What: Dolphins at Buccaneers preseason exhibition
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium/ Tampa Bay, Florida
Weather: 10% chance of isolated showers and thunderstorms before 8 p.m. Low around 79.
TV: Miami WFOR-TV (CBS 4), West Palm Beach WTVX-TV (Channel 34), Fort Myers HBBH-TV (Channel 2), Orlando WRDQ (Channel 27), NFL Network replay Sunday night at 11, NFL Preseason Live
Through two preseason games, it’s difficult to put your finger on the 2011 Miami Dolphins. Week 1 in Atlanta, against a Super Bowl caliber Falcons’ team, the Dolphins’ starters were embarrassed in the first quarter, falling behind 17-0.
Then, last week, the first-team looked dominant on both sides of the ball. Chad Henne was on, the running game surprisingly shined, and the defense forced more punts than yielded first downs. But all those good things happened against what was the worst team in football a year ago.
The picture should clear up some after tonight.
Obviously, we won’t be able to judge the Dolphins with any real certainty after a preseason game. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a 10-6 team a year ago in one of the toughest divisions in football.
Essentially, the Bucs are what many optimistic fans think the Dolphins can be- a legitimate wild card contender. With that said, it will be very intriguing to see how the Dolphins measure up in Tampa tonight.
The Bucs will be eager to bounce back after getting shellacked by the Patriots 31-17 a week ago in a game that was a laugher early on. If the Dolphins’ starters outplay Tampa’s tonight, there will finally be some legitimate reasons to be optimistic in South Beach.
Here are the five things that need to happen for a successful dress rehearsal:
What: Dolphins at Buccaneers preseason exhibition
It’s once again time to take a glance at our 53-man roster projection.
With the first and second teams figuring to undergo their dress rehearsal Saturday night in Tampa, many of the roster fringe players will likely have to wait until Thursday against the Cowboys to win the coaching staff over and earn themselves a place on this team.
As a reminder, this isn’t a 53-man roster prediction. This is simply a freeze frame of what the final 53 may look like if cuts were made today.
- Quarterback: Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Kevin O’Connell
Cuts: Pat Devlin
We didn’t get a glimpse of O’Connell or Devlin against the Panthers after getting only a brief look at Devlin in Atlanta. We heard some good things about Devlin early on in camp, which positions him to unseat O’Connell with a strong preseason performance.
We’ll likely have to wait until Dallas comes to town in the final exhibition to see either, though, as Chad Henne and Matt Moore will likely steal all of the reps in the dress rehearsal on Saturday. For now, O’Connell gets the nod because of the experience he brings to the table.
- Running back: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lex Hilliard, Larry Johnson
Cuts: Nic Grigsby
I’ll tentatively sneak the newly signed Larry Johnson on the 53. If he has anything left in the tank, he’ll likely stick. But if he struggles with the significant time he figures to see on Saturday night, he’ll have a quick exit in Miami.
- Fullback/H-back: Charles Clay
Cuts: Lousaka Polite
Most agree that the Dolphins should part ways with Lousaka Polite. Fullback is a dying breed in this league and Polite would bring nothing but short-yardage conversions to the Dolphins’ offense. But I have doubted whether or not the Dolphins would actually cut Polite.
With Sparano admitting the bleak future of the fullback position this week and with Charles Clay seeing time with the first-team ahead of Polite, I see the Dolphins making the right move when final cuts are made.
- Tight end: Anthony Fasano, Jeron Mastrud, Mickey Shuler
Cuts: Dedrick Epps, Brett Brackett
The Dolphins are reportedly in the market for a solid number two tight end and are willing to shop defensive end Phillip Merling in order to land one. It would be a wise move because after Fasano there isn’t a tight end on the team that’s 53-man roster material.
Jeron Mastrud and Mickey Shuler hang on for now, but keep your eye on Dedrick Epps. Epps had an 18-yard grab and saw some goal line reps as a blocker against the Panthers. He could unseat one with a solid performance in the final two preseason games. But I still expect the Dolphins to find their number two tight end on the waiver wire if they can’t pull the trigger on a trade.
- Wide receiver: Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace
Cuts: Phillip Livas, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, John Matthews, Patrick Carter
Marlon Moore would have given the Dolphins an awful lot to think about had he not dropped that well-placed Matt Moore pass along the sidelines that would have went for an easy score. Instead, he’s still on the outside looking in.
