Who are the Dolphins playing Thursday night?
Oh, that’s right. The Atlanta Falcons.
But that doesn’t really matter at all. In fact, because Miami plays at the Falcons in Week 6, they don’t figure to show much at all.
But this game is important to a handful of players, some trying to move on the radar for a roster spot. And some trying to keep their starting jobs.
Here are five players that should consider themselves under intense scrutiny tonight:
- Jordan Phillips — It’s hard to know how poorly Phillips has practiced in training camp. On the one hand, defensive coordinator Matt Burke said Phillips has really only had one poor practice. On the other hand, Phillips has been benched the last few practices, including a scrimmage, in favor of fifth-round draft pick Davon Godchaux. How much does Phillips care? That’s the point. After the scrimmage Phillips repeatedly said to ask the coaches about his demotion. Phillips proclaimed this off-season that he’s found a way to play hard more consistently (motor has always been the knock). So whether Phillips starts or comes off the bench against Atlanta, it would serve him well to play very, very hard on every single snap.
- Julius Thomas — We haven’t noticed Thomas in any of Miami’s first 11 training camp practices. Or in the spring, really, either. Thomas was working on developing a chemistry with Ryan Tannehill and now Tannehill is injured so perhaps a spark will be struck with new quarterback Jay Cutler. Thomas hasn’t looked particularly fast. And he hasn’t looked particularly sure-handed. If Thomas is going to have a career renaissance, it figures it will happen under coach Adam Gase. But we’re waiting. No time to panic. But it would behoove Thomas to come alive under the bright lights of Hard Rock Stadium.
- Raekwon McMillan — Everyone talks about how McMillan is smart and mature and composed. That’s all good, but he’s going to placed in the middle of Miami’s defense because the organization feels he can tackle. How well does McMillan tackle Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Austin Hooper and whatever other Falcons he happens to encounter on Thursday night? When McMillan is in the game he’s expected to take all the calls from defensive coordinator Matt Burke and relay them to his much older teammates. McMillan is a solid, sound player. It’s going to be fun to watch how he, free agent addition Lawrence Timmons and holdover Kiko Alonso gel as a unit that should be improved.
- Bobby McCain — According to Burke, McCain is having an excellent camp. That’s a good start as McCain tries to hold off veteran Michael Thomas and free agent acquisition Alterraun Verner in the slot. The Dolphins want McCain to be aggressive and create more turnovers. The Dolphins seem deep at corner with starters Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell and reserves Tony Lippett and Verner. Gase believes McCain is improving in part because he faces Jarvis Landry in practice each day.
- Jakeem Grant — Grant gained a bit of confidence when he caught two long touchdown passes in the final training camp practice prior to this preseason opener. What’s far more important is how Grant handles himself on punt returns and kick returns, where he is first-string, ahead of Kenyan Drake. Grant has the explosiveness to be one of the most exciting returners in the game. But last season Grant fumbled, muffed or mishandled a few balls, leading to consternation. Grant needs to handle the ball cleanly in the preseason.
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