It is game day! Like, Miami Dolphins on the field playing a game against another team, in this case the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The offseason is behind us. Football is officially back, even if it is still just a preseason game. It is time to get back to football, it is time to get the Dolphins back, and it is time to zone everything out for 3+ hours tonight.
The first preseason game is such a tease when it comes to football, but it is football, and there is plenty to watch when it comes to the Dolphins, even if it is not the starters playing most of the game. What should you be watching tonight? I am so glad that you asked.
1. Allow him to reintroduce himself.
Two weeks ago, quarterback Ryan Tannehill reintroduced himself to his teammates as he reported to training camp, ready to get back to playing football for the first time since December 2016 (yes, he played briefly last training camp and throughout all of the offseason training program this year, but you know what I mean). Now, he gets to reintroduce himself to the Dolphins fans.
Tannehill was having his best year as a professional in 2016 when he first injured his knee, missing the final three games of that season and then the team’s brief playoff appearance. Following doctor’s advice, he rested and rehabbed the knee, appearing to be fully recovered as training camp opened last year. Then, as he rolled down the right sideline in practice, the knee failed and he hit the turf. Tannehill needed surgery this time to repair the ACL, and he missed all of the 2017 season, watching Jay Cutler and Matt Moore under center as the Dolphins fell from 10-6 in 2016 to 6-10 in 2017.
Do not expect to see Tannehill long in this game, but I would anticipate he is on the field for a series or two, long enough to get back out there and get comfortable, and maybe take a hit.
2. Allow him to introduce himself
Ryan Tannehill returning to the offense is a huge step forward for the Dolphins, but he is not the only major piece who was lost last year to a torn ACL. Then rookie linebacker Raekwon McMillan was set to take charge of the Dolphins’ defense, serving as the play caller and the rock in the middle. Then, on the opening kickoff of the first preseason game, McMillan tore his ACL and was out for the year. Fans never even got a chance to see him on defense. Now, he should be back in the middle of the defense. He probably will play more than Tannehill and many of the other starters tonight, simply because he missed all of his rookie year to get the experience the Dolphins would have liked him to have coming into this summer.
3. Who wants the job?
The Dolphins have a few position battles that will rage throughout the preseason, headlined by the cornerbacks, backup quarterbacks, and kickers. Xavien Howard will control one side of the field as a starting cornerback, but who will be lined up on the opposite side of the field? The team gave Bobby McCain a contract extension this offseason, but it feels like they see him primarily as a nickel cornerback, covering the slot receiver. He is likely in the running for a role outside, but he is not the favorite. Cordrea Tankersley, who got thrust into the starting role last year as a rookie because of injuries, was the early favorite for the spot, but he is being challenged by Torry McTyer and Tony Lippett. Tonight likely will not solve anything, but it will be a great start to finding the right player to start.
At quarterback, Tannehill is obviously the starter, but behind him is a competition with three players trying to prove they are worthy of being Tannehill’s understudy. David Fales seems to have the lead in the battle, being more consistent throughout training camp, especially when it comes to taking care of the ball. Brock Osweiler is the top challenger to Fales, and he has shown flashes of the talent that made the Houston Texans break the bank for him in 2016, but he has also shown the issues that made the Texans trade him just a year later and the Cleveland Browns then release him. Finally, Bryce Petty is also in the position group, but it feels like he is a training camp and preseason arm at this point. Can Fales or Osweiler take firm control of the battle tonight?
Finally, the Dolphins have two rookie kickers who are both trying to prove they are the right one to keep on the roster. Miami drafted Jason Sanders in the seventh round this year, then signed Greg Joseph as an undrafted free agent. Both players seem to have big legs, but there have been some accuracy issues as well. The coaches seem to still see this battle as even, so a big performance in a game situation could tilt this in either player’s favor.
4. First impressions
The Dolphins have some key rookies who will be getting on the field for the first time tonight, and they could see extended playing time as well. First-round selection Minkah Fitzpatrick should see playing time at safety and at cornerback during the game. Second-round pick Mike Gesicki should see extended playing time at tight end, showing off his receiving skills and, likely, being asked to block a lot so he can continue to work on his development in that regard. Third-round pick Jerome Baker has been very quiet in training camp, but he should see a ton of playing time in the preseason and he could show his coverage skills are what is expected of him and that he is developing and understanding the playbook. Fourth-round picks, Durham Smythe and Kalen Ballage should also see plenty of playing time at tight end and running back, respectively.
An undrafted free agent could also make a move starting this week. It feels like there is always one player who makes the roster and has an in-season impact for the Dolphins, and tonight we could start to see that player make a move.
5. Flags, whistles, and yards.
If anything about the Dolphins’ training camp translates straight over to the preseason games, it could be their amazing ability to get penalized prior to the snap. It has been a major issue in camp thus far, and the Dolphins have to get it under control. At this point, it feels like they are going to eat a ton of yardage as they get penalized over-and-over. Maybe the calls in camp are purposely more strict than what the Dolphins will see in games so that the discipline picks up some, but, as of now, you should expect to see yellow flying a lot on this team.