Dolphins vs. Panthers: Five Things To Watch

The Dolphins' preseason opener against Jacksonville turned out to be a success on a couple of counts. Sure, the Dolphins recorded a 12-9 victory, but more importantly there were some impressive individual performances from the likes of Randy Starks, Sean Smith, Ted Ginn Jr. and Pat White (despite his bad-looking stats). So what should we be watching for in the Carolina game?

1. Better production in the running game

The Dolphins got nowhere on the ground against Jacksonville, which on the surface isn't a major deal because it was the first preseason and because the Jaguars have some talent on their defensive line, namely John Henderson.

But it's clear the Dolphins want and need to see some improvement in that area against Carolina, a team whose run defense took a big hit early in training camp with the season-ending Achilles injury sustained by defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu.

The Dolphins' preferred M.O. would be to control the game with their running attack, but that can't happen if Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are getting stuffed all night.

The only running back who had success in the preseason opener was Lex Hilliard, and he's not going to be on the opening-day roster.

Now, we're not saying it's crucial the Dolphins run the ball against Carolina with their first-team offense, but it certainly would be nice to see.

2. Can Patrick Turner re-establish himself?

The third-round pick from USC was one of the stars early in training camp with his ability to use his great size to his advantage and his ability to make tough catches in traffic.

But it seems his progress has come to a screeching halt in practice. He doesn't appear to be getting open anymore and dropped passes seemingly have become a regular occurrence.

Against Jacksonville on Monday night, he dropped a perfectly thrown pass by White.

The Dolphins' receiver rotation is pretty much up in the air at this point, and the time is now for guys like Turner and fellow draft pick Brian Hartline to establish themselves if they want to contribute as rookies.

3. Is Chris Williams a legitimate threat to make the roster?

Coach Tony Sparano said this week if Williams is to make the team it probably will be because of his return ability. But the truth is that Williams needs to show more than just good return ability, he needs to show special ability.

There were glimpses of that against Jacksonville, particularly on a 27-yard punt return that was called back because of a penalty on rookie Vontae Davis.

Sparano said Thursday his feeling was that Williams once again would handle the return duties against Carolina, and if that's the case Williams has little margin for error if he hopes to beat the long odds and make the team as an undrafted rookie free agent.

4. How will Vontae Davis bounce back?

Sparano suggested this week that Davis' performance against Jacksonville wasn't nearly as bad as his three penalties might have suggested, but the truth is that Davis has yet to look anything like a first-round pick.

Davis clearly has struggled in coverage, and his development is important because the team is down one cornerback after the release this week of free agent acquisition Eric Green.

We would suspect that Green will get plenty of playing time against Carolina on Saturday night, and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back.

5. The kicking competition

Both Dan Carpenter and Connor Barth made their only field goal attempt against Jacksonville, while Carpenter had an extra-point attempt blocked when he slipped on the wet infield dirt.

Make no mistake, there's a clear competition here. Carpenter did make 21 of 25 field goal attempts in 2008, but only one of them was as long as 50 yards and his kickoffs weren't long enough.

Barth, meanwhile, was 10-for-12 with Kansas City, although his kickoffs there also were said to be an issue.

Since Barth has joined the Dolphins, he has outperformed Carpenter at practice, so what happens in the remaining preseason games might determine the outcome of this battle.

Clearly, every kick by either one of them -- field goal, extra point or kickoff -- is very important.


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