The Miami Dolphins are getting ready to play the second preseason game of the season tonight, taking on the Carolina Panthers. While the third preseason game is considered to be the critical game for the team before the season, tonight's game really could be the most critical game of some players' lives. Next week, when the Dolphins come home to play the Atlanta Falcons, the starters are going to play into the second half, and cuts start after that game.
Which, ultimately, makes this game the last chance some players may have to impress the coaches during a game. Players could very well be looking to save their football lives tonight, and that will make intriguing story lines during a game that, really, means not much more.
Players like Chris Hogan, Jimmy Wilson, Derrick Shelby, Josh Samuda, and Rishard Matthews are all going to busing tonight's contest as a chance to solidify their position with the team.
Wide receiver Hogan became an overnight celebrity this week when he was featured on HBO's Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins. Reggie Bushcalled Hogan "7-Eleven" during the show, and it instantly become the key line from the show. Hogan now needs to back up the notoriety by performing in tonight's game. Because of the Hard Knocks episode, many 53-man roster projections, including here, have started putting Hogan into the "makes the team" category. A solid performance tonight could set that in stone.
Wilson, meanwhile, has to bounce back after one poor play last week. Wilson, who is shifting from cornerback to safety this year, made a break on a pass, and should have come down with the interception. Instead, he tried to cradle the ball into his chest, and essentially handed the ball to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Tiquan Undewood. While Wilson is not really a threat to unseat Chris Clemons as the starter, and should not be in danger of losing his roster spot, he could use a strong performance tonight to get back his confidence, as well as put some confidence in the fans.
Shelby took the Phinsider's rookie spotlight yesterday, and should remain in that spotlight tonight. Starting defensive end Cameron Wake will most likely miss the game as he continues to recover after a car accident this week, opening up the position for Shelby, at least for one game. Shelby is just one of two undrafted free agents currently listed as high as second on the depth chart, and should be as closed to locked into the final depth cart as a player can be right now. A strong performance tonight should finalize his position on the roster.
The other second team UDFA is Samuda, who is currently the backup center behind Mike Pouncey. Samuda has been a surprise throughout camp this year, and, like Shelby, should be just about locked in to the roster. He needs to continue to work on his snaps, and making sure he has good chemistry with the quarterbacks, which will be a factor the coaches are watching tonight once he gets into the game.
Finally, Matthews is a intriguing guy for Miami. He showed off a returner ability last year, but has not been a factor in the passing game so far. For a wide receiver to establish himself as one of the eleven guys to claim one of just six positions, just being a good returner is not going to be enough. Matthews has to show up soon, and most likely in this game, if he wants to work his way out of the wrong side of the cut line.
While the obvious story line for tonight's game will be Ryan Tannehillstarting for the first time, the rookie quarterback is not the sole player looking to claim a spot. We will see in just a few hours if any of these guys can improve their depth chart positions tonight.