Phillip Livas failed to follow up his brilliant return performance in The Georgia Dome with any noteworthy kick or punt returns. But he didn’t make any mistakes, which keeps him in striking distance to land a roster spot if he can impress in the return game against Tampa.
Even if Livas and Moore shine in the final two weeks of the preseason, I feel like the top five are fairly safe regardless. The Dolphins would likely entertain the possibility of keeping six receivers if either one stands out.
- Offensive tackle: Jake Long, Marc Colombo, Lydon Murtha, Nate Garner
Cuts: Ray Willis, Matt Kopa, Allen Barbre, D.J. Jones
I don’t see much changing here from a week ago. Ray Willis returns after missing time due to the death of his father. He’s capable of pushing for a roster spot if he can impress these final two games. In that event, Garner would likely move inside because there is really no need to keep five tackles.
- Offensive guard: Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, Ray Feinga
Cuts: John Jerry
I still expect the Dolphins to clean their hands of John Jerry in the same way they did former third-round pick Patrick Turner last preseason. We haven’t heard much from Feinga lately, but he surprisingly spent time with the starters early on in camp.
- Center: Mike Pouncey, Joe Berger
I feel like the Dolphins are very open to potentially cutting Berger after he disappointed when given the opportunity to start a year ago. But they likely need to see something from Nate Garner, who has spent time at center in camp and this preseason, to feel comfortable dropping him.
Center is crucial to the success of the running game and poor snaps can lead to turnovers. The Dolphins need a capable center in case something happened to Mike Pouncey. Richie Incognito can get the job done, but he looks improved early on and the Dolphins probably want to keep him put at guard. As for now, Berger will likely make the team by default.
Yesterday we took a look at the Dolphins’ defense- a potentially elite unit that could be more turnovers and fewer points away from surfacing as one of the top defenses in football. But the consensus is the defense is already playoff ready.
Everybody knows what really needs to happen for this team to defy logic and surprisingly land one of the conference’s six playoff spots. The offense, which ranked 21st in total yards but a pitiful 30th in points scored a year ago, must at least find an identity if the Dolphins are going to seriously compete.
In 2010, while Chad Henne deservingly takes on the bulk of the blame, it’s the running game that disappointed me the most. If you can compliment a great defense with a dominant, ball-control running game, you may not have a Super Bowl recipe but you have what it takes to make a playoff run.
The Dolphins weren’t able to do that under Dan Henning last year. The passing game was actually average, ranking in at 16th, but what was a top five rushing attack in 2009, freefell to 21st.
Accompany the demise of the running game with Chad Henne gift wrapping games for opposing defenses with costly interceptions at the worst times and red-zone woes that probably won Dan Carpenter owners dominance in fantasy football, and it’s easy to see why it’s so difficult to pinpoint what exactly went wrong in 2010.
But it’s a new year. There’s a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll. Daboll doesn’t exactly have an imposing track record, but he brings refreshing youth and energy to the table.
The running game is remodeled, with a new starting center in rookie Mike Pouncey, Vernon Carey’s move to right guard, and the new Reggie Bush-Daniel Thomas running back tandem.
Bush along with fourth-round pick Clyde Gates, also addressed a need for speed, as the Dolphins’ offense seemed incapable of producing chunk yardage a year ago.
With all that said, Chad Henne is still under center. Once again, the success of this football team will live and die by Henne’s right arm. So that’s where we’ll start in our playoff formula for the Miami Dolphins’ offense.
It’s time throw on my cape and take on my role as captain obvious. Everybody knows, NFL analysis and casual fans alike, that something in Chad Henne’s head must start clicking this season if the Dolphins are going to sneak into the playoffs.
Does he have to be great? Well, that depends. If the new-look running game is good enough to play ball-control offense and the defense takes the next step, I would settle for Henne just cutting down on interceptions.
If he’s able to move the ball efficiently again and avoids the costly mistakes that lost games for the Dolphins in 2010, he’ll be a much better quarterback and this will be a much better football team.
But judging by the glimpses I’ve seen for Henne, I actually think he’s capable of more. After all, we’re talking about a quarterback that threw for over 300 yard three times and over 250 yards six times last year.
He has all the tools to put up big yardage this season, especially in Brian Daboll’s attack that utilizes more of a vertical passing game. I also think he’ll benefit more from the Reggie Bush addition than people realize.
