This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will host the Miami Dolphins to kick off the regular season. Both teams are in similar positions in terms of trying to take a big step forward this year, but Cleveland appears to be the favorite against Miami. To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "For awhile, it seemed like OLB Dion Jordan might miss the opener against the Browns. I think Browns fans are happy to hear he is playing, because entering the draft, he was the No. 1 player on a lot of our big boards. If he is healthy, is Jordan expected to be a situational player against the Browns? Did you get enough of a look at him in the preseason and his effectiveness at this point?"
Kevin: "Jordan is absolutely going to be a situational player at this point. That will likely last the entire season, as he learns to set the edge and play the run as a true defensive end rather than as a joker. That said, I don't think that will hurt his play at all this season. Last year, Olivier Vernon, who has been great at right defensive end in training camp and the preseason so far, held the same "situational pass rusher" role, and still saw 600 snaps.
The Dolphins will find ways to use Jordan, and will line him up all over the field. He was not used a lot during the preseason as the Dolphins looked to protect his surgically repaired shoulder, but in the limited time we did see him, he was lined up as a defensive end, an outside linebacker, and a middle linebacker. He rushed the passer and dropped into coverage. Obviously, with as little as we saw, there's still a lot of unknown about Jordan's transition to the NFL, but there is also a lot of anticipation and excitement about how the Dolphins will use the third overall pick."
Chris: "The Dolphins just announced that Lamar Miller is their starting running back over Daniel Thomas. Is Miller expected to get the bulk of the work, or will this be more of a rotating back system? How does Miller rate as a rusher, receiver, and blocker, from what you've seen?"
Kevin: "Miller is going to be an explosive option out of the backfield, both running and receiving. He is definitely a better runner than pass catcher at this point in his career, but that does not mean he won't be spread out along the line or run routes from the backfield. His blitz pickup is obviously the weak part of his game, which is probably what kept Thomas in the running for the starting spot for so long, but we saw it get better and better throughout the preseason. Clearly the coaches have worked with Miller a lot this preseason on pass blocking.
The real concern about Miller is simply his durability. Will he be able to carry the ball 200-230 times in his first real season as an NFL running back (he did have 51 carries in 13 appearances last season)? The Dolphins will probably lean on Miller plenty this season, but Thomas will likely see more carries as well (assuming he stays healthy). It won't be a "committee" in the true sense of the term, but I don't think Miller will be a "feature" back either."
Chris: "The Browns bolstered their front seven this offseason with a lot of physical players and quick pass rushers. Miami just signed OG Danny Watkins. Is the Dolphins' offensive line looking thin as they enter the regular season?"
Kevin: "Thin? Yes. Problematic? Not as much as the media reports seem to portray. The Watkins signing simply replaced Josh Samuda, who they released to make space for Watkins, as a backup guard on the team. Everywhere you look, previews of the Dolphins continually point to Jonathan Martin at left tackle as a huge hole for the Dolphins, but he really has been fine during the preseason. Of course, he has to prove himself in the regular season, but Martin should be fine on Ryan Tannehill's blind side. Will he be a Pro Bowl talent like Jake Long (used to be) or Joe Thomas? No. But he doesn't have to be. He just needs to be good.
Right guard is really the concern for the team right now. John Jerry had a knee injury during training camp, and has not gotten back into game shape yet. The Dolphins have tried every year since 2010 to replace Jerry, yet he continues to hold a starting position on the line, and he isn't bad at it. He's stronger as a run blocker than as a pass blocker, but he will be okay once he gets back into game shape.
The line is clearly the concern for the Dolphins' offense this year. Can they open up the running lanes for Miller? Can they protect Tannehill long enough to get the ball deep to Mike Wallace? I think they will be okay, but it is definitely going to be a position to watch this weekend."
Chris: "Who is a player on each side of the ball who Browns fans might not be aware of, but could play a big role this Sunday in the outcome of the game?"
Kevin: "I mentioned him earlier, but Olivier Vernon is someone to watch on defense. He's had a good training camp and preseason and should see single blocking as teams rotate offensive lines to stop Cameron Wake at the other defensive end position. Vernon had a good rookie year last year, but clearly hit the rookie wall later in the season. This year, he came back in great shape and has been on a tear since the team reported for camp. He's not someone most people have heard of, but he is someone who could have an impact.
On offense, I'd look at tight end Charles Clay. With the season ending injury to Dustin Keller, the Dolphins will be looking to Clay to step up and make an impact. He has talent and the ability to be a weapon on offense, but he has never been consistent, and he is clearly not Keller. Tannehill had developed a good chemistry with Keller, and a lot of the offense looked like it was going to go through Keller. Clay has to step into that role and find success.
I'll throw in a third name that some people may know, but he's not a household name yet by any stretch of the imagination. Safety Reshad Jones had a breakout season last year, but did not get a lot of attention. This year, he's signed a contract extension that will pay him among the elite safeties in the league. He should be someone that has a good season, and will likely look to start that against the Browns."
Chris: "Browns fans had a strong interest in Brent Grimes this offseason, but he landed with Miami and appears to be starting. Former Browns cornerback Dimitri Patterson also appears to have won a starting job. Is that accurate, and if so, how have both players looked?"
Kevin: "Yes, that's the starting cornerback duo. Grimes has looked great. There appears to be no hang-ups from his Achilles tear, and he has been on his game all training camp and preseason. I think he is on a mission to prove that the Atlanta Falcons were wrong in letting him go, and he could very well be the steal of the free agency period this year.
Patterson is a little more surprising. I thought Richard Marshall would claim the starting spot and Patterson would be let go due to his salary cap number ($4.6M this year with no dead money if released), but it turned out to go the other way. Patterson has played well and it worthy of starting. He's been moving inside in nickel situations, with Nolan Carroll sliding into the boundary position in those instances, which is a little worrisome as a Dolphins fan.
Carroll is someone who is solid when he is not asked to guard a number one or number two wide receiver. He has to take that next step in his development if the Dolphins are really going to have him be a boundary corner against top wide receivers."
Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions. You can read my answers to Kevin's questions on Friday.