The Miami Dolphins will host the Baltimore Ravens tonight in the third week of the preseason. This game should feature the starters for both teams more than any other game during the preseason, with the clubs using this as a chance to make sure everything is ready for the regular season before protecting their key contributors next week during the fourth preseason game. A lot has to be answered still for the Dolphins, and hopefully this game will give us all a better understanding of what will happen this year.
After a 10-6 season in 2016, landing in the playoffs, the Dolphins regressed in 2017, falling to 6-10 in one of the most unusual seasons ever. Included in the insanity was the training camp/preseason loss of both the offensive play caller, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and defensive play caller, then-rookie linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Now, as the team looks toward 2018, they have both of those players back and will hope that is a big part of their struggles from last season.
What should we be watching for in this week’s game? Those two are a big part of it.
1. Ryan Tannehill, David Fales, and Brock Osweiler.
Tannehill has to prove the offense is ready for the regular season. He has played fairly well so far this preseason, at times making throws that look like there is still some rust to work out, but solid play thus far. The offense has proven it can speed up the tempo of play and they have shown they are capable of moving the ball up-and-down the field. The problem is, they have not shown they can score yet. Miami is relying on field goals a lot during the preseason. Part of that is head coach Adam Gase admitting they are not calling red zone offense plays, but at some point, the first team has to get the ball into the end zone.
Behind Tannehill, Fales and Osweiler need to establish who will be the backup quarterback this year. Fales jumped out to an early lead, but Osweiler has not gone away. One of the two of them need to come out hot tonight and show they are the player Miami can rely upon should the need arise.
McMillan is a large part of this, and he needs to quickly move from looking like a player on the field for the first time on defense - which he is, but has to get through that - and start looking more like the middle linebacker in charge of the defense. Maybe it is unfair to McMillan, but it is what is needed right now.
Next to McMillan, Kiko Alonso resumes his role on the outside and he is healthy, so hopefully he will be able to compliment McMillan and be ready for a better 2018. Rookie Jerome Baker appears to be the other starting outside linebacker, but he is going to make rookie mistakes. The linebackers as a whole have to come together and figure out how to support each other and the defensive line, and tonight may be the best chance for them to figure that out astray will likely see the most game snaps they will see this year.
Behind those three, players like Stephone Anthony, Chase Allen, and Quentin Poling need to step up and show they can be the depth options Miami will need at some point this year.
3. Mike Gesicki
The Dolphins have not really involved rookie tight end Mike Gesicki much this preseason. He was targeted twice in the team’s preseason opener, but was overthrown both times. He was not targeted last week. The Dolphins have seemed to be more interested in having Gesicki block in the preseason, working on his technique and giving him experience there, but at some point, the team is going to have to get him involved in the passing attack more than just in practice.
4. Defensive tackles
This almost feels like the same situation as the linebackers, where younger players are being asked to step up and perform, and now they need to do it. Jordan Phillips has been battling an injury, but Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor need to step up and prove that they can be a starter and a depth option, respectively. Akeem Spence should be locked in as one starter, with either Godchaux or Phillips playing in the other spot. Whatever the case, the team was gashed up the middle last week against the Carolina Panthers, and they need to show that they can plug up those holes this week against the Ravens.
A few weeks ago, it appeared the Dolphins were set to have a dynamic set of cornerbacks, with starting caliber players buried behind other starters on the depth chart. Now, Xavien Howard is one starter, and the rest of the group is a mess. No one seems to want to claim the other starting position. After allowing Cordrea Tankersley, Tony Lippett, and Torry McTyer all have shots as the top player opposite Howard, Miami last week moved nickel cornerback Bobby McCain outside, with rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick moving up to play in the nickel. Will that combination actually work? Will someone else finally step up and claim the spot? The Dolphins need to get this settled and tonight would be a great time for that.
Honorable mention: Penalties
We have talked about penalties a lot, especially pre-snap penalties. Miami needs to get them under control.