Preseason Primer: Key Players & Matchups for the Miami Dolphins’ Opener in Chicago

The Miami Dolphins kick off the preseason this Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. While preseason games carry little relevance for the team (especially the opener), we get to evaluate the team that Miami has built over the last six months. Rookies will take the field for the first time, and veterans get to return to doing what they love. Yes everybody, football is back. Here’s what to watch for when your Miami Dolphins take on the Chicago Bears in the first live-action of the season.

Top Matchups:

Dolphins Guards VS. Jay Ratliff & Will Sutton:

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This will be important because it will be our first look at Billy Turner against a player not named Ndamukong Suh, and the first game action for rookie Jamil Douglas. It is impossible to grade a young player based on his performance against one of the league’s best defensive lines in practice, so this will be a matchup that every Dolphins fan has their eye on Thursday night. It could go a long way to determining Miami’s course of action regarding Evan Mathis as well.

Jarvis Landry VS. Kyle Fuller:

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Kyle Fuller was a strong player for the Chicago Bears when he was on the field last season. The second-year cornerback will have his hands full with Jarvis Landry in the first game of both players’ sophomore seasons. The most interesting part of this matchup will be if we see Landry on any deep routes, which teams will usually try out in the preseason when there are no consequences to interceptions. Don’t expect to see Landry for long (2-3 drives), but when he is out there it will provide a good barometer for both young players.

It is hard to nail down matchups for the first preseason game given that we do not know how long each unit will be on the field (starters, second, and third strong). The third week is when we will see a clearer picture of Miami’s plan of attack for this preseason.

Injury Report:

  • Jay Ajayi has been bothered by a hamstring injury and is highly unlikely to take the field against Chicago.
  • Kenny Stills is going to miss his first preseason game as a Dolphin with a calf injury.
  • Koa Misi will not suit up this week either, leaving Miami down three key players (which is not concerning given that it is the first preseason game, and the team will probably benefit from checking out some of the depth on the roster).

What to Watch For:

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  • Ryan Tannehill’s execution of the offense will be interesting in his first live action. The two elements of the offense I am most interested in are the deep routes and tempo. As previously stated, Jarvis Landry’s route selection could be very telling as to how Miami plans to incorporate him this season. The tempo at which Tannehill operates the offense will also be important to look for, as the quarterback should be more comfortable with the verbiage and play calling entering his second season.
  • Which of the backup receivers will step up heading into the first preseason game and joint practices with Carolina next week? Now that Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker are both inactive, there are plenty of reps to go around for young players like Michael Preston, who will look to prove that he is not just a practice performer. Players like Preston should be fighting for their lives on Thursday night among the crowded group of Dolphins’ pass catchers.
  • I do not think Miami will play Jordan Cameron very much given his injury history, but it will be important to make note of Dion Sims’ performance. Sims is a breakout candidate for Miami, and has the ability to catch the football and block effectively. Fans looking for new contributors in 2015 should keep their eye on the Dolphins’ third-year tight end.

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  • I expect Miami to allow their guards extra playing time to continue evaluating the talent behind Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner. Thomas will most likely play some left tackle, which is something they tested out in practice this week while Branden Albert continues rehabbing. I expect Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner to play a good chunk of the first half in order to see what the young players can do in live-action.
  • There are some young cornerbacks on Miami’s roster that fans have been waiting to see for months now, including OTA standout Tony Lippett. Bobby McCain and Will Davis will also be two interesting defensive backs to evaluate against Chicago. I wouldn’t put too much stock in any standout performances though considering the Bears’ abysmal lack of depth at wide receiver (which is made even worse by Kevin White’s injury).

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  • With Koa Misi out, look for extra reps to be allocated to Miami’s rookie linebackers Mike Hull and Zach Vigil. Both players have had ups and downs in training camp, but the inside linebacker position is very hard to demonstrate in practice. Real evaluations can only be made once we have seen these young players tackling and attempting to read an offense.

Overall:

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It’s the first preseason game. Starters wont play long, rookies will be sloppy, and it will be an ugly game of football. But it is still football, and we will get our first look at this year’s Dolphins’ team against a real live-defense. There are two important elements of any preseason game that fans must understand, which really trump all else for a team in the evaluation period-

  • Just avoid injuries. The final score doesn’t matter as long as the team comes out of this game healthy. If a player so much as limps, he will in all likelihood be pulled.
  • Let the rookies make mistakes now. Better to do it in the preseason than when they are subbed in for an injured starter in the regular season.

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The starters will not play in this game for more than a few drives, and they really will not get substantial playing time until the third game of the preseason (when the full starting unit plays the entire first half and part of the third-quarter). Until then our job is to evaluate rookies and fringe players who are fighting for jobs and playing time. But who cares about which players play for how long this week? Football is back. Real, live football. You may now rejoice ladies and gentlemen. We are 24 hours away from watching our Miami Dolphins take the field for the first time in 2015.

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