When the regular season begins in two weeks, Kelvin Sheppard will probably start at middle linebacker, sending Koa Misi back to the strong-side.
Walt Aikens entered the weekend as the front-runner to replace Louis Delmas at safety and did nothing Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons to lose his grip on the job.
Rishard Matthews has not only cemented his place on the roster but also might have moved ahead of Kenny Stills on the depth chart.
Caleb Sturgis, who has connected on both of his field-goal attempts this preseason, will probably keep the job he has held the past two years. (But the Dolphins like rookie Andrew Franks enough to consider using one of their 10 practice squad spots on him.)
Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner have faced no real pressure from Jamil Douglas since early in training camp. And once the Dolphins passed on Evan Mathis, Thomas and Turner all but secured their spots at left and right guard, respectively.
So coach Joe Philbin has apparently gotten what he has wanted: His starting lineup more or less in place by the third preseason game.
There is, however, one notable exception.
Who’s the team’s starting corner opposite Brent Grimes?
Jamar Taylor appeared to have a hold on the job until straining his quadriceps muscle last week. Brice McCain started in Saturday night’s preseason 13-9 win over Atlanta, but even in his own estimation, was just “all right.”
“It’s kind of hard to get in a groove if you only play for a quarter,” McCain said. “I feel like I played all right. There’s a lot of plays that I could have played better. It’s preseason, that’s what the preseason is for, to get ready for the regular season. I think I’ll be a lot better in the season.”
It’s been a good-news, bad-news situation when evaluating the Dolphins’ defense in general, and the battle at cornerback in particular.
Miami’s first-string defensive front has been ridiculous; Atlanta coach Dan Quinn pulled Matt Ryan on Saturday after he was sacked three times in the game’s first 19 minutes.
But that pressure hasn’t provided many chances for quarterbacks to test McCain and Taylor. Both have allowed just one completion this preseason — McCain on two pass attempts in his coverage area, and Taylor on five.
Taylor also had an interception in the second preseason game against Carolina, which could be a tiebreaker in an otherwise close battle.
As of late Saturday, McCain hadn’t been told his role for the coming season. Regardless of who starts, both will be on the field a lot in the nickel package. McCain would likely work in the slot and Taylor on the boundary when the team goes with five defensive backs.
“We’re just going day by day and trying to play our best every day and not worry about that,” McCain said. “Because when you start worrying about that, it kind of affects you.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Philbin wouldn’t say Saturday if the starters would play in the largely irrelevant fourth preseason game, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he sat everyone, considering the team’s injury luck this season.
Mike Pouncey almost certainly will not play. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI on his injured left knee Sunday but expressed confidence after the game that he will play in the season opener. Another good sign for Pouncey: The team on Sunday cut veteran center J.D. Walton, who replaced Pouncey after the starter was injured.
But left tackle Branden Albert’s short-term availability remains in doubt. He practiced fully last week, but the Miami Herald has learned that the team is still not sure if he will play in Week 1. Also, Jason Fox needs to be cleared medically after sustaining a concussion a week ago.
Even with all of these issues, the offensive line hasn’t been a liability this preseason. The starters have allowed just two sacks in roughly 80 snaps of preseason football, with an important caveat: Ryan Tannehill has thrown mostly quick, short passes that haven’t given defensive linemen a chance to get to him.
▪ Matt Moore isn’t going anywhere. None of the quarterbacks behind him have been the slightest bit competent, and the Dolphins would only save $1million in cap space by cutting him.
But the organization has to be a little concerned about what the offense would look like if Tannehill gets injured. This preseason, Moore has completed just 50 percent of his passes, managed only 5.5 yards per attempt, has a passer rating of just 50.1 and has turned the ball over three times. In Moore’s defense, these stats have been skewed by his supporting cast; he’s played mostly with backups.
“It’s hard to tell,” Philbin said when asked about Moore. “It hasn’t been as clean as you’d like, and I’m sure not as clean as he’d would like. It’s on him overall. I think we have to support him better.”
▪ Chris McCain, who admittedly struggled at linebacker in the first two preseason games, got plenty of work Saturday. He played late into the game — suggesting that the Dolphins see him as a backup with Misi back healthy.
▪ The Dolphins cut 10 other playersas the team pares its roster down to 75 ahead of Monday’s deadline: DT Calvin Barnett; G Bryant Browning; WR LaRon Byrd; WR Kevin Cone; DE Ray Drew; WR Tyler McDonald; DE Kendall Montgomery; TE Gerell Robinson; CB Sammy Seamster; and S Phillip Thomas.
▪ The Dolphins were largely pleased with how the newly renovated stadium functioned in its soft opening Saturday.
But some fans were not so happy, particularly with inches of standing water in the upper deck and not enough accessible exits while the game was still in progress.