Miami Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas is a player to watch in tonight's first preseason game.
The Miami Dolphins
travel over to Tampa tonight to [editor's note: I may be going insane - the game is absolutely in Miami] play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in each team's first preseason game of 2013. Of course, the stars for both teams will not be the stars of tonight's match-up, as both teams will limit their first teams to a drive or two before putting in the reserves. While trying to watch the game as an NFL fan, it might be tough to stay tuned in with a field full of no-name players, but for us as Dolphins fans, this game could be full of great story lines to watch. Here are some players to watch tonight - no matter when they are playing:
1. Ryan Tannehill - This one is the most obvious. Tannehill has looked good in practices so far this training camp, but this will be the first time he is playing against an NFL defense who is actually looking to hit the rookie. Will he be able to stand in the pocket against the pressure? Most of us have only seen highlight clips of Tannehill so far this year, so this will be the first chance we get to see the eighth overall pick play for an extended period of time.
2. Clyde Gates - Gates is seriously in danger of becoming irrelevant on the Dolphins roster. He's currently eighth on the wide receivers depth chart, and is the third punt returner for the team. For a guy with his speed, there's no way Gates should be buried that far down the chart. If he can't find a way to impress in the preseason games, Gates could find himself on the wrong side of the cuts.
3. Jimmy Wilson - The sophomore safety is looking to establish his skill set after playing cornerback last year. Wilson was the starter opposite Reshad Jones early in camp when Chris Clemons was out with an injury, claiming the spot ahead of Tyrone Culver. If Wilson can continue to develop quickly as a safety, he could pressure Clemons for playing time, or even the starting role, by the time the regular season gets here.
4. Michael Egnew - The Dolphins selected Egnew with the goal of making the tight end a seam-stretching, pass-catching threat. So far in camp, Egnew has been a non-factor. He's struggled as a pass catcher, clearing the way for H-back Charles Clay to claim the second string tight end spot. Egnew has to adjust to the NFL game quickly, and getting extended reps in preseason games should help with that.
5. Derrick Shelby - The undrafted free agent defensive end has been a force in training camp. He's established himself as Cameron Wake's primary back up, and was even starting at defensive end when Wake was out earlier this week, ahead of players like third round pick Olivier Vernon. Shelby should be a player to watch as he goes up against an opposing quarterback he can truly rush and hit. If he has the motor he has shown in training camp, he could be an undrafted steal for the Dolphins.
6. Jonathan Martin - I have purposely stayed away from starters on this list, because they won't be in the game very long, but Martin could be the exception. Martin needs reps at right tackle to make the switch from the left side he played at Stanford. After last year's abysmal performance from the right side of the Dolphins' offensive line (right tackle Marc Colombo and right guard Vernon Carey), getting Martin reps should be a focus of the team.
7. Daniel Thomas - The sophomore running back started off last year as the top rookie rusher in the league, but injuries and the emergence of Reggie Bush as an every down runner quickly curtailed Thomas' success. Now, Thomas has competition to back up Bush, with rookie Lamar Miller showing his combination of size and speed. Thomas needs to prove he is healthy and ready to serve as the change of pace back behind Bush early this preseason to ensure he holds on to the number two position.
8. Vontae Davis - Like Martin, Davis probably shouldn't be in the game very much, but could be. Davis has seen his position on the depth chart fall, with Richard Marshall replacing him opposite Sean Smith. Davis, meanwhile, comes into the game as the nickel cornerback, although he plays the boundary, while Marshall slides inside. Davis was seen as out of shape and un-focused during the debut episode of HBO's Hard Knocks this week. If he is going to shake that image, he has to start tonight.
9. Les Brown - This may be a personal preference, but I am really interested in see the rookie tight end. After giving up football five years ago, Brown is looking to make the Dolphins roster. As we saw in Hard Knocks, the coaches love Brown's effort and his pass catching, but see his pass protection and run blocking as a liability. Brown said after this week's Hard Knocks episode that, while he realizes he has work to do still, he wishes the show would have at least shown one good play he had during the first week of camp. Well, now is his chance to show everyone that he has some good plays too.
10. Jerome Messam - The 6' 4", 250 pounds tailback turned fullback needs to make an impact to climb up the depth chart. He is currently listed as the third fullback, but he started training camp in the crowded halfback corps, so his recent shift to the position could be the primary reason for his positioning. He's got the size to be successful as a lead blocker, and he has the carry ability to be a solid short distance runner. If he can prove in the preseason games that his blitz pickup is up-to-par, he could find a place on the roster.