Considering that the third preseason game typically gives starters/those competing for starting jobs the longest opportunity to make an impression, we went into Friday night expecting most, if not all, of the starting competitions to come to a close. As expected, Tony Sparano finally admitted he’s decided on who his starting center will be. However, things could still be far from decided at strongside outside linebacker and left guard.
Center: Jake Grove
Although, Sparano wouldn’t say who is starting center is, and advised the media not to assume whoever starts against the Cowboys on Thursday night is the guy, looking back at the tape it’s clear Grove is superior to Joe Berger. In the second preseason game against the Jaguars, Grove decisively outplayed Berger. And even though both were underwhelming on Friday night against the Falcons, it was still evident that Grove is the right man for the job. Omar Kelly speculated that Berger could still start Week 1 because of concerns about Grove’s durability. Maybe the Dolphins share the same philosophy, but if it was me, how can you not start the best player? Isn’t that what a quality backup like Berger is for? If Grove gets hurt again, Berger will be ready to fill his void.
Strongside Outside Linebacker: Koa Misi
Most, including me, were under the impression that Koa Misi basically had clinched the job on the strongside heading into Friday night. However, after Misi struggled to set the edge against Micheal Turner and the Falcons running game, Ikaika Alama-Francis received starting reps in Sunday’s practice. We will have to wait to see how that plays out the rest of the week and on Thursday night before we can give Ike the lead, or decipher if that’s a permanent move, just a wake up call to Misi, or a situational role. The concern about starting Ike has to be the pass rush. He’s a former defensive tackle in the 4-3 and defensive end in the 3-4, he isn’t going to make many quarterbacks nervous. Based on what we’ve seen this preseason, though, he’s probably an upgrade over Misi as far as setting the edge and shedding blocks goes. And, really, Misi hasn’t provided much of a pass rush anyway. He’s probably more capable of dropping back into coverage, but at the end of the day, you have to think that stopping the run is more important from the outside linebacker position.
Left Guard: Richie Incognito
Now this is purely speculation, but after watching Incognito get pushed around trying to open up holes for Ronnie and Ricky, and continue to be an incapable puller, you have to wonder if Donald Thomas is going to takeover if the struggles continue. Incognito wasn’t unseated at practice yesterday, so Sparano has probably already settled on his starting interior and doesn’t want to shake anything up as he gives them time to develop some cohesiveness. If the runnning game doesn’t return to form in a hurry, though, he may not have a choice.
Kick Returner: Nolan Carroll
After nearly sealing the deal against the Jaguars, Carroll didn’t hit the hole quite as hard on Friday night. Although, he nearly broke off a big return if it wasn’t for the last man separating him from the edge tripping him up. Maybe Patrick Cobbs, who is likely number two on the depth chart, would provide a little more consistency, but Carroll is much faster and is a threat to break off some big returns this year. Let’s remember that this is his first action returning kicks since high school, so it’s expected that consistency won’t be present right off the bat.
Punt Returner: Davone Bess
This is likely already a done deal, but we got our first glimpse of Marlon Moore returning punts against the Falcons. Did he do anything impressive? No. But I think it’s fair to say his superior speed makes his upside higher than Bess’. He has a long way to go before he earns the Dolphins’ trust returning punts, but if he stays away from the muffs and makes quality decisions in practice, he may be a solid return in Dallas away from seriously contending for the job.