Any die hard fan has the same thought come the middle of August, “Finally, football is on!”. The not so obsessed will throw out the “Who cares? These games are meaningless”. No matter what side of the fence you sit on, preseason football is finally here. For Miami Dolphins fans it has been yet another offseason of nail biting and suspense. Ryan Tannehill more than likely is out of the season, Jay Cutler has been brought in as his replacement, and Jay Ajayi has been entered in the concussion protocol. It has to be a shot in the gut as this was supposed “their year”. Adam Gase had the team winning, they finally have a good deal of talent, and they seemed to be working as a cohesive unit.
Unlikely for them, this is the NFL and the season can change at any given moment. How the team responds, even if just in preseason meaningless games, will ultimately determine if they truly believe in the “next man up” mantra. The Atlanta Falcons are a team that flip-flops back and forth between winning seasons and barely winning 6-7 games and made a trip all the way to the Super Bowl last year. Will they be a true gauge of what the Dolphins face this year or fall back into their old ways? Who will be under the microscope tonight as the two face off?
The Defense: The unit as a whole will be scrutinized heavily tonight. Critics have been looking to bash the Wide-9 scheme the moment it started to fail last season often pointing to the vulnerability in the run game. With a revamped linebacker unit and team-leading tackler Reshad Jones back in the mix, just how well can they improve on the run game? Will it affect the passing defense now that Xavien Howard is healthy and made it through a full camp? What role will rookies like Raekwon McMillan and Charles Harris play after being drafted as playmakers in the first two rounds?
The Offensive Line: With Ted Larsen being lost for some time due to injury, the team has to yet again reshuffle their line. The Dolphins coaching staff often referred back to Atlanta’s offensive line, stating it’s the reason they made the Super Bowl last year never having to shuffle staff, can they get a unit who doesn’t have to be reworked by midseason? The guard positions are up in the air after moving Laremy Tunsil out to tackle. No one knows just how quickly Miami will try to work in starting center Mike Pouncey and both guard spots are up for grabs. Someone will need to step up and claim those spots tonight.
Devante Parker: While the Miami Dolphins might not let their starters play too much into week 1 of the preseason, expect to see a little flash in the short series they do play. One of the biggest stories from camp has been how much Devante Parker finally looks like a break out star. Will we see enough out of the offense to try and dazzle fans back into believing or will they play it safe with their young talent? They obviously don’t want to show their hand in the preseason, but the way the coaches have been pumping up Parker makes it seem he’ll be tough to defend whether teams know it’s coming or not.
Not all fans get excited about preseason football. It’s hard for casual fans to care for players who might not make the team this season. However, there’s value in watching younger guys compete for roster spots. The unproven rookies show just how far along the team is and what direction the coaches are taking the team. With the Miami Dolphins, they barely had enough talent that looked like starters in the past. Then they went from a team that had starters but no backups to step up when someone went down. This season will be the true test if they went out and picked up enough pieces to make the late season push. The Dolphins have enough divisional games later in the year, some of these guys might be asked to step up towards the end of the season. Who will make a name for themselves early on?
The Atlanta Falcons take on the Miami Dolphins at home @7pm Thursday night.