Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel was asked Wednesday what he’s most looking forward to ahead of his first game at Hard Rock Stadium. He paused for a moment.
“I don’t know, the aqua seats?“ he deadpanned.
“I guess I would say the thing I’m most excited about is that connection between a fanbase that really supports and is invested into the team and a team that really wants to do right by the fanbase,” McDaniel later said. “That should be fun, and I look forward to that this weekend and the rest of the season.”
After checking off one benchmark last week — his first game as Dolphins head coach — McDaniel will check off another with his first home game when the team hosts the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday night.
Here are five questions for the Dolphins’ second preseason game:
Does Tua make his preseason debut?
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was one of about a dozen starters held out of the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When McDaniel last spoke to reporters before Wednesday’s practice, he had not made a decision on Tagovailoa’s status for Saturday. Tagovailoa later said he hoped he got the opportunity to take a few snaps with the first-team offense. If he does, it’ll likely be without wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who has missed the last three practices with an undisclosed injury, and left tackle Terron Armstead, who has also been held out of team drills the last two sessions. Still, as Tagovailoa stated, it could be helpful to get live game reps before Week 1, especially with new center Connor Williams. McDaniel said he’d be surprised if Tagovailoa didn’t play in the preseason, so Saturday could mark his debut in the new offensive scheme.
Can the Dolphins find more success on the ground?
The Dolphins totaled just 49 yards on 14 carries last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a figure that was propped by a pair of 20-yard runs. Tampa Bay often committed eight defenders to stop the run and the tactic proved successful. The potential presence of wide receiver Tyreek Hill — even if only for a few plays — on the field could help open up the ground game as defenses have to monitor his speed. Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert were also held out of the preseason opener but could jumpstart the running game after it failed to take off against the Buccaneers. Multiple players have said mastering the timing and angles of the offensive line with the backs is the key to the outside zone scheme.
What can Bowden do for an encore?
Wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. saw his stock rise as much as any player last week after catching three passes for 55 yards and one touchdown. Amid a quiet start to camp and a report of trade talks involving Bowden, McDaniel has praised the professionalism of the third-year player, who had a good practice Wednesday. Though he faces an uphill battle to make the roster, his talent as a receiver — and potential returner — is unquestioned. Bowden saw just eight offensive snaps last week but made a case for more playing time with his performance in Tampa.
Which cornerback steps up?
Trill Williams’ season-ending injury was a disappointing development for a young cornerback pushing to be a top reserve. His injury led to the team’s signing of veteran corner Mackensie Alexander, who brings 25 games of starting experience to the position room. Many of the Dolphins’ young corners struggled in the preseason opener — Tampa Bay threw for 301 yards — and they’ll need to provide more consistent play Saturday to reassure the team of its depth. Byron Jones’ status for Week 1 remains uncertain, although McDaniel said he’s “hopeful” about Jones’ availability for the season opener.
What other bubble players stand out?
While McDaniel said he expects many veterans who sat out the preseason opener to play Saturday, much of the game will once again feature dozens of players vying for one of the final roster spots remaining. Players such as defensive tackle Benito Jones and outside linebacker Darius Hodge stood out against the Buccaneers and are right in the mix for reserve spots on defense. On offense, backup spots on the offensive line still need to be sorted out. With Armstead unlikely to play Saturday, Larnel Coleman and Kion Smith should once again see extended action at tackle.