There's A Lot On The Line On Saturday Night

Posted Aug 23, 2013

The next-to-last preseason game can make the difference when it comes to starting battles.

As preseason games go, this is the big one.

It’s the next-to-last outing before the start of the regular season, the last before the first wave of roster cuts. It’s the game when starters will get their most extensive action of the preseason and the one where there’s the most game-planning involved.

So naturally, it’s the one front-line players get a little bit more excited about.

“Oh yeah, I’m real excited,” said defensive tackle Paul Soliai. “I’m going to be on the field more, and that’s what a lot of fans are hoping to see, all the starters out there playing. And they’ll get to see what this team is made of and what this training camp did to us. And are we better than last year?”

Head Coach Joe Philbin said Thursday no final determination had been made in terms of player availability or playing time, but assumptions can be made based on recent history.

In the next-to-last preseason game, starters usually end up playing into the third quarter. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill took 29 offensive snaps while playing most of the first half against Houston last Saturday; he might reach 40 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday night.

“It’s big,” Tannehill said. “It’s the one where you will get the majority of your playing time. Starters will play I don’t know how much but probably the most of any of the preseason games. It’s big. We want to build on what we did last week and continue to get better. It’s kind of a dress rehearsal game for our first game.”

It indeed is a dress rehearsal, one that started long before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday.

The work week the Dolphins completed with their final pre-game practice Thursday was pretty much the same they’ll use the week of their regular season opener at Cleveland.

“We formatted the week much like we will do in the regular season in regards to lifting, meetings and practice,” Philbin said. “I thought we had a good week of preparation.

Because the starters will get their most playing time and because there’s more game-planning involved, the next-to-last preseason game offers the best gauge when it comes to predicting a team’s fortunes in the upcoming regular season.

Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but it’s interesting to note that the Dolphins have won 10 of their last 18 penultimate preseason games and have gone on to finish with a winning record in the regular season eight of those years. One of the other two years ended with an 8-8 record. The only time since 1994 the Dolphins won their next-to-last preseason game but didn’t have a winning regular season record was in 2009.

The next-to-last preseason game also can make the difference when it comes to starting battles. Philbin, for example, said he could potentially see one of the tight ends separate himself from the group with a big performance against Tampa Bay.

The Dolphins’ first-team defense is coming off a pair of impressive performances against Jacksonville and Houston, and will be looking to just do it over a longer period of time against TampaBay.

For the offense, the challenge against the Buccaneers is to get off to a faster start after producing only one first down in the first three drives at Jacksonville and none in the first two drives at Houston.

“Personally, if you’re asking me, that’s the main thing I think we need to do is start fast this game,” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who sat out the preseason opener against Dallas but scored the Dolphins’ first touchdown against Houston on a 9-yard reception. “The (last) two games we started really slow. We can’t play like that. You don’t want to get behind the 8-ball. You don’t want to let teams get fast starts on us and have to make up ground.

“We’ve just got to have a good start this week and I think we have the guys to do it, we have the game plan to do it, so we just have to go out and execute.”

Wallace and his teammates on both offense and defense always want to be sharp, but if there’s a game to do it in the preseason, this is the one.

“Everybody knows this is the mock real game,” Wallace said. “Everybody knows that teams are going to have a little bit more game-planning and really have their guys out there trying to make plays. I think guys are going to turn it up a little bit for this game. You just have to be ready. I think it’s going to give us an idea where we stand as a team and it’s a good test for us.”

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