The Sports Daily > Phins Phocus
Preseason Week 4: Dolphins vs. Cowboys Primer

Dolphins’ preseason exhibition vs. Cowboys
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Sun Life Stadium/ Miami Gardens, Florida
Weather: 85 degrees, scattered thunderstorms
Watch: KTVT 11 Dallas, will air on CBS 4 in Miami around 11:30 p.m. due to black out, replay on NFL Network tomorrow night at 8 p.m., NFL Preseason Live

College football kicks off tonight, the NFL opener is a week from today, and the Dolphins’ Monday night showdown with the Patriots is a mere 11 days away. I think it’s safe to say most fans are over preseason football.

But there’s still one more exhibition on the slate. While the first team likely won’t see much time, tonight’s game could go a long way in putting the finishing touches on the 53-man roster.

In a sport where key players could be lost on any given play, establishing the right 53 for depth purposes is crucial. But even as most NFL teams around the league won’t suit up many of their starters, tonight probably won’t be exclusively about the roster fringe players for the Dolphins.

The regular season is fast approaching and the offensive line and running game don’t appear to be ready. If the Dolphins are going to stick with their current line, and from all indications that’s what they plan to do, their only hope is that some chemistry begins to form.

If they can gel, they’ll improve. Probably not by much, but judging by last week, this O-line has nowhere to go but up. But that does mean that they could use all the work they can get.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the first-team offensive line for the majority of the first half and some quality work for Daniel Thomas as well. With that said, here are my five keys to success for the Dolphins:

1. Strong night for Daniel Thomas: We don’t know how much time rookie running back Daniel Thomas will get, but he’s certainly not going to get the night off.

I expect Thomas to run behind the Dolphins’ first-team offensive line for at least the first quarter tonight, but he could play the entire first half. He needs the work.

Outside of a few solid runs against Carolina, Thomas has been a disappointment this preseason. I think the offensive line deserves more of the blame, though. He’s seemingly hit a brick wall on the majority of his carries.

But he still could hit the hole, or where the hole should be I should say, with a little more conviction, especially in short-yardage situations or near the goal line.

With the Cowboys likely resting most of their defensive starters tonight, there’s no excuse for Daniel Thomas and the offensive line not to step up and prove they can get something going.

2. Right side of O-line needs to establish a little momentum: The offensive line as a whole is a huge concern heading into the regular season, but at least there’s hope on the left side and at center.

Jake Long returning instantly takes care of one problem, Richie Incognito can be an average left guard when he’s on his game, and center Mike Pouncey has Pro Bowl potential at center. But the right side is nothing short of a nightmare.

Vernon Carey has failed to make a successful transition inside to right guard so far and Marc Colombo is becoming a huge liability in pass protection. We need to see some life from the right side tonight.

Vernon Carey did some quality things against the Panthers and needs to prove that game wasn’t a fluke. Marc Colombo, meanwhile, can’t allow the Cowboys’ second string pass rushers to get after Matt Moore.

3. Fewer penalties: Whether it’s the first-team offensive line or the third-string secondary, the Dolphins have to clean up their play tonight. Last week was hard to watch, as the Dolphins were penalized 11 times for 76 yards. Some of that is on Tony Sparano. This team needs to be disciplined and fundamentally sound. It’s obviously no time to get too bent out of shape about this being that it’s the preseason and this time of year is all about getting the mistakes out of the way and learning from them. But it still needs to be resolved quickly. The Dolphins won’t stand a chance against a well-prepared team like New England if they go out a litter the field with yellow.

4. Roster fringe players step up their game: There still appears to be several positions that could go a number of ways when the Dolphins make final cuts on Saturday.

Will Lousaka Polite make the team? How many offensive linemen will the Dolphins keep? Which linebackers will round out the unit? Who snags the fifth cornerback spot: Will Allen or Nolan Carroll?

Some of these questions may be virtually settled in the minds of Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano, but impressions made tonight could still facilitate them in their decisions. It would be nice to see a few of these guys make those decisions a little easier and win the job outright by stealing the show.

5. One last injury free night: The Dolphins have been extremely fortunate this preseason health-wise. They’ve avoided significant injuries to their first-teams.

But they’re not completely out of the woods yet. We know the starting offensive line and probably Daniel Thomas will get some work in, but we could see some of the other key starters for a series or two as well.

If I’m Sparano, I’m resting the entire defense outside of maybe Chris Clemons. I wouldn’t mind seeing the likes of Chad Henne, Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall, and Davone Bess get the night off as well. B

ut we’ll see what Sparano has up his sleeve. Let’s just hope the Dolphins stay healthy tonight, starters and backups alike.