Preseason Week 1: Dolphins at Falcons Primer

Dolphins’ preseason opener
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: The Georgia Dome/ Atlanta, Georgia
TV: WFOR Miami, CBS Atlanta, Preseason Live, NFL Network replay at 1 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 560 WQAM Sports Radio (Miami), 790 The Zone and Star 94 FM (Atlanta)

Even if it’s essentially a practice game, a meaningless game scoreboard-wise, gameday is here. Dolphins’ football is back. The slate is clean. It’s a new year with fresh opportunities. It’s okay to be excited.

Having said that, taking everything that happens tonight with a grain of salt is in order. The preseason is rarely indicative of what’s to come in the regular season. How many teams have impressed, ran the table even in the exhibition season and wound up picking in the top ten in the draft?

On the contrary, teams like the Indianapolis Colts look dysfunctional at times in the preseason, but when things get real, they turn the switch on and instantly surface as one of the elite teams in football. So, while seeing good things from the Dolphins tonight would boost morale, it’s going to mean nothing when the Patriots come to town on September 12th.

The outcome of tonight’s game will be meaningless, but that’s hardly the case for many players, especially of the roster fringe variety. These four preseason games will help realize or crush NFL dreams.

Some players will earn their spot on the 53-man roster, while others will squander away the golden opportunity to play football for a living at the highest level. Competitions with starting implications could also be decided in these game settings.

So before you play the meaningless card in reference to these exhibitions, tell it to guys like Jimmy Wilson, who need solid performances to push for a roster spot and see an NFL dream come to fruition. Tell that to guys like Reshad Jones and Lydon Murtha, who must impress the coaches tonight if they want to earn the opportunity to be a starter in this league.

5 keys to success for Dolphins

1. Stay healthy: At the end of the day, regardless of what happens in the Georgia Dome tonight, priority number one is preventing any significant injuries. Chad Henne’s accuracy could be erratic, Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush could produce negative yardage on the ground, and the first-team defense could surrender two touchdown drives, but if the Dolphins avoid any costly injuries, they can at least hang their heads on living to fight another day.

2. Chad Henne impress, maybe even lead a scoring drive: The preseason will carry a little more weight for Chad Henne than most starting quarterbacks. His confidence is fragile. That can easily be seen by his roller coaster first couple years at the helm. If he plays poorly in the preseason, I have my doubts he can put it behind him in time for New England.

Henne needs to get on a bit of a hot streak in these exhibition games in order to build some confidence and momentum for opening week. He’s fresh off of a great week of practice. Let’s see if it carries over to tonight’s game. Leading a scoring drive would do wonders for Henne’s confidence and the morale inside the locker room and with the fan base alike.

3. First-team defense flash initial signs of greatness: With all of the question marks on the offensive side of the football, the Dolphins’ defense is positioned to be an elite unit this season. Tonight will be a great first test.

Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones highlight a projected offensive powerhouse some have drawn comparison to “The Greatest Show on Turf.” We won’t see them for long, but it would be nice to see Mike Nolan’s unit keep them off the board, maybe even in three-and-out fashion.

4. Offensive line begin to gel: We won’t see many Dolphins’ starters beyond the first quarter, but we could see the first-team offensive line stay on the field until the second half. Sparano wants to get a good, long look at the unit and giving them as many reps as possible to begin to develop some chemistry is a priority.

Lydon Murtha and Marc Colombo will be manning starting left and right tackle respectfully, so it will be interesting to see how much time Chad Henne and Matt Moore have to throw. The interior offensive line is also remolded outside of Richie Incognito. Creating some push, something we rarely saw a year ago, will go a long way in easing some of the concerns many fans have about Sparano’s line.

5. Playmakers begin to emerge on defense: The Dolphins project to stop the run and pass well this season, but one thing that was missing from the equation a year ago was creating turnovers. The Dolphins have two fine cover corners, but neither Vontae Davis nor Sean Smith have looked the part of ball hawk in their first two seasons.

Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones are currently battling it out for starting free safety, and whoever can create more game-changing plays in center field will likely win the job. With Will Allen hurt, the battle for the fifth cornerback spot is also something to monitor. Nate Ness impressed last preseason by showcasing playmaking potential. Who steps up this year?