The Miami Dolphins will open their preseason schedule by visiting the Atlanta Falcons this Friday night at 7:00 p.m. EST. Both teams will look to set a precedent this season by coming out of this matchup looking physical, attentive and healthy, which should hopefully lead towards a postseason run for both teams.
Miami underwhelmed in 2013 after starting the season 3-0. The team ended the season on a low point by not only missing out on the playoffs, but also dropping two-straight games to division rivals. Miami ended the 2013 season with a 8-8 record which allowed the team to focus on filling their right tackle void in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft with RT Ja’Wuan James, who will play alongside LT Branden Albert, LG Daryn Colledge, C Samson Satele and RG Dallas Thomas as Miami’s starting offensive line on Friday.
New general manager Dennis Hickey did an excellent job this offseason of filling out the offensive line with prospects in James and third-round pick Billy Turner, while signing players such as Albert, Colledge, G Shelley Smith, T Jason Fox and Satele, who will likely remain the team’s starting center until Mike Pouncey returns from injury.
The offensive line will face an intriguing Atlanta pass rush featuring two-key offseason acquisitions in NT Paul Soliai, a former Miami defensive tackle, and Tyson Jackson, a former first-round pick. Don’t sleep on players such as Osi Umenyiora, Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu, Prince Shembo or the could-be-steal of the draft in OLB Tyler Starr.
While the main focus may be on the offensive line matchup for Miami, Atlanta’s focus will be on the skilled positions for both sides of the football.
Atlanta’s secondary was a bit of a question mark in 2013 due to youth and a lack of experience in that unit. CB Desmond Trufant, who quietly had one heck of a 2013 season, enters 2014 with high hopes of becoming one of the NFL’s elite corners, while CB Robert Alford looks to build on a promising, yet inconsistent rookie campaign.
They will have the task of defending Miami’s deep receiving corp with names such as Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie Jarvis Landry, who has been receiving the bulk of the camp buzz from Miami in recent weeks.
As for the offense, Atlanta will receive a boost from the return of WR Julio Jones to pair with Roddy White and Harry Douglas at receiver, which is something QB Matt Ryan must truly enjoy, but the main focus will be on the running back position and who distances themselves from the pack. My bet would be rookie RB Devonta Freeman, who could even open the season as the team’s No. 1 back.
Miami’s run defense will need to prove their ability to stuff Freeman and whomever else Atlanta throws at them. Miami’s defense really struggled to stop the run in 2013, but should be much better with former SLB Koa Misi manning the middle linebacker spot, shifting 2013′s MLB Dannell Ellerbe to Misi’s former strong-side spot.
Philip Wheeler, the unit’s weak link, will have his hands full fending off Jelani Jenkins and rookie Jordan Tripp, who has looked great thus far in camp.
Both teams have young talents to keep an eye on, which is what the preseason is all about. Who will step up and grab a roster spot and who will have their dreams shattered due to one miscue?
I’ll tell you what, I cannot wait to see Miami DE Cameron Wake go at it with the draft’s best tackle prospect in Atlanta’s RT Jake Matthews. That is one matchup that jumps off the page, in my opinion.
What will you be watching?