The Miami Dolphins are traveling to Georgia today for their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons. It will be the first time the world gets a look at the 2014 Dolphins. Many changes have been made and there are a plethora of things to keep an eye on throughout the preseason to keep it interesting (as it can often seem to drag after the initial excitement of watching football wears and turns into excitement for the regular season). Here are three things I will be watching for when Friday finally rolls around.
1. New Offense
The system being implemented by Bill Lazor, the man replacing the Dolphins' much-maligned former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, was a topic of many discussions throughout the 2014 offseason.
The anticipation is finally coming to an end as the masses will get their first look at Lazor's offense when the Dolphins take the field Friday in Atlanta.
We will only see the Dolphins starters for a couple of series, but we will still get a good taste of how the offense is conducted.
While there will be a huge drop off after Ryan Tannehill leaves the field (with Seth Lobato and Brock Jensen expected to handle a bulk of the snaps due to nagging injuries to usual back-ups Matt Moore and Pat Devlin), it will be interesting to see how the two undrafted rookie QBs play in this system, and more specifically if it can make them look better than their draft status.
If one, or both, of these undrafted rookies shine in this system, and the Dolphins pull out the win, then I think that will speak volumes to the potential of the offense when the starters take the field full-time in Week 1.
I expect to see a lot of quick throws and creative, fast-developing plays, a lot of throws to running backs and a strong dependence on the running game rather than leaning on the arm of Ryan Tannehill as the aforementioned Sherman did.
2. Hot Rookies
Friday will be our first look at the Dolphins' 2014 rookies. Out of the 25 rookies presently on the roster, I am most excited to see DE Terrence Fede, RB Damien Williams, LB Chris McCain and WR Jarvis Landry in their first NFL contests.
Terrence Fede left a significant impression on me when I attended the Dolphins scrimmage last Saturday. Fede looked huge, yet very quick. Fede showed why he was a great selection in the seventh round and why, with proper grooming, he could eventually be considered one of the steals of the 2014 draft (I say one because there will be many steals from the extremely deep 2014 draft class).
I can't wait to see how Fede (and the rest of the team for that matter) performs against unfamiliar opponents and if he can keep building upon the momentum he has created. The Dolphins are stacked at defensive end, but they will need to make some tough decisions if Fede keeps proving his worth. If Fede does what I think he will do this preseason, it will be nearly impossible for him poachers to not steal him away if he is put on the practice squad.
Damien Williams has an excellent opportunity to solidify himself as the number three back in this offense behind Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno (who was taken off of the PUP Wednesday). He still has a ton of work to do, but if this rookie translates what he is doing in practice to his first NFL game, and the three after that, then there's no reason that Williams couldn't become the next in a long line of undrafted running backs to make his mark on this league.
Williams, who has seen a lot of time on the second team in practice, faces his main competition from Mike Gillislee and Orleans Darkwa. All three will benefit from the absence (or limitation) of Daniel Thomas, who has been nursing an injury the past few days of training camp. Neither Gillislee nor Darkwa are isn't to be discounted in this race as Gillislee has had a very strong camp and Darkwa is an interesting prospect who may be waiting for game action to break out of his rookie shell.
If Williams continues to run hard for positive yards every play, shows he can catch the ball consistently and smoothly, and get loose for a few big plays (something he is highly capable of), then his play will force Dolphins management to not only keep him on the 53-man roster but also call his number in regular season contests.
Chris McCain is quickly taking Gator Hoskins' place as my second favorite UDFA behind Williams. McCain is very long and has the potential to be the blanket over tight ends that most teams covet (a role the Dolphins once used Dion Jordan in). Tight ends are becoming nearly uncoverable in this league with their combination of size, speed and strength and have given the Dolphins fits for years.
A guy with similar measurables is the best way to counter these tight ends (McCain is 6'6", 245 pounds). McCain could become that long coverage linebacker that the Dolphins have missed for so long, yet he won't give up an ounce of physicality.
I can't wait to see how McCain performs in his first NFL game. I'm willing to bet he will be hyped up and ready to hit people and make plays that show he belongs on an NFL roster.
Lastly, Jarvis "Juice" Landry will have my attention on Friday. Landry has yet to work his way up to starting slot receiver, so we will likely see a good amount of Landry as he participates in what will be a lengthy run for the second and third team offenses.
Landry is a pure playmaker. He is a gamer. Measurables can't measure the skill and heart of this guy, much like (am I really making this comparison?) Jerry Rice. Landry has hands that secrete glue and will make the catch if he gets his hands near the football. Landry scored a touchdown in the Saturday scrimmage off of a completely broken play where he reached back for a mistimed throw on a slant route and made multiple defenders miss, a sequence which left me with only one word in mind, "playmaker."
I predict that all of these rookies will have good games in Atlanta. This is not likely, but I am feeling the preseason optimism that us Dolphin fans have come to know as the best part of the season over the past ten years. Regardless, I will be watching intently Friday to see if these five rookies, as well as a few others, will confirm my belief in their abilities.
3. Offensive Line
It will be intriguing to see how the Dolphins' offensive line performs in their first action against someone in a different colored uniform. It will be compelling to watch the line's performance even after the first team leaves the field as guards Shelley Smith and Billy Turner will be working with the second team. Right guard is probably the only position still up for grabs on the offensive line, and both Smith and Turner will be working hard to unseat Dallas Thomas for the starting spot.
Contrarily, Thomas will be working to keep his spot and build continuity with the rest of his linemates. Thomas may be the weakest link along the line right now, so he has a lot to prove to his coaches and teammates in his first game of his sophomore season in the NFL.
Seeing the line's cohesion and ability to block is another thing I'm looking forward too. Can the Dolphins pass block after last year's line gave up a franchise-record 58 sacks? This I'm not as worried about as the new offense (at least when run correctly) ensures that the ball will be out of the quarterback's hands quickly.
Run-blocking is where the real questions lie. Can this team get four yards consistently? Can this team run for a first down in third-and-short situations? These are pressing questions whose answers will have a vital role in determining the outcome of the Dolphins' 2014 season.
While I think the answers will be yes, partly due to the subtle upgrades at running back, I will be watching keenly to see how the Dolphins' offensive line performs. Movement ability (as this is vey important in the Dolphin's zone-blocking scheme), physicality and ability to hold blocks and open holes will be paying attention to most intently.
Now that you've read a few things I'll be watching for in this game, I want to hear what you will be looking for when we get our first look at the 2014 Dolphins in Friday's game (in the comment section of this article).