Let’s face it, Preseason Week 4 is usually pretty boring around the NFL. It is a full schedule of games featuring players most fans cannot name, except maybe for their own favorite team’s players, as coaches look to protect their starters from injury and get one last look at some position battles around the roster. The Miami Dolphins, who will host the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, are exactly like the rest of the league, with some players scheduled to spend the night on the sideline, while others will probably see plenty of playing time.
What should we be watching for on Thursday?
1. Offensive line. The Dolphins are planning to use some of the starting offensive linemen this week, with head coach Adam Gase telling the media on Tuesday, “I feel like we do have a good feel of what we’re going to do. We’re going to have at least a couple of those guys go. I don’t know if all of them are going to go, but we’ll make those final decisions tonight and let those guys know what we are doing.” The team should use some of the younger guys, like guard Laremy Tunsil (assuming his injury from practice this week is not serious) and center Anthony Steen. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James and right guard Jermon Bushrod (or Dallas Thomas or Billy Turner) could also see playing time as the team looks to ensure the offensive line is on the same page. Really, left tackle Branden Albert may be the only starter (not including Mike Pouncey who is dealing with an injury and may not be available early in the season) not playing early in the game - and potentially deep into the first half. The line needs time working together, and Thursday will be the last chance to get that before the games start actually meaning something. The coaches should take advantage of that.
2. Griff Whalen. Whalen may be one of the hardest players to decide on which side of the cut line he resides. Will the team look to keep six receivers, with Whalen joining the group of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, and Jakeem Grant? Whalen is definitely on the roster bubble, and a strong performance Thursday could solidify his position. He probably needs to show his value on both offense and special teams in order to feel safe heading into the 53-man roster cuts.
3. Xavien Howard / Kenyan Drake. The Dolphins will see the debut of two of their rookies, cornerback Howard and running back Drake, after injuries kept them sidelined through most of the summer. Howard is expected to compete for - and claim - the starting cornerback position opposite Byron Maxwell, while Drake will be looking to earn the third or fourth running back slot. Both players will be rusty and still need to adjust to the speed of the game, but they will likely see plenty of playing time on Thursday to prepare them as best as possible ahead of the regular season.
4. Julius Warmsley. Warmsley has been impressive all summer, seeming to make plays whenever he is on the field. Warmsley appears to have locked up a roster spot, but the question is, could he be the starter next to Ndamukong Suh? Earl Mitchell has been injured this summer and Jordan Phillips has disappeared. That leaves Warmsley as a pretty good option to be playing with the first team. If he can have another good game on Thursday, he might just elevate himself into that spot.
5. Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins will debut Hard Rock Stadium on Thursday, the first game to be played since the arrival of the canopy and the $500 million renovations being completed. The stadium will be a new experience for the fans and the team, and it will, hopefully, put on a great show on Thursday, one that will carry into the regular season when Miami returns in Week 3 to play their first home game of the regular season.