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Falcons at Dolphins 2021 2021 Preseason Week 2: What to watch for Miami

The Dolphins host the Falcons in a preseason contest on Saturday. What position groups need to be watched for Miami?

NFL: Miami Dolphins Training Camp Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of last weekend’s Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears game, we took a look at five bubble players who could use a strong performance for Miami in the first preseason game. This week, we move to preseason week two and things start to shift a little from bubble watch to getting starters ready for the regular season. There are still plenty of room for bubble players to make an impact and force their way onto the regular-season roster, but it is also time to start to see what the 2021 version of the Dolphins could be.

As Miami prepares to host the Atlanta Falcons, we should see the starters stay in the game a little longer and more of a gameplan rather than a fully vanilla playbook focused more on the fundamentals than on trying to exploit the opponent. This will not be exactly what the Dolphins will look like in the regular season, but it will be closer.

Rather than break down five players to watch tonight, we take a look at five position groups that need to perform on Saturday. Some of the players in the group are bubble players trying to make that ever-important impact on the game, while some of the players are starters making their 2021 debut or trying to put a bad first preseason game behind them.

Tonight’s kickoff is at 7pm ET.

Offensive line - The offensive line struggled last week against the Bears, and they need to show they are growing together as a unit this week. It does not need to be a solid brick wall in front of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or a road-grader clearing the way down the field for the running backs, but the group needs to show they are not far away from becoming those two things. Austin Jackson got away from his fundamentals and technique last week, according to head coach Brian Flores, and it led to repeated plays where he ended up on his back with protections breaking down. He needs to show that was the rust from the offseason and he is better than what happened last Saturday. Liam Eichenberg did not play last week after working primarily as the starting left guard in training camp. Solomon Kindley was solid, but was not great filling in for Eichenberg; the Dolphins should want the 6-foot-4, 335 pound Kindley to claim a starting role as a massive mauler in the middle of the line, but he may not quite be there yet. Eichenberg, a starting left tackle at Notre Dame, could move back outside if Jackson continues to struggle. The Dolphins traded for Greg Little at last week’s 85-man roster deadline, so seeing how the team envisions using the 2019 second-round pick from the Carolina Panthers will be something to watch.

Cornerbacks - This starts with the expectation that All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard will make his debut. Any time Howard is on the field, it is worth watching. Will Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan shy away from Howard? Will he challenge him? Can Howard show the form that made him the first player in 13 seasons to record double-digit interceptions last year? If Howard is on the field, is Byron Jones also going to play? If Miami has both of their starting cornerbacks on the field, does the pass rush become more effective as Ryan looks for an open receiver only to see those two blanketing players all over the field? Behind them, can Noah Igbinghene shake off the funk he has been in all summer? Igbinoghene was a first-round pick last year, but he is getting buried on the depth chart right now. Undrafted 2019 signing Nik Nedham has moved past Igbinoghene, and continues to look like a good third cornerback; Justin Coleman appears to be locked in as the nickel cornerback. Trill Williams will be someone to watch tonight to see if the undrafted free agent with amazing press-coverage abilities can continue to build on a strong training camp week.

Wide receivers - At this point, just having a healthy group of receivers who can make it through a game would be a huge step forward for Miami. It seems like every day, another receiver is sidelined with some ailment. Luckily for the Dolphins, they have, at last count, 493 wide receivers on the roster this summer. The Dolphins will likely be without DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Albert Wilson again this week, which leaves first-round draft pick Jaylen Waddle as the top receiver on the field. Behind him, the team has several solid receivers who need to prove themselves to claim a roster spot. Jakeem Grant, Kirk Merritt, and Mack Hollins all seem to have strengths that can make the team, but also have flaws that could hold them back. Grant’s work as a returner probably gives him an early edge on that race. Where does Preston Williams, who just returned from the Physically Unable to Perform list after a foot injury last year, fit into the depth chart?

Edge rushers - The Dolphins need to create more pressure than they did against the Bears, but in a first preseason game with no chance the team is going to tip their hand on the blitz packages they will use in the regular season, that really is not a concern. This really only makes the list because first-round pick Jaelan Phillips should make his debut tonight, so he is worth watching.

Running backs - Myles Gaskin should be the starter, though Malcolm Brown actually started last week. Salvon Ahmed has had a good training camp, and played well against the Bears backups last week. Seventh-round pick Gerrid Doaks should factor into the mix as well. Can any of those four show the ground game is not as much of a concern as it appeared last week? A lot of that is probably on the offensive line, but the Dolphins not making an aggressive move to address the running back position in the offseason will continue to be a storyline unless one of these guys breaks out. Can Patrick Laird or Jordan Scarlett force themselves into the conversation? “We like all our backs,” Flores said this week. “They’re all a little bit different. They all have the ability to play multiple downs. We are going to try to use them all. From Malcolm to Myles to Salvon. Patrick Laird has gone in there and done some good things. Scarlett has gone in there, he had a couple good runs last week. Doaks has gone in there and had some good runs. We try to use them all.”