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Dolphins-Cowboys: Five Things To Watch

Posted Aug 29, 2012

Just like that, the 2012 NFL preseason is ending and the Miami Dolphins are hoping to learn more about what they will look like on September 9th in Houston when they open up against the Texans.

Tonight the Dolphins visit the Lone Star State to take on the Dallas Cowboys in search of their first preseason victory, and Head Coach Joe Philbin and his staff will move one step closer to setting the final 53-man roster. In essence, this is the final audition for those on the bubble.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s job is set in stone as he was named the starter shortly after the second preseason game at the Carolina Panthers. He was born and raised in Texas and played his college football at Texas A&M, so this trip as well as the one to Houston for the season opener will be homecomings for him.

Typically, the fourth preseason game is when the starters take a rest so that those players fighting for a roster spot can do their thing. Tannehill expects to take the field in order to continue to fine-tune his command of the offense, and then give way to Matt Moore and Pat Devlin.

“Just go out and take advantage of the snaps I get,” said Tannehill when asked what he wants to accomplish tonight. “I don’t know exactly how many snaps I’ll get, but I want to go out and take advantage of every rep. I want us to really play like we can as an offense and really move the ball and be consistent. I think that’s the one thing that I’ve kind of focused on is being more consistent as an offense, being more consistent as a quarterback.”

Five Things To Watch:

1. Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin versus Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett: This is the first short week Philbin has had to deal with, and even though the third preseason game is the one that teams spend the most time game planning for, Philbin still will be tested. He is trying to balance the need to get in the win column and see progress on both sides of the ball with the tough personnel decisions that need to be made by Friday night at 9. Garrett is in his second full season as head coach and will be looking for signs that his team can legitimately compete for the NFC East title with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Both coaches’ most important goal is to leave the game healthy.

2. Miami cornerback Richard Marshall versus Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin: These two might end up squaring off for only one series depending on what both head coaches decide and Marshall will be intent on proving to Philbin and General Manager Jeff Ireland that they made the right decision going forward with him as the starter. Austin is a playmaker and one half of a dynamic receiving duo with Dez Bryant so he’d like nothing better than to come up with a big catch against Marshall.

3. Cowboys defensive backs versus Dolphins wide receivers: With final roster cuts just two days away, those cornerbacks and safeties for Dallas trying to earn a spot will do everything they can to make life hard for the likes of Marlon Moore, Roberto Wallace, Clyde Gates, Jeff Fuller, Rishard Matthews, B.J. Cunningham and Chris Hogan. These are seven of Miami’s receivers fighting to stay on the 53-man roster and they are running out of time, so every ball they catch and every extra yard they gain will clear up the picture more for Philbin and his staff.

4. Miami’s special teams versus Dallas’ special teams: No game is more important for the guys on special teams than that fourth preseason game because so many of those final roster spots tend to go to multi-faceted players capable of producing in the third phase of the game. For the Dolphins, they are set at kicker (Dan Carpenter), punter (Brandon Fields) and long snapper (John Denney), but everything else on that unit is pretty much for up for grabs and every big hit against an opposing returner or big block on a return could be the difference between making the team and going home. The Cowboys are in the same boat, with kicker Dan Bailey, punter Chris Jones and long snapper L.P. LaDouceur secure in their positions, so their teammates on special teams will have to deliver to save their jobs.

5. Dolphins right tackle Jonathan Martin versus Cowboys defensive ends: Martin is likely to see time at left tackle early on so Pro Bowler Jake Long can rest for the regular-season opener, which means he might face DeMarcus Ware for a series or two. Offensive line coach Jim Turner wants to get Martin as many snaps as possible on both sides so that he can establish a presence, so when the second unit enters the game he’ll probably move back to the right side. Whoever he has to block tonight, Martin needs to be dominant so that Turner can breathe a little easier about the state of his offensive line, and Ware and his other backups will set out to try to expose any weaknesses.
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