The Miami Dolphins kick off their 2022 preseason this evening as they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After two joint sessions with the Buccaneers earlier in the week, today’s game will be a full-contact contest, but really will be a glorified scrimmage. Miami head coach Mike McDaniel has not ruled out having the starters play tonight, but he has said he is “encouraged” about the idea of having players like quarterback Tua Tagovailoa skip the game.
The Buccaneers will definitely be without starting quarterback Tom Brady, who is in the middle of an excused absence from the team for a personal issue. The team, in their first year under former Dolphins interim head coach Todd Bowles, likely will also sit most of their starters. Today’s game will be more about the depth players and what they can prove than it will be about tuning up the team for the regular season.
The NFL shortened the preseason last year as part of their move to creating a 17th regular season game. After tonight’s game, the Dolphins return to Miami where they will host the Las Vegas Raiders on August 20 and the Philadelphia Eagles on August 27. Miami also will play their first regular season game, a September 11 contest against the New England Patriots, at home.
Before we get to tonight’s game, here are five things you should be watching as the Dolphins faceoff against the Buccaneers:
Tonight marks the first game in which McDaniel, hired this offseason, will serve as a head coach. The 39-year-old has served in various offensive assistant coach roles with the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Sacramento Moutain Lions (UFL), Washington Commanders, Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, and San Francisco 49ers in his first 17 years as a coach, including his 2021 stint as the 49ers offensive coordinator. How will McDaniel manage a gameday as a head coach?
More interesting is, this will be McDaniel’s first time as the offensive play caller for a team. With the 49ers, head coach Kyle Shanahan made the calls for the offense with McDaniel installing the gameplan during the week leading up to the game and providing input to Shanahan during the game. Not only will McDaniel be working as a head coach for the first time, but he will also be calling plays for the first time.
For Dolphins fans, there is some apprehension when it comes to head coaches calling plays. Former head coach Adam Gase would call the offense, then completely ignore the defense while he sat on the bench and retooled his plays, updated his selection sheet, and worked with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Gase spent the entire game trying to out-think the opposing coaching staff and defense. By trying to stay unpredictable, however, the offense never seemed to find a rhythm, and it seemed as though Gase really out-thought himself at times.
McDaniel has not shown any of those types of issues during training camp. The Dolphins offense seems to be more about putting players in positions to succeed and running different plays from the same formation than it is about trying to surprise the opposing defense with exotic looks and formations. Although the offense will be fairly vanilla given it is only preseason game one, tonight will be McDaniel’s first chance to control the team as a head coach and to call plays for his offense. He will learn some things and begin tailoring his gameday approach based on what happens throughout the night.
Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are locked in as the top two cornerbacks on the roster. While Jones is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list and is not available for tonight, Howard could play but likely will see little to no time on the field. Nik Needham is just about a lock to be the third/nickel cornerback, but behind those three, there are a bunch of question marks. Miami has to find out what they have for depth and tonight could go a long way to providing the clarity the position needs.
Noah Igbinoghene has shown growth during training camp as he enters his third year. Still only 22-years-old, Igbinoghene has time to develop into a strong NFL player, but as a first-round pick in his third year, it feels like he has to take a giant step forward soon. Trill Williams was undrafted out of Syracuse last year, briefly signing with the New Orleans Saints in May before being waived and claimed by Miami. He appeared in one game last year, playing four defensive snaps and 15 special teams plays. This summer, he has again shown some of the potential that seems to have Miami coaches intrigued by him, but it has not yet been enough to say he has a definite spot on the roster or as a key depth player at cornerback.
Keion Crossen has had his name pop up a few times during camp and he has special teams experience with the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, and New York Giants over the past four years. Kader Kohou, an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M-Commerce this year, has also had some flashes in camp.
Miami needs some of their young cornerbacks to step up and, in a game when the starters will be on the sideline, tonight is the perfect opportunity to make an impression. The cornerback position is a must-watch throughout the game.
Miami’s third-string quarterback is likely to see the majority of the playing time this week. He is already starting to get a following among fans who want the Dolphins to keep him on the roster this year rather than risk him to a waiver claim as they try to stash him on the practice squad. Expecting anything more than a developmental project out of a seventh-round draft pick is asking for a lot, but Thompson could use tonight’s game as a chance to prove he is more than that.
Assuming Tagovailoa is limited to a series at most and backup Teddy Bridgewater is also limited, tonight will be all about Thompson and how he can move the offense. Can he put up a performance that forces Miami to find a spot on their 53-man roster for him? Or will he become another example of a player flashing early in training camp, but fading as the summer moves along?
How the Dolphins chose to man the offensive line tonight will be something to watch. Left tackle Terron Armstead is not likely to see the field, so we probably will not see the true “starting” offensive line tonight, but we could see most of it. Who plays when and where will be something to keep an eye on throughout the game. While the offensive line has been fairly consistent from early training camp reports, it could still be a work in progress and Miami could use tonight - the first true opportunity to evaluate each player in a full contact situation - to move some players around and get a better idea of exactly what they have.
Even if Armstead does not play, Miami could still see the first-team line, left guard Liam Eichenberg, center Connor Williams, right guard Robert Hunt, and right tackle Austin Jackson on the field, with Larnel Coleman, listed as the second-team left tackle on Miami’s depth chart, joining them. The coach might limit the playing time of some of the top unit, but getting more repetitions for players like Jackson could be a huge benefit to the development of a young player. They could also look to keep Williams on the field for an extended period as they transition the former Dallas Cowboys guard into Miami’s starting center; there have been some snap issues with Williams, and this could be a chance to continue to work on those or decide that Michael Deiter, who missed time early in camp with a foot injury, needs to be given a chance back at center.
Will Mike Gesicki play in the game? The Dolphins could look to sit their top tight end (or second if you want to consider Durham Smythe the starter given he started more games than Gesicki last year), but they could also look to have him in the game as a blocker to continue to try to develop that part of his game. The offensive system McDaniel uses asks for blocking from the tight end and it is not something Gesicki has been asked to do a lot. Throughout camp thus far, the tight end position has been limited in their target opportunities for the passing game as the blocking side is the focus. The coaches could continue that with some plays in which Gesicki has to block. The receiving side of the position will come, and Gesicki knows how to be a receiver, so that is not a concern, but this is an opportunity the coaches might not want to pass.
Behind Gesicki and Smythe, it could be interesting to see what happens. Can Hunter Long establish himself as the third tight end? Does Cethan Carter show more than just special teams ability? How does rookie Tanner Conner fit into the rotation?
And then there is Adam Shaheen. The veteran tight end was traded by the Dolphins to the Houston Texans this week, only to have a pre-existing knee issue lead to the Texans voiding the trade and returning him to Miami. Shaheen appeared in 28 games over the last two years for Miami, catching 24 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns. He is a solid, veteran, all-around type of tight end who could reclaim a spot on the roster, or he could be showcased to try to draw more trade interest. Or, he could be shunned to the sideline as the Dolphins have shown their hand when it comes to plans for Shaheen as well as a chance to see more from Long.