Believe or not, the Miami Dolphins will play in their first preseason game on Thursday night. The team has been in training camp the last two weeks preparing for their matchup against the Chicago Bears.
There are only a select number of starting jobs still open on the Dolphins, but the 53-man roster is far from a finished production. Here are five things to keep an eye on Thursday night.
1. Offensive line
Without a healthy Branden Albert during training camp, the Dolphins’ offensive line has performed poorly. Albert's replacement, Jason Fox, has gotten beaten by the defensive ends regularly. Also, the play of guards Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas has been up and down. Head coach Joe Philbin says the battle for the starting guard spots has been close in camp.
"Yeah, it’s been close," said Philbin. "I thought Jamil (Douglas), for a rookie, the other night kind of [held] his own and out there. I thought he handled himself pretty well out there, I really did."
None of the guards has outperformed the other. Maybe Turner, Thomas or Douglas will stand out against a Bears defense they have yet to line up against.
2. With Stills and Parker still out, who will step up at receiver?
Kenny Stills has missed a number of training camp practices with a calf injury and isn’t expected to play. With Stills and rookie DeVante Parker still injured, that will give receivers Rishard Matthews and Michael Preston more opportunities to showcase themselves.
Matthews was thought to be a player that could be in danger of being cut, but he has been one of the best players in Dolphins’ training camp thus far. Even quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been impressed by the way Matthews has performed.
“He’s taking advantage of the opportunity, said Tannehill. “He’s getting a lot of reps, he’s a big physical receiver with strong hands and I feel like if the ball is in his area, he has strong hands and he’s going to come down with it. He uses his big body to separate and makes plays on the ball. He attacks the ball and that’s what you want to see from a receiver.”
Preston is still unlikely to make the final roster considering the team’s depth at receiver. Despite being a long shot, Philbin hope he keeps playing well.
"He likes football, he’s out there, he’s a competitor and he’s stepped up and made some plays, said Philbin. “So he has to do it, obviously, against outside competition now.”
3. Will the defensive line dominate?
All throughout camp, the defensive line of the Dolphins has been manhandling the team’s offensive line during practices and it hasn’t just been the starters. Players like Terrence Fede, Derrick Shelby and Jordan Phillips have been some of the best players on defense throughout drills.
“I thought the two ends have really been consistent throughout camp, Derrick (Shelby) and Terrence Fede, really I thought played at a high level, said Philbin. “On the interior, C.J. Mosley I think has come along the last couple of days and we’ve seen some flash plays out of Jordan Phillips, Anthony Johnson and Deandre Coleman. It’s a good group, but I think we need some more consistency.”
4. Can any of the cornerbacks not named Brent Grimes separate themselves?
Brent Grimes is a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, so the Dolphins don’t have to worry about his side of the field. Miami is still evaluating who will line up opposite him.
Jamar Taylor is the No. 2 corner on the current depth chart but has been inconsistent during practices. Brice McCain has had a great camp and is threating to supplant Taylor as the starter.
“Brice (McCain) has played good football since he’s been here, said Philbin. “He’s competitive, he’s got good recovery speed and he’s picked up the system well and so he’s going to get opportunities to show if he’s the best, second best, third best, whatever it may be.”
Will Davis, Walt Aikens, Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain are also fighting for roster spots on the team, so expect each of them to get a lot of snaps on Thursday.
5. Sturgis or Franks, who will get the most opportunities at kicker?
In his two seasons in the NFL, Celeb Sturgis has been a mediocre field goal kicker. Last season, the former Florida Gator was successful on 78.4 percent of his field goals, which placed him 28th in the league. That’s why the Dolphins brought in competition for Sturgis in the form of Andrew Franks.
Franks has a huge leg but has been inconsistent in kicking drills.
“He’s got pop in his leg," said Philbin. “The ball comes off his foot. Again, not perfect every time, but there’s something to work with there, for sure.”
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.