Are you ready for some fakeball?
Maybe the biggest scam in all of sports is that NFL teams get away with including preseason exhibition games in their season-ticket packages, requiring fans to pay full fare for fakeball or fraudball games they wouldn't otherwise pay much to see. I mean, seriously, if you plan to attend the Dolphins' preseason opener here versus Atlanta on Thursday night in expected gloomy weather and are truly excited about it, well, you are a Dolfan deserving of a medal. If you'll watch the game end-to-end on television, that merits a certificate of appreciation, at least.
No Jay Cutler tonight. Almost certainly no Jay Ajayi. Very few if any starters will play much if at all. Same for the Atlanta Falcons. Hence the result will be meaningless. The Dolphins could win by 20 points or lose by 20 and it would signify nada.
This isn't to say the game is meaningless to participants, of course. To coaches who must make roster cuts. To borderline players trying to make it. From a spectator standpoint, though, your interest level in the preseason identifies if you are a Macro Fan or a Micro Fan. If you're Macro, you just want to judge the finished product starting Sept. 10, not see how the sausage is made along the way, and so tonight probably isn't for you, except very casual interest. But if you're Micro and you care about the minutia, stuff like who might be the fifth wide receiver, then preseason is your Petri dish.
Tonight will mostly be about rookies, and Miami draft-loaded on defense, so that figures as a focus. On rookie middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan: He's a baby, not yet 21, but set to start. Whether he flies or fails will have a huge impact on whether the Fins' defense improves as much as it needs to. On rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux: Is he really beating out young veteran Jordan Phillips for the start, or are the reps right now more of a fire-starter under Phillips? On rookie defensive end Charles Harris: Surprisingly little attention for the No. 1 draft pick, maybe because he'll begin as a rotation player, but tonight will be our first good look at that explosive first step of his. And on rookie cornerback Cordrea Tankersley: Can the third-round pick make the team? He's a guy who needs to shine tonight.
Offensively, the preseason debut could see one of the "other guys" at quarterback stake an early claim to being kept as a No. 3 behind Cutler and Matt Moore. (By the way, don't look for Cutler to be smoking a cigarette on the sideline tonight. That would violate stadium rules). Also expecting a big dose of young running back Kenyan Drake as the RBs jockey for leftover carries the workhorse Ajayi doesn't get.
For coach Adam Gase, preseason or not, it's real football, not fakeball.
"It's a great opportunity for the guys to prove what they've been doing out here in a real game," he said. "You get to tackle. Now you have to take the guy to the ground. It's good. We need it. That's why we did live periods this year [in training camp], to get better at tackling, blocking and finishing plays. These preseason games are a continuation of that."