The Miami Dolphins are 0-2 in this preseason, but their record can be a bit deceiving. While the Dolphins have lost to both the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers, their first-team offense and defense have played well in each contest.
In the third preseason game on Saturday, the Atlanta Falcons will present the Dolphins with their biggest challenge so far.
Here are the five things to observe in Miami's game against Atlanta on Saturday.
1. Who Will Play At Left Tackle?
Branden Albert is still recovering from his ACL and MCL tear and the Dolphins don’t expect to have him back until the start of the regular season. Backup left tackle Jason Fox suffered a concussion against the Panthers last week and is questionable to play against the Falcons.
If Fox cannot play, that would leave either Dallas Thomas or Jeff Linkenbach to play left tackle. Head coach Joe Philbin isn’t sure who will line up on the left side if Fox cannot go.
“We’ll have to figure that out during the course of the practice week, said Philbin. “We’ll take a look. Dallas Thomas has played tackle in this league in games and we’ll take a look at him. Jeff Linkenbach has played tackle in this league in games. We’ve had (Donald) Hawkins play and (Audrey) Walker play. We’ll get an idea as the week unfolds what’s the best combination.”
2. How Much Will Ryan Tannehill Play?
South Florida reporters such as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald have suggested that Ryan Tannehill shouldn’t play in Saturday’s game because of the uncertainty at left tackle. Tannehill is expected to play on Saturday, but no one knows how many snaps the quarterback will receive.
If it was up to Tannehill, he wants to be out there a lot with his teammates.
“I expect to play and play as much as I would regardless of who is out there just because those are the guys that are going to be out there when we play in a couple of weeks,” said Tannehill. “Injuries are a part of the game and, like it or not, that’s just kind of the way it is. That’s the risk you take when you play this game. Our guys are stepping up, guys are working hard and people are going to have opportunities, and I want to see them take advantage of it.”
So far this preseason, Tannehill has thrown for 126 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 126.9. With Tannehill playing so well, along with the injuries on the offensive line, Philbin could decide to limit Tannehill’s snaps.
3. How Will the Dolphins' Defense Perform?
So far in limited duty, the Dolphins' first-time defense has been impressive. Last week, the unit produced an interception and two three-and-out possessions against Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense.
This week, Miami will face a high-octane Falcons offense, that’s played well during the preseason. In two games quarterback Matt Ryan has passed for 161 yards, two touchdowns and has a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
"Atlanta is a good team that has been to playoffs before, a well-respected quarterback that I’ve played against before," said Ndamukong Suh. "I’m excited about going against a team like that and I think it’ll be a good measuring stick, but at the end of the day, we’re not playing a full game against them. They’re not going to have their starters or every single piece like it’s a real game, so you respect it and you go from there.”
Miami's first-team defense has allowed just three points this preseason. They will have to play even better if they want to limit the Falcons.
4. Starting Safety
With Louis Delmas out for the 2015 season with his second ACL tear in nine months, Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas are both competing for the starting strong safety spot.
Philbin has been impressed with Aikens dating back to OTAs in June. He also thought Aikens played well in Saturday’s contest against the Panthers.
“I showed him the pictures kind of on the same drive where he was in the alley, he had an opportunity to, they popped a lead draw against us and it got out to him in the alley and he missed the tackle,” said Philbin. “But yet then he came back within the same possession and, on third down, he made a big stop and a big tackle. He’s a young player, but I like the way he’s practicing and doing things.”
With two games left in the preseason, the job appears to be Aikens' to lose.
5. Will Either Kicker Separate Themselves?
When Andrew Franks was brought on to provide competition for Caleb Sturgis, who has struggled in his first two seasons in the league. The problem is, the Dolphins aren’t any closer to figuring out who will be the kicker for Week 1 at Washington.
Sturgis is two-for-two this preseason in field goal attempts and appears to be the leader in the clubhouse. The problem is, Sturgis hasn’t been consistent throughout his career.
If Sturgis kicks well on Saturday, then Miami could include Franks among the first cuts on Sept. 1.
— 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.