The Dolphins spent the past three days in Philadelphia participating in joint practices with the Eagles preparing for Thursday night’s preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Dolphins made encouraging strides this week as quarterback Jay Cutler continued to work on building chemistry with his wide receivers, while the coaching staff seemingly locked in on a starter at left guard with Ted Larsen on the mend from a biceps injury. On the defensive side of the football, cornerback Xavien Howard continued to showcase his ball skills and rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux’s performance kept him ahead of the other defensive tackles on the depth chart not named Ndamukong Suh.
Starters typically get the most playing time in the third preseason game, and that will likely be the case when the Dolphins face off against the Eagles tonight. Here are five things to watch as the preseason comes to a close for the Dolphins’ projected starters:
1. Cutler connected on long touchdowns to speedy wide receiver Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker during joint practices with the Eagles and it’s apparent that he has no trepidation pushing the football vertically down the field. Cutler has worked tirelessly on his communication with his receivers and he has essentially been another coach on the field. The players aren’t waiting on the coaches to study practice film; they’re working diligently with one another to make certain they are on the same page on game day. Cutler will take shots down the field tonight, but whether or not the work he’s put in with his receivers will manifest itself in the form of explosive plays remains to be seen.
2. The Dolphins’ starters haven’t had a great deal of time to work on the running game due to injuries along the offensive line and at the running back position. With the injury to Ted Larsen who was projected to start at left guard, the Dolphins appear to have settled on Jesse Davis to fill the void. Mike Pouncey will also get his first preseason action against the Eagles. The Dolphins will also have running backs Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake at their disposal for the first time this preseason. If the offensive line can generate a surge up front The Dolphins’ top-two running backs could have the type of preseason outing that makes the coaching staff feel comfortable about the run game heading into the regular season.
3. Tight end Julius Thomas had a touchdown in the red zone during the team portion of practice against the Eagles on Tuesday, but his play has been relatively inconsistent throughout training camp. The Dolphins already have an option on short to intermediate routes in Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry and tight end Anthony Fasano is by far the better blocker. MarQueis Gray has been the Dolphins most consistent tight end on the roster during camp as a receiver and a blocker and it is evident that Thomas must elevate his level of play if he’s going to have an impact on the offense this season.
4. Mike Hull will get an extended look at the middle linebacker spot and he must play well to stave off recently acquired Rey Maualuga for the starting job. Hull is clearly in better shape than Maualuga but Maualuga is very familiar with Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke who was Maualuga’s linebackers coach in Cincinnati. Hull has tremendous instincts that lead him to the football against the run as well as in the passing game. He does a very good job of beating blocks to the spot. However, he does not make plays behind the line of scrimmage and he does not drive running backs backwards when he meets them in the hole. Hull played well last week against the Ravens and he will need another solid performance to continue being viewed as the starting middle linebacker for the Miami Dolphins on opening day.
5. Eagles wide receivers Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith had a modicum of success against the Dolphins’ secondary during this week’s practices. They will be challenged across the middle early and often, but they will also have opportunities to anticipate and jump routes. Wentz does not challenge deep very often and the cornerbacks will be able to squat on routes based on situation and formation. The Dolphins young cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley will need to step up and play well if they hope to limit the Eagles success through the air.