miami.
Reggie Bush is motivated. That’s clear. Maybe all of this is derived from his name being drug threw the mud in the USC saga. I have a hard time criminalizing a kid, fresh out of high school for accepting free things being shoved in his face, but it’s easy to see why Reggie could be playing with a chip on his shoulder these days.
Or maybe it’s the way things ended in New Orleans that has Bush pushing himself so hard. He was a key piece on a Super Bowl winning team in 2009, after all.
It’s hard to blame the Saints for wanting to spare themselves the $11.8 million Bush was owed this year, but many avid Saints’ fans will tell you that the offense lacked something when Bush was hurt for a good portion of 2010.
Sure, he’s been a disappointment when considering the expectations he came into the league with and remembering how the NFL world was shocked when the Texans chose Mario Williams over the thought-to-be future Hall of Famer with the first overall pick.
Bush hasn’t played a full 16-game season since his rookie year, hasn’t topped 600 yards on the ground in his career, and has seemingly never developed into a back you would trust with a starter’s workload.
It would be a story without a parallel if Bush somehow miraculously rose from underachiever to finally living up to his expectations he came into the league with in his sixth season. Nobody is expecting that, nor should they. Draft “experts” got a little carried away with Bush’s explosiveness. It’s hard to blame them when you look at a highlight reel of Bush’s days a USC.
But hard work pays off. Bush has reportedly been the first person on the field and the last to leave for a couple weeks now in Davie. If that’s indicative of how hard he’s been working all offseason and how hard he plans on pushing himself for the duration of his stint in Miami, you have to believe good things are in store for Reggie.
With Phillip Livas and Roberto Wallace shining in the preseason opener, prompting speculation that the Dolphins could be strongly considering keeping six receivers on the 53-man roster, one of the last positions you’d think Jeff Ireland would address would be receiver.
Throw in fourth-round pick Clyde Gates scoring a touchdown in his first professional contest and even the solid play of Marlon Moore, and it’s hard to fathom a reason why the Dolphins would need to tweak the unit.
Jeff Ireland clearly doesn’t see it that way, though, signing former Jacksonville Jaguars’ wideout John Matthews and waiving Brooks Foster, who was really nothing more than a camp body at the position.
The 6-0, 200 pound San Diego product didn’t catch a pass in three games as a rookie last season. The Dolphins’ receiving corps appears loaded with depth, so Matthews making the team is a long shot at best.
Clearly Ireland and Sparano felt that the receivers bordering on the roster fringe weren’t being pushed enough by the camp bodies. Either that or Brooks Foster could have been injured at practice today and the Dolphins didn’t want to drop a number at the position. Those are really the only two logical explanations I can come up with.
For the past 3 years we have watched the big boss man Tony Sparano walk up and down the sidelines with a firm fist pump and some cool shades. In his first year, Tony led the Dolphins to a 11-5 record and a division title, this coming off a 1-15 season no less.
At the time, going into his second season, Tony had already led a team to the playoffs and was a potential candidate for coach of the year. That was all two years ago. A lot has changed these days. Since then the Dolphins have failed to return to the playoffs or even materialize a winning record.
The love for Tony Sparano has turned into a lack of patience from not only the fans but also the Dolphins' owner Mr. Ross.
Tony has led two consecutive 7-9 teams, not only failing to led Miami to the playoffs again but in the process has put some of the most conservative and boring football on the field. The team has grown to accept kicking field goals instead of being aggressive and not settling for anything less than seven.
All this led to a huge mess in the offseason in the public attempt to bring in 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, all the while completely making a sham of the organization and putting Tony in a very awkward spot.
Competition is the name of the game in training camp and the preseason. Not only of the exhibition variety, but in its fiercest sense, teammates battling it out for final roster spots and starting roles.
We’ve spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the competitions on the back end of the roster for the right to be a member of the 2011 Miami Dolphins. Now, I want to spend some time discussing the battles with first-team implications.
As with the “Who’s In, Who’s Out?” series, this isn’t a final prediction of who I see winning out. This is more of a freeze frame; a report on which Dolphins would start if Week 1 was today. Let’s start with none other than free safety, where Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones are going toe-to-toe.
Free safety: Chris Clemons vs. Reshad Jones
Early on in camp, it appeared that Reshad Jones was on the verge of overtaking Chris Clemons at starting free safety. With three preseason games left on the slate, Jones has plenty of remaining opportunities to do just that. But it’s becoming clear that Chris Clemons is once again the man to beat.
Clemons isn’t the gambling type, usually staying disciplined in his assignments, which hurts his ability to make game-changing plays. But he’s safe. Jones, on the other hand, likes to take chances in center field, putting him in better position to make plays on the football. But that also means starting him would be somewhat of a roll of the dice by the Dolphins.
Jones was a non-factor on Friday night in Atlanta, while Clemons flashed by laying the wood on John Parker Wilson, effectively knocking the rookie quarterback out of the game with a concussion.
Jones could easily get back in the driver’s seat with a big play or two in the next three weeks, as Sparano has already went on record saying playmaking ability will be a deciding factor in the competition. Without any noteworthy plays from Jones, though, Clemons’ safe, consistent play will likely win out in the end.
Fullback/H-back: Lousaka Polite vs. Charles Clay
Even with Tony Sparano defending him to the media Monday afternoon and suggesting that he still has value to the offense, Lousaka Polite’s days as a Miami Dolphin could be numbered.
Given his struggles as a lead blocker a year ago, Polite’s only real value to the Dolphins is in short-yardage situations, as he’s been nearly unstoppable when only a yard or less stands between Miami and a fresh set of downs.
Brian Daboll’s new offense doesn’t utilize the I-formation nearly as frequently as the traditionalist Dan Henning did. A pure fullback is far from a necessity and wouldn’t exactly be a valued luxury.
Charles Clay is already taking most of Polite’s reps with the first-team offense in practice. There just doesn’t appear to be enough room to keep Polite around as essentially a situational player.
The first game has come and gone and I already miss Dolphins' football. Fortunately we don’t have to wait very long as the second preseason game is this Friday the 19th. With game number two slowly approaching us, I wanted to take a closer look at 5 players/units that need to step up their game to solidify their spots on this roster. Whether they have a roster spot locked in or they are battling to make this team, all these guys have something to prove in week 2 of the preseason.
1) The first-team Dolphins' defense
The obvious person who should be at the top of this list is Chad Henne. I, like most Dolphins fans, can recognize that there are going to be up and downs with Henne. Obviously, it would be nice for Chad to come out with a strong week to gain some confidence but whether Chad struggles or excels this team will live and die by him so it doesn’t really matter. Chad has a lot to prove to the fans, however, to the organization it is pretty clear that he is their guy now and there isn’t much that is going to change that.
That being said, the Dolphins' defense is suppose to be a top 5 unit this season. They looked more like the 25th ranked defense against Atlanta. Miami’s starting unit needs to show up vs. Carolina. I know it’s only the preseason, but there is no excuse for not having a strong outing against the Carolina offense this week.
2) Running backs Daniel Thomas and Kory Sheets
Thomas is obviously going to take this team and hopefully will become the full-time ball carrier for the Phins in the future, while Kory Sheets is going to struggle to make the roster, yet both have something to prove next week. Sheets came out on Friday night with a pretty poor showing. If he wants to make this team he is going to have to do something rather impressive in the second preseason game.
Daniel Thomas made one nice played hauling in a 25-yard pass in the flat. He didn’t really show much in the running game, however. The offensive line wasn’t really there against Atlanta but Thomas needs to prove to this team he can be a lead back to depend on.