The Miami Dolphins are making the trip to Canton, Ohio today for Sunday night’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
The starters likely won’t play very long, but football is still football. And let’s face it, we’ve been without football for far too long.
Some don’t look at it that way, though. Some see a fifth preseason game as just an extra opportunity for a key contributor to get injured.
But this is what the Dolphins wanted. On a team that experienced so much roster turnover over the offseason, the coaching staff thought they needed more time to prepare.
An extra week of practice and a fifth preseason game were requested to help Miami’s new pieces mesh in time for the opener in Cleveland.
We’ll see if the new-look Dolphins can begin to establish some chemistry on Sunday night. Here are five things that Dolphins fans would love to see from Miami in the Hall of Fame Game:
1. Clean bill of health
First and foremost, the Dolphins priority this preseason–as it should be every preseason–is to avoid injury. The team is already dealing several banged up players, many of whom are projected starters.
Armon Binns is out for the year and John Jerry and Rishard Matthews appear to be out for a significant amount of time. On top of that, Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks are all likely to be held out of tomorrow night’s game after missing practice time this week.
The Dolphins are struggling to stay healthy and can only hope that trend doesn’t continue on Sunday.
2. Early signs of a dominant pass rush
The Dolphins’ pass rush has been unstoppable through two weeks of practice. Dion Jordan, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and seemingly the entire linebacker corps have relentlessly pressured Ryan Tannehill and Miami’s quarterbacks.
Reigning All-Pro Cameron Wake, for whatever reason, has never really been an outstanding practice player. Add Wake’s impending dominance during the games into the mix and suddenly the Dolphins might possess the league’s top pass rush.
Unless, of course, it’s all been a product of terrible offensive line play. If the Dolphins’ front seven can make life as difficult as they’ve made it for their own quarterbacks for Kyle Orton and the rest of the Cowboys’ passers, the first-team offensive line might not be as bad as we think.
Maybe the pass rush is just THAT good.
The Dolphins’ will likely be without much of an interior rush with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks battling injuries, but it’ll be interesting to see if the edge rush–in particular Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan–can continue to provide constant pressure against another team.
3. Adequate protection for Ryan Tannehill
Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill likely won’t play long–probably two series or so. But the spotlight will be shining bright on the Dolphins’ first-team offensive line for the duration of his playing time.
Tannehill’s protection has been shoddy at best during the first two weeks of practice, which has resulted in some panic from the fanbase.
Left tackle Jonathan Martin and company can begin to repel some of the criticism by giving Tannehill and Matt Moore solid protection against what is usually a productive Cowboys’ pass rush.
4. Backup receivers begin to step up
With Armon Binns out for the year and Rishard Matthews sidelined for “several weeks,” the Dolphins’ fourth and fifth receiver spots are up for grabs. And with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline likely out of the lineup, Miami’s roster-bubble wideouts will have plenty of opportunities to make an impression.
Marvin McNutt and Brian Tyms saw some action with the starters this week at practice, but will they be able to hold off the likes of Julius Pruitt and Chad Bumphis?
If two players don’t emerge from the pack, beginning with tomorrow night’s game, the Dolphins will likely turn to the waiver wire to round out the receiver corps when teams start making cuts.
5. Improved cornerback play
The Dolphins’ biggest weakness in 2012–even more so than lacking weapons on offense–was not being able to stop the pass. A depleted secondary, particularly at cornerback, was primarily to blame.
The Dolphins didn’t have quality play from their starters at the position or decent depth, so general manager Jeff Ireland went out and signed Brent Grimes in free agency and drafted Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the second and third rounds.
Grimes and the starters likely won’t play very long against the Cowboys, but whether or not the Dolphins will have improved depth this season at corner might become apparent.
Second-round pick Jamar Taylor, who has recently returned to practice after sitting out much of the first two weeks, may or may not get significant playing time. Third-round selection Will Davis, meanwhile, has been a ball hawk at practice and will look to continue to get his hands on the football this preseason.
What will you be watching for tomorrow night? Drop us a line in the comments!