The Miami Dolphins play the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday at 4 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium in their final preseason game.
The Fins have recently shown glimpses of last season’s magic. Second-year QB Tua Tagovailoa has begun to display the growth that many expected of him in the second year of his NFL career.
But the preseason has not been perfect. The team lost to the Chicago Bears 13-20 in the opener, then convincingly beat the Atlanta Falcons by 20 points last Saturday. One of the main question marks going into this season still looms large. The offensive line has been inconsistent. But other aspects of the team, like the revamped wide receiver corps, are progressing splendidly.
For the final preseason game against the Bengals, there are still players who may or may not make the 53-man roster. Below are five things to watch for as the teams prepare for this upcoming season.
- Can Will Fuller IV Make His Dolphins Debut
Will Fuller was the highest-profile free agent the Dolphins signed this offseason. The team signed him to a one-year, prove-it deal worth $10 million. The fifth-year wide receiver from Notre Dame is known to be injury-prone, but will look to end that stigma with the Dolphins. While he has been hurt for most of the offseason and has not yet played in a preseason game, Fuller finally made his way onto the practice field this week. That could mean he will make his Dolphins debut. Fuller comes to the organization with a reputation of being a burner and having the skill to take the top off opposing teams’ defenses. In 11 games last year, he caught 53 passes for 879 yards with 8 TDs. Let’s hope we finally see Fuller’s speed in action against the Bengals.
- Defensive Line Being Disruptive
The defensive line has gone through some major changes this offseason. The Dolphins released outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy and traded away outside linebacker Shaq Lawson. Van Noy and Lawson together accounted for 10 of the team’s 41 sacks last season. The Dolphins managed to find a game-breaking talent in the NFL Draft when they selected Jalean Phillips 17th overall. While Phillips has not been on the practice field much, he found his way onto the field last week for his NFL debut against the Falcons. The player who stood out the most on the defensive line last week was former CFL player Sam Eguaven, who recorded four sacks. Look for him to try to repeat the performance. The Dolphins blitzed the quarterback at the second-highest rate last season at 40.8% per dropback.
- Jaylen Waddle vs. Ja’Marr Chase
The Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase is having a rocky start to his NFL career. The rookie, who was taken 5th overall, was widely regarded as the best wide receiver in the draft. But he has dropped an abnormal number of passes in both practice and preseason games — three in just his last outing. Jaylen Waddle on the other hand, who the Fins took at 6th overall has shown glimpses of the traits he was known for at Alabama. Quickness, work ethic, and sure hands, Waddle even displayed his toughness last week when he got hurt on the first offensive drive of the game but managed to come back into the game. These two highly regarded players will forever be tethered together as they were selected back-to-back.
- Players Fighting to Make the Roster
This is what preseason is all about: players fighting to make it on the team. Sunday’s game is the last opportunity for some to show coaches what they can do. One such player is coming into the game blazing hot from his last performance: Sam Eguavoen, a linebacker from Texas Tech who may not make the roster unless he comes up with another multi-sack performance. Another player looking to make a lasting impression is wide receiver Mack Hollins. Hollins has proven to be a reliable option for Tagovailoa; he caught four passes for 49 yards in the game against the Falcons. Hollins also brings value to special teams as a gunner. But the Dolphins are flush in the wide receiver department. Devonte Parker, Waddle, Fuller, Jakeem Grant, and Albert Wilson all have either a ticket or a decent chance of making the roster. Look out for other fringe players to try to make their mark on the game Sunday against the Bengals running back Gerrid Doakes, running back Patrick Laird, right tackle Greg Little, defensive end Jason Strowbridge.
- Improved Offensive Line Play
The Dolphins have a young offensive line. There is a scenario in which the Dolphins do not start any player with more than four years of NFL experience on their offensive line. They looked improved last week against the Falcons, but that should not be expected going forward. This line will have growing pains throughout the season. Fans should be focused heavily on the offensive line play this Sunday as it is the only group that will most likely include expected starters. With second-year players like Austin Jackson, and Robert Hunt already established, they need reps for their development. This is particularly important for Jackson who was drafted 18th overall in the 2020 NFL draft as a young, raw talent. This rawness was evident last year and throughout the offseason.