NFL Preseason Preview - Miami (0-0) at Atlanta (0-0) (ET)
08/06/2014 10:24 AM
08/06/2014 10:32 AM
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Dolphins will kick off the 2014 preseason against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Friday.
Miami, of course, is coming off a controversy-filled 8-8 campaign a year ago which ultimately resulted in offensive tackle Jonathan Martin leaving the team after being bullied by linemate Richie Incognito and others.
Head coach Joe Philbin survived the embarrassing scandal but is likely on a short leash considering owner Stephen Ross 86ed embattled general manger Jeff Ireland in favor of Dennis Hickey and gave Hickey full autonomy over all personnel matters.
One thing that is certain is that the Fish need improved play from the O-line. Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks and couldn't protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill with Martin and Incognito or without them.
The Dolphins started the rebuild up front by giving ex- Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert a monster deal in free agency and drafting Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James with the 19th overall pick.
The team suffered a huge blow, however, when its best O-lineman, center Mike Pouncey, was forced to undergo hip surgery back in June, a development which will cost the Pro-Bowler at least three months.
Defensively, Miami was able to bring in veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan to team with Brent Grimes on the outside. Finnegan has probably seen his better days but he's always been a scrappy player who competes and brings a nastiness contagious to any defense.
Atlanta, of course, went from the penthouse to the outhouse in 2013, following up a trip to the NFC Championship Game with a 4-12 injury-plagued season.
Among the most compelling storylines for the Falcons figures to be the shift to an attacking defensive scheme under coordinator Mike Nolan, a change made far more difficult after the devastating offseason loss of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Weatherspoon's potential replacements -- 2013 undrafted college free agent Joplo Bartu and nondescript veteran Tim Dobbins -- are significant downgrades.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff was intent on getting bigger and more physical up front, however, and he took some significant strides in that direction, bringing in run-stuffer Paul Soliai from Miami and big, five- technique defensive end Tyson Jackson in free agency and drafting the athletically-gifted Ra'Shede Hageman.
Offensively the Falcons have a star quarterback in place (Matt Ryan) and are counting on big-play receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White to stay healthy as well as a revamped offensive line featuring the No. 6 overall pick, Jake Matthews, and free agent pickup Jon Asamoah.
Jones and White believe they have what it takes to become the first NFL receiving duo to each top the 1,500-yard mark.
"There ain't no telling. Me and Rod ... 1,500, 2,000 ... You never know what we can do out there," Jones told SiriusXM NFL Radio.
"I think it's possible, absolutely," Ryan added. "I'm lucky to have two of the best guys and the best tandem in the NFL. I think they're both going to have big years."
The Falcons and Dolphins have met in the preseason 12 previous times with Atlanta holding a slim 7-5 edge in the series.
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