Following their disappointing performance last week at home against Tampa Bay, the Dolphins will travel north to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars on Saturday night. After last week's mud-fest, the Dolphins won't have to worry about a messy infield - though there is a 40% chance of rain on Saturday in Jacksonville - which hopefully means we'll get to see a better performance out of the offense.
And that is where we will start:
-Can the first-team offense bounce back? Last week against the Bucs, the starting offense gained just 39 yards of total offense but netted only 19 because of three penalties committed by the offensive line that resulted in a total of 20 yards lost. They averaged just 2.6 yards per play on their 15 total plays from scrimmage. We saw three dropped passes by the starting receivers. It was really just a total disappointment.
Tony Sparano said on Thursday that Chad Henne could remain on the field for the entire first half. I'm assuming that means the entire first-team offense would be joining Henne. If that's the case, then Sparano is sending a message to his team that he is unhappy with how the offense is performing. On Saturday night, the number one thing I'll be watching for is how efficient and effective the offense is at moving the football. Will Henne and his receivers look more comfortable? Will the Dolphins be able to move the ball a little? It might only be preseason, but I really want to at least see something out of the starting offense. Don't you?
-It's time to figure out who the three starting interior offensive linemen will be. We all know Tony Sparano is an offensive line coach at heart and that he loves to mix and match his players early in camp to come up with the most effective grouping. But Sparano usually locks in his starting five following the second preseason game. Based on who has been working with the first team since last week's preseason opener, it's clear who the front-runners for the jobs are: Richie Incognito, Joe Berger, and rookie John Jerry (from left to right). Will these three perform well enough to clinch their spots? I hope so.
You have to wonder, though, if Berger is really a better option at center than Jake Grove. Grove was playing at such a high level last year before an injury essentially ended his season six games early. In camp he's been nursing a bone bruise to his leg. But if he gets healthy by the start of the season, I still believe he could take Berger's job. That means Berger's performance in these preseason games that much more important to him. Let's see if he can take that next step and cement a starting job.
-Improved play out of Miami's young secondary is crucial. There's a lot of pressure on three second-year players to perform this year. A lot of the team's success will depend on how much better Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Chris Clemons have gotten since 2009. It might only be preseason, but all three of these guys made too many mistakes against a below-average team like Tampa Bay last week. Davis didn't get his head around and locate a ball that ended up landing in the hands of rookie WR Mike Williams for a 30 yard gain. Smith was either too far off his man or was a victim of a miscommunication. Either way he gave up a touchdown pass to the not-so-elite "Josh Freeman to Sammie Stroughter" connection. Clemons, meanwhile, whiffed badly on a scramble from quarterback Josh Johnson that resulted in a first down on 3rd & 16.
Like Tampa, the Jaguars don't exactly have a great group of receivers, either. And if the Dolphins can't contain these guys on Tampa and Jacksonville, how will they contain some of the receivers they will face in the regular season?
-Consistency is the key for a number of players. Last week we saw a number of players with strong performances on the defensive side of the ball. Paul Soliai was probably the most impressive. But just one monster performance in the preseason opener isn't enough to gain the coaching staff's trust. Consistency has always been Soliai's problem. He's flashed serious potential a couple of times in his career. But then he has a tendency of disappearing - not an easy feat for a 340+ pound man. Let's see how Paul follows up his stellar performance a week ago.
Likewise, it's always interesting to see how rookies perform week to week - even in the preseason. Jared Odrick and Koa Misi had solid debuts last week. But many young players have trouble following up strong performances with more strong performances. So I'll be keeping a close eye on these two rookies who have all but officially locked up their starting roles.
-Fringe players need to continue flashing. While many of the competitions for starting jobs are winding down, there are numerous bubble players who are looking to make strong cases to make the final roster. Nate Ness and Marlon Moore were two of the fringe players who had strong showing last week against the Bucs. They've instantly vaulted themselves onto the minds of Dolphin fans everywhere. After all, we love rooting for the underdog and witnessing the rise of unknown players into the spotlight. Davone Bess is a perfect example of that (though many, myself included, did call it when he was signed on draft night that he'd make the final roster). Ness and Moore are probably at the top of the list in terms of bubble players making a strong push - a list that also includes Roberto Wallace, Lionel Dotson, and Micah Johnson.
On the flip side, time is running out for Pat White. Sparano failed to even speak of White when discussing his plans for the quarterback position on Saturday night - which speaks volumes in itself. White played just three snaps last week - a hand-off and two kneel-downs. He reportedly looked very bad late this week in practice. And it's looking more and more likely that the clock is about to strike midnight for this second-round Cinderella.