Not only will Reggie open up Checkdown Chad’s conservative reads, he’s a player defenses have to account for on every play. That will only open up things for Marshall, Bess, and Hartline.
With all that said, though, the light bulb actually turning on in Henne’s head is far from a sure thing. Excluding Drew Brees, who emerged in his third season as the starter in San Diego, most of the top NFL quarterbacks had already established themselves going into their third year under center.
Henne’s habit of staring down receivers, probably the biggest thing holding him back, doesn’t appear to be a thing of the past judging by the first two preseason games. But here’s to hoping…
Henne’s magic numbers: 3,700 yards passing, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
Many Dolfans out there believe the Dolphins have enough weapons to be a playoff team and it’s all about the triggerman Chad Henne in terms of finding success to make the postseason. The fan base seems pretty content with the Dolphins receiving core as a whole. Having the go to guy in Brandon Marshall, the killer from the slot Davone Bess, and white lightning in Brian Hartline, most believe Miami is pretty set at wide out.
The NFL has become a pure passing league. The formula for success has become find the QB, then protect him and get him solid weapons.
While the offensive line in Miami might come with some question marks, I do believe that the Dolphins have done a decent job in trying to find the right people to protect Chad Henne.
The reason I started thinking about this is because former Dolphins' WR OJ McDuffie said on Armando and the Amigo that the Dolphins should consider Davone Bess as their OTHER starting WR, saying “Brian Hartline, hasn't gotten open deep as often as I would want."My question for you today, though, is Brian Hartline really a capable #2 WR?
A month ago, I put out a blog listing the top five coaches on the hot seat (http://phinsphocus.com/2011-articles/july/the-hot-seat.html). Our very own Tony Sparano was second on that list to only Norv Turner. One month later, I wanted to look at some other people that might be feeling the burn from under their seat.
The most important position in sports, the grand puba, the Quarterback. Unless you’re the 2000 Ravens you’re not going very far without a quarterback. Here is a look at 5 starting Quarterbacks that will have the weight of the world on their shoulders this season.
1) Chad Henne
Yes I am a Dolphins fan and will take any excuse to talk Aqua and Orange, but the fact is Chad Henne is probably the quarterback that is facing the most pressure in the entire league. There are several reasons why Chad is listed number 1. Nothing is a better indicator of being under the pressure cooker then when your own fans are booing you in a practice. Chad was drafted in the second round and was thought to be the solution to the Dolphins' QB search. To date, Chad hasn’t lived up to his potential in Miami and has left Miami fans STILL waiting for the first true starting QB since Dan Marino. Patience is running low for the Dolphins' fan base and Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross for that matter.
This will be the final straw for Chad. Its make or break, do or die. Tony has put all his faith in Henne passing up bringing in real competition or drafting a QB. Now the ball is in Chad’s court. We shall see what happens.
2) Donovan McNabb
Some might think that putting McNabb to on this list is a bit high considering he has had a successful NFL career and doesn’t have much competition behind him. Vikings most likely will bring along rookie Ponder slowly to ensure a smooth transition to the pros. The reason I have McNabb at two on this list is because he is playing for his legacy. Right now, I think McNabb falls short of the Hall of Fame. However, if he has a resurgence and goes to a Super Bowl that perhaps will be changed. On the other side, if McNabb has another flop like in Washington his legacy could be tarnished.
Playoffs??? Don’t talk about — playoffs??? You kidding me? Playoffs?? That’s right; I want to talk a little playoff football. Yes, in regards to the Miami Dolphins and how exactly they are going to get in.
The pessimist in the group, and believe me they’re here, may channel their inner Jim Mora. How is a football team capable of making a playoff run in the heated AFC East, playing third fiddle to the Jets and Patriots?
How exactly does a team that was two games under .500 in 2010 and was plagued by a tumultuous offseason that included the courting of Jim Harbaugh while Tony Sparano was still under contract, stand a chance in a conference loaded with elite teams?
Well, there’s this trend in the playoffs. Actually, it’s more than a trend. Its 15 years strong. It’s more of a rule. Over the past decade-and-a-half, five teams that made the playoffs don’t make it back the next year. Obviously, that means five teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2010 are posed for a run at the postseason this year.
Why not the Dolphins? Why can’t a team that beat the Super Bowl champion Packers, lost to the AFC champion Steelers on a unanimously disputed call, and went into the Meadowlands and beat the AFC runner up New York Jets at their own game be a playoff contender?
