The Dolphins won’t get a read on new quarterback Jay Cutler in Thursday’s preseason opener against Atlanta, because he won’t play. But here are a half dozen storylines that the Dolphins are eager to watch play out:
• Can defensive end Charles Harris and starting middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan live up to offseason hype?
The rookies have impressed everyone with their work ethic, maturity and preparation. But questions remain about whether Harris can hold up against the run – Pro Football Focus ranked him 163rd among college edge defenders against the run, noting was "pushed around far too easily against the run this past season. Caught over pursuing far too often. Sometimes inside, sometimes outside, and sometimes upfield."
Said ESPN’s Jon Gruden: “He is a liability I think right now against the run. He’s got to recognize draws. He’s got to smell out screens. He’s got to improve at the point of attack.
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Harris was beaten to the edge by Damien Williams on one long practice run, but his run defense in camp hasn’t been a liability.
With McMillan, his assets are clear: He’s intelligent, skilled at stopping the run and doesn’t miss many tackles. Whether he’s ready to be a playmaking starting middle linebacker is one question. And pass coverage is another.
Remember, ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranted on draft night that McMillan is "a little too one dimensional for today’s NFL where they’re throwing it all over the yard. This would have been a great pick in 1985, 95. I wonder if he can play every down in today’s NFL."
He doesn’t need to yet. When the Dolphins have two linebackers on the field, those linebackers will be Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. But teams will target McMillan at times in the passing game when Miami’s in base defense. And McMillan must show he can handle it.
• Can rookie fifth-rounder Davon Godchaux really beat out veteran Jordan Phillips? Godchaux has impressed at practice and played ahead of Phillips for much of the past week, which Gase confirmed is based largely on practice performance. Sixth-rounder Vincent Taylor has had some impressive stops in the run game, but Nick Williams (resigned this offseason), Lawrence Okoye and Julius Warmsley are journeyman types.
• Can Alterraun Verner or even Michael Thomas wrest the slot corner job from Bobby McCain? So far, no. McCain has received most first team snaps, but Verner will get a long look. Verner has made a pick and deflected several passes but also been beaten a few times in camp. Thomas historically has played better at nickel than safety but couldn’t beat out McCain last year.
• Who seizes the starting left guard job? Kraig Urbik (who has been filling in for Mike Pouncey at center) and Anthony Steen appear the top options, based on first-team reps, with rookie fifth-rounder Isaac Asiata not yet challenging either. Avery Young, Isame Faciane, Jesse Davis and Jake Brendel are getting looks.
• Is there an undrafted rookie gem along the lines of Davone Bess or Dan Carpenter in past years?
Several have flashed the past two weeks. The Dolphins remain very intrigued by Arkansas receiver Drew Morgan and some internally believe he has what it takes to be an NFL receiver, especially with his ability to create leverage and use his body to get open.
A couple of defensive linemen (Praise Martin-Oguike and Cameron Malveaux) have made some plays in practice, albeit against backups. Former UNLV corner Torry Mctyer has turned some heads with his ball-hawking and two early picks. But Morgan has the best chance to stick, and UM’s Malcolm Lewis (now out with a concussion) cannot be ruled out if Rashawn Scott (foot) doesn’t get healthy.
• What about any other potential surprises? A Dolphins official said last month Miami likes how CFL linebacker import Deon Lacey "moves in space" but Trevor Reilly has surpassed him on the depth chart, with Lacey relegated to the third team…. Corner/safety Jordan Lucas has clearly improved but he will need to be great in preseason for Miami to make room for him on the 53… Storm Johnson has had some nifty runs in camp, but he, Senorise Perry and De’Veon Smith face long odds. Johnson has just a 3.0 average on 29 career carries for Jacksonville.
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