The Miami Dolphins head north to Tampa Bay tonight to take on the Buccaneers. With this being the third preseason game, this will be the most critical test for the Dolphins as they prepare for the 2011 regular season. So, what should we watch for tonight?
1. Chad Henne. Miami's starting quarterback is always a focus of discussion. His performance tonight will be, deservingly, under the microscope again. Henne has always had an issue with consistency. He'll have a great game, and then follow it up with a poor performance. Well, last week, he had one of his better games. Hopefully that continues tonight against a better team, who will be treating this game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
2. Larry Johnson's Debut. The Dolphins brought in veteran running back Johnson this week to backup Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. Tonight, we should see Johnson on the field for the first time in a Dolphins' jersey. How the Dolphins utilize him, or if they utilize him at all, should give an indication to (1) if Johnson could make the 53-man roster and (2) if the Dolphins have faith in rookie Thomas' ability to serve as the power back to compliment Bush's speed back style.
3. Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones. The two free safeties have been battling all preseason for the starting role. Clemons, who holds the advantage of being last year's number one, is seen as a guy constantly in the right place, but lacks the instincts for the big play; Jones is exactly the opposite - he'll make the big play, but will often be out of position looking for that play. Tonight should go a long way to deciding the starting job.
4. Offensive Line. Miami's All-Pro left tackle Jake Long came off the Physically Unable to Perform list this week. Although there is no indication to Long's availability for tonight's game, the offensive line has to get the experience and start to gel before they face the Patriots in Week 1. A decision has to be made on the starters, specifically at the right tackle position. Marc Colombo was brought in to fill the role, moving former starter Vernon Carey to guard. However, he isn't performing to the level expected, leaving room for rumors of Carey moving back and of the Dolphins looking to free agency to fill the hole. However, the most intriguing idea is to move Lydon Murtha, who filled in as the starting left tackle while Long was out, over to right tackle. We'll see tonight if there is any traction to that idea, and see if Miami can find a way to fill the gaping hole in pass blocking.
5. Miami Defense vs. Tampa Tight Ends. Over the last two years, the Dolphins could not stop a tight end. Even as coverage on wide receivers improved and the running game got stuffed, all a quarterback had to do was turn to his tight end. Former Miami linebacker Channing Crowder anchored the defense, improving their play whenever he was on the field, but he was incapable of stopping a tight end. This year, Karlos Dansby gets a new inside linebacker mate in Kevin Burnett. Burnett has already demonstrated an improvement in the Dolphins' ability to cover tight ends. With the Buccaneers' Kellen Winslow ready to break out, this week should be a great opportunity to decide if the team has a tight end defense, or if Burnett and Dansby really will be able to shut down the position.
6. Dolphins Cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Earlier this week, second-year cornerback Davis declared he and Smith the greatest cornerback tandem in the NFL. Immediately, reactions began to fly. Dolphins fans loved the swagger. New York Jets corneback Darrelle Revis didn't agree. Whatever side of the argument you are on, you have to admit that the spotlight is now shining brightly on Davis and Smith. Thus far during the preseason, opposing receivers have yet to make a reception when being covered by either of the tandem. That kind of performance, and a few more interceptions, are going to be needed to back up Davis' claim.
7. Will Allen. Speaking of cornerbacks., our last thing to watch this week is Will Allen. Allen hasn't seen a game field in two years. He tore his ACL in 2009, then was placed on injured reserve before the 2010 season, and missed the first two preseason games this year. Last week he was expected to play, but was scratched with a sore hamstring. Time is running out if Allen wants to prove he can make it back to the Dolphins, and secure a place on the roster. If we don't see him against Tampa tonight, Allen's career with Miami may be done.
What are you watching for tonight?
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