Here are five things that I will be looking for in Saturday’s game versus the Buccaneers:
1. More growth and chemistry from Tannehill and his Receivers: Led by Ryan Tannehill, the first team offense executed a very nice 10 play, 73 yard drive to open the game against the Falcons. On that drive, Ryan Tannehill was a perfect 6 for 6 with 62 yards passing and a well-executed TD pass to Brandon Gibson to cap off the drive. The best part of that drive, to me, was the confidence QB Ryan Tannehill displayed. From the first snap of the drive, Tannehill was confident and in control. He was able to make smart and decisive decisions in the pocket that led his unit down the field for seven points. Although Tannehill was able to successfully drive the offense down the field using Rishard Matthews and Brandon Gibson as his primary targets, Saturday night should welcome back two of the Dolphins biggest difference makers on offense. Brian Hartline is already established as Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target and I believe that trend continues in 2014, but it will be the QB’s chemistry with All-World speedster Mike Wallace that will be the biggest difference in this offense making the big jump in 2014. Now, we have all complained about the chemistry between these two on deep balls and who gets the blame for the lack of production. Fact is, both are to blame and the play calling in 2013 did very little to help these two guys ever get into a productive rhythm. Wallace lined up nearly every snap of last season on the right side and, by all accounts, new Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor has plans to use Wallace all over the field to try and get his speed in open space. I am hoping to see QB Ryan Tannehill continue his confident play and develop more chemistry with his group of receivers on Saturday night. I want to see Mike Wallace sprinkled in and make a play or two. I am not just talking about a deep pass attempt to Wallace, no, show me something else. Give me a quick slant, a skinny post, an underneath route, show me something different from Wallace that we didn’t see from him in 2013.
2. Better run blocking from the first team offensive line: The first unit did a nice job in pass protection in the first game against the Falcons, but history proves you have to be able to run the ball to win championships. What did that first game tell us about the run game? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t having flashes of the Lombardi Trophy being paraded around South Beach in February. I’ve mentioned throughout the week that the best two healthy run blockers on the team are Guards Shelley Smith and Billy Turner. Unfortunately, they are on the second team. The starters, Darren Colledge and a very much improved Dallas Thomas, didn’t overwhelm in the run department against the Falcons, to say the least. I was a little surprised though by the play of Thomas (maybe because of the fact he was so bad in 2013). Thomas has shown much improvement, but he’s going to have to play strong to hold off the athletic rookie, Billy Turner. For Colledge, I think his days in the starting unit are numbered. I believe Shelley Smith will be the starting Left Guard soon and though he may not currently be as good in pass protection as Colledge, he’s a much better run blocker. So, I will be watching how Smith and Turner play. Can Smith separate himself from Colledge? Will Turner catch up with Thomas? Also, I thought Left Tackle Branden Albert showed some bad technique in run blocking versus the Falcons; I will be looking for him to clean that up against the Buccaneers.
3. The Linebackers: To be quite frank, I am very worried about this unit. It was clearly the weakest unit in the first preseason game. At times, Koa Misi looked mentally like he was ready to go back to OLB as he was making reads from outside to inside, which is common for an OLB. An Inside Linebacker has to make his reads from the inside-out. Misi did have a couple decent plays although poor tackling technique left him empty handed. Ellerbe and Wheeler continued to look like two of the biggest Jeff Ireland era busts with their continued bad play. I mentioned during the game and the next day that rookie LB Jordan Tripp showed the most natural instinct in this unit, so when the news broke this week that he moved up the depth chart, I wasn’t surprised. Tripp is raw and sometimes lets his over aggressiveness get him out of position. I expect that he will learn to control his positioning and aggression with experience. I will be looking for this unit to take a step forward on Saturday night. Misi has to step up and make plays. I would love for Misi to make every right read, but I know that’s unrealistic. He can at least make the tackles he is paid to make, which would be improvement. I am also looking for Jordan Tripp to continue to prove he is a future starter on this defense.
4. The Second year CB’s: Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are the young guys on the block trying to make a name for themselves and I think they are starting to turn heads this year. Although they were not perfect against the Falcons, they flashed. That’s exactly what you want to see from young guys who were drafted high. I spoke months before Will Davis was even drafted by the Dolphins of his natural ability to be around the ball. Davis needs to clean up his technique, it looks to be a lot better than last year, but he still has plenty of room to grow in that department. On Saturday night, I’m hoping Taylor and Davis get reps against Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Taylor and Davis played against backups versus the Falcons, who will do next to nothing for Matt Ryan’s offense this year. Jackson and Evans, on the other hand, look to be a force and it would be really good for Kevin Coyle to match Taylor and Davis up against these two. We already know Grimes is elite. Let’s see what the two young guys have.
5. Jarvis Landry: Hey, what can I say, I love the kid! Whether it’s catching passes or returning punts. I want to see Landry on the field. The guy is a throwback; an old fashioned football player. He catches everything, he always hustles and runs as hard as he can, and his hard work usually pays off. That was all evident by his 48 yard punt return against the Falcons. The Dolphins usual punt returner Marcus Thigpen typically takes every punt return to the sidelines and tries to beat the coverage with his speed, not Landry. Landry went straight up the field with his return leaving defenders grabbing for air. It was a brief glimpse of just how exciting of a football player Landry should be. Ask any LSU fan, whether its returns like he had against the Falcons, or amazing one handed catches, that’s what you’re going to get from Landry.
Rob Proffitt can be found on twitter - @BreakinDownFilm.