The Miami Dolphins enter the pivotal third week of the preseason with a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, with several question marks still surrounding the South Florida franchise. The “dress rehearsal” game will give all of us the best chance we have had, or will have before the regular season begins, to get an idea of exactly what the 2017 edition of the Dolphins will be. Can they overcome the numerous injuries sustained earlier this month? Will newcomers be able to find the chemistry they need to succeed?
There will be storylines about the Dolphins that carry over into the regular season - and will probably continue well into the season. Each game over the next few weeks will probably see many of the same questions be asked about Miami, but we can start to get answers tonight as the starters play an extended period of time. Here are three storylines to watch tonight against the Eagles:
1. Jay Cutler and the Miami receivers
Miami quarterback Jay Cutler was signed two days before the team’s first preseason game, meaning he missed nearly all of training camp before being thrust into the depth chart as the starting quarterback, replacing an injured Ryan Tannehill. In last week’s second preseason game, he made his debut as the top quarterback, and, while he comes to the team with a basic knowledge of head coach Adam Gase’s offensive system, he still needs time to gel with the team’s receiving corps. Early on, it appears he is finding some of that chemistry with third-year wide out DeVante Parker, and it will be only a matter of time until Cutler and fourth-year receiver Jarvis Landry start connecting, but there is still work to be done there and with receiver Kenny Stills and tight end Julius Thomas. Cutler has a learning curve this summer, and while it may not be as steep as it would have been for any other late addition quarterback, he has to work to master the offense and be ready for the regular season. Tonight, we should get a good idea of exactly how close he is to making that leap.
2. Offensive line juggling
Mike Pouncey is set to return to the starting lineup tonight, as is Ja’Wuan James. The addition of both the team’s starting center and starting right tackle could go a long way to answering the annual question about the status of Miami’s offensive line. The group has been hit hard by injury this summer, including a torn biceps from presumed starting left tackle Ted Larsen and a knee injury to utility reserve Kraig Urbik. Jremon Bushrod has the right tackle spot and Laremy Tunsil will be the starting left tackle, but the position between he and Pouncey is still a question that has to be answered. Jesse Davis looks like he is in line to assume that role, but the offensive line has to show up tonight - even if it is for a brief appearance as the coaches could pull Pouncey and James to prevent any sort of aggravation of their issues - to settle fears among fans and analysts, as well as to give some confidence to Cutler and the rest of the offense. If not, the Dolphins could be looking to add a veteran offensive lineman fairly quickly - and Branden Albert being available does make a lot of sense.
3. Byron Maxwell vs. Eagles
Maxwell has said he wants to beat the Eagles, the team that traded him away last year, even describing the feeling as “petty” but not caring. He was reportedly beat a few times during the teams’ joint practices this week, so that has to only add to his desire to go out and perform well on his former home field Thursday night. Will Maxwell show up under the lights and demonstrate the Eagles’ mistake in getting rid of him? Will he push too hard, gambling when he should not be, and give up a big play? The Dolphins expect a lot out of Maxwell this year, pairing him with second-year, and potential breakout, player Xavien Howard. If the Dolphins’ secondary is going to be good this year, Maxwell having a good game tonight could be the signal of what is to come.