The Miami Dolphins face off against the Chicago Bears in a few hours, kicking off the 2021 preseason for both teams. The Dolphins are expected to play their starters during the game, though they likely will not be on the field long. There also will be several key players, like wide receivers DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Albert Wilson, who will not be available after missing practice this week with injuries.
Of course, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s performance will be analyzed and dissected, because that is the nature of the position. But he should not be the real focal point for this game. With a vanilla playbook, likely limited game-planning for the Bears, and injured players, this is not the game to decide what Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense will be this year.
This is the game, however, to watch some of the bubble players. A roster spot may not be able to be decided today, but a good performance from a bubble player could make the coaches take a second look at the tape before final roster cuts. Which players could be on the bubble and need that strong game today?
Mack Hollins, wide receiver - DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, Albert Wilson, Jaylen Waddle all should be locks for the roster (though Fuller will miss the first game as he finishes a six-game suspension that began last year with the Houston Texans). That leaves two, maybe three, roster spots available for receivers. Robert Foster has had a great camp so far this season, while Jakeem Grant, Allen Hurns, Isaiah Ford, Lynn Bowden, Malcolm Perry, and Kirk Merritt are also making cases for the roster. Hollins is a good special teams player for the Dolphins, but he needs to have an impact quickly to show he is more than just a special teams contributor. He had a good practice against the Bears earlier this week, so another strong performance as the Dolphins face the Bears in a game situation could go a long way toward Hollins forcing his way to the head of the line of receivers hoping to make the roster.
Jonathan Ledbetter, defensive end - The Dolphins signed Ledbetter as an undrafted free agent in 2019, with him claiming a roster spot that year. He landed on injured reserve after Week 1, ending his rookie season. He continued on injured reserve for all of the 2020 season as well. Ledbetter could have a solid role as a rotational defensive lineman, but he needs to show that he is healthy and that he can knock off the rust after missing his first two seasons in the league.
Sam Eguavoen, linebacker - Like Hollins, Eguavoen has a role as a special teams player, but has to prove that he is among the top depth players at his position. Hurting Eguavoen’s roster spot is the addition of Shaquem Griffin at the start of training camp. The two have a similar role, and the Dolphins just added Griffin, which could give him the lead on the battle between the two. Eguavoen proving he is continuing to grow into an effective pass rusher will be key to his claiming a roster spot.
Noah Igbinoghene, cornerback - It feels like Igbinoghene is getting buried on the depth chart right now, dangerously being forgotten. He may not be in danger of losing a roster spot - he was a first-round pick last year and is still only 21 years old - but he definitely needs to shine in the preseason if he wants to climb back up the depth chart.
Patrick Laird, running back - The Dolphins have Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown, and Salvon Ahmed as the likely top three running backs heading into the season. They drafted Gerrid Doaks this year, which could give him a slight edge in the battle for a fourth spot on the roster. Jordan Scarlett is pushing to claim that spot and make the Dolphins put Doaks on the practice squad. That leaves Laird on the wrong side of the cut line. An undrafted free agent signed by Miami in 2019, he has been a player the coaches seem to like, and he has carried the ball 240 times in two seasons, so he has made a contribution to the team. He just feels like a player who is seeing his roster spot slip away right now.