Five Dolphins to watch in Thursday's preseason opener
The Miami Dolphins kick off the 2015 preseason on Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, giving fans their first look at the team this season.
The starters are expected to play, including Ryan Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh, but their playing time is expected to be limited. Beyond the big-name players, here are five to watch as the season gets underway at 8 p.m. ET Thursday.
At running back, Lamar Miller is undoubtedly the starter. Beyond that, it's a group of unproven and hungry players. LaMichael James and Damien Williams are battling to be Miller's backup, and both will get their first big chance on Thursday night. James has played well in training camp thus far, but Williams is more than capable of beating him out. James has been widely viewed as a bust in the NFL after being a star in college at Oregon, but he hopes to revive his career in Miami. He'll need to make plays and prove he's still the dynamic running back he once was.
Billy Turner/Dallas Thomas
Needless to say, the Dolphins have a mess at both guard spots. They're currently held by Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas, but rookie Jamil Douglas is hot on their heels. Not to mention, the Dolphins have shown plenty of interest in free agent Evan Mathis, who would immediately unseat one of the two current starters. On Thursday, both Turner and Thomas could get extended looks as the Dolphins try to figure out the interior of their offensive line.
At middle linebacker, the Dolphins currently list Koa Misi as the starter. It was thought by many that Kelvin Sheppard could take over that spot, but he has yet to do so. On Thursday, Sheppard will need to show he can make plays from sideline to sideline. He'll play with the starters against the Bears as Misi is rehabbing a calf injury, which gives Sheppard the inside track to holding onto the job. Sheppard started one game for the Dolphins last season after being a consistent contributor for the Colts in previous years.
It's no surprise that the Dolphins have been on the lookout for a potential replacement for kicker Caleb Sturgis. He hasn't been a reliable kicker for Miami, making just 77.5 percent of his field goals in the past two seasons. Undrafted rookie kicker Andrew Franks has already received some praise from head coach Joe Philbin for having "pop in his leg." Coaches will have a close eye on him and Sturgis tonight as they try to find a place kicker.
At cornerback, the Dolphins are set on one side of the field with Brent Grimes. The No. 2 corner spot as well as the nickel back are open, with Brice McCain and Jamar Taylor the leading candidates. McCain is likely to occupy the slot on defense due to his smaller 5-foot-9 stature, while Taylor will battle for the outside corner spot. Taylor has more to lose as he's less experienced and hasn't proven to be consistent enough to earn a starting job yet.