The Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans kick off their Preseason Week 2 contest at 4 p.m. ET today. There are plenty of questions that are still surrounding the Dolphins as we reach the mid-way point of the preseason. With just three preseason games on the schedule, today’s contest could be used as the “dress rehearsal” game for Miami, giving the majority of the starters their first, and maybe only, game action prior to the start of the regular season. It also could go a long way to answering some of the questions still surrounding the team.
How will the Dolphins’ 53-man regular season roster shake out this year? Will the ongoing position battles be won or lost on Saturday? Will some of the rookies who have flashed early in camp continue to show that potential and climb the depth chart?
Here is what we are going to be watching on Saturday.
Will the starters play?
When asked on Thursday if starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will play in today’s game or if he was comfortable with his quarterback not taking any preseason snaps, head coach Mike McDaniel said, “I would probably hesitate to say that (Tagovailoa will not take any snaps). All joking aside, I would expect to see him in the preseason. However, you know me. I’m a wild card. I do think game reps are valuable depending on where you’re at in your journey for preseason setting up the regular season. So I would expect him to play. How much and when, will be determined after (Thursday’s practice) for this next preseason game.”
McDaniel does not like to lock himself into which players will or will not play during the preseason. The starters did play in the second preseason game last year, and the assumption is they will see the field today, assuming they are not dealing with any injury issues. How much we will see the first team is unclear, and it might not be much, but getting them out there, in game-speed action, and seeing how they are building their chemistry for the year could be the number one goal of today’s contest. Getting Tagovailoa, who missed the end of last year and Miami’s playoff game as he dealt with a concussion, on the field for the first time since his second head injury of 2022 would seem to be an important step in the preparation for the regular season.
If you are going to put your starting quarterback on the field, you have to have the rest of the starters surrounding him. Miami should play their starters today, and we should be watching to see that they are on the same page and able to operate as a unit - even if it is just a brief cameo appearance for them.
Will clear leaders emerge in key position battles?
There are several position battles being waged across Miami’s roster, but there are some that may be more critical to the team than others. The top three battles are likely the starting left guards position, the starting cornerback opposite Xavien Howard, and the backup quarterback spot. Will someone take the clear lead at each or any of those spots?
At left guard, Liam Eichenberg is listed as the starter, the position he held last year as well. However, he did not slam the door to take control of the position, leaving it open for Lester Cotton, Robert Jones, and Isaiah Wynn to challenge for it. According to our most recent SB Nation Reacts poll, Dolphins fans believe Wynn will take the lead and be the Week 1 starter at the position. There is a lot of belief that Eichenberg has already lost the battle, though he probably has been passed by Wynn and may need to have an incredible rest of the preseason to reclaim the spot. Jones and Cotton both could play themselves into the lead in the battle. Saturday’s game should be an intriguing one for the offensive line.
The cornerback battle is one Miami did not expect to have this year, where Howard was supposed to be joined by Jalen Ramsey to form one of the best, if not the best, tandem of cornerbacks in the league. Ramsey sustained a knee injury early in training camp and will likely miss most of the season. Who will claim the starting role in his place?
Our Reacts poll has fans leading toward second-year cornerback Kader Kohou, who, as an undrafted free agent last year, stepped up when injuries thrust him into the starting lineup on 2022. He could reclaim that spot in 2023, though he could also be seen as the team’s nickel cornerback, working primarily in the slot where presumed nickel cornerback Nik Needham is still recovering from an Achilles tendon tear last year. If Kohou is going to be the starting outside cornerback opposite Howard, he will have to hold off a hard-charging Noah Igbinoghene, rookie Cam Smith, and newly-signed veteran Eli Apple. Igbinoghene has had a good training camp and first preseason game, maybe finally showing the potential that made him a 2020 first-round draft choice. Smith was looking like a good pick by the Dolphins in this year’s draft, but he sustained a shoulder injury last week and may be sidelined throughout the rest of the preseason. Apple seems to be fading into a depth option role. Will Kohou or Igbinoghene pull away from the field with a strong performance against the Texans?