The Dolphins also handed games to teams they clearly outplayed late in the season when they were edged by the Browns (Henne’s three picks), Bills (Dan Carpenter’s four missed field goals), and Lions (fourth quarter collapse) in the month of December. That’s a three game swing.
You can’t make excuses and the fact is we can go through all the coulda-woulda-shoulda scenarios we want, but what’s done is done. I’m simply stating what last year’s Dolphins were capable of.
Take away some mind-boggling mistakes and a horrific call and we could easily be talking about an 11-5 team. That means nothing now, but I think it shows that these Dolphins may not be as far off as some of the media’s talking heads tell us they are.
Having said that, the obstacles are very much still there. Making the playoffs in the AFC, where either the Steelers or Ravens are expected to land one wild-card spot, and in the AFC East no less, where the Patriots may be the best team in football again and the Jets project to land the conference’s second wild-card opening, will be no easy task.
I’m not saying it’s likely. I’m just saying it’s possible.
So what needs to happen for the Dolphins to bridge the gap from mediocre to the playoffs? Well, the short and easy answer is put more points on the board via Chad Henne finally getting his head on straight. Obviously, that is indeed the case. But the longer and more difficult answer is a little more complicated.
Today, I want to focus on the improvements that can be made on the defensive side of the ball before we venture on over to Brian Daboll’s offense tomorrow. This formula is devised with the thinking that the Dolphins will continue to stop the run and the pass well, if not improve in doing so.
The Dolphins were sixth in total defense in 2010, but they weren’t as close to elite status as that ranking indicates. Great defenses in this league force takeaways. The Dolphins rarely did so in 2010, finishing 28th in interceptions and 24th in fumble recoveries.
But I want to focus on interceptions because that will be more in their control and they squandered several easy opportunities to pick off passes a year ago.
The five teams that led the league in interceptions last season, all made the playoffs. The Patriots led the league with 25 picks and the Steelers and Bears rounded off the top five with 21 apiece. The Dolphins only managed 11, probably dropping just as many.
Two players in particular that need to step their game up are Sean Smith and Chris Clemons. Sean is emerging as one of the top cover corners in football, but if he wants to be Pro Bowl caliber and help the Dolphins’ defense take the next step he’ll need to capitalize on the golden opportunities that hit him square in the hands.
Chris Clemons also had his share of drops, and assuming he starts over Reshad Jones, who he’s still battling for the job, the Dolphins would benefit if he becomes more of a ball hawk in centerfield.
Magic number: 20 interceptions
There is finally some optimism in the air following the Dolphins’ 20-10 win over the Panthers on Friday night thanks to a dominant first-half performance from the starters.
Those good feelings are tempered some by who the opponent was, a Carolina team that selected first in the draft after going 2-14 a year ago, but the progress we saw was refreshing nonetheless.
Let’s take a look at whose stock is up and whose stock is down halfway through the preseason.
Reggie Bush: One night in a meaningless preseason game doesn’t overshadow what Bush has done in his first five seasons in the league, but there’s no denying he looked the part of feature back against the Panthers.
He did the things we expected, showcasing explosiveness in the open field and receiving skills arguably second to none as far as running backs go.
But he also did some of the things the critics say he doesn’t do well. He ran between the tackles and picked up some tough yards after contact with determination and extra effort.
What appeared to be a long shot when the Dolphins traded for him, and that was being optimistic, Bush suddenly seems capable of becoming the Dolphins’ primary runner this season.
I worry Reggie won’t be able to hold up with workhorse carries combined with all the extra touches he gets as a receiving threat and in the return game. But if he can stay healthy, I don’t see why Reggie can’t have a career year in Miami.
Kevin Burnett: Burnett was less than stellar in the opener against the Falcons, failing to fill running lanes effectively which was one reason why Atlanta was able to run all over the Dolphins early on.
On Friday against the Panthers, though, Burnett looked like a considerable upgrade over Channing Crowder, filling running lanes, getting after the quarterback, and dropping back into coverage where he saw the opportunity to reel in an interception bounce off his hands.
It’s evident that Burnett is much faster and athletic than his predecessor. He figures to bolster the Dolphins’ ability to cover backs and tight ends and adds the playmaking aspect Miami has missed over the years with Crowder.
Dansby and Burnett should be entertaining to watch this season, flying all over the field as one of the league’s most underrated inside linebacker tandems.