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Dolphins-Panthers: Five Things To Watch

Posted Aug 16, 2012

Talk about being tested, that is the ultimate understatement to describe what Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin went through over a four-day span last week. So to be able to get back to football tonight is certainly a relief for him.

Philbin saw his quarterback competition completely change dynamics just hours before the preseason opener against Tampa Bay at Sun Life Stadium when he had to scratch projected starter David Garrard due to a knee injury. Garrard underwent arthroscopic surgery the next day and was to miss 3-4 weeks, so now rookie Ryan Tannehill had to be thrust into a different role with Matt Moore.

Two days later, Philbin released veteran wide receiver Chad Johnson in what was a very tough decision for him, shaking up the depth chart at that position. He has a clear vision on what he wants to see out of his starters tonight against the Panthers in terms of play count.

“I’d like to see us roughly in the 25-30 range,” Philbin said. “Somewhere around there would be good I think, just to step it up a little bit.”

Five Things To Watch:

1. Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin versus Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: Unlike last week when it was two rookie head coaches going against each other, Rivera has the benefit of having one full season under his belt. He is also coaching under the lights at Bank of America Stadium and in the comfortable confines of his home stadium. Philbin weathered a tumultuous week and hopes to return some normalcy tonight with a more consistent performance from his team. Both coaches look to come out of this game with a much better idea of what their starting units are going to look like for the following week.

2. Carolina’s second-year quarterback Cam Newton versus Miami’s front seven: Newton exploded on the scene as a rookie year, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and rushing for more than 500. He did all of that damage after having a quiet first outing in the preseason against these same Dolphins, and with starting linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby, along with starting defensive end Cameron Wake not likely to play, he will be testing backups Gary Guyton and Jason Trusnik in the middle and rookie Olivier Vernon on the edge of the line. This will be their chance to shine against an athletic and dangerous quarterback and make a case for staying on the good side of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and Head Coach Joe Philbin.

3. Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill versus the Panthers secondary: Whether or not he gets the start tonight, Tannehill will be looking to carry over his solid performance last week against Tampa Bay into this pivotal second preseason game. Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Rivera, who has a defensive background, will do their best to try and confuse Tannehill by mixing up coverages and disguising blitzes, but he has proven to be a quick study when it comes to those categories. This will be one of the more compelling storylines to follow.

4. Carolina’s veteran wide receiver Steve Smith versus Miami’s fourth-year cornerback Sean Smith: The battle of the Smiths will be a fun one to watch tonight, as the vociferous Panthers wideout is out to prove last year’s eye-popping numbers (79 catches for 1,394 yards and 7 TDs) were a sign that he is back to his perennial Pro Bowl form. Miami’s tall and athletic defensive back has had arguably his best training camp and feeds off of challenges, so this is one he is eager to take on. If Miami’s Smith can shut down his Carolina counterpart, that will do wonders for his confidence.

5. Dolphins young tight ends versus Panthers linebackers and safeties: It was a rough outing last week for everyone in this group besides second-year man Charles Clay, but he drew some criticism during the week along with rookie Michael Egnew. They need to rebound, and to do it against the caliber of Carolina’s Jon Beason and rookie Luke Kuechly would be a good start.
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