While Tagovailoa may see some playing time on Saturday, it is the two guys who will follow him that make up the next position battle to watch. Mike White, a free-agent addition for the Dolphins this year, started at quarterback last week and played the first half. He moved the offense effectively, but it was not a perfect performance that locked him into the backup quarterback role. Second-year passer Skylar Thompson, who started games last year as a rookie for Miami including the team’s playoff game, played the second half and had some struggles. After the game, there was discussion that Thompson may have played himself not just out of the position battle but potentially off the roster altogether. That feels like a massive overreaction to the first preseason game. Miami could look to start Tagovailoa for the first season or two, then turn the game over to Thompson this week before White gets a shot later in the contest. Will Thompson look more in control of the offense if he is working with the second unit? Could White establish himself as the clear backup?
Will Miami put points on the board?
Miami’s three points last week are a little less concerning than it would seem. The Dolphins twice went for it on fourth down deep in the red-zone in the first half, situations that likely would have resulted in field goal attempts rather than early-game turnovers on downs in the regular season. They also had an interception in the endzone on their first drive. The points were there for the team, they just did not score them. It is a problem, but one that likely is as much a factor of the coaching staff using the situation for preseason evaluation as it was the team failing to score.
It does not change that Miami needs to find the endzone this week and put points on the board. That is doubly true if the first-team offense is on the field. Adding more than three points is a requirement this week that hopefully the team is able to complete.
Will rookies continue to establish themselves as contributors for the year?
The Dolphins seem to have found several rookie players, either in the draft or as undrafted free agent signings, who could force themselves onto the roster and, potentially, into key roles for the club in 2023. The Dolphins’ second-round pick, cornerback Cam Smith, is in the position battle to start this year. Running back De’Von Achane, Miami’s third-round pick this year, was already going to make the roster and likely be a key member of a running back platoon with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Jr., but his performance in camp and the preseason could have him looking for an even bigger role - as well as leading the team to move on from Salvon Ahmed, who has a similar play style. Ahmed is in a position battle with his former University of Washington teammate Myles Gaskin, and Achane’s performance, as well as Gaskin’s, could lead to Ahmed finding himself on the wrong side of the roster bubble.
Staying at running back, undrafted free agent Chris Brooks saw plenty of playing time down the stretch of the team’s game last week and could continue to be asked to show more throughout the remaining preseason games. He brings a power running style to a team full of speed runners and, while he may not have a clear path to the roster, he could play himself into a practice squad position.
Tight end Elijah Higgins would seem to be a practice squad target for the Dolphins after he was a sixth-round pick and the team looked to convert him from his college position of wide receiver. Miami wants blocking tight ends who can catch more than they want receiving tight ends who might be able to block - thus moving on from Mike Gesicki this year - and logically Higgins will need time to make that transition. He appears to be playing himself from a practice squad player into a depth option at tight end, however. He played well last week late, working as a pass catcher and a blocker, including as a fullback, and he could force Miami to keep him on the 53-man roster this year with another strong performance.
Center Alama Uluave played every snap of the Dolphins' first preseason game, the only player to do that. Part of that is the team held out starter Connor Williams and backup Dan Feeney, but Uluave getting that much game experience could lead the team to stash him on the practice squad and continue to work with him as their potential center of the future.
Defensive tackle Brandon Pili backed up his strong minicamp performances with a good first preseason game. After slipping a little at the start of training camp, his stock seemed to have fallen to a likely practice squad player, but after last Friday, he seemed to be back on track for a 53-man roster position. Pili injured his neck during Thursday’s practice, so he may not be available today, but he has definitely made a name for himself already.
Linebacker Mitchell Agude (edge rusher) and Aubrey Miller (inside) both have had flashes. Miller was strong in his playing time last week. Both may be destined for practice squad positions, but they could make the coaching staff make tough choices if they have strong performances this week.
Miller and safety Keidron Smith may be battling for the final roster spot right now. Smith has been strong in camp and had a good game against the Falcons. At a position that seems deep, with Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones, DeShon Elliott, Elijah Campbell, and Trill Williams appearing to be ahead of him, Smith could play his way into a roster spot if he finishes the preseason as strong as he has started the summer.
Will the penalties go away?
Miami struggled with pre-snap penalties last year and it was a point of emphasis for the team coming into this season. They have started to creep back up in practice and in last week’s game. False starts, illegal motions, and delays of games all seem to be an issue for the club. Maybe with the full offense on the field, that cleans it up some, but there are still concerns to be had. Miami has to clean up the penalties, hopefully starting with today’s game.