Game Preview: Miami at Carolina

Minus Ronnie Brown, who's out for the season, the Dolphins will try to reach the .500 mark for the first time in 2009 when they take on the Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium. The challenge will be a tough one, not only because of Brown's injury but also because the Panthers have been playing well of late after a slow start this season. Here's a breakdown of the matchup.

WHO: Miami Dolphins (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (4-5)

KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET

SITE: Bank of America Stadium


TV: NFL Network (Bob Papa, Matt Millen)

PREDICTION: Panthers, 24-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: With only four days between games, the Dolphins are further taxed by needing to get RB Ricky Williams comfortable in running the Wildcat with Ronnie Brown (ankle) out for the season. Because Williams isn't the passing threat Brown is, the Wildcat likely won't be as prominent in the game plan — although Coach Tony Sparano has been tight-lipped about the plan. A larger emphasis will be placed on QB Chad Henne working against a Carolina pass defense allowing only 186.4 yards per game and dialing up a stronger pass rush of late. Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart set the table, and QB Jake Delhomme is protecting the ball and finally getting WR Steve Smith involved without forcing the ball to him. Expect Smith to be on the move pre-snap as Carolina seeks mismatches against rookie CBs Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.

FAST FACTS: Delhomme has gone three consecutive games without a turnover. ... The Dolphins have won all three previous meetings, including a 13-9 victory at Carolina in 1998.


Miami Dolphins:

-- Sparano also said he expected outside linebacker Joey Porter (knee) to start on Thursday despite an ESPN report claiming Porter would not only miss that game but not be back in the lineup anytime soon. Sparano said he planned to continue rotating his deep group of outside linebackers (including Jason Taylor, Cameron Wake, Matt Roth and Charlie Anderson) even with Porter back from a coach-imposed benching Sunday for reasons the team has yet to explain.

-- ILB Akin Ayodele wore the headset helmet again vs. Tampa Bay even though Channing Crowder, the usual Mike linebacker, was back in the lineup after a two-week absence with a shoulder injury. Reggie Torbor is expected to rotate snaps with Ayodele and Crowder again this week, but Crowder figures to get the headset helmet back.

-- Sparano brushed aside a question about whether he or any of the team's key front office people had discussed using rookie quarterback Pat White at another position such as wide receiver, as the Patriots have done with rookie Julian Edelman. "Our job right now with Pat White is to get Pat White to be the best quarterback he can be," Sparano said. "We brought the guy here to be a quarterback."

-- Rookie seventh-round draft pick J.D. Folsom, an inside linebacker from Weber State, cleared waivers for the second time this season and was put back on the practice squad. Folsom was active for one game, the loss at New England on Nov. 8, and made one tackle on special teams (on the opening kickoff).

-- Starting LG Justin Smiley (shoulder) was limited in practice on both Monday and Tuesday but was optimistic he would be able to play Thursday. If he can't go, second-year man Nate Garner figures to make his second straight start after doing a solid job against Tampa Bay.

-- Starting FS Gibril Wilson was limited in practice on Monday and Tuesday with a hamstring injury. If he can't go or is merely compromised, look for rookie Chris Clemons to pick up a few more snaps.

-- LB Erik Walden (hamstring) will miss his second consecutive game. He was missed on special teams against the Bucs, who blocked an early extra point by Dan Carpenter (his second extra-point miss in 64 career tries) and limited the Dolphins in kick coverage.

-- With NT Paul Soliai out for a second consecutive game, look for Lionel Dotson to be active for the third straight week.

Carolina Panthers:

-- LG Mackenzy Bernadeau will make his first career start Thursday night against Miami. He played well in a reserve role last week.

On third-and-4 and needing a big first down late in Sunday's game, the Panthers ran to the left side behind Bernadeau and left tackle Travelle Wharton, who moved over to fill in for injured Jordan Gross.

Bernadeau had a great kick-out block, and Wharton dominated his man, allowing Jonathan Stewart to find a hole and race 45 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.

"That was a great run because we practiced it a lot and I love pulling around the edge," Bernadeau said. "Once it was called, I was just going to run as hard as I could. So I ran out and saw my guy there, and next thing I knew, Jonathan Stewart was running down the field. It was a great feeling because obviously you want to help make a big play like that."

Bernadeau knows that while Gross will be missed, the Panthers can't afford to look back — certainly not while they're starting to get hot.

"Everybody came up to me and were telling me it was time to step up and that we need you here, and I knew that," Bernadeau said. "It's all about communication. Once I was in, they just helped me get my fits in and let me know that if I needed more help or if they needed more help, just to let them know."

-- Panthers QB Jake Delhomme said a number of players went to visit Jordan Gross in the hospital after Sunday's win over Atlanta. Gross had season-ending surgery to repair a broken ankle.

"In typical Jordan fashion, he apologizes for getting his leg broke," Delhomme said. "He's just a guy that never wants to bring attention to himself."

-- WR Muhsin Muhammad is 36, and his contract is up after the season. So how much longer will he play?

"I used to try to put a timetable on it when I spoke with my wife about stuff, and she said, 'You know what? Just stop doing it, just roll till the wheels falls off.' I think that's what I'm going to do," Muhammad said. "I guess I'll just let my body and probably management tell me when it's time to quit."

Delhomme said Muhammad still knows how to get it done.

"I don't think there's any doubt, the first year or two I was with him, he was an outstanding receiver. And here I am, I really was wet behind the ears. I was really trying to learn," Delhomme said. "The second year here, he became the focal point when Steve (Smith) went down the first game and he pretty much carried us. He went to Chicago, but he came back here last year and played well. He's kind of done the same thing this year. He's a true pro. He's someone that other guys look up to."

-- FB Tony Fiammetta will continue to start with Brad Hoover still out with an ankle injury.

-- LG Travelle Wharton will move over to left tackle. That's not a big deal for Wharton, as he's started 33 games there.

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