The Miami Dolphins have three in-game opportunities to get ready for the 2022 season, which kicks off a month from now at home against the New England Patriots.
Time is ticking, and Mike McDaniel’s to-do list remains long.
A new offense is being installed by the Dolphins’ rookie head coach, and it’s accompanied by a new style of running game that’s still being introduced.
A new defensive scheme is being tinkered with by Josh Boyer, and Miami’s searching for its next batch of playmakers and leaders not named Tyreek Hill.
Where this team goes? Their preseason performance will likely provide a few hints.
Here are 10 things to look for in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
How much does Tua Tagovailoa play, if at all?
McDaniel has hinted that Tagovailoa, who owns a 13-8 record as the team’s starter the past two years, might not participate in Saturday’s exhibition. Considering how sharp he’s looked in training camp’s first three weeks, taking a cautious, protective approach is understandable. Tagovailoa’s solid practices have raised his confidence, and the confidence his teammates and coaches have in him. There’s a possibility that he could struggle in his one or two series against the Buccaneers and it would put a damper on everything he’s done the past three weeks.
Will the Dolphins centers provide clean snaps?
Connor Williams’ transition from guard to center is ongoing, and that means his snapping is a tad erratic at times, which is understandable. While I don’t expect Miami’s starting offensive line to be on the field for more than a quarter’s worth of work, it would be ideal for Williams to handle at least a dozen snaps in a real game-like situation, so he can know what that feels like, and gets adjusted to duties and challenges of playing the center position.
Will a starting offensive line missing Terron Armstead look respectable?
It has been years since Armstead, the Pro Bowl left tackle the Dolphins signed to a five-year, $74.5 million deal this offseason, played in a preseason game. Considering how limited he’s been in practice the past three weeks, the odds of Armstead playing in any of the three preseason games are slim. But that doesn’t mean Miami should fold the tent and go home against Kacy Rodgers’ forceful defense, which annually ranks as one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts. The burden is on Greg Little and Larnel Coleman, the backup offensive tackles, to play well as Armstead’s replacement.
Can Noah Igbinoghene clean up his troublesome technique?
The Dolphins used the 30th pick in the 2020 NFL draft on Igbinoghene, and it’s time he shows his coaches, teammates and the Dolphins fan base that he’s not in possession of a one-way ticket to bust-land. Igbinoghene’s ball skill and receiver recognition is usually a split-second slow. That’s why he needs to be on the football field for at least 25 defensive snaps a game in all three preseason games so he can either iron out his issues, or the Dolphins can determine whether the juice is, or isn’t worth the squeeze with this former Auburn standout.
Will the wide-zone run game have a productive debut performance?
The Dolphins have possessed one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL the past three seasons, and the easiest way to turn the tide is to fully commit to McDaniel’s wide-zone running scheme, which has delivered one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks at each of his NFL stops. The transition won’t happen overnight, but the perfect time for Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson and Williams to iron out the wrinkles is during these first two preseason games.
Will Skylar Thompson continue to make strides?
Thompson, the former Kansas State starter the Dolphins selected in the seventh-round of the 2022 NFL draft, has been one of camp’s top performers the past two weeks. The rookie is clearly getting comfortable with Miami’s offense, which is similar to the one he ran in college, and with his new teammates. He carved up the Buccaneers’ defense during Thursday’s joint practice, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to be efficient and make consistent clutch throws during Saturday’s game, where he’ll likely play most of the second half, if not more.
Whoever wants to be Miami’s fifth receiver needs to raise his hand.
Preston Williams and Lynn Bowden Jr., the incumbents on the roster, have shown little during training camp’s first three weeks. While both are viewed as unique receiver talents, they haven’t shown much of a mastery of this offense. They either need to shine in these games, or make room for Braylon Sanders, River Cracraft, Trent Sherfield, DeVonte Dedmon or Mohamed Sanu to take the fifth and possibly sixth receiver spot on Miami’s 53-man roster.
Will tight ends have an impact against Buccaneers?
Miami’s tight ends have had a quiet start to camp because of the difficult transition they are making, which according to McDaniel forced them to scrap everything they’ve learned and adjust their approach to this West Coast style, which demands aggression. However, it would be ideal to see Mike Gesicki test out his blocking and Durham Smythe and Hunter Long work downfield, showcasing their route-running ability. Tanner Conner also shouldn’t be overlooked because the former Idaho State receiver Miami has transitioning to tight end was one of last week’s top camp performers.
Can Dolphins defense contain Tampa Bay’s tailbacks?
The Buccaneers will likely use the preseason to straighten out the offensive line issues they are having, and give the run game a test drive. Tampa Bay needs better balance offensively if they want to take some of the burden off Tom Brady’s shoulders. During this week’s joint practice, the Buccaneers were productive running the ball on Thursday, while on Wednesday the tailbacks had their way with Miami’s defense off screen passes. Miami’s linebackers need to become more mindful and effective at diagnosing things.
What back-of-roster player will prove he belongs?
The first preseason game is usually when the light bulb comes on for most rookies, and they realize this might be the NFL, but the game’s still football. Channing Tindall, the Dolphins’ 2022 third-round pick, has had a quiet training camp. The former Georgia standout should have plenty of opportunities to make an impact in the second half of Saturday’s game. But it will be interesting to see which back-of-the-roster player excels in his debut.