Roster cuts looming as Dolphins face Cowboys in crucial preseason matchup

The Miami Dolphins will play their first home game of the preseason on Saturday, August 23 at 7:00pm in a high profile matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. With several starters such as RB Knowshon Moreno and TE Charles Clay on the mend, this will be the most important game of the preseason as it amounts to a dress rehearsal with the regular season fast approaching.

The Miami Dolphins look to former Denver Broncos star, Knowshon Moreno, to recover quickly and elevate the team's running game.

Robert Mayer / USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins will play their first home game of the preseason on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. With several starters such as RB Knowshon Moreno and TE Charles Clay on the mend, this will be the most important game of the preseason as it amounts to a dress rehearsal with the regular season fast approaching.

With the Cowboys ranking dead last in the league in 2013 in total defense and only marginally improving so far in this preseason, the Dolphins offense should have some room to work with on all fronts.

Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, backup quarterback Matt Moore responded well to the signing of Brady Quinn by completing 13 of 19 passes for 158 yards while leading the team to touchdown drives in the second and third quarter. Starting QB Ryan Tannehill played assertively, finishing 9-14 for 110 passing yards in three series of action. Another solid showing from both quarterbacks would go a long way towards instilling confidence in the fan base that this could finally be a positive year of progression.

PREPARING FOR THE REGULAR SEASON

Head coach Joe Philbin's focus leading up to Saturday has been to mimic the regular-season preparation that is normally planned for each week's opponent. Thursday's light practice essentially amounted to a walkthrough, with the team spending approximately one hour inside the Bubble without heavy pads and featuring light contact in smaller team drills.

"Today is Thursday, but for us during a season, this will be like what we do on a Friday," Philbin said afterwards. "Dave (Puloka) and Darren (Krein), our strength and conditioning guys, researched a lot of things. We talked to different people. We studied what we did last year, some of the good things we thought we did and some of the not so good. One of the things we thought was good about it was we got our plan to our guys earlier and they could kind of could really let it sink in. We will still have elements of that as well."

Philbin pointed out that a specific game plan was in place for the Cowboys, highlighting the importance of Saturday regardless of what the final score will be. No music was played during practice, for example, and the players clearly understood the significance of this week's game as they went about their drills.

"Very important," Clay said after practice. "Like everybody says, the third preseason game is the game that we can actually see what type of defense we're going to be and what type of team we can be in general. We're going to go out there and play hard, and hopefully everything works out in our favor."

"It's the most game-like," Tannehill said. "It's the game where the starters will get the most playing time out of the entire preseason. It doesn't really count, but it matters, it matters to us, and the progression we make as a team as far as getting better. It's our last chance before we play for real."

TOUGH CUTS LOOM ON THE HORIZON

The workload for the starters will increase once again for a third week in a row and Philbin and his coaching staff should get the clearest picture yet in the preseason of his first team's performance. On the other hand, the team will need to shave the roster down from 90 players to 75 by next Tuesday.

Starters typically don't play in the final preseason game in order to give teams a final look at the reserves before final cuts must be made on Saturday, Aug. 30, just two days after the Dolphins host the St. Louis Rams.

MORENO APPEARS READY TO CONTRIBUTE

Despite the best efforts of the local media, Moreno did not make himself available for discussion after Thursday's practice, expertly dodging approaching reporters as he made his way back to the locker room. While it looks like he'll put those skills on display at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, just how much playing time he'll see is still unclear.

Though the former Denver Broncos star has been gradually taking more snaps throughout the week, Lamar Miller still figures to be the starting running back for the time being. Daniel Thomas and Marcus Thigpen did not practice on Thursday because of hamstring issues and their availability on Saturday is in doubt. Damien Williams has played decently when given the opportunity, notching his first career touchdown last week at Tampa Bay. But much more is needed from the running game, which in turn would help out the receivers as well.

"We're just looking for, as I said, more consistency in the running game overall," Philbin said. "We've got to do a better job getting our backs, we showed a picture in the team meeting today about it, a running back has to have the opportunity to get to his landmark. He has a landmark, just like a blocker does, with his shoulders square and the ability to make a decision based on what he sees. I'm looking for more consistency, better blocking and running."

The reality is that the Dolphins will certainly be counting on Moreno heavily to not just get up to speed quickly but to also lift the underwhelming running game out of doldrums.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.