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Dolphins vs Panthers: What to watch for

Didn' the Dolphins just play a preseason game a few days ago?  After months and months without football, the Dolphins hit the field for their second game this week as the 2009 preseason marches on.  On Saturday, the Dolphins welcome the Carolina Panthers to Land Shark Stadium.  And below are just some of the things I'll be watching for as the Dolphins continue to prepare for their division title defense.

Last week against Jacksonville, the Dolphins first-team offensive line struggled to get any push or open up any holes.  Often times, though, it did seem like they were a block (or missed block, really) away from breaking a decent run.  The Panthers don't have as talented of a defensive front as the Jaguars do.  There's nobody up the middle for Carolina like Jacksonville's John Henderson.  Hopefully that means Jake Grove and Justin Smiley play much better than they did on Monday night.

Donald Thomas is also expected to start with the first-team and play more than he did on Monday.  He's still working to get back in shape after missing a lot of time due to the injury he sustained while training during the offseason.  His first game activity since the '08 season opener went well for Thomas.  He impressed me on Monday night with his ability to sustain his blocks and drive his man out of the play.  But he still had hiccups with his technique - which is to be expected for a 2008 6th round pick who spent all but one game on IR last year.  But with Thomas back where he should be - starting - it's time to see the offensive line start to gel.

Let's also not forget about Jake Long and Vernon Carey.  I'll be interested to see how those two do when going up against Julius Peppers in a passing situation.  Long had a shaky game on Monday and I hope to see him bounce back with a solid performance on Saturday.

On Monday against the Jaguars, the first-team secondary really did a terrific job at shutting down Jacksonville's passing offense.  They held David Garrard to just 22 yards passing while limiting him to completing four of seven passes.  Of course, the Jaguars don't exactly have big-time receivers.  But Torry Holt is still a talented player and remains a savvy veteran.  So it's impressive considering the questions we all had about how the secondary would perform.

But now consistency will be critical.  The Panthers will be without Steve Smith.  So their receiving corps, like Jacksonville's, is average at best.  Therefore, the secondary, and Sean Smith in particular, will have to show some consistency.  Coming off of a short week, I really think this will be a good test for the secondary as a whole - but especially for the young corners.

But the storylines in the secondary continue even after the starting unit comes out.  Will Vontae Davis bounce back after a rough professional debut on Monday night?  He committed too many mental mistakes and cost his team yards - a big "no-no" in the eyes of any coaching staff, especially this one.

Also, following the release of Eric Green, guys like Jason Allen and Joey Thomas will likely receive more playing time.  How will they respond as each attempts to make a case for having a role on the final 53-man roster?

None of Miami's three quarterbacks really set the world on fire on Monday night.  But it's still early and it's expected that the defenses be ahead of the offenses at this point.  However, things do need to get rolling eventually. 

To be honest, I'm not really worried at all about Chad Pennington.  I'm fairly confident that we know what we're going to get from him assuming he stays healthy.  But it would be nice to see the first-team offense beginning to get into a rhythm in the passing game.

But I'll be more interested in how Chad Henne performs on Saturday night.  He's coming off of a "so-so" performance on Monday night and will enter the game off of a short work week.  How much improvement will the young QB show in just a matter of days?  Hopefully, we don't see as many poor decisions as we did last week (I counted at least two very bad decisions - one led to an interception, the other should have been but was dropped).  To be frank, I haven't seen what others have to declare Henne a young stud QB.  He's been inconsistent and, according to all reports, he hasn't had a good camp this year.  Now I admit I was impressed with his performance against Arizona last year in week two.  But that was late in a blow-out against an average (at best) defense.  So as much as I want to believe Henne is going to be a star, I'm not ready to anoint him just yet.  I hope he performs well on Saturday to erase some of my doubt.

Meanwhile, Pat White's 2/7 performance on Monday night wasn't nearly as bad as the numbers lead you to believe.  Three of those passes should have been caught and he did make a play or two with his legs.  But White still didn't look comfortable taking snaps from under center - looking awkward at times dropping back.  We'll see how he's improved in such a short week when he takes the field late in Saturday's game.

Some quick hits of things to watch for:

  • Will Greg Camarillo get more action?  He was only on the field on Monday night for a handful of plays.  Speaking of receivers, let's not forget about Ted Ginn.  He had a strong showing in just a quarter of action last game.  Let's see if he can show come consistency - which was a problem for Ginn game-to-game last season.
  • How will Miami's outside pass-rush perform?  Cameron Wake had a solid debut working with the second-team last game.  But he still struggled to free himself once a big tackle got his hands on him.  He'll need to develop more than just a speed-rush to be effective consistently.  Also, will any other outside linebackers "flash" for the coaching staff?
  • Will Channing Crowder continue to show improved play?  He blitzed a couple of times last game and, while he didn't record a sack, he did help collapse the pocket and make the quarterback uncomfortable.  He also showed better ability to drop back into coverage.  Let's hope we see more of that from Channing.
  • Will either kicker separate himself from the other?
  • Speaking of separation, will any of the possible sixth receivers separate themselves from the others?  Many eyes will be on return specialist Chris Williams.  Another strong showing by the lightning fast return man will further strengthen his case to make the squad despite limited, if any, contributions to any other aspect of the football team.
  • Randy Starks had a very strong game last Monday working as the starting DE opposite Kendall Langford.  Can he put together back-to-back strong performances and distance himself from guys like Phillip Merling and Tony McDaniel?

For the preseason opener, we had over 1,600 comments during our live game threads.  I expect a bigger turnout as we inch closer and closer to opening day.  The game thread will be posted roughly a half hour before kickoff.  And please remember - no posting of links to illegally watch the game and no requesting of links to illegally watch the game.  Also, please do not post your e-mail address on the site and request that somebody with info on how to illegally watch the game send you the info.  I was lenient last week, but violators will be banned for a couple weeks from this point on.  Thanks!