By Jeremiah Thermidor
Former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano will return to the sidelines at Sun Life Stadium for the first time since being fired by Miami last December.
Sparano, now offensive coordinator for the Jets, left South Florida with a chip on his shoulder after he was abruptly let go and not allowed to coach the final three games of the season. Sparano told reporters this week that he has “no bitter feelings” towards the Dolphins.
Miami’s upcoming matchup against the Jets, however, shouldn’t be focused around the bad blood between Sparano and his former bosses, but should surround Miami’s possible resurgence to dominance in the AFC.
The Dolphins put forth an incredible effort in their 35-13 victory over the Raiders last Sunday, and a win over the Jets would give them an early-season lead in the AFC East standings.
Reggie Bush, who rushed for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns, was named offensive player of the week.
Miami is hoping the 27-year-old will have an encore performance against a Jets’ defense which allowed Bills running back C.J. Spiller to gain 169 yards on the ground in Week 1, but then limited the entire Steelers’ offense to just 66 rushing yards in Week 2.
If the Jets are able to stifle Bush’s ground game, the Dolphins are confident he could still contribute, utilizing his talents as a receiver who can make big plays after the catch.
“We have to find different ways than just handing him off the ball on a weakside lead play, which we’ve run a number of times so far,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said on Wednesday. “He’s a guy that we can throw to coming out of the backfield and potentially is a guy that lines up extended or detached.”
Miami rookie running back Lamar Miller will likely receive more playing time after having a breakout game in Week 2. Lamar rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in his debut, as he was filling in for Daniel Thomas, who was out with a concussion. Thomas is expected to return this week, but Miller certainly proved to be a dominant force coming out the backfield.
So, coach Philbin is contemplating whether to have them both play on Sunday.
“There’s a chance both of those guys could go. It’s kind of a fluid situation,” said Philbin. “We could dress one less defensive back, defensive lineman or receiver. But it’s a possibility.”
Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill appeared much more comfortable under center in the win over the Raiders. He may have also found his favorite target in fourth-year receiver Brian Hartline, who had nine receptions for 111 yards and averaged 12.3 yards per catch in the victory. Hartline and the other receivers may run into some trouble this weekend as Jets’ star cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to play after finally recovering from a concussion he suffered in the season opener.
“He’s an exceptional player, one of the best at his trade in the business,” Philbin said regarding Revis. “You have to pick your spots and be careful about him.”
The Dolphins are also preparing for Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow, who led the Broncos to an impressive comeback win over Miami last season. Tebow has played multiple roles for the Jets this season, including as a tight end, a slot receiver and a quarterback in the wildcat formation. The Jets limited him in their Week 2 loss to the Steelers, but Miami is not underestimating the intangibles he brings to the game when he is on the field.
“You have to give him his due that this guy’s an offensive weapon,” said Philbin.
New York’s primary offensive weapon, though, is of course starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has taken strides in hopes of becoming one of the premier passers in the league.
“I think he’s a really good football player,” Philbin said. “I think he has really good awareness. He can move in the pocket, kind of senses when trouble’s coming and he can dip underneath it and get away from it.”
The job of Miami’s defense on Sunday will be to make sure Sanchez is uncomfortable in the pocket, bringing pressure from all sides and trying to force some turnovers.
“Just taking care of the football is huge,” Sanchez said in a conference call on Wednesday. “You look at all these stats on teams every year and when they win the turnover battle they’re 8-0 or 7-1.”
But for now, both teams are just trying to become 2-1, and they’ll aim for that record when they face off in what is sure to be a thrilling showdown at Sun Life Stadium.
The Dolphins (1-1) play host to the Jets (1-1) on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.