A five-game preseason is on its last chapter for the Dolphins tonight, as they take on the Saints at Sun Life Stadium. The final preseason game is usually the least relevant for teams with starters playing very little, if any, and many of the roster-fringe battles already decided.
Coach Joe Philbin has yet to reveal how long or if the Dolphins’ first-teamers will play, but there might be a few roster spots that could still be up for grabs. Here are my five keys to a successful preseason finale:
1. Most starters don’t play
Is a series or two really going to better prepare Ryan Tannehill for the regular season? As far as I’m concerned, the Dolphins’ starting offense and defense finished on a high note in last week’s dress rehearsal. There’s no need to risk that momentum and definitely no reason to risk injury by giving either starting unit reps against the Saints tonight.
There are a couple of exceptions, however. Right guard John Jerry, after missing the first three preseason games, needs to play tonight for conditioning purposes. Jerry only played the first quarter last Saturday, and could use a decent workload in order to ensure he’ll be able to make it all four quarters in Cleveland.
Also, first-team tight end Charles Clay could use a bounce-back performance after catching one ball on six targets vs. Tampa Bay. Speaking of tight ends…
2. Productive night from tight ends in passing game
Whether it’s Charles Clay, Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller or even Evan Rodriguez, the Dolphins would love to see their tight end corps begin to validate themselves with some big plays in the passing game tonight.
Clay is one of the few starters who should play, and any of the backups at the position are capable of jumping him on the depth chart. I’m interested to see if Kyle Miller can put up one last effort to make the team and if Evan Rodriguez, after primarily lining up at fullback/H-back for the first four exhibitions, gets more reps at tight end tonight.
3. Backup linebackers stay hot
Miami’s second and third-team linebackers were underwhelming during the team’s first three preseason games. Last week, however, they were much more active, led by sacks from Jonathan Freeny and Josh Kaddu. Both Freeny and Kaddu need another strong showing against the Saints, as it remains a mystery who will back up the starting three at the position.
As a fourth-round pick, I don’t think Jelani Jenkins will be in any real danger during final cuts. But he needs to show more than he has so far if he wants to see the field on defense this season.
4. Jonas Gray bounces back with best performance of preseason
This has more to do with Daniel Thomas than Jonas Gray. I have concerns about the Dolphins’ ability to be an efficient red zone offense in 2013 with a relatively small set of pass catchers for Ryan Tannehill to throw to. That’s why they could use a powerful short-yardage back to rely on near the goal-line.
Sorry, I just don’t see Daniel Thomas being that guy. Despite a fumble last Saturday, I still think Jonas Gray is currently this offense’s most reliable short-yardage runner. The Notre Dame alum will need to steal the show against New Orleans to warrant a roster spot, though.
5. Good night in coverage for Jamar Taylor
Second-round pick Jamar Taylor hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start as a rookie, missing most of training camp and the Dolphins’ first two preseason games with a groin injury. But he’s back in the lineup now, and could push for significant playing time this season with another solid performance in coverage in the preseason finale.
Will Davis missed practice this week with an ankle injury and Nolan Carroll was held out of drills on Tuesday with a back issue. The spotlight will on Taylor at cornerback tonight.
I think he can eventually surpass Carroll as the starting boundary corner in the nickel package, but fellow rookie Will Davis is just as likely to steal that spot. Lockdown coverage tonight would go a long way for Taylor.