The Miami Dolphins’ 2019 preseason will finally be underway tonight in their home match-up against the Atlanta Falcons. After a long and busy offseason for the Dolphins, coaches and fans are about to get their first look at the new roster under first time head coach Brian Flores.
To say it’s a complete roster overhaul from 2018 would be a bit of a stretch, but the team comes into 2019 with many new faces and question marks; including at some of the most important positions. The departures of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Dolphins legend Cameron Wake were the two biggest storylines of the off-season. But what about the here and now?
Here we are, hours from the first snaps of 2019. It’s time to bury those heads of players that aren’t here anymore and look forward.
So what are the three biggest things to watch for for the Miami Dolphins heading into the preseason? Let’s take a look:
1. Who will win the starting quarterback battle?
This might be low hanging fruit, but we have to address the most obvious one first. Now that the Ryan Tannehill experiment is FINALLY over, the Dolphins once again find themselves searching high and low for a franchise quarterback. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the current quarterback battle in Dolphins training camp is between veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and second year guy Josh Rosen.
Fitzpatrick has started a game for seven different NFL franchises over the span of his 14-year career, and Miami could potentially (and most likely) be number eight. Just last week Brian Flores made a rather blunt statement to the media when asked about the competition.
“It’s clear that Ryan Fitzpatrick is leading the way. He’s done that in a lot of ways from leadership, to production on the field, to meeting rooms and walk-throughs. It’s an ongoing competition, but right now he’s leading the way,” Flores said. “He’s been more productive. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to.”
Of course it’s early and anything can happen, but the initial edge in camp seems to give the nod towards Fitzpatrick, even for the start of the regular season. However, since Flores made those comments to the media, Rosen has looked very solid. It’s almost as if he took the comments and adjusted his approach so the message to the coaching staff is still “Hey, look at me!”
Ultimately, this battle is going to come down to who performs better in the preseason and can best prepare this team to win football games. The one hangup is that Rosen has a sliver of potential to be something Fitzpatrick cannot be at this stage of his career: the franchise guy. Although Fitzpatrick has floated around to an array of teams, and has had success as a starter, especially in Buffalo, New York and Houston, starting Fitzpatrick all season is a temporary solution. At some point you have to get a look at Rosen to see if he is the guy you expected him to be.
2. Which Defensive Back will emerge to the starting lineup across from Xavien Howard?
Miami wasn’t going to mess around when it came to locking up Pro Bowl DB Howard. Earlier this year, the team handsomely rewarded Howard with a five-year, $75 million extension to stay with the team. When you have a guy who’s undoubtedly one of the best at his position, it’s only natural that teams will go to work and pick on the weaker, opposite side. But who will start across from Howard?
In 2018 the job belonged to Bobby McCain. However, with a coaching change, comes a position change for McCain in 2019. McCain has spent all of his time in training camp at safety for the Dolphins and it doesn’t seem like there is any indication he will be moving back to corner. Do note though, Flores has talked about moving position players around on defense to play the best schemes he can at once. Whether this is in-game changes, or in preparation for a specific opponent, Flores hasn’t taken a glue bottle to the depth chart yet.
The early leaders in camp thus far for the second corner spot include Eric Rowe and Nik Needham. Rowe comes over from New England, along with Flores, and the other members of the Patriots coaching staff that joined him. He has had a good showing in camp so far, most notably, making a couple nice plays for interceptions.
Needham is a rookie defensive back out of the University of Texas at El Paso, and also finds himself having a good camp. He seems to be carving out a role on this team for himself, especially with the continued absence of Cordrea Tankersley. Tankersley remains on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list for the Dolphins (ACL).
3. How many wide receivers do the Dolphins keep on the roster? Who gets cut?
The deepest position on the Dolphins roster is unarguably the wide receiver group, in my opinion. One thing Fitzpatrick and Rosen won’t be able to complain about is the team’s offensive weapons. A wide variety of small speed guys to tall high-point ball guys will give these quarterbacks weapons all over the field to spread the ball around. It’s so crowded though, that not everyone is going to make the roster.
Who are the locks? Kenny Stills name doesn’t even have to be mentioned, he is an ultimate professional on and off the field and is the Dolphins number one receiver (despite what early depth charts show). DeVante Parker is also a lock after the Dolphins extended him for two more seasons. Maybe this will finally be the year he stays healthy and breaks out. Maybe. The other two locks to make the team at wide receiver are speedsters Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson. Both guys are coming off of season ending injuries in 2018, but look to bounce back in a big way this year. Both have already participated in some capacity during training camp and did offseason rehabilitation together.
With four guaranteed locks already, fighting for the other spots include Allen Hurns, Brice Butler, Preston Williams, Isaiah Ford and Trenton Irwin. Of these remaining names, the one garnering the most buzz is undrafted rookie Williams. Williams is a big bodied receiver whose strength is only increasing. He was originally viewed as a second or third round draft prospect, but went undrafted due to off-field concerns. Dolphins fans remember how previous head coach Adam Gase felt about off-field issues. Trading starting running back Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia? Getting rid of Ndamakong Suh? Don’t remind us.
Hurns was also brought into camp to compete for a spot after being let go by the Dallas Cowboys, but has been quiet in camp. Ford and Irwin have made a little more noise in camp, turning a few heads by each running with the second team at a time or two.
So far, Flores has spoken publicly about the decision to bring in Hurns. When given a one-year contract and the opportunity to earn a spot, Flores said they liked his talents and what he could bring to the table, but also that he had to earn every bit of it. He also slid in there however, that the team wouldn’t have given him a shot if it didn’t think he could earn a spot.
Will the Dolphins opt to keep six or even seven receivers? That’s tricky. I think a lot of it comes down to the tight end position. If the Dolphins decide to keep upwards of three tight ends, it’s going to cut down on a spot for one of these receivers, even if they are worthy of making the team.
With these three things to watch for in the Dolphins’ preseason, I believe Miami will begin putting a lot of different pieces to the puzzle together and finish 3-1.