Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – The Miami Dolphins return to the field Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with plenty of questions still left to answer as the preseason winds down.
Chief among the issues is the continued development of the running game. Fins head coach Tony Sparano has said he wants the offense to remain run-based, but the troubles along the offensive line have caused headaches for Fins running backs.
The lone bright spot amongst the Fins’ corps of runners is first-year Dolphin Reggie Bush. The former Saints star has put in extra time at practice and flashed moments of brilliance in his first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
The Fins offense manhandled the Panthers in the second preseason game. Much was made of the Fins’ offense’s ability to march the field against the Panthers, but the Panthers were the worst team in the NFL last season and may not be the best barometer for the team.
Quarterback Chad Henne looks to have locked down the starting quarterback job unless he completely lays an egg against the Buccaneers Saturday night. The Bucs present a tougher challenge to the Fins after they won 10 games in 2010.
In the past, Henne has followed up a solid performance with a dud; so the Fins are looking for consistency. In addition, the Fins want to get their wide receivers involved and moving with the ball after the catch.
Behind Henne in the backfield will be Bush as the starter, but the team has to make a decision on who the short-yardage back will be before the season starts. Rookie Daniel Thomas was expected to take the job, but has turned in a poor performance throughout training camp.
That prompted the Dolphins to sign former Kansas City Chiefs star, running back Larry Johnson. He hasn’t played a lot in the last two years, but is a big, bruising back when he can stay healthy. If Johnson plays early and often against the Bucs, it could spell big problems for Thomas.
The number two wide receiver position looks to be in the grasp of Brian Hartline, but Roberto Wallace and Clyde Gates could steal the job if they can use their speed to create holes in defenses every week. Sparano said both Gate and Wallace will play a good amount this week.
The seemingly lone starting position on the defense looks to be free safety. Reshad Jones has a history of being a ball-hawk, but hasn’t been able close the door on Chris Clemons and takeover the free safety position.
The Dolphins front-seven on the defense is the most talented group on the team. The Fins can rotate six defensive linemen through the game and not miss a beat. Behind the line, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett help take away the middle of the field and Cameron Wake simply has a nose for the quarterback on the outside.
The cornerback position is set with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith as the starters, but the number three job could be up for grabs. Benny Sapp appeared to have the inside track on the job, but he’s getting pushed by Will Allen, if Allen can stay healthy.
The fourth cornerback job is up in the air as Nolan Carroll is trying to hold off rookie Jimmy Wilson, who has shown a knack for getting to the football while Carroll has continually been beaten through much of the preseason.
When the dress-rehearsal game Saturday is over, most of the roster will be set, with only a few positions in flux, mainly on special teams. If the Fins perform well Saturday, it could be a sign of good things to come this season.
Conversely, if the Dolphins offense struggles with Chad Henne at the control, the fans angst with him will only grow. It could also spark a quarterback controversy if Matt Moore plays well for the Fins.
You can catch all the action exclusively on CBS4 Saturday night starting at 7:30 p.m.