Dolphins vs. Titans: 7 players to watch

Mike Pouncey in Dolphins throwback uniform

Mike Pouncey in a Miami Dolphins throwback uniform. Pouncey makes his 2016 debut Sunday. 

Mike Pouncey — Pouncey is on track to make the first appearance of his sixth season. Pouncey has missed 2, 4, 2 and 4 games in each of the past four seasons. The Dolphins need Pouncey’s leadership as much as they need his ability to help create running lanes. The Dolphins run game has an opportunity to gain traction on Sunday against Tennessee. Pouncey has openly wondered if he’ll be the same player after his most recent hip injury, so here is the first chance to see if he is.

Byron Maxwell — So, we meet again. Maxwell stepped in for injured rookie Xavien Howard in practice this week so the much-maligned, much-scorned, well-paid veteran will have an early opportunity at redemption, likely opposite Tony Lippett. Coach Adam Gase flat-out mentioned tighter coverage as an objective for Maxwell and it’s easy to identify. When Maxwell was on the field, receivers were running away from him with relative ease. The Titans do not have a dominant receiver such as Julio Jones or A.J. Green, which should help.

Ryan Tannehill — This is the fourth consecutive season Tannehill’s performance has declined, according to Pro Football Focus. The lessons Adam Gase is imparting need to start to stick. Movement in the pocket. Awareness. Accuracy. Decision-making. Protecting the football. Taking calculated risks. Processing options quickly and anticipating throws. Tannehill’s opponent on Sunday, Marcus Mariota, ran a lightning-fast tempo offense at Oregon. What if Miami tried that this week?

Isa Abdul-Quddus — It went under the radar a bit last week, but Abdul-Quddus lost some snaps to Michael Thomas at safety against Cincinnati. The Dolphins like the way Bobby McCain has been playing in the slot and so that was an opportunity to get both McCain and Thomas on the field at the same time. It’s not like Abdul-Quddus is playing poorly. He’s been solid in coverage and run defense. He has missed on a few run plays, as almost all Dolphins have. But let’s see how Abdul-Quddus responds to a clear challenge from coaches.

Jay Ajayi — Perhaps it’s time to see what Ajayi can do with more than seven carries in a game. What if he were to have 15 carries. Would he get stronger, as he suggests, he does? Since being left behind on the trip to Seattle, Ajayi has seemed focused, committed and driven. Gase is going to trim down his rotation this week. A gameplan built around 30 touches for Ajayi and rookie Kenyan Drake makes great sense for this Sunday. Ajayi feels he can get downhill and makes players miss. And he has shown that in limited spurts this season.

Kiko Alonso — Alonso is playing much, much better than he did in Philadelphia last season. The matchup with former fellow Duck Marcus Mariota is intriguing. Will Alonso occassionally shadow Mariota. Will he track him down sideline to sideline? Will he take an opportunity to land a good shot on Mariota? How Alonso holds up against DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry is critical. Alonso is tied for 7th in the NFL with 38 tackles. He is steadily regaining his rookie season Bills mojo.

DeVante Parker — Miami coaches feel Parker has been better paying attention to game plan installations, so he has a better understanding of what he’s supposed to be doing. Parker’s hamstrings are also feeling better, which allows Miami to create some deeper route options for their second-year receiver. The time is now. When DeVante Parker is open or about to be open or should be open or looks like he might be open or able to fight for a 50-50 ball, it’s on Tannehill to give Parker a chance to make a play. And it’s on Parker to do everything he can, during the week, before the route, during the route and during the fight for any ball, to seize the opportunity as if his career was staked on that one play. Then Parker will reach his potential.

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