Week three of the NFL preseason is typically considered the most important week of the exhibition season as teams tend to play their starters for the majority of the first half, and in some cases, a series into the third quarter so they can make halftime adjustments to both the starting offense and defense.
This dress rehearsal is likely the final in-game action several starters will see as the final preseason game will be used to give rest to those who are locks to make the team while providing ample opportunities for who are on the roster bubble to make their final claims for making the 53-man roster.
With that said, this week’s five players to watch are all likely to start or play a significant number of snaps for the Miami Dolphins in 2017 so this may be the final time we see them in action before week one against Tampa Bay.
Last week’s game against Baltimore showed there’s a connection and trust between Parker and Jay Cutler. The pair’s lone connection came on a 16-yard completion in traffic to open the team’s second possession.
Cutler also gave Parker an over thrown jump ball opportunity while they also had an impressive 31-yard throw and catch on third-and-16 wiped out by a holding penalty.
The hype surrounding Parker is dangerously high heading into the regular season, but recording four targets in extremely limited action last week shows the team isn’t going to be shy about targeting the third-year former first-round selection.
Maxwell made his presence felt last week forcing two fumbles in the first quarter against the Ravens.
With both Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley recording interceptions last week, the young Dolphins secondary has shown the ability to create turnovers but Maxwell is still going to be looked upon to lead this unit as the corner with the most NFL experience on the boundary.
The season-ending injury to Tony Lippett opens up the competition for the right side starting cornerback as Maxwell typically lines up on the left, but regardless of who takes the snaps on the right side, Maxwell seems likely to be the staple at the position with the combination of his experience, consistency and playmaking ability.
For Maxwell’s week-three performance to truly be deemed successful, you’ll want to see if he’s able to shut down his half of the field and compete against a new face in Philadelphia in Alshon Jeffery.
In his first complete season starting at left tackle for the Dolphins, Tunsil will have his work cut out for him playing the most important position on the offensive line while likely lining up next to a left guard that isn’t an ideal NFL starter, at least for the beginning of the season.
Tunsil has looked good so far in limited action this preseason, but will be asked to block the likes of Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett who can all be disruptive coming around the edge.
Also, with the way Cutler drops back and positions the ball pre-release, it will be even more important that Tunsil protects his blindside and doesn’t let defenders get within an arms swipe of Cutler who often leaves the ball exposed. Cutler has 32 career fumbles, averaging nearly three per year.
Still fairly fresh out of concussion protocol, Ajayi steps back into the role as lead tailback in a Dolphins offense that is likely to feature him as one of the league’s top running backs in terms of number of carries in 2017.
The coaching staff may play it safe with Ajayi for the remainder of preseason with Kenyan Drake also just recently coming out of concussion protocol, but it will be interesting to watch Ajayi play behind a questionable offensive line that’s likely to feature some options that would be more suited as backups.
Ajayi was clearly more impactful in 2016 when he played behind the team’s ideal top-five options on the offensive line, but we all know injuries happen – especially on the Dolphins offensive line – and you have to make it work with what you have, which would be great to see improvement from in Ajayi’s game.
After returning to practice Monday morning, it will be intriguing to see the likely starter at safety opposite Reshad Jones for at least the first half of this season.
With T.J. McDonald suspended the first eight weeks of the season, Allen’s return to practice comes at an ideal time for the coaching staff to work him into game action for the first time in a Dolphins uniform after signing with the team during the early portion of free agency.
Allen will look to be the last line of defense in the Dolphins secondary that the team has missed the last few years opposite Reshad Jones. Isa Abdul-Quddus and Louis Delmas found success in the position but were both derailed by injuries. Hopefully Allen has put his injury behind him and can provide a sense of stability at the position in 2017.