DAVIE, Fla. — It’s Week 3 of the NFL preseason but actually exhibition game No. 4 for Miami thanks to the Hall of Fame Game. Either way, the Dolphins understand Saturday night’s meeting with Tampa Bay rates as a kind of dress rehearsal for the regular season.
“Everybody knows this is the mock real game,” receiver Mike Wallace said following Thursday’s practice. “Everybody knows that teams are going to have a little bit more game-planning and really have their guys out there trying to make plays.
“I think guys are going to turn it up a little bit for this game. You just have to be ready. I think it’s going to give us an idea where we stand as a team and it’s a good test for us.”
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Dolphins starters and players involved in position battles head into Saturday night’s affair knowing it’s the most important game of the preseason. Teams generally limit starters in the preseason finale to avoid injuries before the season opener.
Each NFL team must reduce its roster to 75 players by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, then to the final 53-man squad by 6 p.m. on Aug. 31.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said tough decisions would be based on several factors.
“We’ve invested a lot more time in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and this particular game plan than we have in the preceding practices and the preceding games. So we want to see cleaner, faster, better execution from everybody who steps on the field,” Philbin said Thursday.
“We look at the total picture. We’ve roughly averaged 115 snaps a day out here on a particular day. A particular player may get 15 in a game, or they may get 30. So, we look at the whole spectrum of things. Hopefully, by the time the end of next week rolls around, we’ve got enough information to make good decisions.”
Several position battles will highlight Miami’s game against the Buccaneers at Sun Life Stadium.
Second-year players Michael Egnew and Kyle Miller, rookie Dion Sims and H-Back Charles Clay all will be under the microscope as Miami looks to replace starting tight end Dustin Keller, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during Saturday night’s game at Houston.
Philbin said Keller’s injury would not make him prone to try and avoid another tight-end injury.
“Unfortunately, injuries are a part of football,” Philbin said. “We do the best to put players in position and condition them well enough that they can go through a game without getting hurt. But it’s a hard thing for a coach to control or a player to control.”
At right guard, veterans John Jerry (knee first week of training camp) and Lance Louis (torn ACL last season) have been sidetracked by injuries but both have returned to practice and appear close to replacing Josh Samuda, who struggled against the Texans.
Louis signed as a free agent during the offseason after four years with the Chicago Bears, including the past two seasons as a starter.
“Certain coaches like certain things, with your footwork and stuff, and how you do things. That’s the situation I’m in right now — trying to transfer and get those four years of footwork out of my head and learn this,” Louis told FOX Sports Florida. “But it’s not bad. It’s coming along. Coming of an injury makes it even that much harder because I didn’t have OTAs and all that.”
Running back Daniel Thomas has given Lamar Miller a run for the starting job, though Miller’s explosiveness seemingly retains an edge for the former Miami Hurricane.
“They’re skilled athletes, both of these guys,” Philbin said. “They’re versatile. They can run he ball. We feel like they both have good hands. Good route runners. We obviously want to see them pass protect when the time comes.
“So we’re looking for good, solid, sound, overall performance from those guys … and ball security, as well.”
Edge rusher and first-round pick Dion Jordan did not take part in contact drills during the week and was not expected to play against Tampa Bay. He has been hampered by a right shoulder injury and admitted he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he were not ready for the regular season opener at Cleveland.
There also will be one less player competing in the secondary following the Tuesday night release of veteran cornerback Richard Marshall.
“Honestly, I’m just worried about my self as far as how it is,” cornerback Brent Grimes said. “I know people are out here playing, and whoever they decide to put on the field will be a capable corner because all our corners have been playing well throughout camp. Whatever decision they make will be good.”