CARSON, Calif. — It’s been too long, way too long, since the Miami Dolphins played a real football game.
It’s hard to know how Miami will respond to missing their first scheduled contest and spending an unscheduled week in California. But it’s not too hard to identify some Dolphins facing extreme stress today:
• Laremy Tunsil, left tackle — Tunsil figures to see plenty of Melvin Ingram, the edge rusher who can play linebacker or defensive end, who can stand or put his hand in the ground. Ingram has speed and power and will be an outstanding challenge for Tunsil in his first game as full-time NFL starting left tackle. “It’s fine,” Tunsil said this week. “Like I said, I feel like my whole schedule is a tough challenge. I’ve got Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Melvin Ingram, Vic Beasley. I’ve got all the good pass rushers. You’ve just got to look at it in a positive way.”
• Ja’Wuan James, right tackle — James figures to see plenty of Joey Bosa, the pass rusher with size and speed and relentless motor. James knows he’ll have to pay attention to who is in front of him because the Chargers will switch defensive end assignments based on opposing formation or just feel. The Dolphins picked up James’ fifth-year option in the offseason, but this is a great chance for James to show he plans to be more consistent in 2017. Jay Cutler was sacked 27 times in his last 8 starts as a Bear (3.4 sacks per game). If Cutler is sacked two or fewer times on Sunday, that would be considered a victory.
• Mike Hull, middle linebacker — Hull is the guy everybody, it seems, would like replaced. Hull is an outstanding special teamer, but Miami had hoped Raekwon McMillan (since injured) would handle the middle of Miami’s defense and perhaps still hope Rey Maualuga (not dressing Sunday) will still eventually do it. Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke notes that Hull has very sound technique and instincts. Against Los Angeles running back Melvin Gordon, Hull is going to have to shed a few blocks and make a few plays play before Gordon is 5-7 yards downfield.
• Byron Maxwell, cornerback — Maxwell finished last season as a starter, and an effective one, for the Dolphins. Technically, Maxwell ended last season on the bench, injured. Maxwell really struggled at the start of last season and struggled in the preseason this year. He does better with big, physical receivers than smaller, quick receivers. It turns out the Chargers have a few big receivers (Keenan Allen, 6-feet-2, Tyrell Williams, 6-feet-4 and Dontrelle Inman 6-feet-3) and so it would seem Maxwell will get a chance to play on Sunday. Alterraun Verner, who has also competed for a starting position, would seem to be a better matchup for 5-foot-10 Travis Benjamin.
• Matt Haack/Cody Parker, specialists — We’ll lump these two together because we only have one spot left, and because two specialists are about as valued as one offensive or defensive starter. Or shall we say, replaceable. The Dolphins are going with a rookie in Haack over a proven solid veteran in Matt Darr. And Miami is going with Parker of Jupiter, over solid Andrew Franks. It would be easy to mention here that Jakeem Grant can’t drop any punts in his first game since his hands became more trusted. So we won’t do that. We’ll focus on the kicker and punter and note that if this game is close, as expected, they could play a pivotal role.