It’s always tricky to deduce anything of substance from preseason football. That being said, there are plenty of unknowns circling the Miami Dolphins, and the team’s first preseason game versus the Chicago Bears could help answer some questions.
One such question has already been answered: Will head coach Brian Flores play his starting quarterback when there isn’t an open competition? In Flores’ first season with the team, the starting job was still up for grabs between Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Then, last year there were no preseason games due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The answer is that Flores sees value in pushing his starters into some live reps in the preseason, including quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It’ll give fans a chance to see what may be in store for the team.
Here are some of the things to watch out for through the next three preseason games.
Who’ll climb up the backfield depth chart?
To the dismay of some Dolphins fans, the organization did not go out and grab a high-profile running back during this past offseason. Instead, the team will roll into the year with former seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin seemingly entrenched as the lead back.
However, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the backfield is utilized.
Free-agent running back Malcolm Brown signed a one-year $1.75 million deal with the team during the offseason. While not a flashy move, Brown posted career highs in rushing attempts (101) and yards (419) last season for the Los Angeles Rams, as well as 4.1 yards per attempt.
However, Salvon Ahmed showed some promise last season in Miami, stepping in to start four games while Gaskin was injured. Ahmed rushed for 319 yards on 75 attempts, so he edges out Brown in yards per carry last season with 4.3.
Eric Studesville, Miami’s running backs coach from the past three years, was elevated to co-offensive coordinator over the offseason. It’ll be interesting to see how he tests the more veteran Brown versus the unproven Ahmed, and which one sees more carries during the preseason.
Or maybe it’s neither.
Coming into last season, neither Gaskin nor Ahmed was on anybody’s radar. The team added both Jordan Howard and Matt Breida over that offseason, who both became non-factors for the team just a few weeks into the regular season.
So, perhaps it’d be a good idea to keep an eye on rookie seventh-round pick Gerrid Doaks out of the University of Cincinnati. Third-year running backs Patrick Laird and Jordan Scarlett may also get some chances to earn a roster spot.
What role does Jevon Holland have on this defense?
The safety out of Oregon was the 36th overall pick this year, but given he was Miami’s third selection that draft, he hasn’t seen quite the same limelight as fellow rookies Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips.
Holland also opted out of the 2020 season, so we flat-out haven’t seen him play live football since 2019.
He will likely fall behind fellow safeties Eric Rowe, Brandon Jones and Jason McCourty — at least to start — on the depth chart. Still, I’ll be keeping my eyes on how Holland is used when he is on the field.
Holland is a safety in name, but he played 591 snaps as a slot corner in 2019, compared to 24 as a free safety and 179 snaps in the box, according to tracking from Pro Football Focus (PFF). The season prior, he played more snaps as a traditional safety than in the slot, so we’ve seen two very different sides of Holland thus far.
What side will we see in the NFL? When No. 22 is on the field, keep a look out for where he lines up and how he’s used.
What trickery might the new offensive coordinators deploy?
The Dolphins took the unconventional approach to the offseason and decided to promote two coaches from within into a dual offensive coordinator role.
Studesville and George Godsey don’t have the greatest track record in terms of offensive success over the past five years. However, it remains to be seen how they’ll work in tandem and they’ll modernize the offense to set Tagovailoa up for success.
One such way they can do that is by increasing the team’s rate of movement behind the line of scrimmage before the play.
Through the Dolphins’ first nine games last season, the team used pre-snap motion on 6.7% of offensive plays, per ESPN’s Seth Walder. That ranked 28th in the league in terms of frequency, far behind top ranking teams including the Baltimore Ravens (36.6%), Rams (28%) and Green Bay Packers (22%).
Pre-snap motion won’t automatically bring offensive success, but it does help quarterbacks diagnose defenses more effectively and can free up wide receivers before they even start their route.
Look to see whether this is something we see more of — particularly with the first and second teams — this preseason. Because if the offense is willing to test the waters this soon, it may be a good sign for the regular season.